On May 22, 1992, the Blackhawks reached a crescendo unlike any in National Hockey League history. They won their 11th consecutive playoff game, breaking a record of 10 by the 1970 Boston Bruins, who captured the Stanley Cup.
Their 5-1 romp over the Edmonton Oilers at Northlands Coliseum in Game 4 of the Conference Finals was particularly sweet for the Blackhawks. Not only did it complete a sweep of a team that eliminated them from the postseason three times within the last ten years, the surge propelled the Blackhawks into the Final for the first time since 1973.
Only four Blackhawks on the 1992 roster - Chris Chelios, Steve Smith, Brent Sutter and Greg Gilbert - had ever advanced that far with other teams, nor were they around when the Blackhawks endured an ignominious stretch of 16 straight playoff defeats during the mid- to late-1970s.
The 1992 postseason was notable in that all four division champions were expelled in the Division Finals. Among them were the Detroit Red Wings, who finished atop the Norris Division, 11 points ahead of the Blackhawks. Detroit handled the Minnesota North Stars in the first round while the Blackhawks, after dropping two of their first three games against the third-place St. Louis Blues, won the next three. That began the streak, which grew to seven when the Blackhawks stunned Detroit in four straight.
General Manager/Coach Mike Keenan's Blackhawks were ready for the Oilers. During the 1980s, the Blackhawks felt they were the second best NHL team, but they kept running into Wayne Gretzky and his fellow future Hall of Famers from Edmonton. Confident, the Blackhawks whipped the Oilers 8-2 and 4-2 at the Stadium, then took Game 3 in Edmonton, 4-3, on Jeremy Roenick's overtime goal.
Game 4 was no contest. Rob Brown scored midway in the first period. Early in the second, Roenick notched the eventual winner and his 10th of that postseason during a 5-on-3 power play, assisted by Steve Larmer and Igor Kravchuk. (Bernie Nicholls, who would soon join the Blackhawks, was serving five minutes beside Norm MacIver, currently their esteemed Assistant General Manager.)
Brian Noonan made it 3-0 on a power play, Nicholls still sitting. Then Mike Hudson and Noonan again brought the rout to 5-0 by the 11th minute of the middle period. All of this damage was inflicted on Goalie Bill Ranford, star of Edmonton's 1990 Cup team. Meanwhile, his counterpart, undrafted Ed Belfour, added to a Hall of Fame resume. All 11 victories were his, bettering Gerry Cheevers' mark with the aforementioned Bruins.
"Feels good, but when you win 11 straight, a goalie doesn't do it by himself," said Belfour.
"For some of us, this is the chance of our lives," added Roenick, 22. "Exciting, better than I imagined. But we're headed for the biggest seven-game series yet, and we've got to get better."
A wise young man. Next up were the Pittsburgh Penguins, defending Cup champions, coached by Scotty Bowman, winners of seven straight playoff games. Another story for another day.