Hawks west champs
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Blackhawks a dynasty in salary cap era

From the 1997-98 season to the 2007-08 campaign, the Chicago Blackhawks made it to the playoffs just once and won a single playoff game. Since then, the Blackhawks have gone on arguably the most impressive run in recent NHL history, especially considering the institution of the salary cap 10 years ago.

Chicago really began to turn things around in 07-08. A year after selecting Jonathan Toews third overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Blackhawks picked Patrick Kane No. 1 in 2007. Toews joined the team that year as well, and Chicago jumped from 71 points in 06-07 to 88 in 07-08. While that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs, it was obvious the the Blackhawks were on the rise.

The following year saw Chicago arrive on the big stage, going all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the rival Detroit Red Wings in five games. While that was a tough defeat, this would be the start of a seven-year run that saw playoff appearances in each season, five trips to the Western Conference Finals and three trips to the Stanley Cup Final, with two Stanley Cups to date.

The Blackhawks ended a 49-year Cup drought in 2010, and the core of that team, featuring Toews, Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabook and Niklas Hjalmarsson remains together today. The supporting cast has changed due to the salary cap rules, but with that core in place, the success hasn’t dwindled.

Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago reached its third Stanley Cup Final in six years by beating the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last Saturday. If the Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, they’ll be the only team in the salary cap era to win three Cups and the first team since the Red Wings from the late 1990s-early 2000s to win three Cups in six years. In fact, Chicago is the first team in the salary cap era to make it to three Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blackhawks will start this series on the road in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. The two teams are rather evenly matched, and it should be a fast-paced series with a lot of excitement. Chicago has the championship experience, but Tampa has the home-ice advantage. The Lightning are a 1½-goal favorite in Game 1, but the Blackhawks have the better odds to win the Cup (5/8 to 7/5), per VegasInsider.com. This should be a good one.

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