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Blackhawks Tue Apr 26 2011

Blackhawks Survive Wild Ride to Game 7

College is a funny thing.

You go into it not really knowing what to expect for certain, but have high expectations founded strictly in teen movies and the occasional wild stories from parents and older siblings.

Thumbnail image for hawks canucks vertical.PNGYou live it up freshman year, going out on weeknights and drinking far too much of the cheap liquor someone got with a fake ID from the place that knows they're serving college freshmen. You make out with other random freshmen, and skate through your introductory courses. You're thinking that this whole college thing is going to be a blast.

Then, you move on to the next two years of school, where the party to study ratio shifts dramatically. You start to remember why you came to college in the first place, and pack your schedule with tough courses and internships. You get your ass kicked during finals and get your first C in a class. You sit through hours-long lectures by professors who tell you that you'll never make it, and that your industry is dead. (Thanks for that, journalism department.)

Finally, you make it to your senior year. At this point, you're over it. You're ready to just get it over with. The memories of wild nights and drunken adventures have faded fast, and are replaced with frequent panic attacks about the future and the increasing amount of energy it takes to drag yourself to class.

Then, there's the light at the end of the tunnel. There's the massive excitement that you're about to begin your true adult life, the pride that you accomplished something not everyone does, and the hope that you'll continue that success.

As overly sentimental as it sounds, I can't help but feel the same way about the Blackhawks' season.

Fans went into the season with huge expectations, but no guarantee of success. Visions of hoisting the Stanley Cup again danced in their heads.

"Yes! This is going to be so much fun!"

Yet as the Hawks worked through a long, tiring regular season, memories of the Cup became faded and nostalgic. The Blackhawks were no longer buzz-worthy, looking less like a team that could make a Cup repeat and more like an unlikely playoff contender.

Then came the end of the season. The phrase "clawing for a playoff spot" became a tired cliché used by every Chicago media outlet as an ugly last month of hockey looked dire and hopeless. Saved by a last-minute Minnesota Wild win, the Blackhawks finally saw a potential light at the end of the tunnel.

And a week into the playoffs, the light was nearly extinguished, as the Hawks seemed ready to be swept out of the first round by Vancouver and its stone-wall goalie. After three straight losses, fans went into Game Four a week ago with a stiff upper lip, bracing themselves for relentless teasing from Detroit fans at the office the next day. Chicagoans were ready to take their beating and admit to their buddies they knew the team couldn't do it this year.

Then came Dave Bolland. Then came Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Michael Frolik, Ben Smith and Corey Crawford.

Then, Roberto Luongo cracked. Then, he sank.

The Blackhawks became the seventh team in Stanley Cup playoff history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the series. They rallied their tired, mangled team and fought, crushing the Canucks twice before prevailing in overtime in Sunday's Game Six. And they've done it as a No. 8 seed against a No. 1 seed that led the league in points this season.

A victory tonight could be the biggest upset in 2011 playoffs. It could be a second chance for the Blackhawks' chances of defending their Cup.

Either way, with Game 7 coinciding closely with the end of my college career, it's hard not to sense palpable excitement. With talent, support and a little bit of luck, perhaps the team and I can both come out with a win.

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