In his first game as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, against theNew York Rangers in an Original 6 matchup, Patrick Sharp looked around cavernous United Center and that's what he saw. Six.
Actually there were some 9,000 in the building that distant night, although that figure might have been a matter of creative arithmetic. In any case, a depressed Sharp had come from a first-place team inPhiladelphia to a city where the Blackhawks couldn't get arrested.
(These were the pre-Patrick Kane taxi-in-Buffalo days.)
"It's been a big change, that's for sure," said Sharp, who arrived in December 2005, back in the bad old days of the late owner, Dollar Bill Wirtz. "Years ago I would have never expected this turnaround so quickly. It means a lot to everybody, but especially to guys like (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) and myself, who have been here through some pretty tough years ... I challenge anyone to find a better place to play in the league right now than Chicago."
"I just remember the first handful of games I played at home, it was pretty ugly still," said captain Jonathan Toews, who started in 2007-08. "Our people have done a great job promoting the team, but nothing is better than having a team that wins games and plays an entertaining style of hockey." Chicago has come all the way back to the Stanley Cup final, a testament to the enlightened ownership of Wirtz's son Rocky,Joel Quenneville's coaching and one of the NHL's deepest teams. The Blackhawks moved into the final with a 4-2 victory in Game 4 over the valiant, but outmanned, San Jose Sharks to complete a sweep. The final will start Saturday here if the Philadelphia Flyers eliminate Montreal on Monday, enough time to fit Keith, a Norris Trophy finalist, for seven new teeth and further amp up the city in which hockey used to feel like a root canal just five years ago.