What's buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Chicago rocks, Blackhawks begin new Stanley Cup chase on opening night of 2013-14 NHL season

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

CHICAGO — It wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t that long ago when the Chicago Blackhawks were bad and the United Center wasn’t sold out. The players carried business cards with their names on them, and on the back was a website offering free tickets.

View gallery

.

The Blackhawks have raised their Stanley Cup banner and started working on a new one. (AP)

“We would just pass them around town, and people would look at them and throw them away,” said winger Patrick Sharp, who joined the ’Hawks in 2005-06, when they finished 28th in a 30-team league. “Now it’s like you can’t even …”

His voice trailed off. He laughed at the memory. Now it’s like you can’t even wade through the waves of fans on the street hours before the home opener.

The limousines pulled up to the corner of Wood and Madison about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The players stepped out in suits and walked the red carpet like rock stars or movie stars, not just hockey stars. They held out their arms and slapped hands with fans on either side, fans held back by barricades, fans standing on tip-toes, fans craning their necks, fans carrying kids on their shoulders, fans holding up cameras, fans standing on cement posts to get a better look, fans in ’Hawks hats and ’Hawks shirts and ’Hawks jerseys.

The Blackhawks brought hockey back in Chicago when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Then they became the class of the NHL by winning the Cup again in 2013, the first two-time champions in the salary-cap era. They are a model franchise, an on-ice success, a marketing machine, everything the league wants to be. As Jonathan Toews walked the gauntlet, Captain Serious was smiling. He had a fat ring on his finger, not a business card in his hand. This was a moment to be treasured, not thrown away.

[Related: Blackhawks raise Stanley Cup banner to United Center rafters]

This was a banner night for the National Hockey League as a whole. A year ago at this time, we were fretting about the lockout, how long it would last, what damage would be done. Now it’s like you can’t even see an effect.

For all the league’s problems – concussions, say, or fights that end with an enforcer’s face hitting the ice – it entered the season renewed. This time it is starting on time with a full, 82-game schedule. The Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are all under new ownership. There is a new alignment, a new schedule matrix and a new playoff format. The nets are a little shallower, and the goalie pads are a little smaller, and so maybe there will be a little more scoring. The players should be safer thanks to rule changes, like mandatory visors for all incoming players and hybrid icing. There will be six outdoor games, including a Winter Classic with a world-record crowd of more than 110,000, plus the Sochi Olympics.

And nowhere is there more excitement than Chicago, because of what the Blackhawks have accomplished, because of what they could accomplish still. After warmups about 7 p.m., the lights went out, and the stands lit up, tens of thousands of giveaway wristbands twinkling in red and white. The scoreboard screen showed a retrospective of the ’Hawks’ run in 2013, the games, the big goals, those crazy 17 seconds at the end, Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, bedlam in Boston.

The fans chanted “Rocky!” for owner Rocky Wirtz, who made major changes after inheriting the team from his father, Bill. They cheered advisor Scotty Bowman and his son Stan, the general manager who won with Dale Tallon’s team, tore apart half of it and rebuilt it as his own. They heard John McDonough, the standard-setting, forward-pushing team president, call the Blackhawks a “humble, hungry group.” They watched defenseman Duncan Keith carry out the Cup and set it on the pedestal at center ice, and they roared as the players were introduced one by one, playoff MVP Patrick Kane second-to-last, the captain as the finale.

View gallery

.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews takes a last lap as 2013 Cup champ. (USA Today)

Toews picked up the Cup one more time, lifted it over his head one more time, then set it down. Eight youth hockey players appeared wearing Blackhawks sweaters and carrying the banner. The Blackhawks skated over, unrolled it, escorted it to a corner and let it go.

“This might sound weird,” said defenseman Johnny Oduya with a laugh, “but it’s nice to kind of get an ending on it and then start a new year.”

The banner is in the rafters now, alongside the ones from 2010, 1961, 1938 and 1934. There is room for more, though. No team has repeated since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. But that is the best argument against these ’Hawks – the odds alone, the tightness of the league, the fickleness of the game. There is another argument: The ’Hawks already have done what no one else did before by winning two Cups in the cap era, and if they could do that after rebuilding half the team, why can’t they repeat when they return their core and most of their supporting cast? And even if they don’t repeat, with Toews and Kane and Keith and Sharp, with so many other stars and role players, with some up-and-coming kids, why can’t they win more Cups over the coming years?

Though this season probably won’t go as smoothly as last season, when the Blackhawks went 21-0-3 in their first 24 games and cruised to the NHL’s best record, the ’Hawks are in a Central Division that lost a perennial contender, the Red Wings, and includes only one real potential challenger, the St. Louis Blues. They seem focused. They seem driven.

[Watch: Habs enforcer George Parros knocked out, stretchered off]

After all the ceremony and standing around Tuesday night, when they had every excuse to be satisfied and distracted, the Blackhawks went back and forth with the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, the league’s reigning MVP. They gave up three power-play goals and faced a 4-3 third-period deficit. Yet they rallied and took a 5-4 lead. Yet they killed a long, late two-man disadvantage, with Corey Crawford making saves and Niklas Hjalmarsson blocking shots. Yet “Chelsea Dagger” played one more time when Marian Hossa was dragged down and awarded an empty-netter. The ’Hawks won, 6-4. The United Center lived up to its billing, the Madhouse on Madison.

“To see the turnaround in the eight years that I’ve been there, it’s been incredible,” Sharp said. “They love the Blackhawks. Everyone seems to be a ’Hawks fan.”

If only they could still find that website with the free tickets.

MORE NHL COVERAGE ON YAHOO SPORTS:

[Related: Puck Daddy's 30 NHL team previews, from Anaheim to Winnipeg]
[Related: Nick Cotsonika: Top 10 Stanley Cup contenders]
[Related: NHL Eastern Conference predictions]
[Related: NHL Western Conference predictions]

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
View Comments (17)

Recommended for You

  • Adrian Peterson Has A Quietly Terrible Contract, And Cutting Him Would Save The Vikings A Ton Of Money

    The Minnesota Vikings reversed course and decided Wednesday to bar Adrian Peterson from the team   until his legal issues are resolved. The Vikings put him on the exempt/commissioner's permission list — which will keep him under contract while barring him from team activities. According to Ian…

    Business Insider
  • The Steps To Success

    Who is the one person who has had the biggest impact on your life?

    AdChoicesstrayerSponsored
  • WARNING: Graphic photos of Giancarlo Stanton's face

    WARNING: Graphic photos of Giancarlo Stanton's face   Giancarlo Stanton showed his face Tuesday, and it looked a lot better than it did Thursday after an errant pitch struck him there. Even though the"before" photo is pretty disturbing, the "after" pic

    Big League Stew
    Wed, Sep 17
    4:10 PM PDT
    Miami at NY Mets
    Preview Game
  • LeBron has new shoes, but he can't touch Jordan

    LeBron James may be one of the biggest names on the basketball court, but when it comes to sneaker sales, Michael Jordan still holds the title. Nike (NKE) unveiled 10-time All-Star Lebron James' signature shoe late Tuesday. The LeBron 12 debuted at an event at the company's headquarters in…

    CNBC
  • Why boxing stars like Floyd Mayweather want to avoid Gennady Golovkin

    Gennady Golovkin peered out of a window on the south side of a penthouse lounge in the Mandalay Bay Resort, staring at a lush golf course that the high-rolling visitors to this gambling capital eagerly fork over $300 or more a round to play. Asked if he played golf, the middleweight champion…

    Yahoo Sports
  • Jameis Winston allegedly shouted an obscene phrase in the FSU student union

    For nearly a year, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has been exhaustive telling everyone who would listen — and that's a lot of us — that quarterback Jameis Winston is a really mature guy. The Heisman Trophy winner’s latest act of immaturity came Tuesday when he reportedly stood up on a table in…

    Dr. Saturday
  • Play

    Knile Davis needs to fly off of the waiver wire

    Rotoworld: Adam Levitan joins Jenna Corrado to discuss the key pickups that need to be made off of the waiver wire heading into Week 3. On the top of Levitan's list is Chiefs' RB Knile Davis, who would get the start if Jamaal Charles can't go.

    NBC Sports
  • Lexi Thompson's newest photo shoot will catch your attention

    Lexi Thompson first entered the public consciousness at 12 years old when she qualified for the U.S. Now at 19, Thompson has set LPGA records as their youngest champion (since eclipsed by Lydia Ko) and won a major championship. Thompson dons a bikini in what would probably be considered in golf…

    Devil Ball Golf
  • NHL ‘Hockey Wives’ TV series will star Nicole Brown, Noureen DeWulf

    Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown and Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller are established names in the NHL, whose exploits are featured on television every game night.  Nicole Brown and Noureen DeWulf are two of the cast members for “Hockey Wives,” a new reality series that chronicles the…

    Puck Daddy
  • Odds are against Denver Broncos in Week 3 vs. Seattle Seahawks

    The Denver Broncos are underdogs in Seattle. Everyone knows the Denver Broncos lost by 35 points to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks opened as 3.5-point favorites against the Broncos in Seattle in Week 3.

    SB Nation28 mins ago
  • Adrian Peterson placed on restricted list

    Adrian Peterson is officially back in limbo.  While most of the country was asleep, the news came out early Wednesday: Peterson has been placed on the exempt list, which means he'll stay away from the Vikings (for both team activities and games) while Peterson's child abuse charges are addressed. …

    Roto Arcade
  • Adrian Peterson barred from Minnesota Vikings; Out vs. New Orleans Saints

    The Vikings have barred Adrian Peterson fro mthe team, meaning he'll miss this week vs. the Saints. The Minnesota Vikings originally activated All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson for Sunday's contest vs. the New Orleans Saints.

    SB Nation
  • WWE vs. NFL: The Monday night war that isn't

    Last night's episode of Monday Night RAW played out like a game of RISK. There is no such thing as competition with the NFL because, well, when you have just 16 games per year, not including playoffs, each one of them is a big deal. Especially on Monday night, when most pigskin patrons don't have…

    SB Nation
  • Recap: 'Big Brother' Final 4 Snark With Andy Herren

    One ridiculous game twist ruined Frankie Grande's otherwise admirable game. Man. We're down to four: Victoria (who is about as threatening as a panda in a pop-up book), Cody (a man with gold pecs who's turning in a bronze-worthy performance), Derrick (a genius who is nice enough to feed his fellow…

    Hitfix
  • UFC Fight Night 52 complete fighter breakdown, Roy 'Big Country' Nelson edition

    UFC Fight Night 52 complete fighter breakdown, Roy 'Big Country' Nelson edition MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 52 headliner Roy Nelson, who looks to out-brawl Mark Hunt this Saturday night (Sept. 20, 2014) at…

    SB Nation
  • View

    'Hawaii Five-0' Season 5 Premiere Screening (19 photos)

    'Hawaii Five-0' Season 5 Premiere ScreeningThousands of Oahu residents and visitors flocked Queen's Surf Beach in Waikiki Saturday, Sept. 12, 2014, in Honolulu. They gathered in Waikiki to watch the season five premiere of "Hawaii Five-0." Grace Park

    Yahoo TV
  • Dwight Howard has license suspended for running red lights, being dumb

    Rockets center Dwight Howard may play in Houston now, but he is still paying for his years in Orlando, getting his license suspended for failing to pay his red light tickets in Orlando. In a more lighthearted twist, Rockets center has gotten his license suspended for his failure to pay a red light…

    SB Nation
  • Yankees' Girardi and Rays' Maddon at odds after Jeter hit by pitch

    New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the Tampa Bay Rays should stop pitching inside if they're going to keep hitting his players. Rays manager Joe Maddon says thanks for the advice, but no thanks. Girardi got his Italian Irish up Tuesday night after Yankees captain Derek Jeter was hit on the…

    Big League Stew
    Wed, Sep 17
    4:10 PM PDT
    NY Yankees at Tampa Bay
    Preview Game