Rozner: Decade of the Blackhawks started with a break
Not since the 1980s has a team won three Stanley Cups in a decade, so there can't be much dispute about the team of this decade.
It's the Chicago Blackhawks -- and it almost didn't happen.
We take you back to 2010 and a franchise that hadn't won the big prize in 49 years, a team through salary-cap nightmares was about to lose half a roster in the summer ahead.
Few suspected the toughest of their four series would be the first one, against a Nashville team that played a tight-checking, frustrating style that relied on defense and goaltending.
The clubs split the first four games with the Hawks scoring only 7 goals before they found themselves at home for Game 5 and up 3-1 late in the second when the Preds scored short-handed to cut the lead to 3-2.
Nashville tied it early in the third when Martin Erat beat Antti Niemi, who at that point had allowed 3 goals on 9 shots. When Erat scored again with 8:21 remaining to give Nashville a 4-3 lead, the Hawks were in trouble.
With just over a minute left and the Hawks' net empty, Marian Hossa buried Dan Hamhuis from behind, a violent hit at full speed that earned him a 5-minute boarding call.
And that's when the Hawks got their first huge break of 2010.
Hossa should have been tossed and suspended, just as Alex Ovechkin was a month earlier for a nearly identical hit on Brian Campbell, but the hockey gods were smiling on the Hawks and Hossa took a seat in the box instead of heading to the dressing room.
Then came the biggest break of that 2010 postseason.
With 33 seconds left and the Hawks short-handed, Erat had the puck behind the Hawks' net. All he had to do was eat it and the game would have been over, the Hawks short a skater and unable to pull their goalie.
Instead, Erat made a play that 10-year-olds know not to make.
He sent a blind, backhand pass out front. It nearly worked, but the puck caught a fraction of the net and instead of landing on the stick of Jason Arnott wide open in front, it caromed right to Jonathan Toews, who scooped it up and busted the other way.
As Niemi went to the bench for the extra attacker, Toews fired a shot on net and with 13.6 seconds left, Patrick Kane tapped in the rebound and the Hawks were heading to overtime, instead of back to Nashville down 3-2 in the series.
The Preds still had a power play for 4 minutes of OT, but failed to score, and 10 seconds after Hossa left the penalty box and charged into the play, he found a deflected shot land on his stick for a two-foot putt into an empty net and the Hawks were winners and ahead in the series.
"Is luck on our side? Sure. But if you ask me, I think you need a little luck to win any hockey game any time of year," said veteran John Madden, already a two-time Cup winner in New Jersey. "It just so happens it's the postseason."
Madden's empty-netter sealed the Hawks' 5-3 victory in Game 6 in Nashville, a game that included another terrific bit of luck.
Midway through the first period, Brent Seabrook was dumping the puck in from center ice when it hit Kane's skate outside the blue line and went straight into the net as Pekka Rinne had vacated to chase, giving the Hawks the lead.
In that deciding Game 6, Hossa had 3 assists in what was essentially a one-goal game throughout.
From there, the Hawks hit their stride against Vancouver, San Jose and Philadelphia, and the Decade of the Blackhawks had begun.
Who knows what happens if they don't get past Nashville. The roster was decimated and it wasn't until 2013 that they made their next run.
That spring, they had to overcome a 3-1 series deficit against Detroit in the quarters, but they were battle tested and knew how to win because they had already done it.
There were more brutal series, like Boston in the Final that year, and Anaheim in the conference finals in 2015, before taking down the very fast and talented Lightning for their third Cup.
You can't say it wouldn't have happened without that Erat play in Game 5 in 2010, but you can wonder how different it might have looked had Nashville won that game and Hossa been suspended for Game 6.
Instead, the Hawks gave you a decade you've never experienced and brought life to a franchise that was invisible in Chicago just a few years prior.
And as much as you will always remember the names of Hossa, Toews, Kane, Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford, there's another guy you should think of fondly.
His name is Martin Erat.