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After Bowman reconstituted the team with such role players as forwards Daniel Carcillo and Michael Frolik and defenseman Johnny Oduya, the Blackhawks seemed to be jelling by December 2011, leading the league in points before losing nine in a row and spiraling into dissent. Barry Smith, an assistant under Scotty Bowman with both the Penguins and the Red Wings, was brought in from his post as the team's director of player development to run the struggling special teams. Quenneville, the league's active leader in coaching wins (645 at week's end), reportedly bristled at being forced to take on an assistant not of his choosing. He also asked Stan Bowman to replace Mike Haviland, an assistant he inherited from former coach Denis Savard in '08--09, his first year behind the bench. Smith has since returned to the front office, while Haviland departed after the season.
Bowman steered clear of marquee free agents over the summer and made few roster changes, trusting his complementary players—from his grinders to his sixth defenseman—to solidify the lineup. His faith has been rewarded. Chicago's second defensive pair of Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are playing more than 20 minutes a game, reducing the wear on the top two of Seabrook and Duncan Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner who has gone from tied for first in the league in total ice time per game (26:53 in 2011--12) to 30th (23:56). Frolik, 25, and center Marcus Kruger, 22, have blossomed into elite penalty killers, raising Chicago's rating from 27th to sixth in one year. Winger Brandon Saad and the feisty Shaw, the club's second- and fifth-round draft picks in '11, are averaging about 15 minutes per game. "Sometimes when you believe in people," says Bowman, "they catch a second wind."
The concept of renewal permeates the club. Carcillo's nickname is Car Bomb. Most sane teams would not have the ruffian on the ice in the final minute of a tied game, but the bruised Blackhawks were down three forwards in their win over the Avalanche on March 6 after left wing Patrick Sharp went down with a separated shoulder on a check from Ryan O'Byrne early in the third period. A seven-year veteran, Carcillo has 10 suspensions and fines on his résumé, along with 1,075 penalty minutes in 320 games and scars on his reconstructed left knee. When he sneaked a backhander through the pads of goalie Semyon Varlamov for the game-winner with 49.3 seconds left in regulation—his first goal since Nov. 13, 2011—Carcillo had no clue how to celebrate. "I forgot," he said, "so I just fell to my knees." When Bowman signed Carcillo as a free agent two years ago, the two men had a lengthy talk that didn't include hockey. "They treat you like a human being and not just a piece of meat [here]," says Carcillo. "They gave me a new lease on life."
Chicago did the same with goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, sticking with the pair despite the off-season availability of future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Since they lost Cup winner Antti Niemi to San Jose during the great purge of 2010, the Blackhawks have been unsettled in net. A second-round pick in '03, Crawford, 28, gave up two bad overtime goals in the playoff loss to Phoenix last April. Goalie coach Stephane Waite has since coaxed him to cut unnecessary movements and stay square to shooters. Through Sunday, Crawford had responded with a .925 save percentage and a 1.91 GAA, good for third and second in the league, respectively.
Emery, 30, took the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, but he was almost as well known for his combustibility—he smiled maniacally through a fight with Sabres goalie Martin Biron in '07—as he was for flashy clothes, cars and tattoos. While he was playing for the Flyers in February '10, doctors discovered avascular necrosis (a disease in which blood fails to flow to the femur, causing it to deteriorate) in his right hip. In April '10, doctors removed part of his right fibula and sliced through his muscle to graft the bone to his hip. "I had taken so much for granted until then," he says. "When they chopped me up and taped me back together, I reevaluated a lot of things." He played 10 games for Anaheim in '10--11, but left as a free agent after a weak postseason.
Emery signed as the backup to Crawford two years ago, and he went 15-9-4. He has won 10 of his 11 starts this year, including a 45-save gem in Calgary on Feb. 2 that the Hawks tied when winger Marian Hossa scored with 2.1 seconds to play. Quenneville later called it "one of the best games I've seen a goalie play."
No player has remade himself more thoroughly than Kane, a Hart Trophy candidate who at week's end led the team with 12 goals and 15 assists, and who has vastly upgraded his defense as he has matured away from the rink. The first pick in the 2007 draft, he scored the overtime Cup winner in '10, nearly a year after he and his cousin had been arrested after a dispute with a Buffalo taxi driver. Kane became a Deadspin poster boy that season when he was photographed twice in stages of moderate undress and less moderate inebriation. The Blackhawks publicly defended him. "I looked at it differently," Bowman recalls. "I wondered how good things could be when he matured. I wasn't scared; I was excited."
Bowman had reason for optimism. He and his wife, Sue, put Kane up during his rookie season of 2007--08, and he developed a fast bond with the couple's two boys, gladly playing goalie in the basement for their oldest son, Will, then 5. But that year, Bowman was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and suggested that Kane move out. "He didn't need to see me struggling or my wife crying," Bowman, whose cancer is now fully in remission, recalls. "But then he said, 'Why would I want to leave?' I didn't want him to leave. He was a great friend, a big brother to my boys. He has a good heart. The best of Patrick is really something."
The lockout was a blessing for Kane. He signed to play with EHC Biel in the Swiss League. His mother, Donna, who often makes the eight-hour drive to Chicago from Buffalo, went to live with him. "I cooked, we watched movies, we relaxed," Donna says. "We had fun."
"That was good for me," Kane says. "The biggest thing about this year is that I didn't want to disappoint my parents.... I probably thought things were going to be easy. I probably enjoyed it too much.... Hurting myself was one thing; hurting people close to me woke me up."