It showed this season, when Kane broadened his game. "Patrick has the puck more than he's had in the past," Quenneville says. "Every offensive situation is a chance to score, because he's not giving up on plays. A lot of times he's the first guy back, so I can trust him in more situations." Kane ranks seventh in the NHL with 25 takeaways. And he is back on the wing after Quenneville moved him to center for much of last season, where he seemed misplaced, winning just 42% of his draws and frequently losing the angle on his backcheck when he had more ice to cover. "My game looks different now," he says.
The renaissance of the Blackhawks began in 2007, when owner Rocky Wirtz took over from his late father, Bill. Chicago had been to the playoffs just once in the previous nine years, didn't televise home games and had only about 3,400 season-ticket holders. Rocky Wirtz brought Cubs president John McDonough into his office and begged him to fill the same position for his moribund franchise. It took five hours of schmoozing, but McDonough took the job. "It was the greatest challenge in sports," says McDonough, 59, who had been with the Cubs for 24 years. "It was worse than I thought. They had no receptionist, no HR person. They needed a lot of work."
On his third day in the job, McDonough called Bobby Hull—the Hall of Fame wing had split acrimoniously from the team in 1972 when he signed with the WHA's Winnipeg Jets. Hull came back. So did Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and other luminous alumni who had been similarly neglected under the regime of Wirtz's father. McDonough rehired Pat Foley, the popular broadcaster dismissed by the old administration, and began inviting club business and hockey staffs to each other's meetings. The fog began to lift. In 2008 the club began its run of sellouts. Chicago TV ratings have gone up 805% since 2007--08. The game in Detroit on March 3 drew 1.9 million viewers to NBC, the most ever for a non--Winter Classic regular-season broadcast. Everyone wants in. When pending free agent Oduya was up for an off-season raise, he told Bowman, "My agent [Don Meehan] isn't going to like this, but I know I want to come back to Chicago, so let's just get this deal done."
Three days before the Blackhawks finally lost in Colorado, Toews had a sobering thought. "The wins now are great," he says, "but we know they won't mean anything if we can't reset our sights on winning in June." The Blackhawks' run encompassed the entire first half of this lockout-shortened season. Now that the bubble has burst, they seem well-constituted to rebound. "The guys pick each other up," says Quenneville. "It's not one player or one line, and that's how you avoid slumps—you have any number of people who can step up each game."
And just like that—from completely locked out to totally locked in—Chicago has given the league a much needed boost. All it took was some faith, some grinders and some imagination.