The 1990–91Chicago Blackhawksseason was one where it seemed the stars were aligned. After making the Conference Finals two years in a row, the Blackhawks were hosts for one of the most emotional NHL All-Star Game games in history, and finished with 106 points winning the NHLPresidents' Trophy for best record in the league. The Hawks received terrific performances from Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Dirk Graham and rookie Ed Belfour. Hockey it seemed was back in Chicago, and dreams of the first Stanley Cup since Hull and Mikita were rampant. However the playoffs matched the Hawks with their old rivals, the Minnesota North Stars, who crushed their dreams with a defeat in the first round of the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs - four games to two. 90-91 represented the peak of the Blackhawks between the Hull/Mikita years and the Toews/Kane years, and is probably the best Blackhawks team never to win the Stanley Cup.
Coach Mike Keenan became General Manager and Coach, and traded fan-favorite Denis Savard to the Montreal Canadians for Chicago native Chris Chelios in the summer of 1990. Several of the older Blackhawks (Al Secord, Bob Murray and Duane Sutter) retired.
The Blackhawks would play at a high level all season as they won the Norris Division and their first President's Trophy for having the best record in the NHL with a record of 49-23-8 - good for 106 points. The Hawks edged St. Louis for both of these regular season titles as the Blues finished second with 105 points. In addition to winning the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best team during the regular season, the Blackhawks also were the NHL's best defence, having allowed only 211 goals over 80 games. Despite being the most penalized team during the regular season, with 425 short-handed situations, the Blackhawks had a penalty-killing percentage of 84.00%, good enough for 2nd place in the league. The Blackhawks also led the NHL in short-handed goals scored, with 20.
On October 25, 1990, Steve Larmer scored just 8 seconds into the overtime period to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 home win over the Washington Capitals. It would prove to be the fastest overtime goal scored during the 1990-91 NHL regular season.
While the game was high-scoring and exciting, the real story was the emotions. First from a hockey perspective, Chicago had not hosted an All-Star Game since 1974, and the Blackhawks resurgence was fueled by three All-Stars - Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick (his first) and Chris Chelios, all of whom received great ovations from the hometown fans during introductions. The second, larger perspective was that the game was played during the war with Iraq, and Operation Desert Storm had just started two days earlier. Some players asked that the game be delayed, but the league pressed on and players wore decals on their helmets supporting the troops. When Wayne Messmer stepped to the microphone and the organ began to play the pre-game National Anthem, the roam from the Chicago Stadium crowd, many of who waved flags and sparklers was deafening and sustained over the length of the song, totally overwhelming the performance, and creating a patriotic moment of history that transcended the sport.
After reaching the Conference finals the prior two years and winning the President's Trophy, hopes were extremely high entering the playoffs. The first round again reunited the Hawks with their old rivals from Minnesota who the Blackhawks needed seven games to dispatch in the prior year when the North Stars were the last place team in the division. This series however would not last seven games. The teams needed overtime to determine the winner of Game 1 at the Chicago Stadium, however it was Minnesota who emerged as the 4-3 winner. The Hawks won Games 2 and 3, an easy 5-2 win in Chicago, and a close 6-5 win in Minnesota. However the North Stars swept the remaining games in blowout fashion including a 6-0 shutout on the Hawks home ice in Game 5. What was looking like it could be one of the greatest seasons in Hawks history was suddenly over. Minnesota won their next two series and reached the Stanley Cup where they lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.