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Except at first, nobody noticed. A decade or so of continuing futility _ in a city where the gold standard is the Cubs at a century and counting _ kept all but the hardcore fans away.

Tight-fisted owner William “Dollar Bill” Wirtz stubbornly kept games off TV, and drove off legacy names like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. Then Wirtz died in September 2007 following a brief battle with cancer and the bitterness spilled out in one sweeping gesture.

During a moment of silence for Wirtz at the home opener, the crowd responded with boos. The Hawks made the postseason after a six-season hiatus, but those fans who chose self-exile only grudgingly began trickling back. It wasn’t until Wirtz’ son, Rocky, was in control for a full season _ putting the games back on TV, bringing guys like Hull and Mikita back as ambassadors and putting up statues outside the United Center _ that all was forgiven, and then some.

Average attendance jumped 7,000 seats by the end of the 2008-09 season. The product on the ice was reflected in the fast-climbing value of the franchise. The season after that brought the team’s fourth Stanley Cup title, giving one of the NHL’s “Original Six” some recent history worth boasting about.

The realities of the salary cap, though, dictated what happened next. The Blackhawks had to unload or choose not to resign nine players on that team, electing instead to lock up Toews, Kane, Keith and a handful of others.

They got ambushed in their first postseason outings the next two years _ something the Blackhawks remembered when they were down 3-1 in a series against Detroit in an earlier round, and again against Boston as the clock ticked down the final few seconds.

“You win it once and you think you’re going right back to the Stanley Cup finals the next year after that,” Toews said. “Two first-round exits for us last couple years will make you realize how tough it is to get here.”

The Blackhawks have become the first team to win a second Stanley Cup in the salary-cap age, a bit of smart spending that would have pleased old man Wirtz. And they did it as the last team standing from a final four that featured the last four cup winners, playing wide open or gritty as each game or each shift demanded.

As talk of a third Cup and even the dreaded “dynasty” began making the rounds, Quenneville put up his hand and asked for a moment where he didn’t have to recall what was behind or worry about what was ahead.

“I’m going to enjoy this one first,” he said, “and have fun with it. And then we’ll talk about that one.”

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.