June 10 (Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks may be back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four years but know better than most National Hockey League teams that the opportunities to sip from the treasured trophy are to be savored.
The last time Chicago basked in Stanley Cup glory in 2010, the Blackhawks had ended what was then the NHL's longest championship drought.
It had been 49 years since the Blackhawks sipped champagne from Lord Stanley's famous mug and fans are eager to quench their thirst again as Chicago prepares to face off against the Boston Bruins in a best-of-seven series starting on Wednesday at their home in the United Center, known to fans as 'The Madhouse on Madison'.
"We're excited to get back there," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith told reporters. "I think you don't get back there very often.
"I just saw on the ticker that (Boston Bruins Jaromir) Jagr hadn't been back in 21 years. These opportunities don't come back all the time.
"I think we want to make the best of it."
Certainly baseball fans in the Windy City know something about championship droughts, their 'Lovable Losers' the Chicago Cubs having gone more than a century without a World Series win.
The love Chicago sports fans are lavishing on the Blackhawks today is in stark contrast to the complete disinterest the city showed the team just a few years ago.
Playing in a half-empty arena the atmosphere was nearly as dire as the Blackhawks' play, the team qualifying for the playoffs just once between 1998 and 2007.
Once one of the NHL's proudest clubs with rosters that included some of the NHL's greatest names including Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, the Blackhawks became one of the league's most troubled franchises under owner Bill Wirtz, known as "Dollar Bill" for his frugal operation of the team.
But the franchise has enjoyed a renaissance under principal owner and chairman Rocky Wirtz, general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville reaching the playoffs the last five seasons.
Chicago spent the entire lockout shortened season atop the Western Conference standings setting a record by earning points in each of their first 24 games on way to claiming the Presidents' Trophy, as the NHL team with the best regular season record.
The Blackhawks carried their form into the playoffs brushing past the Minnesota Wild in five games in the opening round before surviving a seven-game scare from the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semi-finals.
Trailing the Red Wings 3-1, the Blackhawks pulled off a miraculous escape recovering to sweep the last three games and cap the comeback with a Game Seven overtime winner from defenseman Brent Seabrook.
The Blackhawks then clinched a spot in the Final by dispatching the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games.
"We played great hockey throughout the regular season," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. "We were able to get to the top of the league and stay there for most of the time.
"I don't think you get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup without going through moments like we have. You got to persevere."
The Final will be a fascinating clash of styles, with the 'Big, Bad Bruins' punishing, hit-anything-that-moves approach against the speedy Blackhawks' finesse and puck possession game.
There is no lack of offensive creativity on the Chicago bench with snipers like Toews and Patrick Kane, who were among the top five in league scoring during the regular season.
Toews has been mired in a post-season slump but Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell have picked up the slack with eight goals apiece while Kane had a hat-trick in eliminating the Kings.
A solid Chicago defense is anchored by Duncan Keith and Seabrook while netminder Corey Crawford has the best goals-against-average in the playoffs.
"You got to commend him (Crawford) on how he's played all year long," said Quenneville. "He's moved us along here.
"Guys have responded in front of him but Corey has been rock solid." (Editing by Gene Cherry)