CHICAGO — There is something extra there. Something. The Chicago Blackhawks don’t always win, because in this game the NHL is designed to pull down great teams the same way the league is designed to pull at great players, in every way. The Blackhawks may not run away from you. But they beat you. There’s something there.
“When we’re down, we don’t panic,” said Chicago winger Marian Hossa, after the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning four games to two to win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. “We always believe in ourselves. (There is) just such a strong character in this dressing room, starting with Jonathan Toews. He’s a true leader, and he was born like that. You have to be born like that, and he is.”
Toews scored one goal in this series. Patrick Kane scored one, in Game 6, to seal it. And still, the Blackhawks had enough depth and discipline and goaltending to limit the highest-scoring team in the league to 10 goals in six games, and win a third Stanley Cup in six years. Incredible.
They always make one more play. Game 6 was scoreless for nearly 37 minutes, and nobody could break through, and somewhere in there Duncan Keith, the rock of this four-man defence, came forward. After Andrej Sustr, Tampa’s sixth defenceman, couldn’t get off the ice, Kane gained the blue line and waited. He hit Keith in stride. Keith shot, skated around Cedric Paquette, and was left alone as Sustr backed to the goal line chasing Brad Richards, who was behind the net. Keith beat Ben Bishop off his own rebound with 2:47 left in the period.
Keith had just passed 700 total minutes in these playoffs, a mark only achieved by three other defencemen, as far as the records go: Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Drew Doughty. Chicago never trailed again.
“I said to him, you know, you play a game like that, you need a defenceman to do something extra,” said Scotty Bowman, the legendary coach whose son Stan built the depth around this core. “And that’s what he did, he picked up. He said he couldn’t go up (the ice much), because they only had four (defencemen). The big guys usually pick up. Kane had a great game, too. He came through when it counted.”
They come through when it counts. Tampa, for its part, will rue the near-misses: Steven Stamkos off the crossbar; Anton Stralman in the crease; a Stamkos breakaway when he couldn’t lift the puck, and you could see the summer nightmares forming in his head. It was Tampa’s first three-game losing streak of the season. They scored two goals in the last three games.
“I look back and when those first four games got played, it was 2-2 instead of 3-1 us, when we felt we could have been up 3-1 . . . early in this series we let them hang around,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper. “A veteran team as they are, our tank ran dry down the stretch.”
Chicago has been eliminated by three teams in six years: by a Cup final Vancouver team in seven games, in a Game 7 decided in overtime; by Phoenix back before the Coyotes imploded, then imploded again; and by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings, in a Game 7 decided in overtime. The core has stayed healthy and great: Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, a few others. When Kimmo Timonen came here, he said the professionalism and discipline of this core exceeded that of any team he has ever seen.
So sure, Chicago may have let the disgraced Alan Eagleson into the building in this series. They may still claim, absurdly, that they are not profitable. But the Blackhawks, the team — well, they make you ponder your regrets.
“It feels like it was for nothing,” said Stamkos, his eyes red-rimmed and wet under his hat, worn low. “I know it wasn’t, but that’s what it feels like.”
Two hours before the game the tornado sirens went off — that wobbling, hollow sound, rising and falling, eerie, as if the siren is trying to warn you as it dies. The storms delayed the arrival of the Stanley Cup itself: it arrived 10 minutes late, but by the time the night was over, nobody remembered. Before this game, Kane talked about being fortunate, but about how hard this team worked. He said, “I think we all deserve (to be) here.”
And they get to bring passengers on the ride, too. Timonen is a great old Finn who can’t keep up with this league anymore, not after multiple blood clot scares, not at 40 years old. At the morning skate, Toews told him that if the Blackhawks won, he would give Timonen the Cup first. He did.
“I didn’t know what to do with it,” said Timonen. “I didn’t know you could go around the rink with it. It was my first time. I played this game a long time, and battled hard for years. I’ve been on the losing side of the story so many times that I know guys realize that. They know that I’m going to retire. This was my last game, my last time with skates on. The respect level goes both ways.”
Timonen has lost in the Cup final, lost in the Olympic gold medal final, lost in the world championship final. He had never won. He joined the Blackhawks. Now he has.