Monday, June 24, 2013

Chicago Blackhawks: 2013 Stanley Cup Champions

BOSTON — Down 2-1 with Game 7 staring them in the face, the Blackhawks pulled Corey Crawford — the only reason they were even in the game to that point — and hoped for a miracle.

They got two. And they got the Stanley Cup.

Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland scored 17 seconds apart in the final 1:16 of the third period to give the Blackhawks an epic conclusion to an epic series, and their second championship in four seasons.

Milan Lucic had scored with 7:49 left to break a 1-1 tie. But Bickell — a surprise playoff hero — smacked home a Jonathan Toews pass in the slot to tie it with 1:16 left. And with the Bruins still stunned by that goal, Dave Bolland jammed home a rebound of a Johnny Oduya shot off the post, triggering a wild celebration in the corner that paled in comparison to the wild celebrating that ensued 58.3 seconds later.

It was seven short years to the day that Toews was drafted by the Hawks, a moribund franchise with second-class status in a city that’s seen too much losing in its time, with a smattering of fans and yellowing banners in the rafters. Six years and two days to the drafting of Patrick Kane, who earned this season’s Conn Smythe Trophy.

They were champions in 2010. They’re Chicago icons now, for all time, sure to be bronzed and busted and forever remembered, living history. Along with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp and Niklas Hjalmarsson and Dave Bolland, the core and the heart of a franchise reborn, they’re two-time champions — with so many years still ahead of them. Toews is merely 25. Kane is 24.

And there were new heroes, too. Crawford, who had the unenviable task of replacing a Cup-winning goalie in Antti Niemi — Hawks general manager Stan Bowman let Niemi leave because he believed in the longtime minor-league goalie — was a playoff question mark answered with an exclamation point.

Andrew Shaw’s cheek was the 2013 version of Duncan Keith’s teeth — the energetic third-line center getting knocked out cold by a Shawn Thornton shot to the face, leaving blood on the ice, only to come back in the next period and almost immediately pick a fight in the corner.

And Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, reinvented as penalty-killing machines, staved off four straight Boston power plays to open the game, keeping the game within reach when it so easily could have spiraled out of control.

And it was quite a storm the Hawks had to weather first. The Bruins came out with energy and desperation, dominating the Hawks and dictating play. Boston took 1-0 lead when Chris Kelly won a faceoff against Dave Bolland, then took a nice backhanded cross-crease feed from Tyler Seguin for a goal. That line of Kelly, Seguin and Daniel Paille had a tremendous stretch with several good scoring chances on the previous shift, and with the benefit of a TV timeout, Bruins coach Claude Julien left them out there to finish the job.
Then came the carnage. Boston’s Jaromir Jagr left bloodied and only returned for one second-period shift. Crawford took a Torey Krug shot off the mask and was slow to get up. Shaw was knocked limp by Thornton’s shot, eventually trudging off the ice to a chorus of boos. And Niklas Hjalmarsson skated off to the dressing room in the final minute.

By the end of the first period, the Bruins had a 32-8 edge in shots attempted and had controlled every aspect of the game — except the scoreboard. In a role reversal from Game 2, the Hawks were fortunate to be down 1-0 after being so thoroughly dominated. And just like Boston in Game 2, they made the most of their good fortune.

Stunningly, Shaw came out to start the second period. Hjalmarsson did, too. And finally, the rest of the Hawks showed up, as well.

Toews — who sat out the third period of Game 5 after taking a crushing hit by Johnny Boychuk — tied the game at 1-1 at 4:24 of the second period, just as Shaw was coming out of the penalty box. Toews took the puck off Zdeno Chara’s stick along the boards after a face-off and raced down the ice on a two-on-one with Kane. Toews kept it and beat Tuukka Rask five-hole for the equalizer, setting the stage for an unforgettable third period, and another Hawks championship.
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