Cup win for Hawks felt extra special

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
1:24
AM CT
Burnside By Scott Burnside
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- There will be a tendency to suggest this dramatic Stanley Cup win by the Chicago Blackhawks over the Boston Bruins is simply about speed and skill triumphing over a more physical grinding style.

But that would be to sell this Blackhawks team and this final series far short.

That would be to overlook something deeper, more complex, something that was revealed in the final moments of yet another to-and-fro, emotionally draining game. To say this was only about the Blackhawks' skill would be to deny whatever it is that allows a team to score twice in a span of 17.7 seconds in the final 1:16 to steal a Stanley Cup victory from the jaws of Game 6 defeat.

“This group of guys right here, they make you look good every day. It’s a special group, special team,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, the sweat still dripping from the bill of his new Stanley Cup championship cap as he talked to reporters on the TD Garden ice.

“They deserve it more than anybody."

Toews once again delivered in the clutch, scoring Chicago's first goal of Game 6 after the Bruins had taken a 1-0 lead in a dominant first period -- then set up the tying goal late in the third.

Toews' assist was part of a frenzy of activity in the final period, as the Blackhawks withstood a Milan Lucic goal that broke a 1-1 tie and looked like it would send this terrific series back to Chicago for a seventh game on Wednesday. Chicago stunned the Bruins and their fans, first with a goal by Bryan Bickell off a great feed from Toews with 1:16 left, then with a goal by Dave Bolland with 58.3 seconds left in regulation after a Johnny Oduya shot hit the post.

As if by magic, hundreds of Blackhawks fans, most sitting in one section of TD Garden after having traveled to Boston with the team, made their way to the glass on both sides of the rink to cheer on their unlikely heroes.

Patrick Sharp, one of a handful of Conn Smythe trophy candidates as playoff MVP, skated by with his daughter in his hands -- she too sporting a Sharp jersey -- yelling “Two, baby,” driving the already delirious fans around the bend.

And there’s the rub, no?

Both the Bruins and Blackhawks were teams that had been down this road in the recent past, Chicago winning its first Cup since 1961 in 2010 and the Bruins erasing a long drought of their own with a championship the following year.

This final reflected that kind of maturity and experience.

As much as there were stark differences in style, these two teams were full-on heavyweights who embraced a series that was just as much about punch and counterpunch.

It was a series about players who refused to be bowed by lead changes in games or the series itself.

It was about players overcoming incredible pain and injuries to push their respective teams forward in an achingly tight series.

Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins
AP Photo/Charles KrupaPatrice Bergeron was one of the many Bruins to fight through injury.
Patrice Bergeron fought through a broken rib and torn rib cartilage muscles from Game 5 and a separated shoulder sustained in Game 6.

Nathan Horton played with a dislocated shoulder.

Marian Hossa played with a disk issue in his back that caused him to lose feeling in his leg at times.

Bickell was also injured, and head coach Joel Quenneville admitted he was surprised the big winger was able to keep playing on a regular shift.

Toews, who did not play in the third period of Game 5, did not elaborate on his injury status -- nor did Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who was a horse in this series.

Michal Handzus also played with a wrist injury.

“They're deep," Boston head coach Claude Julien said. "They got stronger as the series went on, and they’re a great hockey club. They need to be congratulated on that.

“But at the same time, I'm going to stand here and tell you how proud I am of our team, how those guys battled right until the end. Without getting into all these injuries today, because it's not the time, we battled through a lot.

“You know, when you realize that you're a couple wins away from a Stanley Cup and how those guys push through a lot of things, I have nothing but good things to say about it.”

It was not surprising, perhaps, that a series as close as this turned on a rebound off a goal post. And maybe as time passes, that will imbue this championship with a special quality for the Blackhawks who were there to revel in the moment.

“It’s a great feeling," Blackhawks president John McDonough told ESPN.com. "I didn’t think the first one could feel any better. This one feels better.

“The Stanley Cup feels heavier for some reason. I’m really proud of this organization. This is an incredibly resilient group. Sixteen wins in the postseason, too much overtime, too many dramas, but they play their absolute best when their backs are against the wall.”

When the team won four years ago, Stan Bowman was a GM in his first year on the job, having replaced Dale Tallon the previous offseason. In the wake of the win there was much discussion about the credit that was due Tallon and former executive Rick Dudley.

This time, though, the praise rests with Bowman, who had to divest himself of core players in the wake of the ’10 Cup win to get under the salary cap. In the interim he drafted shrewdly, acquired depth along the blue line in Oduya and Michal Rozsival -- both of whom played key roles during this playoff run -- while locking up key components to long-term deals.

“Pretty special group," said Sharp, who joined this team when they were an afterthought in Chicago and now owns two Cup rings and has elevated his status as one of the game’s top leaders and producers. "We didn’t quite know what we had during the lockout. [To] start the season the way we did, I think this was definitely a goal of ours that could be attained.

“It’s never easy getting here, but the fact [is] that we beat a lot of good teams along the way. I’m proud to say we’re champions."

Chicago Blackhawks celebrate winning the Stanley Cup
Michael Ivins/USA TODAY SportsBlackhawks veterans wanted their young teammates to experience this feeling.
Throughout the playoffs, veteran Blackhawks from the ’10 Cup win talked about how they wanted to share that with the younger players who came to the team in the last year or two as the Blackhawks remade their depth.

It was a sentiment not lost on youngsters such as Ben Smith, who got into one game in the final and will have his name inscribed on the trophy as a result.

“It’s unbelievable," Smith told ESPN.com. "Kind of [a] year that I had not been around too much, but just [to] have this experience and be a part of it, it’s huge. I think it was important for those guys wanting to share it with all of us young guys that had kind of come up together, and hopefully it’ll be our turn to pay it forward at some point."

And to hold the Stanley Cup over your head?

“Honestly, it’s a bit surreal," the Winston-Salem, N.C., native told ESPN.com. "It’s hard to explain. I’m sure I’ll think about it this summer that moment and how special it was. Hope to get ahold of that thing a couple of more times before I head home for summer."

Rocky Wirtz, the man who rescued this team from the backwaters of the major sporting world after the death of his father, William Wirtz, admitted he enjoyed this Cup celebration more because he has had two knee replacements since the ’10 Cup win.

“It was a heck of a lot easier to lift it up, and I can actually stand up and not need about 14 Advils,” Wirtz told ESPN.com.

He, too, praised Bowman for the work he has done in redefining this team so quickly after the last championship, a feat that vaults the team to the top of the hockey ladder -- certainly since the introduction of the salary cap in the 2005-06 season.

“What Stan Bowman has done as hockey operations is second to none," Wirtz said. "We have nine players back and you realize, you see how we develop players, and he filled the positions. People like Rozsival taking a big pay cut to come to Chicago says a lot. And Johnny Oduya last year. We wouldn’t have made the playoffs, in my humble opinion, without him last year.

“He should be the GM of the year as far as I’m concerned, because it’s easy to talk about [but] it’s hard to do.”

Not far away, the soft-spoken GM admitted that this season was special, starting with 24 straight games with a point after the lockout ended in early January.

"The first one is incredible," Bowman said. "But this one, the feeling is different because it’s just so hard to win. You realize that. You can appreciate the task that we pulled off this year. Not only to win it all, but to win it the way we did. To be on top all year."

As time ticked away in the third period, Wirtz admitted his lucky coin got a pretty vigorous workout.

“I got ahold of my lucky coin; I was rubbing it, rubbing it, rubbing it," he said with a smile while showing the silver coin. "I’m lucky it didn’t tear my pocket off."

On one side is a sun in raised relief. On the other, the word "gratitude."

“Because we’re sure grateful we’re here,” he said.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26