Every obstacle was overcome, every possible distraction was pushed aside, and any momentary letdown was met with a response. That was the Blackhawks' way this season.
When the Nashville Predators had them on the ropes, they delivered the most unlikely of short-handed goals. When the Vancouver Canucks won Game 1 decisively, the Hawks hit them hard, winning four of the next five, including three on the road. Though outplayed in Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks, Antti Niemi took matters into his own hands, and took the bite out of the Sharks at the same time. They rolled through the Western Conference regular season champs like they were a low seed just happy to be in the postseason.
The biggest and toughest test was yet to come. A truly talented and resourceful team, the Philadelphia Flyers knew they could match Chris Pronger against the Hawks' top line -- and it worked. Before long though, coach Joel Quenneville responded with a few tricks of his own. In the end, like most of the competition this season, the Flyers didn’t have an answer for the Hawks' depth -- or resiliency.
Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe, but there were so many heroes. Dustin Byfuglien had 17 goals in the 82-game regular season, and then netted 11 more in just 22 playoff games. With five game-winners, he established himself as a money player.
Dave Bolland’s defensive prowess will go down in Hawks history as one of the all-time great performances in a playoff run. The Sedin twins, Joe Thornton, and Mike Richards were all brought down to size, in part, by the scrappy Bolland. His linemate, Kris Versteeg, proved he’s more than a shifty puck handler, playing his best hockey as a Hawk this postseason. On both ends of the ice, Versteeg showed what he is capable of and played a smart game as a checking line winger.
Niemi had his doubters both in Chicago and around the NHL. Game by game, save by save, he changed people’s minds. And just when the Hawks needed a big performance, he gave them one. On other nights, they rewarded him, with big scoring outputs and great shot blocking.
And then there is Patrick Kane. Two-way players, penalty killers, and gritty men are all needed to win a Cup, but the playmaker and scorer is still king. All wrapped up into one of the smaller bodies in the NHL, Kane was yet another player who showed that Hawks resiliency.
A few quiet games here or there did not thwart him. Two of the biggest goals in Hawks history came off Kane’s stick. Both were laced with a flair for the dramatic. No one knows for sure, if the Predators would have gone on to win their quarterfinal match with the Hawks, but Kane’s short-handed goal with 13.6 seconds left in Game 5 removed any chance at an upset. And his strange yet no less dramatic goal in overtime in Game 6 of the finals was a thing of beauty. Like a flash he was around Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and just as quickly he got off a shot so fast no one saw it go in -- except him.
Quenneville has been called a mad scientist, but he experimented so much because he could. With a plethora of talented wingers and versatile players, Quenneville could mix and match however he saw fit. Sometimes Kane and Toews fit like a glove, other times Marian Hossa was better suited with the captain, and then there was the most important and overlooked move Quenneville made in the postseason. Moving Patrick Sharp from wing to center set everything up that followed. Sharp was steady. He scored when he needed to and set up his linemates, first Hossa and then Kane. Sharp to second line center and Bolland to the checking line was the key move of the entire postseason.
The Conn Smythe winner finished off a year few could ever dream of. There is no part of Toews' game that hasn’t improved and, at 22, he’s poised to become one of the great captains in the game. Already being compared to Steve Yzerman, Toews just won’t let his team be denied. And that is the very definition of resilient.
And the reason the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions.