Chicago Blackhawks: Stanley Cup finals
Sure, Kanye said it's "Yeezy season," but Chicago likes to dance. Save the dark, contemplative stuff for what remains of baseball season.
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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.
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."
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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We might be more than a win away from using dynasty to describe the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
But it certainly would be a tempting proposition now that the Hawks are within one victory of earning their second Stanley Cup championship in four years, following a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday.
The Hawks lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 in Boston on Monday.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after a frantic finish to Game 5. “It’s going to be really tough.”
What separates the top-tier goaltenders from the average ones is their ability to plug the holes soon after and not allow those dreadful nights to stack up, especially when it comes to the playoffs.
Crawford’s subpar performance was criticized by fans, resulted in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville having to answer whether backup goaltender Ray Emery could replace Crawford and led to countless questions to Crawford about his glove-side struggles. Crawford accepted it all and said he knew he had to do better.
A game later, Crawford was better.
As Crawford has done all season, he dispensed of his forgettable game and replaced it with a memorable one. He held the Bruins to one goal on 24 shots and helped the Blackhawks take a 3-2 series lead with a 3-1 win over Boston in Game 5 on Saturday.
ESPN Chicago takes a look at the Blackhawks' road to the Stanley Cup through pictures.
Click through our photo gallery, which tells the story of how the Hawks have arrived at Game 4 of the finals, two wins from their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Game 4 Report Card: Chicago Blackhawks 6, Boston Bruins 5 (OT)
The chances and the scoring were spread out, led by the Hawks' top line which accounted for two goals in the second period. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane finished chances like they're supposed to while Patrick Sharp, playing on the second line, kept peppering Tuukka Rask to the tune of eight shots on net and a power-play goal. And don't forget Brandon Saad's play to set up Michal Handzus with the game's first tally back in the first period. Saad's turnover led to Boston's first score as well, but it was one of the few big mistakes the forward made -- though the Hawks took a couple of bad penalties, including both Toews and Kane. The defense helped the offense, getting shots through from the point and leading the rush. Winning 49 percent of the faceoffs helped as the Hawks reversed most trends on offense from Game 3.
The blueliners get points for contributing on offense, but power-play goals given up and lost battles in their own zone downgrade them. Johnny Oduya, in particular, had his struggles, including one glaring one in which he couldn't win the puck from Jaromir Jagr during an extended battle along the boards. Patrice Bergeron scored seconds later. Several shots on Corey Crawford came with more time and space than anyone would have liked. It was a tough night on defense but Michal Rozsival and Brent Seabrook helped save the day, contributing on offense.
It's rare to give a winning goaltender a near-failing grade, but Corey Crawford contributed to the Hawks giving up three leads. Though the Bruins had some good looks, Crawford simply could not track the puck with his glove. He kept missing. The only real excuse he had was on one of Bergeron's goals as the puck came off the glass behind Crawford and bounced back into the crease, where it was tough for the goalie to find. Otherwise, Crawford's glove was hit or miss all night.
It was a failing grade on Monday but the Hawks saved themselves with a short-handed tally and a big power-play goal, their first of the finals, in the third period. But two power-play goals by the Bruins offset any success the Hawks had on special teams. All of a sudden the Hawks aren't making the plays killing penalties they did all season and the Bruins are capitalizing. Besides the one power-play tally, the rest of the night with the man advantage was business as usual: bad.
BOSTON -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 6-5 overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals at TD Garden on Wednesday.
How it happened: Goals were difficult to come by for both teams in Games 2 and 3, but that all changed on Wednesday. The Blackhawks and Bruins couldn't stop scoring in Game 4. Brent Seabrook broke a 5-5 tie with the winner in overtime. It all started when the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead when Brandon Saad stole the puck from Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and set up Michal Handzus for a short-handed goal at 6:48 of the first period. A Saad turnover would be partly responsible for the Bruins answering with a power-play goal by Rich Peverley at 14:43 of the first period. The Blackhawks went ahead 3-1 in the second period with consecutive goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Milan Lucic cut the Blackhawks' lead to one at 14:43, but the Blackhawks scored less than a minute later with a goal by Marcus Kruger. With the Blackhawks up 4-2, Patrice Bergeron emerged for the Bruins. He scored on a power-play goal at 17:22 of the second period and tied the game at 4-4 at 2:05 of the third period. Patrick Sharp put the Blackhawks back ahead shortly with a power-play goal at 11:19 of the third period. Less than a minute later, Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk tied the game. Neither Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford nor Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask had previously allowed more than four goals in a playoff game this season.
Player of the game: Seabrook came through again. It was his second winner of the playoffs this season.
What it means: The Blackhawks evened the series at 2-2 and regained home-ice advantage. The Blackhawks had scored just two goals in the past two games. One reason the Blackhawks broke out of their slump was Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reunited Toews and Kane. They had two goals and one assist on Wednesday. It was just Toews' second goal of the playoffs. The Blackhawks' power play also converted for the first time in the series. They're 1-for-15 in the series. The goal snapped the Bruins' streak of 30 consecutive penalty kills. The Blackhawks improved to 4-5 on the road in the playoffs this season, and the Bruins fell to 7-3 at TD Garden.
What's next: The series moves to Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday. The Blackhawks are 10-2 at the United Center in the playoffs this season. The Bruins are 6-3 on the road.
Game 3 Report Card: Boston Bruins 2, Chicago Blackhawks 0
Since the power play includes offense, the grade fits. You could count on one hand the dangerous chances the Hawks had. Duncan Keith probably had one of the best of the night, moving in close on Tuukka Rask early in the game but he chose to pass instead of shoot. It was that kind of night for the Hawks, who seemingly never overcame the loss of Marian Hossa. The offensive lines looked out of sync all night and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville will undoubtedly go back to the drawing board between games, especially if Hossa is out for Game 4. Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp missed the net one too many times.
The defense played fine, neither distinguishing itself in a good or bad way. Michal Rozsival threw a blind pass around the boards in the Hawks' zone, which led to the scoring sequence on the Bruins' first goal, but it wasn't an awful turnover. The second goal came on the continuation of a five-on-three power play and there wasn't much Brent Seabrook could do after Jaromir Jagr made a perfect door-step pass to Patrice Bergeron. But that's all the Bruins would get on the night as the Hawks limited Boston to a manageable amount of good scoring chances, at least during five-on-five play.
Corey Crawford did all that he could, once again getting little help in front of him. The power-play goal came after a picture-perfect pass from Jagr, and Daniel Paille's tally to open the scoring was a good shot off a broken play by the Hawks as they tried to clear the zone. Crawford stopped 33, playing an overall decent game.
The Hawks' power play was brutal once again, getting just four shots on net in 8:11 of man-advantage time. The Bruins added insult to injury getting a power play goal of their own, making it 2-0. The Hawks have had no answers this entire series or postseason when on the power play. In fact it has taken momentum away more than it has given them a boost. Boston had better scoring chances on the Hawks' power play than the Hawks did. That says it all.
For a few minutes, Crawford was going to do nothing. He was done focusing. He was done stopping shots. He was done answering questions. This was his time.
With a look of pure exhaustion, he sat deep in his stall with his back up against the wall and finally shut his mind and body down around 12:15 Thursday morning.
Playing 112 minutes, 8 seconds of hockey and stopping a career-high 51 shots in a 4-3 three-overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals will do that to a person.
"In 2010, we didn't really know how good our team was," Toews said Tuesday. "We just went out there, we won games and next thing we know we're winning the Stanley Cup. We didn't think twice about it. The last couple years you go through tough times and you start asking yourself questions. 'Why didn't I have the same success?' You can spin your wheels thinking about it."
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