Easy to find the real stars of Game 6

All series long, I’ve been naming my real three stars of each game of the Stanley Cup Final (here are Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5 if you forgot).

But after one of the most thrilling endings to a championship-deciding game that I’ve ever seen, I feel compelled to hand out Game 6’s three stars to concepts, rather than people or things. Because Game 6 exhibited what hockey is all about, and it’s rare you get the opportunity for it to all be at the forefront with a Cup on the line.

So without further ado…

FIRST STAR: Perseverance

Don’t lie, you were already texting your friends asking what they were doing Wednesday night for Game 7 when Chicago forward Bryan Bickell tied Monday’s Game 6 at 2-2 with 1:16 left to play.

And admit it, you were probably already on an overtime beer run by the time Dave Bolland stuffed home Michael Frolik’s redirection off the post to give the Blackhawks the lead — and the Stanley Cup — just 17 seconds later.

I’m not saying I blame you, of course. No one possibly could have seen the end of this game and this series going like it did — no one except the players on the Blackhawks bench, anyway. And that’s why perseverance has to be the star of the night and probably the star of the series.

It sounds so cliche, but Chicago never gave up in Game 6, even when it would have been easy to retreat and regroup for Game 7. The Blackhawks believed that they could still win the game at hand and still return to the Windy City with a Stanley Cup in hand, and for their faith in their own ability, they were rewarded with the greatest prize in professional hockey.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

SECOND STAR: Toughness

Remember when Johnny Boychuk nearly decapitated Jonathan Toews in Game 5 and Toews sat out the rest of the game and then there was all that talk about whether he’d even be on the ice for Game 6 in Boston?

Well, before Game 6, Toews declared himself 100 percent — at least by NHL tough-guy standards — and wouldn’t you know it, he was out on the ice Monday night. Then he contributed in a big way, scoring this goal to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second period:

Then there was Andrew Shaw, who had the painful misfortune of having a Bruins shot deflect off his own stick and into his face in the first period of Game 6, dropping him to the ice bloodied and in obvious pain:

But there was no way Shaw was staying off the ice in this game, and by the start of the second period, he was stitched up and back on the ice. He’d go on to log 10 minutes of ice time, take eight faceoffs and fire two shots. And at the end of it all, he got to hoist the cup, with his face still bleeding:

It’s not that the Bruins didn’t soldier through physical ailments of their own, but the Blackhawks personified toughness with a championship on the line — something to remember next time your favorite basketball player sits out with cramps during the NBA Finals.

THIRD STAR: Respect

No snarkiness intended here — the handshake line at the end of a playoff game is the greatest tradition in sports.

And even after an ending like Monday’s, the victors had the class to pause the celebration to pay respect to the losers, and the losers — who were probably still trying to figure out what the heck just happened — had the respect to congratulate the champions on a Cup well-won:

Year in and year out, it’s a moment that reminds me why I love hockey like I do, and you can bet I’ll be right here, looking forward to the dignity exhibited during the post-championship handshake again next June. Congratulations to the Blackhawks on an amazing season.