Are Chicago Blackhawks a dynasty? What else would you call them?
For the first 84 years of their existence, the Chicago Blackhawks were the doormat of the NHL's so-called Original Six teams. They won the fewest Stanley Cups (three) over that period, and they had the worst winning percentage of the six clubs that made it to the modern era of hockey.
What's past is past.
With a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at United Center in Chicago, the Blackhawks captured their third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons, solidifying their place as the NHL's premier franchise and moving them into a tie with the Boston Bruins for the fourth-most Cups in NHL history.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Once you do it once, you can't wait to do it again."
It didn't come easily against a rapidly maturing and increasingly confident Tampa team. Chicago scored more than two goals just once in the six-game Stanley Cup Final series, and there were vast stretches of time where the Blackhawks looked overmatched by the Lightning's speed and skill.
When wing Patrick Kane scored to give the 'Hawks (or either team, for that matter) their first two-goal lead of the series, the city was ready to explode. The Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup at United Center for the first time and on home ice for the first time since April 12, 1938, when they defeated Toronto 4-1 at Chicago Stadium to close the best-of-5 Final in four games.
"In so many ways, winning a championship like this in your own city in some way transcends the sport," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Everyone wants to be a part of it. It's amazing. You can feel the energy."
With a lower-than-expected salary cap projected for next season, Chicago will have some tough decisions to make this summer. Wing Patrick Sharp, defenseman Johnny Oduya and others could fall victim to fiscal necessity, but with a core of Kane, Toews and Keith, and young, emerging stars in Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen, the Blackhawks will be in the Cup conversation for years to come.
"We know it's going to be a short summer, but that's what we want," Kane said. "I don't think there's going to be much sleeping tonight."
Play of the day: Kane's insurance goal. This was a gorgeous play from start to finish. Saad carried the puck up the left wing on the rush and dropped a no-look pass for center Brad Richards. Richards froze goalie Ben Bishop with a shot fake, then slipped the puck across the slot to Kane at the far circle. The pass was right on the tape and Kane deposited the offering into an open net to crush Tampa's hopes.
Turning point: We'll have to go back to Game 5 for that. Tampa had the series back on home ice with a chance to put the Blackhawks on the brink. The young Lightning couldn't close the door, and you just had the feeling Chicago wouldn't miss its opportunity for the kill on home ice.
1. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago. Keith scored the game-winning goal and logged 30:19 of ice time to cap an incredible playoff run.
2. Corey Crawford, G, Chicago. Crawford may never get the credit he is due, but a 25-save shutout in a Stanley Cup-clinching game -- his second such clincher -- is hard to ignore. Over the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final, Crawford allowed two goals on 82 shots, and he finished the series with a .938 save percentage.
3. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago. Kane didn't have a great series, but he was flying on Monday, and that led to a goal and an assist.
Chicago Blackhawks, 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 0.
Series: Chicago wins 4-2.
Key stat: The Blackhawks are the first team to win the Cup three times in the salary cap era following the 2004-05 lockout that canceled the entire NHL season.
Key stat II: The Blackhawks finished seventh in the NHL's overall standings during the regular season, becoming the fifth club outside the top six to win the Stanley Cup in the past seven years.
Best visual: After the game, Toews took the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and hoisted it high over his head, as is the NHL tradition. The first teammate Toews handed the Cup to was 40-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who will retire some time this week. Timonen played 15 terrific seasons with Nashville and Philadelphia, but he had never won a Cup (he lost in the Final to Chicago in 2010 while a Flyer), and his career was in serious jeopardy after he was diagnosed with blood clots in his right leg in 2014. Chicago acquired Timonen at the trade deadline this season to add depth, but age has robbed Timonen of his speed and he played only a minor role (and minor minutes) in the postseason. It was a touching moment to see the classy Finn raise the Cup in his very last game in the NHL and let out a primal scream.
This was no Conn: Keith was a unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Keith became the fourth skater to log 700-plus minutes in a postseason since 1998, joining L.A's Drew Doughty (2014), Edmonton's Chris Pronger (2006) and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom (2002). Throughout the postseason, analysts wondered if Keith could hold up; if Quenneville was wearing him out. Much like the Blackhawks, however, Keith only appeared to get stronger as each series progressed. "I'm just proud to be a part of a group of guys that cares so much and does whatever it takes," Keith said.
Stone-cold Stamkos: Steven Stamkos will no doubt absorb some criticism for his failure to finish in this series. Stamkos finished second in the NHL with 43 goals this season, but he was shut out in the Final and finished with just one assist. It wasn't for lack of chances. Game 6 was emblematic of Stamkos' luck. He hit the crossbar on a wicked shot eight minutes into the first period, and he was stoned on a breakaway when just a little bit of elevation would have given him a goal. Stamkos created plenty of chances, but contrary to what the analytics folks will say, stars have to finish, not just drive possession and scoring chances. It's why they get paid top dollar.
Best quote: "Well, Chicago, that's three Cups in six years. I'd say you have a dynasty." -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
What we learned: No matter what you throw at them, be it physical play, speed or psychological games, the Blackhawks never get rattled and they always have an answer. Chicago's depth and experience are unmatched in the NHL. Chicago's skill and style of play are the envy of 29 other teams, and every season adds to the Blackhawks' mystique. What a massive mental and physical hurdle that package presents for opponents when taking on the NHL's top franchise. What a marketing tool Chicago presents for a league still trying to gain a nationwide foothold in the United States.
Final thought: During a postgame interview with NBC's Pierre McGuire, Chicago veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook voiced an opinion that went far beyond paying due respect to a defeated opponent. Seabrook cautioned anyone who was listening that, in the next six years, Tampa is going to be doing what Chicago has been doing these last six years. There will be some to holes to fill in free agency this summer and there will be plenty of challengers in the improved Eastern Conference, but the Lightning is the epitome of the direction the NHL game is taking. The Bolts are fast, they're skilled, they're poised, they're dynamic and they are so tantalizingly young. Of Chicago's three Stanley Cups in the past six years, this felt like the biggest test the Blackhawks have faced in the Final. Keep an eye on Tampa.