Blackhawks complete season-long Cup journey
There's a saying they love here in the City of Brotherly Love, especially when it comes to their sports teams.
"Never say die."
And when Scott Hartnell tied the game with 3:59 to go in regulation on a pure piece of puck luck that went off the stick of Brent Seabrook and then the skate of Marian Hossa, one truly got the sense that these Flyers truly were a team of destiny.
They didn't quit. They had to be beaten.
It all ended so suddenly in overtime, cast in a shadow of a doubt when Patrick Kane's wrist shot sliced its way under goaltender Michael Leighton and just past the goal line, cementing Chicago's first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
The Flyers had played with their nine lives all postseason long, first on the final day of the regular season against the Rangers making the playoffs by way of the shootout. Then again down 3-0 against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinal, just the fourth team to pull off the feat, including an overtime victory in Game 4 and overcoming a 3-0 deficit in Game 7.
This time, the clock struck midnight.
"It was almost like the Olympics, with the way it ended," Kane said. "I saw it go right through the legs. Sticking right under the pad in the net."
What happened next, a period of confusion as Kane and a few teammates headed down ice, gloves and equipment tossed in the air as the capacity crowd watched with suspense. After a short video review, the PA announced Kane's goal and capped one of the odder moments in the long and illustrious history of the Stanley Cup.
"I don't think anyone saw it in the net. I booked it to the other end," Kane said. "I knew it was in. I tried to sell the celebration a bit. Everyone came down, and I think some guys were still kind of a little iffy to see if the puck was in the net. I saw the coaches there pointing at the puck and jumping around. It's pretty surreal right now for sure."
Jonathan Toews, despite not scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup final, took home the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The 22-year-old center from Winnipeg becomes the second-youngest player to captain a Stanley Cup winner — Crosby was 21 when he accomplished the feat last season — while Wayne Gretzky was 23 when he led the Oilers to Stanley Cup glory in 1984.
Toews also adds an Olympic gold medal won with the Canadian team in Vancouver.
"I think they're both special in their own way," Toews said. "Not to take any attention off of our team here right now, but to represent your own country, especially Canada, at the Olympics and your home country, that's something you'll probably never experience again in your lifetime as a hockey player. That's pretty cool.
"On the other hand, everything you go through, the tough times over a long season like we had this year, with such a great group of guys like we have in this locker room, nothing compares to that camaraderie and what you go through as a team. The pressure we were facing all season, to get to this point and win a Stanley Cup, we knew we could do it. We battled hard for each other. That's what makes this one so much better."
Kane started the season bickering with a cabbie in Buffalo and ended it with the most talked-about hockey mullet since Barry Melrose led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup final. In between, what we may be seeing is the upbringing and growth of the greatest pure talent in the history of USA Hockey and if Sidney Crosby didn't net a goal for the Canadians in Vancouver, Kane was seemingly next in line to do so for the Americans.
He got that goal tonight.
If Chicago brought skill to these playoffs, their Stanley Cup counterparts sparked one of the most fascinating runs in NHL playoff history, not just by making the final as the Eastern Conference's seventh seed, but by hanging around in a series in which few thought they had a chance. Philadelphia stuck with the high-powered ‘Hawks through the first four games of the series, frustrating Chicago's dynamic top line with its physicality, led by Chris Pronger, who was a plus-14 in games his club won.
The series changed in a 7-4 victory that saw the burly defenseman take a minus-5, including being on the ice for six goals and watching the seventh from inside the box after Kane baited him in the slot.
"It was a great learning experience for us," Flyers forward Mike Richards said of his team's playoff ride. "I mean, you have to take out of it what it takes to win. It's the hardest thing we've ever had to go through and unfortunately it wasn't enough."
For the first time all series, the Blackhawks played "their game" in Game 6, dominating Philadelphia in the same fashion they coasted through the regular season. They took 41 shots, only let up 24, while controlling the pace of the game from start to finish with their superior quickness and skating ability. They drew the aforementioned Pronger into two first-period penalties, one of which led to a Dustin Byfuglien's goal with 3:11 left n the first period.
And while Scott Hartnell would tie Game 6 with his first of two before the first period would end, Chicago had outshot the Flyers 17-7 in the opening frame. Four of those shots coming in the period's final four minutes after Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel were sent to the box.
The Flyers had good reason to feel fortunate, something they took advantage of when Daniel Briere scored his 12th goal of the playoffs to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead with 12 minutes to go in the second. It was the 11th point of the Stanley Cup final, most for a single player since Mark Messier in 1994. Not too shabby for a man ridiculed for signing an eight-year, $52 million dollar deal back in 2007.
Nine seconds after Briere's tally, Braydon Coburn was sent off for cross-checking, a play quickly negated when Hossa was called for goaltender interference, setting up 40 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey. The Blackhawks would capitalize when Leighton gave up one of the softest goals of the finals to Sharp to tie the game at 2.
"When you have a lead, there was an opportunity to go further, I felt like we had opportunities towards the end of the game to put things away, and we didn't," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "When we had momentum, we could have maybe jumped on it more. There were goals going back and forth the entire series."
With 2:17 to go in the second, Andrew Ladd, a game-time decision all series long, tipped home a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot from the left point and by the shoulder of Leighton. It was at that point, where the game and the series really took on that Olympic feel, as Philadelphia pressured just enough to keep the game interesting, while the talented Blackhawks couldn't pick up that fourth goal to put the game away.
"They're a really good team," Kane said. "They're very well-coached. That was probably the best we've seen all year where they had three really good lines that were pretty scary.
"So I think we're pretty fortunate to come away with winning this series. But it's been a hell of a year for us. We just had to end it on this note."
The Blackhawks title puts the pressure on the Maple Leafs, a club who's drought dates back to 1967. Worse yet, they don't seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon.