TAMPA, Fla. – Patrick Kane likes to howl “Showtime” after some of his biggest goals and he’s become one of the major bright-lights/big-city guys in the NHL. It’s a long way from South Buffalo and the rinks of West Seneca. Wednesday night in Amalie Arena, he starts his quest for a third Stanley Cup in six years, a third Cup by age 26.
The Chicago Blackhawks won as a bunch of kids in 2010 on Kane’s overtime goal in Philadelphia, slipped into salary cap jail for a couple of seasons and then won again in 2013 as Kane took the Conn Smythe Trophy. Last year, with a repeat title there for the taking, a crushing overtime loss to Los Angeles in the Western Conference final ended their season.
But the Hawks are back again, this time against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They simply persevere.
“It would be special” to get a third Cup, Kane said while meeting reporters Tuesday in Amalie Arena on Media Day. “When you have that opportunity right now in front of you, you want to take advantage of it. These are moments you don’t want to let slip away and look back on them where you say you wish you would have done this or that. The thing I like about our team is we learned from our mistakes in the past.
“It goes by quick, for sure. It’s amazing to be sitting here at 26 years old, your eighth year in the league, third Stanley Cup final. It definitely goes by quick, especially when you hear and think about the Combine going on back in Buffalo this week and you think about getting drafted. How that all seems like just yesterday.”
The master of the puck-dangle has morphed into one of the faces of American hockey since he was taken first overall by the Hawks at the 2007 draft in Columbus. Who was an interested spectator that day? None other than Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who went No. 1 at the 2008 gathering.
“He’s one of the most skilled guys, if not the most skilled guy in the league,” Stamkos said of Kane. “It’s amazing when the puck is on his stick the things he’s able to do. So we’re going to have to be aware. … I remember going to Columbus watching them get drafted the year before my year and realizing those were guys I just played and competed against and I could be in their shoes one day.”
Stamkos hasn’t won a Cup yet, so he hasn’t really been in Kane’s shoes. In fact, this is his first trip to the final. Kane remembers the feeling well.
“They’re a young team and I can remember in 2010 when we were pretty young, too,” Kane said. “I think I made a comment back then that we were too young and stupid to realize the magnitude of the situation we’re in. That could go for them too. They’ve had a great playoff, they’ve had some big games. They have wins in Game Sevens, a lot of players have stepped up.”
Still, from the No-Kidding Department, it’s hard to win the Cup. Only 1,134 players in the history of the league have done it. But even more impressive, according to NHL.com, is the fact that only 238 players have won it three or more times. Just think of how many thousands of players have cycled through the league over the last century.
“It’s exciting,” Kane said. “You’ve been through it a couple times before and we’ve been fortunate to win it both times. But after those and even after last year, you start to wonder when the next time you’ll be back.”
It has been quite a different kind of season for Kane. He was seemingly on his way to a Hart Trophy when he fractured his collarbone in February and was supposed to be out until the Western Conference final – if the Blackhawks even made it that far without him.
But by the time the Hawks hit Buffalo on April 3, Kane was skating well on game day and pushing to make the lineup. He got there by the playoff opener against Nashville.
“I was trying to show the coaches that I was ready to play that night but they wouldn’t let me play in Buffalo,” Kane said with a laugh. “I was probably still not ready at that point but I remember skating that morning and feeling pretty good. Where I was at as far as conditioning, skating and shooting the puck, you just have to get that clearance for contact.”
Once he got that clearance, Kane picked up right where he left off as one of the icons of Chicago sports.
Next season, he and captain Jonathan Toews start their matching eight-year, $84 million contracts that will feature league-high cap hits of $10.5 million per season. You’d think there’s a good chance they’ll be together in bronze someday outside the United Center, joining the likes of legendary Hawks Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito.
The Hawks were nowhere until Kane and Toews showed up on the scene and now they’re the toast of the town. The Bulls in the post-Michael Jordan era are a perennial disappointment. The Bears have become mediocre. The White Sox are borderline irrelevant while the Cubs are the Cubs, still with no titles since 1908 but at least with burgeoning optimism amid a bevy of prospects playing for new manager Joe Maddon.
“For sure, you can remember coming in as a young kid at 18-19 years old,” Kane said. “I remember the first day I went to Chicago going through all the traffic and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t even know if I can live here, let alone play here.’
“It’s all pretty cool when you go through the draft. You don’t think about going to a certain team but I don’t think it could have worked out better than going to Chicago with the players we have, the organization and the way the city loves hockey and really says that it’s a hockey city. It’s something we heard all along when we were younger that if we play well and start winning games, the fans will come around and start selling out. And that’s what’s happened.”
It’s a hockey town again because the Hawks have this habit of playing well into May and even into June. And because Kane, among others, keeps making huge plays.
With their Game Seven win at Anaheim in the Western Conference final, the Blackhawks improved to 11-4 since 2009 when facing elimination. Kane has 20 points in those 15 games, second only to Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for points in elimination games since 2009.
In his two previous appearances in the finals Kane has six goals and seven assists in 12 games. He grew up idolizing Colorado stars Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, watching the way they would score seemingly every big goal for the Avalanche in the spring, often in overtime.
“It’s something every player strives to be, to be good in the big-game situations,” Kane said. “In big moments, you want to make sure you step up for your team. It seems like our team has been in so many big games and moments that your turn and your time is going to come.
“We share the same excitement but I think we’re more appreciative now being here for a third time, especially in six years. When these situations and moments come around … you might as well sacrifice everything for the next couple weeks.”