CHICAGO – It was the vision everyone in town had since Saturday night’s victory in Tampa by the Chicago Blackhawks. The don’t-talk-about-it dreams were completely out in the open by Monday morning and they came true.
The Hawks are Stanley Cup champions for the third time in six years. But this time – for the first time since 1938 – they got to celebrate at home in front of their adoring, red-clad public. The United Center became Party Central late Monday night after the Hawks’ 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Stanley Cup final.
And Patrick Kane, the pride of South Buffalo, was again all over an historic win for this franchise.
Kane set up Duncan Keith’s goal with 2:47 left in the second period that broke up a taut, scoreless thriller and then pounded home a Brad Richards pass with 5:14 remaining in the third for the insurance tally the whole city needed in order exhale.
It was Kane’s first goal of the entire series and his abject relief was apparent as he glided across the rink on one knee. The wide smile, the cartoonish point at Brad Richards for a brilliant pass, all of it.
“You saw my celebration. I had it all going,” a beaming Kane said on the ice amid the postgame revelry. “It was a little bit of relief and a lot of excitement.”
The excitement reached a crescendo as the clock ticked down. After the horn sounded and the famous arena foghorn bellowed, “Sweet Home Chicago” pounded through the massive barn’s loudspeakers as the crowd sang along. The Stanley Cup, oddly enough, was apparently stuck in traffic and the flooded streets of Chicago after daylong downpours but it was only a momentary delay for a quest that had dated to the Hawks’ last win in 2013.
And in the moment everyone fantasized about, captain Jonathan Toews took the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and held it aloft as the building erupted.
Kane said the prospects of victory like this made for a restless Sunday night.
“It’s a chance for this organization to do something special,” he said after the morning skate. “It’s one of things where you’re tossing and turning, your mind is racing. At this time of year, everybody is thinking about what’s going to happen. The best thing is go out and play, let your mind rest.”
With the dream fulfilled, Kane admitted fans would have probably been quite ticked at the Hawks even if they won the Cup, had it come in Game Seven in Tampa after a loss Monday.
“We knew it was a great opportunity. Everyone came in here today knowing we didn’t want to waste this one,” he said. “We caught a couple breaks early and had a great start to the game. It was a great all-around team game, which is exactly what we needed.”
The Hawks needed Kane too and he didn’t let them down.
“I felt so good and I knew I had to step up,” he said. “So many guys on our team had already done that during the series so I knew I had to do something. It was great to come in and produce.”
“We wanted it for each other, for the city,” Toews said. “In so many ways, winning a championship like this in your own city in some ways transcends the sport. Everyone wants to be a part of it. It’s amazing. You can feel the energy.”
Kane easily had his best game of the series and had to picture some puck-dangling like his effort on the Keith goal.
He hung by the blueline near the right point, waiting to find an opening. Keith, the easiest choice ever for the Conn Smythe Trophy, cut to the net and gave Kane that opening by somehow finding a seam in the Tampa Bay defense.
Keith took the Kane pass and his first shot was stopped by Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, who was heroic in goal as he admitted after the game he was playing with a torn groin suffered in Game Two, But Bishop, as is often the case when healthy or not, gave up a fat rebound. Keith curled around Cedric Paquette to snare the puck and didn’t miss.
“Jason Garrison came at me and then I saw another guy come at me,” Kane said. “So I knew with their man on man something was going to be open. I made a saucer pass to ‘Duncs’ and he did the rest, got his own rebound, made a great play on the goal.”
It was quite a night in the Windy City for a variety of reasons.
Less than three hours before the opening faceoff, storms raged outside. Cell phones beeped alerts and tornado sirens wailed, both downtown and on the North Side by Wrigley Field.
Less than 90 minutes before faceoff, President Obama tweeted “Let’s. Go. Hawks.” to his hometown team.
The Star-Spangled Banner, as you would imagine, was insane.
Jim Cornelison, the tenor who belts it out over the roaring crowd before every game, was no match on this night. Our flag was definitely still there, but you couldn’t hear him over the din. It was epic.
The “We Want the Cup” chants were everywhere at the start.
Full marks to the Lightning for keeping things tight. Their issues were health across their roster and the ineffectiveness of star Steven Stamkos.
This was easily Stamkos’ best game of the series but he was stymied again and finished the series without a goal, an incredible and ugly reality for a former 60-goal scorer who was second in the league this year with 43.
Corey Crawford was beaten by Stamkos in the first period, but his laser bounded off the crossbar. In the second period Stamkos corralled a looping clear into the Chicago zone, snowed himself to a near stop as he gathered the puck and tried multiple dekes on Crawford, but was unable to lift the puck over the goalie’s pad.
It went that way the whole series for Stamkos. It was going that way the whole series for Kane too. Until the ultimate moments decided another Cup in his favor. He’ll bring it back home sometime this summer.