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Blackhawks Mon Jun 24 2013

Blackhawks Hoist The Stanley Cup

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png It's almost unfathomable what went down Monday night in Boston, but then again, just as Game 6 hung on a thread, so did the entire 2013 season.

Just think about it -- the entire lifeline of professional hockey in 2013 was left in the hands of billionaires, agents, lawyers, union officials and prayers just as the eleventh hour struck on a season, which was so close to not happening. But then on Sunday, January 6, the NHL and Players' Association finally struck a tentative deal, which kick-started the heartbeat of the NHL. Turns out, it was the first of many hurdles the Hawks would face this year.

The lockout-shortened season meant that every team would have to play multiple back-to-back games, as well as four or five games within in a week's time. The Hawks got an early test, going into Los Angeles for its first game of the season, facing the defending Stanley Cup champs. The end result, a 5-2 win, would start a streak no one saw coming.

Twenty-three games later, the Hawks were the talk of the hockey world, including a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The streak, which was so impossible in itself, should have died so many times over. Just nine games in, Marian Hossa hit a wrister on Calgary Flames' goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, with only 3 seconds remaining in regulation, to put the game into overtime, which the Hawks won in a shootout by the final of 3-2.

After the streak, the Hawks cruised to an NHL-best 36-7-5 record while taking home the Presidents' Trophy, an award for the league's best record during the regular season. Home ice secured along with starting goalie Corey Crawford and backup Ray Emery earning the co-Jennings Trophy honor. All that was left was the hard-hitting action of the playoffs.

The Hawks would take on the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the NHL playoffs. In what was considered a warm-up for either the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues/Los Angeles Kings, the Hawks took the series four games to one and looked every bit the part of a team on its way to another championship run.

After learning that the Hawks would face its oldest rival in the Detroit Red Wings in round two, a lot of fans, media (self included) learned the hard way that a wounded animal is at its most dangerous when put to the challenge of surviving or being left for dead. The Hawks won Game 1 at the United Center in decisive fashion by the final of 4-1. What was to follow would be the Hawks' toughest challenge to that point.

Before anyone could shake the hangover of celebrating Game 1, the Red Wings took a commanding 3-1 lead and had everyone asking within earshot to trade Crawford and fire head coach Joel Quenneville. But just as the lifeline of the NHL season was at its darkest hour, the Hawks pulled together whatever ounce of effort it had left, and pushed the Red Wings to a Game 7, which included a 4-1 Game 5 win in Chicago, a 4-3 win in Game 6 in Detroit, and an improbable 2-1 win, in overtime, which almost rekindled Cubs' fans memories of Steve Bartman, when a Niklas Hjalmarsson goal was waved off late due to a bad call. Instead, Brent Seabrook ended all doubt with a slapper that sent everyone home a lot happier.

As epic as the series was against the Red Wings, the matchup against the defending champs, the Los Angeles Kings, in the Western Conference Final, was, albeit, tense; however, a smaller speed bump in the road to the ultimate prize that lie ahead. The Hawks overcame the Kings four games to one, captured, but didn't touch, the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy, and suddenly the winter-chill memory of the lockout had suddenly began to melt away with the potential of an early-summer Stanley Cup.

Just as Game 5 ended against the Kings, a two-overtime thriller, won on the effort of a Patrick Kane hat trick, Game 1 against Boston would carry the theme of late heroics.

Due to the lockout-shortened season, the NHL made it so that scheduling would be based off of teams playing within its own conference. That meant the Blackhawks and Bruins Stanley Cup Final would be the first matchup of both teams since Saturday, October 15, 2011, when the Bruins beat the Hawks at the United Center 3-2 in a shootout. A close game then only would prove to be a preview of what was to come some 20 months later.

One final hurdle for the Hawks, which would prove to be its biggest challenge to date. With names like Chára, Bergeron, Krejčí; not to mention a sweeping of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was clear this first matchup of Original Six teams since 1979 would more than likely go seven games. Both teams knew each other well, but it seemed like an eternity since they faced one another.

The Hawks took Game 1 in triple overtime, by the final of 3-2, after Andrew Shaw became an overnight sensation by proclaiming his love of shin pads. From there, the Bruins took a two-games-to-one lead, which brought back shades of the Red Wings' series.

The Hawks fought back after Quenneville decided to revert to the line, which ultimately crushed the Kings: Kane-Toews-Bickell. From that came a barrage of goals from Patrick Kane, a resurgence of life from captain Jonathan Toews, and a 3-2 series lead, heading into TD Garden Monday night.

With the Bruins' backs against the wall and the Hawks on the precipice of the ultimate prize, it was sure to be a great Game 6, if only someone would get Jim Belushi off the camera. Nevertheless, another epic battle, one last hurdle for the Hawks remained before they could stake claim in being the only team to win two Cups this decade and within the salary-cap era.

The Bruins took an early 1-0 lead before Toews, who was drafted on this day just seven years earlier, tied the game on a shot for the ages. The Bruins regained the lead on a Milan Lucic wrister with only 7:49 remaining in the game.

It was at this point everyone in Chicago collectively thought, "Well, maybe they can win it at home. There's at least that." Thankfully, no one told that to soon-to-be-paid Bryan Bickell and more-than-likely, soon-to-be-dealt Dave Bolland.

With merely 1 minute, 16 seconds left in regulation, the same amount of time which seemed to remain on the NHL season back in early-January, Bickell scored on a Toews pass that, more than likely, pulled every leg muscle of every Hawks fan out there, while breaking every heart of every Bruins fan along the eastern seaboard.

It looked like this one was going to head to yet another classic-overtime thriller, but just 17 seconds later, it was "The Rat" who snatched the cheese from the trap inside the TD Garden. Bolland, who has had a very forgettable Stanley Cup Final, hit a wrist-shot rebound past Tuukka Rask just 17 seconds later, leaving only 59 seconds between the Hawks winning its second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

The Hawks were dead to right. The series was going to shift back to the United Center. The guys who wear white gloves to carry the Cup were getting ready to FedEx the thing back to the Windy City. That's how close this one shook out -- just as close as the season never existing.

Millions of fans everywhere are still in shock, and just as many players are still unaware of what actually happened. Yet, the Hawks have pulled off the ultimate trick since the Devil convinced everyone he didn't exist.

What's even more amazing, and more news of this will come out in the days ahead, was the fact that pretty much everyone on the ice was held together with paper clips and Scotch tape. Set aside the fact that Andrew Shaw had to come off the ice every two minutes because he took a puck to the face in this game, there were many others who were running on adrenaline alone.

It's being reported that Bickell played Game 6 with a grade-2 knee sprain, Marian Hossa's neck injury caused his right foot to go numb at one point, and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, who didn't play in the third period of Game 5, said he broke a rib and had torn cartilage coming into Game 6.

The Hawks took Game 6 by the final of 3-2, with Kane being only the fourth American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Toews made his now-familiar stroll up to Gary Bettman, the man who was more of a threat to the Hawks reaching the pinnacle than the Bruins, grabbed the Cup and then handed it off to Michal Handzuš, the elder statesman of the team.

It's all still a blur, and it probably will remain so until you see Lord Stanley at your local watering hole or random diner. And just as Kane scored the 2010 winner in obscurity, the Hawks shocked the world in plain sight, all in the span of 17 seconds in 2013.

Stanley's coming back home to Chicago, and it feels amazing. There will be a parade, and there will be fans old and new, high-fiving each other and trading stories of where they were when they heard the NHL season was salvaged and where they were when the final horn sounded in Boston.

It was a fast five months, Chicago. Enjoy every minute of it. The 2013-2014 season begins in less than four months. Just enough time to soak all of this in.

 
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