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Blackhawks Tue Jun 16 2015

Blackhawks Win Third Stanley Cup in Six Years

Chicago Blackhawks As the Blackhawks stood in line last June to shake hands with the Los Angeles Kings after dropping a Game 7 thriller at home, each player who remained wanted to do whatever possible to erase that memory from their mind, and make it right for a fan base which had grown tenfold.

Repeating as champs in any sport is the toughest thing there is to do; repeating as champs in a salary-cap era is nearly impossible. The Hawks had managed to win two in its cap era, but the Kings matched that feat after wiping through the Rangers in last year's Final.

After a long offseason, a series of ups and downs throughout the regular season, and a rather erratic start to the postseason, the Blackhawks -- period by period, game by game -- began to erase that memory. And then, finally, just as the skies opened from up above the city and unleashed a torrential downpour before Game 6, the Hawks washed away all memories from a year ago, and eventually shook hands on the very same spot, but this time as Stanley Cup champs -- now its third in the last six years.

In an epic display of speed and finesse, the Hawks and Tampa Bay Lightning gave hockey fans everywhere a glimpse into how great the sport can be. No goonery, no cheap shots, no ugly slashes to the wrists. Instead, poetry in motion from both teams, who, when it's all said and done, likely will combine for multiple entrants into hockey's hall of fame in Toronto.

Each game, except for the deciding Game 6 final, which ended by the final of 2-0, was decided by one goal. The highest combined score in one game was seven goals, which came in Game 2 in Tampa. Beyond that, what was supposed to be a track meet in scoring turned out to be a lesson in great defense and goaltending.

The Hawks were able to contain the game's second-leading scorer this year in Steven Stamkos (43 goals); contain the "Triplets Line," which boasted two of the top-three scorers in this postseason in Tyler Johnson (23 points) and Nikita Kucherov (22 points); and find a way to crack the Ben Bishop code, who led all goaltenders with 13 wins and three shutouts.

Odds are, Bishop was going to be the Conn Smythe winner had the Bolts pulled this one out, but it wasn't to be. Instead it was Duncan Keith earning that honor, and thus ensuring his number 2 will hang amongst the other greats atop rafters in the UC.

Jonathan Toews proved why he's the best captain in the league with his two-way playing, despite only three points in his last five games. His ability to play against the Lightning's top lines proved costly for Lightning coach Jon Cooper, as Toews led the way to contain Tampa's scoring threats.

The same applies for Patrick Kane -- however, it was better late than never for Kane, icing Game 6 with a beauty of a one-timer from Brad Richards, which sent everyone in the Midwest into a frenzy. The most electrifying player in hockey celebrated as though the stadium organ had been lifted off his shoulders after he, Brandon Saad and Richards drove down the ice off of a Brayden Coburn whiff. The open ice in front of the triad was classic Blackhawks hockey in the new era: speed up the middle with creative passing and finishing.

Speaking of Brandon Saad, he's earned whatever paycheck he's about to receive. That might mark the end of Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell's tenure in this city, but the 22-year-old is now a part of this team's future core, and that's what Stan Bowman and company are going to try to keep intact.

Corey Crawford very easily could have received Keith's Conn Smythe, but it wasn't to be. Perhaps being pulled early on in the playoffs against Nashville had something to do with it, but make no mistake on Crow: You're not nursing a hangover right now were it not for Crawford's play between the pipes. He's now the only Blackhawks goalie in history with two Stanley Cups under his belt.

During the stretch run, it was questioned whether or not Bowman's moves at the deadline were going to actually pay off. It was great watching Kimmo Timonen receive the Cup from Toews, but his lack of speed and puck-handling mistakes nearly cost the Hawks, especially against the Ducks.

It took a while for Antoine Vermette to get going, but in the end, he was just as huge in playing in the Final as anyone. Winning faceoffs is his forte, and Vermete ranked 11th among all centers in the postseason with 282 (Toews led all skaters with 528 wins at the dot, and Richards ranked ninth at 304). Vermette's cap hit to the Blackhawks this year was $867,000, which is up this year, and was worth every single penny. He came to the team at the end of a five-year, $18.75 million deal, and likely will be re-signed but for a more modest amount.

Andrew Shaw played some of the best hockey of his career by way of his hustle on the forecheck and limiting time in the penalty box. Were it not for Shaw's determination on many plays in his own end, the Hawks wouldn't have had as many opportunities to rush to Bishop and wear him down.

And now, here we are, in the midst of a dynasty in the cap era, celebrating on home ice for the first time since the Depression. The parade will be Thursday, and rain or shine, you will be there or will watch on television from afar.

In the meantime, the Hawks will look to fit within the cap before the draft on June 26 and some moves will be made. During this process, you might see the Cup around town, in a dive bar or local deli, with one of your favorite players. Summer will turn to fall and they'll lace up the skates again, perhaps with newer faces with familiar ones elsewhere.

The banner will go up -- the sixth in franchise history -- and the show will be spectacular as they try to achieve that most difficult feat in sports: repeating as champs.

It was a glorious season for the team and its fans, especially the way it all ended over one year ago. Those memories of last June are washed away into the subconscious now, and what remains are newer memories that will stay with us forever.

 
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