17 Seconds that Clinched the Cup for Chicago
They were moments that will now and forever be frozen in time.
In a Stanley Cup Finals that specialized in high drama and transcendant attrition, the two goals Chicago tallied within 17 seconds at the end of Game Six capped a classic season for the record-setting Blackhawks. Already possessors of the Presidents' Trophy and a 24-game unbeaten streak to begin a lockout-abbreviated campaign, captain Jeff Toews and company created more than enough highlights to virtually obscure the hard fact that a senseless work action almost prevented any of these memories from even happening.
Trailing, 2-1, entering the final two minutes of the contest, the Blackhawks were fortunate to still be in the game. The Boston Bruins were relentless in their attack, but Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjälmarsson -- and for God's sake, national announcers, how hard is it to ask him how to pronounce his surname? (It's YELL-murs-soon) -- and their fellow blueliners yielded only a handful of chances inside the perimeter. They were so effective that Boston's power play looked like an even-strength exercise; the Bruins went 0-for-4 with little creativity.
And when shots did get through, Corey Crawford was a wall. Only a tic-tac-toe combo from Daniel Paille to Tyler Seguin to Chris Kelly for the finish got through, and for a vast expanse of time, it looked like it might be enough. Too often, Boston seemed to play like it would be enough. For example, man-mountain Zdeno Chara -- he of the 109mph heater -- was reluctant to shoot, even when he had time and space. Perhaps he was apprehensive of a howitzer blast being blocked by a heretofore unseen defender and creating a long carom that would create an odd-man rush the other way.
If so, then Chara should have kept that cautionary thought in mind when he pinched on an offensive zone faceoff late in the second period. Video review of Blackhawk counterstrikes surely provided glaring evidence of Toews, Patrick Kane, and Bryan Bickell penalizing poorly-timed pinches. Blueliner aggression was a key factor in Boston's own miracle comeback against Toronto, but the difference there was desperation; they were the pursuers and not the preservationists.
Ironically, a poor call on an imaginary hand pass set the stage. Chara moved in on a faceoff that shouldn't have been, Toews beat him to the puck, banked it off the boards behind the 6-9 defenseman, and was off to the races. Like so many times this season, linemate Patrick Kane jumped into the rush, and Dennis Seidenberg was left to deal with the charge.
Predictably, the German became victim to a maddening trend in today's hockey. Instead of taking away the pass and leaving the puckhandler to the goalie, Seidenberg split the distance between Toews and Kane and attempted to play both. This left the brilliant Tuukka Rask girding to defend two options instead of one, and in the sheer suddenness of hockey, even the slightest hesitation can be fatal.
It was again. Rask had to be aware of Kane and Toews' patented blind pass at full speed. It left him vulnerable and Chicago's captain found the flaw, disdaining the pass this time and firing five-hole to tie the game at 4.24 of the second.
Milan Lucic, who was excellent throughout the playoffs, capitalized on an egregious Duncan Keith turnover in the game's waning minutes, seemingly paving the way for a Game 7 in Chicago. But it was not to be.
The reunited line of Toews-Kane-Bickell took the ice with an added attacker as the Blackhawks pulled Crawford with 1.20 left in the game. Forced to zone, Lucic lost sight of Bickell when Seidenberg chose to check Kane into the corner boards. The hit was ineffective, Chicago kept the puck alive, and Kane fed the darting Bickell with a cross-crease pass that left Chara flat-footed and Rask helpless. The game was tied.
Stunned, the Bruins were still reeling from the specter of overtime when Chicago struck again. 17 seconds later.
A rejuvenated Blackhawk offense kept rolling its lines, and the grinders' energy gained the puck at center ice to mount the fateful push. A shot from the right midboards was retrieved and fed back to Johnny Oduya, whose deflected shot caught Rask leaning reflexively as it hit the post, leaving a cavernous target for Dave Bolland, who made no mistake. It was the rebound that secured Chicago's second Stanley Cup in four years.
The mistake on the play was Johnny Boychuk's. How does a defenseman -- or any defender, for that matter -- not be looking to lift an attacker's stick around the net? It's a fundamental move that is stressed from Mite hockey onward. The Bolland clincher was a harsh reminder why.
It was only revealed after the game that Bruins' sparkplug Patrice Bergeron was playing with a broken rib, torn rib cartilage, and a slighly separated shoulder. And yet, the reason he left Game 5 in an ambulance was to check on a possibly ruptured spleen. But there he was in Game 6. Because it's the Cup.
Boychuk had all but knocked Toews out of Game 5 with a crushing check. But Toews obviously returned for Game 6. Nathan Horton came back from a concussion to do his bit for the Bruins. Jaromir Jagr was dinged up, left Game 6 and then returned. So did Andrew Shaw, who had to get stitched up from a point-blank puck to the cheek that left a pool of blood on the ice. Earlier in the playoffs, Boston forward Gregory Campbell broke a leg blocking a power-play shot and finished his shift.
None of this is considered exceptional by hockey players, although Bergeron deserves a glass raised in praise. A relentless desire to see his name engraved on the oldest trophy in North American team sports (first awarded in 1893; England's FA Cup is the world's oldest, originating in 1871) propels each player to a competitive endurance that not even adrenaline can sustain. It has always been this way, and it will always be.
This year, it was two Original Six teams to put this mindset on display. They did the game and its traditions proud.