PHILADELPHIA – In the end, it was all so fitting. The Chicago Blackhawks ended 49 years of misery on the strength of the two cornerstones of their foundation – one brick scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime and the other being named the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews couldn’t be more different in terms of personality, but their trajectory to Stanley Cup glory is the same. Both players came into the league three years ago and they are the combined face of the organization. Kane, the first overall pick in 2007, scored the Cup-winning goal at 4:06 of overtime in Game 6 of the final and Toews, the third overall choice the year before, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
“You don’t predict something like that,” Toews said, referring to Kane’s bizarre overtime goal. But the captain could just as easily have been talking about how quickly he and Kane found Stanley Cup glory.
When you think about it, Kane fits the big-time, big-scoring hero role pretty well. You expect him to score a big goal the way he did to win the Stanley Cup. So do the Chicago Blackhawks, who will be more than happy to pay him $6.3 million for each of the next five seasons.
It was a triumphant moment for a flashy player to be sure. A fitting moment, too. Kane might have been the only person in the Wachovia Center who knew beyond a doubt the puck was in and the Blackhawks had clinched their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
“I shot and I saw it go right through the legs,” Kane said. “Sticking right under the pad in the net. I don’t think anyone saw it in the net. I booked it to the other end. I knew it was in. I tried to sell the celebration a bit.”
Kane had come through when his team needed him most. That much, you could easily see coming. What most people probably didn’t envision was that the goal would probably be one of the worst Stanley Cup-clinching goals in the history of the game.
A lack of video evidence prevents us from making that a 100 percent determination, but my goodness, it has to be right up there – a stoppable shot from a bad angle right along the ice with Flyers goalie Michael Leighton hugging the post.
The only other goal that comes to mind that was that bad came in 1954 when the Detroit Red Wings won 2-1 over the Montreal Canadiens in overtime of Game 7 on a Tony Leswick dump-in that found its way behind Habs goalie Gerry McNeil when Doug Harvey tried to bat it out of the air.
That, of course, will not take the shine off a Blackhawks Cup that went to the team that most deserved it this season. The Flyers were certainly game and gained a legion of admirers by digging themselves out of hole after discouraging hole through the season and the playoffs, but there was little doubt the superior team won the series.
“I thought losing Game 3 in overtime got our attention,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “And in Game 4, we gave up some uncharacteristic goals. Guys battled back. I thought the last two games were the two best of the whole playoffs.”
Ultimately, the Flyers were unable to match the Hawks pace when Chicago decided to kick things up a notch in the final. And they were, as usual, done in by shoddy goaltending. After carrying the Flyers to the final, Leighton foundered on the biggest stage at the most crucial time. And at this point, you’d have to think the worst mistake the Flyers could make right now would be to get caught up in the moment and offer Leighton a long-term deal.
In the end, it was a Stanley Cup final that was frenetic in its pace and well worth its weight in terms of entertainment value. And the best thing from a Blackhawks perspective is that they are young and talented and primed to be a force in the NHL for as long as GM Stan Bowman can work his way around the salary cap.
But with a foundation that starts with Kane and Toews, Bowman has one very good start. Even though Toews didn’t score a goal in the final, he was recognized as the Blackhawks top player from the start of the playoffs to the end. In doing so, he became the first player in the history of the game to win an Olympic gold medal, a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe in the same season.
“I’m speechless,” Toews said. “This team put on one heck of a run. We knew it from Day 1 of this season we had the potential to do it. And to realize our goal, it was an amazing feeling.”
The last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, a 43-year-old president named John F. Kennedy was in the middle of the botched Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba. The best picture Oscar went to West Side Story, two decades before the Jets and the Sharks even became part of the hockey consciousness. Bobby Hull was 21, Stan Mikita was 20 and the entire roster had only three players over the age of 30.
Sound familiar? Those ’61 Blackhawks never won another Stanley Cup in a league that had 24 fewer teams than it does now.
Will these Hawks write a different history book? Nobody knows for sure, but you get the feeling Kane and Toews will have an awful lot to say about it.
Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily blogs until a champion is crowned.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.