'All-world' Hawks deliver with Cup win
PHILADELPHIA -- About an hour after he first raised the Stanley Cup over his head, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks went back for more.
Skating through a mob of teammates, family, friends and media at center ice, Jonathan Toews lifted hockey's holy grail again. It wasn't yet time to leave the ice. It wasn't yet time to turn the page on June 9, 2010.
"I don't even want to take my equipment off," Toews said. "I want this moment to last forever."
It was a moment that was a long time coming for a hard-suffering Original Six fan base. Patrick Kane's overtime goal 4:06 into overtime Wednesday night gave Chicago a 4-3 win over Philadelphia and ensured hockey's longest Cup drought didn't reach a half-century. The Cubs are still on the clock, but the Hawks are off the hook.
"I think the party in Chicago is going to be all-world," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.
His team is all-world. The salary cap will clench its teeth on the ridiculous depth the Hawks had this season. But for 2009-10, it was all about winning.
On Oct. 1 in Helsinki, Finland, we distinctly remember a conversation with Toews when he talked about the Cup expectations for his youthful team and the challenges that lay ahead.
"The biggest thing last year was our hard work and our hunger to win," Toews told ESPN.com eight months ago. "If we keep that this year and we learn from our mistakes from what happened last year, I think the sky's the limit for what we can do as a team."
Toews, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, and Kane, the overtime, Cup-clinching hero? How else would you write the script? Like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin delivering on their own self-fulfilling prophecy a year ago, Chicago's 1-2 punch was right on cue.
The symmetry is somewhat surreal, the way both the Penguins and Blackhawks bottomed out, rebuilt around young star power and delivered under the most intense pressure. It only stands to reason Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will complete the hat trick next season, right?
But this night belonged to Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and a deep and talented team (we'd argue the most talented team -- top to bottom -- since the NHL imposed a salary cap five years ago).
"This is a team where everything resolves around teamwork," said winger Kris Versteeg, a luxury to have on the third line. "Everyone came together, and that's why it happened."
Just three years ago, the United Center remained half-empty, the Hawks as hapless as ever, and a Stanley Cup was hardly a reality.
"It's crazy. I said to the trainers, 'Can you believe it actually happened?'" said Seabrook, a Day 1 member of this current squad, along with Keith and Patrick Sharp. "[GM] Stan [Bowman] and [former GM] Dale [Tallon] really put together a great team of guys that really get along. It's been a lot of fun to be part of this team."
Seabrook is not kidding when he says it's been fun. This is a tight-knit dressing room that seemingly spends every minute of the day together. It was a dejected dressing room between the third period and overtime. They had given up the lead with 3:59 left on Scott Hartnell's goal.
"We just tried to rebound from that goal," Kane said. "It was tough. I think our bench deflated pretty good. Obviously, we had to pick it up ourselves in the locker room there."
After a few nervous shifts to open overtime and the Flyers knocking at the door, Kane eventually took possession of the puck at the top of the Philadelphia zone, deftly skated around star blueliner Kimmo Timonen and knifed a shot through Michael Leighton that only he and he alone realized was in.
"It's probably the worst celebration in the history of hockey, but we're pretty happy about it," laughed Sharp, who scored his 11th goal of the playoffs Wednesday night.
It was a strange ending, but a clutch goal by a young star whose stock -- like that of his buddy Toews -- continues to rise. It's uncanny how Kane managed to overcome adversity after struggling early in the Cup finals, and played his best two games at the end when it mattered most. He did just that three months ago in Vancouver in leading an underdog Team USA team to an unexpected silver medal.
That final day in Vancouver, Kane could barely stomach Crosby's overtime heroics. Three months later, he delivered his goal that will forever be immortalized in the Windy City. Not a bad tradeoff.
"It's pretty crazy," Kane said. "You know, I think you envision this and hope for the best when you first come in [to the NHL]. But everything we've been through, it's been obviously an unbelievable year."
Let's not forget the work of Keith, who showed that his Norris Trophy nomination was not regular-season fantasy. He deserved equal consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy and raised his game in the Cup finals, gutting it out to the point of near-exhaustion. He's missing seven teeth from a puck he took to the mouth in the Western Conference finals. Now, it's well worth it.
"Look how ugly I look right know," said Keith with his toothless grin. "There's got to be something at the end that makes it worth it."
Then, there's Hossa, the Slovak star who entered the series with only two goals, all the while hoping to avoid a brutal 0-for-3 in three straight Cup finals. That adversity, he said, made Wednesday night special.
"That feels even better because of it," said Hossa, the first to get the Cup from Toews.
Ah, yes the captain. Mr. Toews is redefining "winner" in this sport: a World Junior gold medal, World Championships gold, Olympic gold and now a Stanley Cup. Can he pitch for the Cubs? To be named best forward at the Olympics and cap it with the Conn Smythe Trophy all in the same season?
"I don't know what he's going to do next year for an encore," Seabrook marveled.
And finally, there's the owner. It wasn't that long ago that you would have been jeered on the streets of Chicago for invoking the Wirtz name. But there stood Rocky Wirtz amid the on-ice celebrations Wednesday night, raising the Stanley Cup over his head toward a crowd of crazed Hawks fans who were yelling "Rocky! Rocky!"
"Owners are supposed to be hated; they trade your favorite players and they raise your season-ticket prices," Wirtz told ESPN.com, while Hawks fans still chanted his name. "That they give a darn about me is unbelievable to me."
That he's won the Cup three years after taking over the team following his father's death? Well, that's just beyond anything he could have ever imagined.
"I hoped it would come at some time before I hung up my loafers," Wirtz said. "I just didn't realize it would come this quickly."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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