Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Arduous journey finally leads to Stanley Cup for Kimmo Timonen

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Blackhawks: Arduous journey finally leads to Stanley Cup for Kimmo Timonen

Last August, Kimmo Timonen wasn't sure if he would ever play professional hockey again. 

Nearly 10 months later the 16-year NHL veteran can finally call himself a champion.

A storybook career was given the proper ending for Timonen as the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday evening to capture their sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

But it was an ending that Timonen never could have predicted when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers last summer. 

[MORE HAWKS: Mission accomplished - Blackhawks bring home Stanley Cup]

Before the 2014-15 season began, Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs as well as his right leg. With the seriousness of the injury, the Flyers ruled out Timonen indefinitely. 

"It’s been a long journey," Timonen said. "I can tell you that. Last August I didn’t know if I could play anymore, but my desire was so deep inside that I wanted to give it one more shot. But obviously doctors said, 'hold on boy.' But I just had to have so many meetings to get to this level. I don’t really know what to say, it’s been unreal.

"Nobody knew if I could play again. It was a long process ... luckily I found two doctors that found a way to play the game safely. From that moment on, I was dreaming about this moment. But that was December."

After talking with doctors, Timonen found a way to continue his career without risking his long-term health. Buried at the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference and knowing that Timonen wouldn't have a chance to hoist a Cup in Philadelphia, Flyers GM Ron Hextall found a suitor for Timonen. Just days ahead of the NHL trade deadline he was traded to the Blackhawks for two draft selections. 

In 16 regular-season games and 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Chicago, Timonen failed to register a point. He played in just three games in the Stanley Cup Final, averaging just eight shifts per contest, including seven shifts and 3:39 minutes of ice time in Game 6.

[SHOP: Get your Stanley Cup Champs gear]

But regardless of Timonen's performance in a Blackhawks sweater, it's hard to imagine a more deserving player who emptied out his gas tank for one last magical run, risking his health for the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup above his shoulders as a culmination of an amazing career in which he played in 1,213 career NHL games.

After accepting the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Blackhawks Jonathan Toews eyed one teammate in particular that would be the first player to get his hands on the Cup.

And it wasn't a surprise to Timonen after a conversation with Toews earlier Monday morning. 

"He [Timonen] said, 'Holy something' and he skated off really fast," Toews said about telling Timonen Monday morning he would be the first person to hold the Cup if the Blackhawks won. "I kind of expected him to get fired up, maybe raise his heart rate a little bit this morning.

"I know it definitely did for 'Zus [Michal Handzus] and for [Marian] Hossa the first time. It's awesome. It's awesome to win but also more than anything to win for guys like that and guys like Richie [Brad Richards], Vermy [Antoine Vermette], Desy [Andrew Desjardins], guys that came into our lineup around the deadline. I could go on all day talking about how happy I am for these guys.

"It doesn't happen very often. Some people wait a lifetime for this, and we're fortunate to have done it three times. It makes you want to do it more and more."

As a first-time champion at any professional level, Timonen wasn't quite sure what to do with the Cup when he had it in his hands. 

"I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know you could go around the rink with it," Timonen said. "It was my first time. I played this game a long time and battled hard for years. I’ve been on the losing side of the story so many times that I know guys realize that. They know that I’m going to retire. This was my last game, my last time with skates on. The respect level goes both ways."

It's hard to imagine that after 20-plus years of professional hockey, Timonen has never been crowned a champion. 

As a member of the Nashville Predators for eight seasons, his team never made it past the first round of the playoffs. He's a four-time Olympic medalist with Team Finland, and came within one goal of winning gold at the 2006 Olympics. He won the silver medal three times at the World Championships and captured a silver medal in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. 

[MORE: Twitter reacts to Blackhawks' Stanley Cup win]

And before Monday evening, the one that haunted him the most was finishing as a runner-up to the Blackhawks as a member of the Flyers in 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Ironically, he was on the ice when Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 for the Blackhawks, but it's a memory he will soon forget after making a new one in Chicago.

"Well, Kaner scored again," Timonen said. "Yeah, I did see it. I was actually crying this time, a little bit, on the bench. It’s just a feeling you can’t get. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. At the end of the day, I’m glad nothing happened to me during the games. I’m 40-years-old. I’m just happy and relieved."

Any chance Timonen decides to give it one more run?

"That's it.

"I leave this game as a Stanley Cup Champion. I can't ask for anything more than that."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: