Blackhawks

They did it! Hawks bring Cup back to Chicago

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They did it! Hawks bring Cup back to Chicago

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Updated: 2:59 AM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Daylong showers postponed a Philadelphia Phillies game, displaced the Flyers' pregame "block party" and dampened orange-clad fans' spirits.

But they did herald the end of the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL, as the Chicago Blackhawks ended their 49-year ringless reign with a 4-3 overtime win over Philadelphia.

Patrick Kane had the game-winner at 4:06 of overtime, surely the most puzzlingly gorgeous Cup-clincher in Stanley Cup history. As players on both teams began to drag after 64 minutes of grueling, fast-paced action, Crazy 88 turned on the afterburners to turn the corner and thread the needle on a shot for the win that, short of Kane, none of the 20,327 at the Wachovia Center realized had gone in.

"I don't think he would have thrown his gloves off like that if he wasn't 100 sure -- he sold it pretty good if the puck didn't go in," Blackhawks captain -- and 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner -- Jonathan Toews said. "But it was kind of an awkward celebration. We didn't know what to do."

"We kind of stood there on the bench, until we saw Kane toss his gloves," Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer said. "Then one guy threw his leg over the wall, and we were off."

In back of the bench, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knew the goal to be true.

"I heard the sound, it was a funny sound," Cool Hand Q said. "Nobody knew where the puck was. Kaner thought it was in ... and the guys knew. That's why they celebrated. When I saw the net lift and the puck in the back, I said, 'OK, the party is on.'"

In a breathless, back-and-forth affair, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd scored for Chicago, while Antti Niemi stopped an increasingly difficult 21 shots to earn his franchise-record 16th postseason win.

The Blackhawks opened the game with excruciating pressure on Philadelphia, garnering the better scoring chances and pelting Flyers goalie Michael Leighton with five shots in the first four minutes. And Chicago missed its best chance early on when Duncan Keith clanged a slapper off the iron and Toews whiffed on a wide-open rebound.

With regard to penalties, the only whistles of the first came on Brents and Prongers: Blackhawk Sopel earned two interference penalties, teammate Seabrook an elbow, and on the flip side two Prongs penalties rounded things out. Little damage came of the first three -- in fact, Philadelphia failed to record a shot on goal during its first two power plays. But with Pronger boxed for the second time, Byfuglien camped in the crease and notched the first goal of the game -- making it two straight contests scoring a power-play goal with the 6-foot-6 Philly menace in the pen. But when Iron Giant was sent off for the second time with less than a minute left in the first, Scott Hartnell got the Blackhawks back after cashing the disc in from the crease to tie the game at 1.

After a breathless first, fans wouldn't have been wrong for expecting that the second stanza would be a slowdown affair. But such was not the case, as just 30 seconds in Simon Gagne was stoned on a breakaway by Niemi. Some three minutes later, Ladd broke loose and was busted by Leighton.

Twelve minutes in, superscorer Danny Briere got loose deep on a two-on-one to beat Niemi, a play precipitated by Keith getting tripped up by Hartnell, creating a vacuum on the Blackhawks blue line. A couple of minutes later, Keith exacted revenge during a four-on-four, feeding Sharp for a soft goal to knot the game back up again.

With just two and a half minutes left in the second, Niklas Hjalmarsson would up with a master-blaster that Ladd timed perfectly and tipped past Leighton, and with a back-breaking goal late, Chicago went up, 3-2.

The third period proceeded just as frenetically as the first 40 minutes of the game, and with time running short and Philadelphia's desperation increasing, Niemi made a number of Cup-saving stops. But with 3:59 remaining, Hartnell continued his Blackhawks-killing ways with his second goal of the game, and again the game was knotted.

After Hartnell's score, momentum had flipped completely for Philly, winning faceoffs and forcing the Blackhawks into successive icings. With two minutes left, Niemi stopped a final flurry, punctuated by a save on Mike Richards that was accomplished by diving forward with his face.

"I don't think he would havethrown his gloves off like that if he wasn't 100 sure -- he sold itpretty good if the puck didn't go in. But it was kind of an awkwardcelebration. We didn't know what todo."-- Jonathan Toews, on Patrick Kane'sStanley Cup-clinching goal inovertimeIt was almost as if the rookie netminder was trying to reinsert himself into the Conn Smythe picture, as his noggin block produced audible gasps in the crowd. For the unflappable Finn, it was just another save at the office.

"My team played good in front of me," Niemi said. "Of course, at the end it was getting pretty tricky. You're tired and playing just with feel then and hoping the puck won't go in. I'm happy my head stopped Richards."

All the momentum had flipped Philly's way, in front of a home crowd not only wearing giveaway orangewear but fully slipping on the Cinderella galosh. A lesser team -- a team willing to shrink outta Pennsylvania tied 3-3 and encounter 48 hours of jibba-jabba before a back-against-wall Game 7 -- would have folded.

Not your Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. In the dressing room after regulation ended, the room was characteristically quiet. But there was still a message to share.

"We just said that someone has to get that feeling," Toews said. "Someone has to be the hero."

In overtime, Richards and Claude Giroux put heavy pressure on Niemi just 20 seconds in. Philadelphia continued pressing, forcing Brent Seabrook to make a diving, game-saving poke check on a breakaway shortly after to preserve the contest.

"At that point, you've just got to do what it takes," said the heavy-hitting d-man. "You're not worried about dead legs or injury -- you have to stop the puck."

Seabrook's blue line partner, Keith, who was a Conn Smythe finalist for reasons not the least of which were seven lost chiclets during the game that clinched a Cup berth for Chicago, said his dental surgery was well worth it, and added, "We all sacrificed. Our team effort is always huge. Tonight was the biggest, and when you're going for the Cup, that's just how it's supposed to work out."

Kane, a youngster still shy of kindergarten the last time the Blackhawks were in the Stanley Cup Finals, turned out to the hero his teammates sought before overtime.

"I can't believe this just happened," Kane said. "It's something you dream of as a kid, to score the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was just -- it was unbelievable."

Pretty much sums it up for the thousands of revelers who took to the streets, honking horns, high-fiving and pulling on their redwear to celebrate a first in most of our lifetimes.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?