An hour has gone by, and the world still dances upside down. Victory is shock. Defeat is celebration. Boston fans sleepwalk to the exits like they expect to be shaken awake and told it was just a dream. Chicago players skate from hug to hug on rough and exhausted ice. Nobody can quite explain what just happened except to say, for better and worse, that it was unbelievable.
That word gets used so much in sports. Unbelievable. Every nice dunk, every exciting touchdown, every long home run inspires that grandiose “unbelievable” tag. It’s unbelievable, really. But here, in the moments after Chicago beat Boston to win the Stanley Cup, people say that overwrought word again and again – happily, sadly, gratefully, bitterly, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable – and you realize that for once they mean the word literally.
It is an hour after the game ended. And they still do not believe it.
What did happen? The only way to recapture it is to feel the moment. Boston led this Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final by a goal as the last minutes melted away. But the lead might have been two goals or three goals or five, that was how thoroughly the Bruins had dominated the first period. This was a desperation game in Boston, this was to extend the season, and the Bruins played desperately in the opening frame -- 12 shots on goal, 13 shots blocked by frantic Blackhawks, seven more sailing high or wide, a barrage of chances, a storm.
“Survival,” Chicago’s Nick Leddy called that first period.
“We were on life support,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We could be up 3-0,” Boston’s Johnny Boychuk said. “But we were only up one.”
Yes, only one of those 32 chances went in the net, and it is the cruel rhythm of hockey that all of that dominance and all of that pent-up energy was canceled out by one Jonathan Toews wrist shot just four minutes into the second period. Toews, the Blackhawks' captain, was knocked out of Game 5 and one of the more compelling scenes of this amazing Stanley Cup Final was Toews begging for just one shift in the final minutes of the game. He did not get the shift in that game. But he started Game 6. And he got the goal that tied it.
The game stayed tied for 24 or so tense minutes. Tension in hockey is unlike any other team sport because, unlike any other sport, the game could shift entirely and utterly without warning in the next five seconds -- and the shift could go either way. One good bounce, one unfortunate deflection, one lucky rebound and everything alters. For 24 minutes, the teams each had chances. The Bruins were no longer playing at quite the same frenzied pace, but how could they? The Blackhawks were not overwhelming Boston as they had for much of Game 5. The ice was choppy and slow and unpredictable. The Boston crowd, so feverish during that amazing first period, was now feeling that familiar panic hockey fans feel.
And then, with less than eight minutes in regulation, Boston’s Milan Lucic scored. His wrist shot from just in front of Chicago’s Corey Crawford did Olympic gymnastics to get into the net, hitting the post, bouncing off Crawford’s backside and then rolling in. The panic had lifted. Boston was jubilant. There would be a Game 7. No, it was not a sure thing, not yet, there were still seven-plus minutes of anxiety and worry to come. But the Bruins had scored the goal. They had scored! When Chicago got a power play with less than six minutes left, there was a collective holding of breath, but the Bruins manhandled the Blackhawks on that power play, suffocated them, never let them get even a good look at the net.
Yes there would be a Game 7. There were four minutes left. Then three minutes. Then two minutes. There would be a Game 7. Everybody knew it. The Blackhawks pulled their goalie because that’s what you do, but Quenneville had no illusions. “Regroup and get ready for Game 7 in Chicago,” he remembered thinking. It was what everybody was thinking.
What did happen? With the goalie pulled, Chicago’s Patrick Kane fired a shot that Rask kicked away. The puck went to his right where there was a scramble. There are so many scrambles in a hockey game, and so few of them develop into anything. Most of the time the puck just clanks around mindlessly. But this time, somehow, the puck slid away from the scramble and right to the stick of defenseman Duncan Keith. He instantly passed the puck to a suddenly open Toews, who rushed at the side of the net.
“I had to respect him,” Rask said, and so he turned to Toews. His sturdy defenseman Zdeno Chara was right behind him. Then Toews flipped the puck in front of the net, past Rask, through Chara, right onto the stick of Bryan Bickell who banged the puck through the outstretched legs of Rask. Goal. There was 1:16 left. The game was tied.
Well, those things will happen in hockey. Boston fans fell deathly silent, the players on the Chicago bench celebrated, but everybody understood it was still only a tie game. There would now be overtime, surely, and in overtime, hey, the Bruins still had the home ice and that sense of desperation.
“Did you think after that goal that you guys were destined to win?” someone asked Quenneville.
“No, are you kidding?” he said. “Who has a feeling like that?”
Quenneville prepared for the overtime. He sent out his veterans – Dave Bolland, Johnny Oduya, sturdy and conservative guys like that – and basically wanted them to button it up, make no mistakes, make sure the game reached the overtime period. Only then, after the face off, Chicago’s Michael Frolik, who scored three goals during the season, fired a shot that Rask kicked over to that same side where the danger had come from seconds earlier.
Again the puck magically found a Blackhawks stick – this time it was Marcus Kruger’s. He immediately flipped it back to Oduya, who fired a shot that Frolik managed to redirect. The puck slipped past Rask and hit the post. And then Dave Bolland, who teammates call “The Rat” because of the way he can get under opponents skin, jabbed the puck home for the goal. Chicago abruptly, absurdly, impossibly, led the game 3-2.
And this time, if possible, the silence in Boston was even quieter.
Two goals. Seventeen seconds. But it was more than that. It was like shifting reality. “How could you see that coming?” Quenneville asked. “It’s just been a charmed year.” Boston pulled Rask in the final seconds – could anyone ever remember a Stanley Cup game where BOTH GOALIES were pulled? – but there was no magic left for it. Boston had pulled its own miracle against Toronto in the first round, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period, but this was different. This was the Stanley Cup Final. And it wasn’t Boston’s night.
“Shock,” Boston coach Claude Julien said.
“Shock,” Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival said.
“Unbelievable,” Quenneville said.
“Unbelievable,” Julien said.
Even in the blurry and intoxicating moments after the game ended, everyone understood that it was history. For Boston, it immediately found its place with Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent and Eli Manning. For Chicago, well, Jonathan Toews lifted the Stanley Cup over his head and yelled into the camera to keep the Chicago bars open late.
And then the Boston fans made their way into the streets, while a few hundred Chicago fans got close to the ice and watched the Blackhawks celebrate. Team owner Rocky Wirtz showed off the lucky charm he said he was holding tight in those final minutes. There were photos taken and goals relived. Children slid between the cameramen, Blackhawks players took turns holding the Cup, and everyone kept saying how unbelievable it all was.
Then, for a moment, I followed around Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman. He is the son of hockey’s greatest winner, Scotty Bowman, whose teams through the years won more than 1,200 games and nine Stanley Cups. Imagine the pressure of carrying around that name.
But Stan has done so quietly, modestly, with dignity, and when his team won the Cup in 2010, people credited the previous GM Dale Tallon. Bowman said he didn’t mind that at all. “It’s not just one person,” he said again and again.
Then, he rebuilt the team – only eight players remain from that Cup team that was crushed by the salary cap. He kept the core together, though, and surrounded them with many different players with a variety of talents. “The depth is what made this team so special,” Quenneville said.
And now, his team won the Stanley Cup in the most dramatic and incredible way, and the celebration was ongoing, and he hugged his family happily. He smiled deeply. He answered some questions (“It’s not just one person,” he said). Then, he disappeared into the happy and still disbelieving crowd. Various television reporters wandered around the ice asking, “Where’s Stan Bowman, we need Stan,” but he had drifted out of sight. Then, I saw him. Stanley Bowman was standing next to the Cup that had given him his name.