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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."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."