Thursday, June 10, 2010
Updated: 2:59 AM
By Brett Ballantini
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.