Chicago Blackhawks, 2013 Stanley Cup Champions

The game ending could have been lifted from some hockey movie.

It had seemed like everybody had predicted the Boston Bruins would win the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks wouldn't stand up to the Bruins' style of play, it was said. Although Chicago held the 3-2 going into Game 6, Boston had proven themselves solid at home. Anticipation was high for a return to Chicago for an epic Game 7.

The game unfolded that way, too. The Bruins grabbed the lead early, on a Chris Kelly goal 7:19 into the first. Boston was controlling the game, dominating the first by a wide margin.

Jonathan Toews got Chicago on the board 4:24 into the second, tying the game as Chicago clawed their way back into the game. The Blackhawks were hitting and sacrificing their bodies to blocks; Andrew Shaw took a puck to the face that sent him off-ice for stitches. The Blackhawks were getting some good looks at Tuukka Rask, but he was seeing everything.

Then, the dagger - Milan Lucic scoring with under eight minutes left in the third to give Boston a 2-1 lead. TD Garden erupted; the Bruins faithful anticipating winning this game and sending the series back to the United Center.

Boston was faced with a terrible spring. A bombing at the Boston Marathon inspired the city's new mantra, "Boston Strong", and the Bruins took that motto to heart, playing for the city that they love, hoping to bring the Cup - and the joy that goes with it - to their city. Surely, the adrenalin must have surged for the Bruins, the elation of pushing the series to a Game 7 and a potential win.

Chicago began swarming, peppering Rask with shots. With 1:16 left on the clock, Bryan Bickell broke through, tying up the game.

So close to the end of the period - this game was going to go to overtime, right? This series had already seen enough overtime that the two teams were practically already playing Game 7.

But that wasn't to be. Just 17 seconds later, the Blackhawks got an unexpected hero when Dave Bolland put in what would be the game-winning goal. Bolland had struggled in the playoffs, playing 18 of the 23 games, with just six points (3 goals, 3 assists) and going -2 while having the team's second-most PIM after Andrew Shaw. Bolland's goal was the fastest game-winning goal after a tying goal, as well as being the latest game-winning goal in a Cup-clinching game.

Sensing their season being less than a minute from ending, Boston fought to get a tying goal and prevent Chicago from scoring a possible empty-netter, but the Blackhawks weren't about to have it, slamming the door firmly shut.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.

It is a bitter pill to swallow, to watch the visiting team hoist the hallowed silver chalice and skate it around on your home ice. The Bruins did it to the Canucks in Game 7 in 2011; this year, it was their turn to be on the receiving side. Despite being on the losing end, however, the team has a lot to be proud of. They gave Boston something positive and unifying to focus on beyond the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombers. Even if they didn't make it as far as Game 6 of the Final, the Bruins were what Boston needed this spring.

Chicago capped off an amazing run in a season that almost didn't happen. They had a record-making start to the season. They went 36-7-5 in the regular season and 16-5-2 in the post season for a final record of 52-12-7, an unbelievable .732 win percentage for the year. After a season that included new league records and the Presidents' Trophy, the Blackhawks proved they were the best by winning the Cup.
 

It is an interesting list of players who will get their name on the Stanley Cup for the first time this summer. Ben Smith will have his name on the Cup by virtue of having played in a SCF game; he has a total of 20 career regular season games and 8 playoff games over 3 seasons. Rookie Brandon Bollig will be the first St. Louis born/raised/trained player to get his name on the Cup. Fellow rookie Brandon Saad was a Calder finalist. Michal Rozsíval, Jamal Mayers, and Michal Handzuš share a collective 2,648 career games and 235 playoff games between them, before each hoisted their first Cup.

Daniel Carcillo played on the 2009-2010 Flyers squad that the Blackhawks defeated for their Cup that year. Viktor Stalberg came to the team in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg to the Maple Leafs in the post-Cup roster purge of 2010. Michael Frolik was considered a trade dud after coming to the Blackhawks in 2011, but instead found himself a key role as part of the 2013 Blackhawks penalty-killing unit. Nick Leddy was traded to the Blackhawks the spring that the team last won in the Cup, in 2010. Johnny Oduya had been traded to Chicago in 2012, coming from the Winnipeg Jets, where he had played with several Blackhawks who had been part of the 2010 Cup win.

Bryan Bickell was a Black Ace for the 2010 squad - he even had a day with the Cup that summer - but he didn't get his name on the Cup that year. Andrew Shaw was passed over in the Draft for two years before Chicago picked him up in the 5th round in 2011. Marcus Kruger also was not drafted in his first year of eligibility; the Blackhawks took him in the 5th round in 2009.

Goaltender Corey Crawford has played in the Blackhawks system since being drafted by them in 2005. Ray Emery had surgery in 2009 for avascular necrosis, which could have ended his career; instead, four years later, he shared the William M. Jennings Trophy with Crawford.

Crawford answered his critics, who doubted he could ever carry them to a Cup. Not only was he in goal for all 23 playoff games, but he finished the post-season at 1.84 GAA and .932 sv% - which was even better than his 1.94 GAA and .926 sv% during the regular season. The media zeroed in on the fact that Boston was beating him consistently glove side, which can also be partially contributed to defensive coverage on that side.

Patrick Kane's solid run in the end of the playoffs managed to rob Crawford of the Conn Smythe, but in a sign of Kane's maturity as a person and as a player this season, even Kane himself acknowledged that Crawford probably should have won it. The team has supported Crawford all season long; and hopefully, now that Crawford has won the Cup, it should silence his doubters.
 

We haven't heard the full laundry list of injuries from both sides yet, but some of the injuries we have heard about have been the kind of crazy "hockey injuries" that make us wince in sympathy and wonder how the player could have even possibly been functional.

Unbelievably, Patrice Bergeron battled with broken ribs and torn ribcage cartilage, adding a separated shoulder to that in Game 6. Nathan Horton had a separated shoulder. Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara, and Tyler Seguin have all been reported to be battling injuries.

It's not like Chicago didn't have injuries, too. Michal Handzuš had a broken wrist and torn MCL. Marian Hossa was playing with a spinal disc injury and he said he couldn't feel one of his feet, saying that at times he was "skating on one foot". Bryan Bickell had a sprained knee. Jonathan Toews may have sustained a concussion in the hit he took in Game 5, and based on his performance, may have had another injury as well.

Hockey players battle things out, playing at a level that transcends pain, to achieve a championship. Injuries are listed in vaguest terms - "upper body", "lower body" - or sometimes just "body injury". A full laundry list of injuries for either team will likely not emerge until each team has their locker clean-out days.

For Boston, it will be a day of reflection, of what could have been. The team was less than two minutes away from creating a Game 7 - and who knows what could have happened in another game?

For Chicago, it will be just the start of their summer. Lord Stanley will be on the party circuit for another week in Chicago, meeting all the fans, and being the centerpiece of a parade on Friday morning. Then the Cup travels will begin: Half a dozen stops in Ontario. Montreal. Buffalo. Thunder Bay. Winnipeg. North central Connecticut. A couple stops in British Columbia. St. Louis. Minneapolis. Two stops in Slovakia and two stops in the Czech Republic. Four in Sweden.

Let the Summer of Stanley begin.

 

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