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LARSMONT…. The Chicago Blackhawk’s have won the Stanley Cup tonight with a 2-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Cup celebration is still going on as I write, and the Final finished at 4 games to 2. This is the 3rd Cup win in 6 seasons for the Hawks and as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmann stated right before he handed the most beautiful trophy in all of sports to team Captain Jonathan Toews, I think it is safe to refer to the Hawks as a dynasty. While it isn’t the consecutive win teams of Montreal, the New York Islanders or Edmonton Oilers of the recent past, considering the game as it is today, I would concur with the Commish.
When I got up to begin the day this morning I was already getting wound up knowing what might happen this evening. As a six year old kid in St. Paul and before the Minnesota NorthStars were even thought about my main team was the Montreal Canadiens. But then there were the Chicago Blackhawks and they were led by two of the greatest, most charismatic players of all time in Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, and I liked the Hawks then because of these two men. They won a Cup together in 1961 and research would show that they were teenage teammates in Canadian Junior Hockey. Their bond to one another must be as deep as it is long.
This morning though the first hockey news that I came across in my morning reading was a story out of Chicago and it was about Mikita’s family acknowledging that he has full blown dementia, is being cared for in a home for dementia patients and is completely mentally absent. This news went right through me. When the NorthStars finally did come into the league I saw the Mikita-Hull Hawks play at Met Center several times. This club has always had a bit of an aura about them on top of being an Original Six club. As I was pulling for the Hawks in this series I said to myself immediately that I hoped the team would be playing for Stan tonight and dedicating the potential victory to him.
I have also got to say though that Tampa is not a club that I dislike, to the contrary, I like them, their coaching staff and many of their players, former UMD Bulldog JT Brown amongst them. I pull for all Minnesotans who make it into the NHL no matter their team. I mean, I might grind my teeth a little if it’s Boston or Philly, but hey, I’m still going for the homeboys. I would have been very happy for them had they won as well. In the end I have got a sentimental attachment to the Hawks, they have got an excellent organization and they do a lot of things the right way in the hockey world.
The Hawks were most certainly rattled by the Bolts early in the series as they raced out to a two games to one lead. At that point it looked as if the Hawks might not be able to pull the hockey rabbit out of the hat. They looked slower then the Bolts, they looked off of their game at time, tired and unfocused relative to the effort Tampa was putting forth. The Hawks big guns weren’t scoring either to compound the Hawk woes. But in Game 4 in Chicago the Hawks slogged a game out for a 2-1 win and evened the series. And here is what I believe may have swung the series to the Hawks, there was an extra day off between Games 4 and 5. With the Hawks basically playing 4 defensemen for the better part of the series due to injuries on their blueline, and filling in with minimal minutes from their 5 and 6 spots on defense, even though they won Game 4, it wasn’t pretty and it left me wondering what the Hawks had left. The Bolts can bring a lot of juice from their younger roster.
In Game 5 the Hawks had some snap back in their game, their energy, focus, smart play, and an even more intense defensive effort turned this series their way in my opinion. Their gap control and structure was much better then in the first four games and the savvy veteran team I had been waiting for appeared to have arrived from that point forward. A lot of fans, myself included to an extent, thought that the upstart Bolts just might be the club that could put a dent in the Hawks march toward dynastic inclusion.
And with pretty much most of their roster returning for next season, I could see Tampa holding sway over the Eastern Conference for the next few seasons.
Game 6 was similar to G5 and as in G5 whenever Tampa looked like they were going to apply some sustained pressure, the Hawks not only withstood that but responded with their own. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Herculean effort put forth by Hawks net minder Corey Crawford. This player is usually the recipient of most of the criticism when things aren’t going the Hawks way. However, when the chips are down he usually delivers in a big way and did tonight with a shutout game when his club needed it the most. Crawford came up huge this eve, especially on a Steven Stamkos clear cut breakaway when the game was anything but decided. He held tough against several flurries in the last few minutes of the tilt including a 6 on 4 situation when the Hawks were down a man due to a penalty.
The Hawks have proven once again why they are the current gold standard in the NHL and this summer as in their other recent post Cup off-seasons in the salary cap era, there are going to be some hard and fast roster decisions to be made. But unlike the other 29 clubs wrestling with the same matters prior to next year, they will still probably have a bit of a smile on their faces and a lot of inner satisfaction in their hockey souls… PEACE