Welcome Home, Lord Stanley
That’s what Monday night’s stunning finish to the Stanley Cup felt like for Blackhawks fans, from Dave Bolland’s perspective, anyway. Elation swept the streets of Chicago through the wee hours of Tuesday morning, as diehards and bandwagoners alike celebrated one of their proudest sports moments in recent memory.
Rarely, if ever, do you see a team come back down 2-1 in the final 1:20 of a game and win, with a Stanley Cup on the line, mind you, in regulation. Once that goalie gets pulled, everyone approaches the final minute in one of two ways: with the glass half empty or with the glass half full. Whichever way you look at it, though, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see your goaltender hurrying off the ice in the top right corner of your screen will always make you sick. It was over. We were heading back to Chicago for a final chance at the Cup. Or so we thought.
The Blackhawks got completely outplayed throughout the first 58 minutes of the game. Faceoff after faceoff, shot opportunity after shot opportunity, this series seemed destined for a Game 7. But when Jonathan Toews found an open Brian Bickell in front of the crease for the game-tying goal with 1:16 left in regulation, suddenly that half-filled glass had quickly filled to the top, and whatever happened in those first 58 minutes was rendered irrelevant. The tide had drastically turned, and the city of Boston was reeling.
Seventeen seconds later, Dave Bolland happened to be in the exact right place at the exact right time, as his miraculous goal that had previously deflected off the left post from a Johnny Oduya wrist shot gave Chicago the rights to the Cup. Within a blink of the eye, the Blackhawks were once again Stanley Cup champions. But had it not been for every single player on the deepest team in the league pitching in at some point down that long journey, the Cup would currently be in the hands of 20+ other men.
Patrick Kane’s unforeseeable surge to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy was truly inspiring. He struggled mightily for a majority of the postseason, and fans all over were unjustly blaming him and his inability to score for our losses. In the end, however, he came through when it mattered most, posting a hat trick in the series clinching win against Los Angeles, one goal in the Game 4 win against Boston and two goals in Game 5. Kane has matured from the binge-drinking frat star that opposing fans know him by (he probably still qualifies as a binge-drinking frat star, but if you were 24 years old and making millions playing hockey, you would too) into the soft-spoken leader that we all had hoped he would become, and for that, he deservedly became the fourth American-born player (and first American-born forward) to ever win the Conn Smythe (Brian Leetch, ’94 Rangers; Tim Thomas, ’11 Bruins; Jonathan Quick, ’12 Kings).
On top of that, Corey Crawford shut up any and all doubters that promised this team could never win a championship, so long as he’s in goal. He came into the Cup scorching hot, hit a rough patch in Game 4 that he ended up winning anyways, shored up his glove side significantly, and closed out the Bruins with a sensational performance in Game 6. He posted one of the eight best Goals Against Averages in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for any goalie to have won all 16 playoff games (1.84 – better than Antii Niemi in ’10 and Tim Thomas in ’11). With Crawford’s performance throughout the postseason being as valuable as any, it’s now safe to assume that no one is jumping off the Corey Crawford Train for a long, long time.
There will never be an explanation for how Monday night’s chain of events could take place during a game of that magnitude, in any sport. Maybe it was the Hockey Gods trying to do something nice for Chicago’s predominantly classy players and fans. Maybe it was straight up luck. Maybe the Blackhawks just wanted it more, or maybe the Bruins just choked. Whatever the case may have been, we will surely never witness an ending quite like that in our lifetimes again. The Chicago Blackhawks were the best team in 2013 from start to finish, and after what they accomplished during the regular season and beyond, they will surely be remembered as one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled. They brought fans who were ready to give up on the sport back to life, and for six solid months, they gave everyone in the city of Chicago a sense of pride and joy.
It’s a funny thing about sports. Some people don’t understand how or even why they are such a big part of our lives. But if you walked around any part of the city Monday night, or experienced the game at a bar in the suburbs, or watched from the comfort of your own home with friends and family, the answer is simple: sports bring people together. Whether you’re black, white, brown, blue, rich, poor, big, small, male, female, shemale, sports bring out the best in people.
No matter where you turned, people who had never met before were hugging, high-fiving, and jumping on each other’s backs; people were dancing on roof tops and buying strangers drinks. No matter what terrible things may have happened in one’s life over the past year, winning a championship in any sport gives us reason to believe in something, to soothe our wounds, to feel free for one night. The world temporarily stops – for that one night, an overwhelming sense of joy is cast over everyone. We’re all without a single worry on our plate, and whatever was going on in our lives ten hours earlier has been shoved to the back burner to be dealt with tomorrow or the next day. We all choose to savor each and every precious moment to be a part of something special, to feel like a true champion. These are unforgettable moments that we all will hold onto for the rest of our lives, and nothing anyone can say or do will take that away from us. This is the power of sports, the power of witnessing your beloved team prove to the world that they are, in fact, the very best at what they do, and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the second time in four years, the Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions. And until some other team dethrones them next June, we, too, are champions, my friends.
Welcome home, Lord Stanley.