The salary cap in the NHL has almost killed any thought of dynasties in the sport. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, they became the first team in the salary cap era to win the Stanley Cup twice.
As game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final rolled around, they had the opportunity to win it a third time. The Hawks found themselves ahead in the series 3-2 entering game six.
This was the exact spot they were in during the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against Philadelphia and the 2013 series against Boston. There was one key difference this time though. The Blackhawks had the opportunity to clinch the Stanley Cup on home ice.
There is something special about winning the Cup on the road. Silencing a crowd. Seeing the group of hometown fans make the trip to see you clinch. Going out on whatever town that is with your teammates to party. All of that.
But man, with the jubilation in the crowd, nothing tops winning the greatest trophy in sports on home ice. For all the great memories, big goals, extreme crowd noise levels, this right here was the capping moment Hawks fans were waiting for at the Madhouse on Madison.
Before the puck was dropped on game six, the fans blew the roof off the United Center, as they do at any home Blackhawks game. Jim Cornelison sang his first anthem with the Stanley Cup in the house and, boy, did it not disappoint.
Hawks fans knew exactly what was at stake. A chance for a remarkable third Stanley Cup in six seasons. That could be easy to take for granted, but after the heartbreak of a year prior, nobody in the building was taking anything for granted.
Nonetheless, the game had begun and both teams were off and running. Steven Stamkos sent a puck off the post early in the first period. Stamkos seemingly had endless chances this game, including a breakaway, but Corey Crawford stood tall through it all.
Crawford and Ben Bishop stood on their heads through the first half of the game. Bishop made 30 saves on the night. Both teams remained scoreless until late in the second period.
It was well known coming into game six who the Conn Smythe trophy winner would be if the Blackhawks won. In 2013, there was Bickell, Kane and Crawford all in discussion. In 2015, Duncan Keith was the only man anyone who was watching even thought to mention.
Keith was the man driving the bus for the Blackhawks in 2015. They weren’t as deep on defense as in years past, but Keith covered the slack. Playing nearly half the game some nights, Keith never stopped. And in game six, he opened the scoring.
The United Center was alive. What a play by a man known for his defense to jump into the play, follow his shot and score on his own rebound. Keith’s effort brought everyone off their feet. “We want the Cup” chants were echoing through the building. To quote the great John Weideman, the UC was up for grabs.
The Blackhawks nearly took a two-goal lead into the third after being awarded a power play. Brent Seabrook sent one square off the post after beating Bishop, but the puck stayed out. He only scores in overtime anyway.
Twenty minutes away from the Stanley Cup were the Chicago Blackhawks. The Lightning were going to come hard, so the Hawks needed to play their best period of hockey. Tampa sent pucks Crawford’s way, but nothing was getting past him that night.
The score remained tied through the period’s first fourteen minutes. The Lightning were getting chances. They were a goal away from tying the game. The tension was growing in the building. Like a stiff drink, Patrick Kane came in to calm everyone’s nerves.
It was Kane’s first goal of the final. Did you really think he’d go an entire Stanley Cup Final without a goal? There was 5:14 left on the game clock, but the game was over. Crawford wasn’t allowing anything that night. Weideman said it best on the radio when Kane scored “This crowd can smell it!”
Fans had paid over $1,000 for standing room only tickets to watch the Hawks raise the Cup. They hadn’t won the Cup on home ice since 1938. All of that was coming to an end as the clock ticked down.
The only glimmer of hope for Tampa came when Andrew Desjardins took a tripping penalty with three minutes reaming. But as he had for the entire night, Crawford fought everything the Lightning sent his way off.
The clock was expiring and so were the Lightning. Ten seconds left. The crowd of 22,424 fans counted down the final seconds in unison. The horn sounded. For the third time in six seasons, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup Champions.
The Blackhawks had their moments in 2010 and 2013, raising the Cup in Philadelphia and Boston. But this was Chicago’s moment. They had done it again, and this time Lord Stanley was skating through a sea of red.
Gary Bettman awarded Duncan Keith the Conn Smythe trophy. He was a unanimous selection. After stating the Hawks had won their third cup in six seasons, Bettman anointed the Hawks as a dynasty.
So many great and unforgettable moments. Toews passing the Cup to Kimmo Timonen. Patrick Sharp taking one last skate around the ice with the Cup before being traded. The roar of the crowd as Toews put the Cup over his head.
It was a stormy night in Chicago. Just getting to the game was a challenge for many. But like Rocky Wirtz stated at the parade, we didn’t see any Lightning that night.
Corey Crawford repeated his great speech one more time. Patrick Sharp spoke to the sea of red at Soldier Field one last time. While it was a celebration, it almost felt like a goodbye.
This might end up being the last one this core wins. Players were being shipped out to meet the salary cap yet again. Change was coming. But that summer, in those moments, none of that mattered. Chicago was on top of the hockey world yet again.
Featured Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP