On Monday night the Chicago Blackhawks finished off one of the most successful seasons in the history of the NHL. Chicago's road to the championship ultimately ended just as expected, in thrilling fashion.
With the Blackhawks trailing 2-1 late in the third, it appeared as if the Boston Bruins would be forcing a pivotal Game 7 back in Chicago. But the Blackhawks' resiliently rose to the occasion one last time.
Bryan Bickell tied it up when he took a beautiful centering pass from Jonathan Toews and buried the puck past a sprawling Tukka Rask with 1:16 left in the third.
Just when the Bruins fans inside the hot and sticky TD Garden were starting to pick their jaws up from the floor, Chicago struck once again as Dave Bolland corralled a rebound from a Johnny Oduya shot that drew iron and put it into an open net.
The Chicago Blackhawks had stolen Game 6 and brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago for the fifth time in team history and for the second time in four years.
Bickell and Bolland's goals were just a few of the incredible highlights of this season. From the 24-game point streak at the start of the year, to the Presidents' Trophy to conclude it, Chicago finished off its magical season with the ultimate prize.
The Blackhawks became the first team since 2008 to take home the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season. Although it is tough to rank the moments that led to this championship journey, let's take a moment to reflect and look at the top eight moments of the 2013 Stanley Cup season.
It had been a long time—almost two years to be exact—since the Blackhawks recorded a shutout. But in the 12th game of the season, Corey Crawford ended a drought that had lasted since March of 2011 in a 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators.
The shutout was in part thanks to a terrific night from Chicago's defense, as Crawford only had to make 17 saves during the game, but it was a good enough effort to give the Hawks something they hadn't achieved since blanking the Florida Panthers 4-0 almost two seasons ago.
It certainly wasn't the most important moment of the season, but it was a giant gorilla that Crawford needed to get off of his back. It was his first of three shutouts during the season and the first of six total for Chicago.
It was also the spark plug to Crawford's excellent season.
One of the biggest storylines heading into the lockout-shortened season was whether Crawford, who had faced playoff hardships in the previous two seasons, could step up as the franchise goaltender Chicago desperately needed.
Crawford did more than that. He earned his job as the Hawks' netminder despite a stellar season from backup Ray Emery. After Crawford allowed five goals in Chicago's Game 4 victory in the Cup Final, people still questioned whether Crawford could solve his glove-side woes.
But despite the criticisms, Crawford was the leader in goals against average (1.84) during the postseason and was definitely considered as a Conn Smythe candidate.
In the grand scheme of things, one game usually doesn't define a player's season, but in this case it might have. This shutout in February triggered Crawford's confidence and was the catalyst for a terrific season that led the Blackhawks all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Both the 2010 and 2013 seasons had their share of magic. Interestingly, both seasons included early-season come from behind victories against the Calgary Flames.
Tied 1-1 in the third period, Jay Bouwmeester, who was still with Calgary at the time, scored with 35 seconds left in regulation to put the Flames up 2-1.
It looked like Chicago was going to be handed its first loss of the season until Marian Hossa pounced on the puck in front of the Flames' net and fired it past Mikka Kiprusoff with just 2.3 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
The Hawks were led by a 45-save effort from Ray Emery and won the game in a shootout.
This game has a fascinating connection to a game played in 2010. The Blackhawks were trounced by the Flames in the first period and trailed 5-0 going into the second on their home ice. Miraculously, the Hawks rallied back to win the game 6-5 in regulation, a game that helped define their championship season.
Similarly, the Hawks 3-2 victory showed us, just like in 2010, that this team never gave up and left it all on the ice for 60-plus minutes.
Like Crawford's first shutout, this game was a crowning moment for backup Ray Emery. After bouncing around the league and dealing with a major hip injury, Emery found a home in Chicago for the 2011-12 season and earned a one-year extension.
Emery went on to go 17-1, including 12 straight victories, in 2013 and even earned more Vezina trophy votes than his counterpart Crawford.
Emery will be a free-agent this offseason and is likely going to get a hefty contract during the offseason, and this game could be considered the win that resurrected his career.
More importantly, the Hawks kept their point streak alive and wouldn't falter until a month later.
Chicago's championship run certainly had its rough spots and the team's first game of the postseason against the Minnesota Wild was not as easy as some people thought it would be.
The Hawks weren't rewarded for their incredible regular season, but instead were treated to a dog fight at the United Center.
Chicago had gotten a big break when Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was scratched because of an injury suffered in warm-ups. An injury that turned out to be season-ending.
Minnesota struck first when Cal Clutterbuck got the puck past Crawford to silence the crowd in Chicago.
The Blackhawks responded with a power-play goal (as unreal as that sounds) when Marian Hossa scored to even the game.
Both teams were held scoreless in the third and the restlessness in the building was at an all-time high. After an intense overtime period, Bryan Bickell scored his first of nine postseason goals on a two-on-one rush with Viktor Stalberg to save the day and give the Blackhawks a 1-0 series lead.
For Bickell, this moment was the beginning of his unprecedented playoff run that included nine goals and 14 assists. If there was one Blackhawk who rose his stock to new levels, it was Bickell.
The Blackhawks avoided the disappointment from past postseasons and managed to escape from Game 1 victorious. Had they stumbled out of the gates, you'd have to think the prior two postseasons were still inside the team's head.
The Blackhawks' championship run was book-ended by thrilling finishes that were greatly due to Bickell's timely emergence.
It started on January 19th in Los Angeles and didn't end until March 8th in Denver.
The Chicago Blackhawks gave the NHL a positive storyline to begin its lockout-ridden season. A point streak. A 24-game point streak to be exact.
With games crunched in the calendar, the Blackhawks burst onto the scene as a resurgent contender. The team made it known not only that they were back, but that they were here to stay.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The Blackhawks not only lost their point streak that had lasted all the way to the half-way point of the 48-game season, but they were also defeated in an ugly manner.
In the second game of a home-and-home with the Colorado Avalanche, the Hawks were taken down by a score of 6-2, ending the streak and all of its wonders.
During the streak, Chicago had gone 11-0-2 at home and 10-0-1 on the road. They went 7-3 in games that went to overtime or a shootout and won 11 straight games.
What followed was Chicago's weakest stretch of the regular season. A lull in which they went just 5-4 to finish out the month of March.
Once the calendar turned to April, the Blackhawks turned it back on, winning eight of nine to start the month.
What makes this streak even more impressive is that the Blackhawks busted out of the gates early, but maintained their excellent play throughout the regular season and playoffs to take home the title.
Patrick Kane wasn't in consideration for the Conn Smythe trophy going into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
Kane had two goals and seven assists in the postseason thus far and although the Hawks were still winning, the team would need more from its stars to advance.
On June 8th, all of that changed.
Kane exploded in Chicago's close-out victory over Los Angeles. His first goal of the game came just six minutes into the first period on assists from his new line-mates, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell. After Chicago squandered a two-goal lead, Kane got his team back in the lead with a second goal.
His third goal sent Chicago to the Finals.
The Blackhawks let the Kings off the hook when Mike Richards scored with just seconds left on the clock to tie the game and send it to overtime.
After a scoreless first overtime, Kane capped off his incredible performance with a third tally. Toews took the puck off of a Kings turnover and started a two-on-one rush, slid the puck across the ice and Kane took care of the rest, ripping a shot past Jonathan Quick and sending the Hawks back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Hawks stars had finally showed up, and Kane carried his momentum into the Finals against Boston. In six games against the Bruins, Kane scored three goals and assisted on two others. He essentially won Game 5 with his two goals and led the team with 19 points by the end of the postseason.
Had Kane not lit the lamp three times against Los Angeles, his pedestrian postseason may have continued. The Blackhawks needed its stars to show up and Kane did his part and earned the Conn Smythe trophy in the process.
As amazing as Chicago's championship run was, it looked like it would end at some points.
The Blackhawks were down 3-1 in the series to the Detroit Red Wings and were looking like just another Presidents' Trophy winner that couldn't get it done come postseason time.
But then the Hawks took Game 5 in convincing fashion, then scored three straight in the third period to steal Game 6 in Detroit. The series was even at three and the season came down to a Game 7 in the United Center, which was the most fitting way to send Detroit off as they left for the Eastern Conference.
Niklas Hjalmarsson thought he had put home the potential game-winner with under two minutes left in the third period, but the goal was disallowed by referee Stephen Walkom, who had called coincidental minors on Brandon Saad and Kyle Quincey just before Hjalmarsson shot the puck.
The Blackhawks might have been robbed of the epic comeback. How could the Hawks recover from getting the victory snatched out of their hands?
But just like they had all season, the Blackhawks showed the drive of a championship team. Three and a half minutes into the overtime period, Brent Seabrook heroically slapped a shot past Jimmy Howard to bring justice to the United Center and complete the miraculous comeback.
The Blackhawks may have stolen a series, but in the postseason, it just doesn't matter how you win. Resiliency, skill and toughness were all traits shown by the Hawks in this series. The Blackhawks had slumbered through the Minnesota Wild, but being taken to the brink by Detroit brought out their best hockey.
No season is perfect, but just when things looked bleak for Chicago, somebody always stepped up. This moment saved their season, which was on the brink of an enormous letdown.
The Stanley Cup Finals got off to an outstanding start when Boston and Chicago treated fans to a triple overtime classic.
The Blackhawks had fallen behind by two goals twice in this game but continued to scrap its way back into the game. Milan Lucic scored twice in the first two periods to give Boston an early 2-0 lead, causing the United Center to sound like the Chicago Public Library.
Rookie sensation Brandon Saad scored his first goal of the postseason in the second to cut the deficit in half, but Boston responded in the third when Patrice Bergeron scored on a power play to subdue the fired up crowd once again.
Less than two minutes later, Dave Bolland scored on a nifty one-timer pass from Andrew Shaw to give Chicago some hope. Then the roof of the arena almost came off when Johnny Oduya shot a puck that hit Andrew Ference's skate and crept past Tukka Rask to tie the game up.
Next came the 52 minutes and eight seconds of bonus hockey. Boston dominated much of the play in the first overtime period, but couldn't put the puck into the net.
Another period of sluggish hockey ensued and at one point it seemed like the arena would start selling beer again.
As the clock struck midnight (literally) Michal Rozsival took a shot from the point that first hit Bolland's stick and then was re-directed by Shaw into the net. The Blackhawks won one of the longest Stanley Cup Finals games in NHL history.
Coming back twice from two-goal deficits against a scorching hot Bruins team seemed almost impossible, given how Boston had shellacked the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. But Chicago found a way, just like they did all season.
This game was an instant classic and one that was a lot tougher for the losing team to battle back from. Although Boston would end up taking the next two games, Chicago adjusted showed its championship grit once more.
It all started with a game that nobody will ever forget. This win made it seem like destiny was on Chicago's side and it most certainly was.
Two minutes left at TD Bank Garden. Boston led 2-1 in Game 6 and it seemed like a Game 7 in Chicago was imminent.
It was a game that Boston had controlled much of the way. Chris Kelly got the scoring started for Boston when he received a perfect pass from Tyler Seguin and wristed the puck past Crawford.
Toews, who didn't play a shift in the third period of Game 5, looked healthy when he rifled a shot between Rask's legs to tie it up.
With a little less than eight minutes left, Lucic made Chicago pay for failing to clear the puck out of the zone and regained the lead for the Bruins.
Another six minutes and change followed and it looked like Boston would need to schedule a flight back to Chicago.
The Blackhawks would need a flight back home to, but for other reasons.
After Chicago won a board battle in the offensive zone, Bickell took a gorgeous centering pass from Toews and put it behind Rask to tie the game and shush the hostile crowd.
17 seconds later, the tables had been dramatically toppled.
Marcus Kruger backhanded a pass to Oduya. His shot was tipped by Michael Frolik and hit the post, but Bolland got around Johnny Boychuk and rebounded the puck into an empty net.
All of a sudden, Chicago was 58 seconds away from the championship.
Anyone else getting the theme here?
The Blackhawks fought back one more time. 17 seconds was all it took to bring the Stanley Cup to Chicago for a fifth time. It happened that fast.
This is the top moment of the season for obvious reasons, but this was also a defining moment of an amazing campaign. It highlighted the qualities that made this team great: skill, speed, grit and resiliency. The Hawks were a fast-paced team by nature but could play any style of hockey when they absolutely had to, a quality that is necessary for a championship team.
A 24-game point streak, the Presidents' Trophy and a miraculous postseason comeback were all culminated in just 17 seconds. The Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions and what a ride it has been.