BOSTON -- An NHL-record unbeaten streak to start the lockout-shortened season. Three straight victories to clinch the title.
From beginning to end, the Chicago Blackhawks skated away from the rest of the league.
Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland scored 17 seconds apart in the final 1:16 and the Blackhawks struck quickly to win Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final 3-2 on Monday night for their second NHL championship in four seasons.
“I still can’t believe that finish. Oh my God, we never quit,” said goalie Corey Crawford, who made 23 saves. “I never lost confidence. No one in our room ever did.”
Jonathan Toews returned from injury to add a goal and an assist in the first finals between Original Six teams since 1979. Patrick Kane, whose overtime goal in Game 6 beat Philadelphia to win the 2010 championship, was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as this year’s playoffs MVP.
“In 2010, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We just, we played great hockey and we were kind of oblivious to how good we were playing,” said Toews, who scored his third goal of the playoffs to tie it 1-1 in the second period, then fed Bickell for the score that tied it with 76 seconds to play. “We played great hockey and we were kind of oblivious to how good we were playing.
“This time around, we know definitely how much work it takes and how much sacrifice it takes to get back here and this is an unbelievable group. We’ve been through a lot together this year and this is a sweet way to finish it off.”
Trailing 2-1, Crawford went off for an extra skater and the Blackhawks converted when Toews fed it in front and Bickell scored from the edge of the crease to tie the score.
Perhaps the Bruins expected it to go to overtime, as three of the first four games in the series did. Because they seemed to be caught off-guard on the ensuing faceoff. Chicago skated into the zone, sent a shot on net and after it deflected off a player and the post it went right to Bolland, who put it in the net and started the Chicago celebration with 59 seconds left in the game.
The Blackhawks on the ice gathered in the corner, while those on the bench began jumping up and down. It was only a minute later, when Boston’s Tuukka Rask was off for an extra man, that Chicago withstood Boston’s final push and pored over the boards, throwing their sticks and gloves across the ice.
The Bruins got 28 saves from Rask, who was hoping to contribute to an NHL title after serving as Tim Thomas’ backup when Boston won it all two years ago. The sold-out TD Garden began chanting “We want the Cup!” after Milan Lucic’s goal put the Bruins up 2-1 with eight minutes left, but it fell silent after their team coughed up the lead.
The arena was almost empty -- except for a few hundred fans in red Blackhawks sweaters who filtered down to the front rows -- when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed the 35-pound Cup to Toews, who left Game 5 with an undisclosed injury and wasn’t confirmed for the lineup until the morning skate.
The Chicago captain skated the Cup right over the crease in which the Blackhawks mounted the comeback and in front of the fans in Blackhawks sweaters who lined the front row behind the net. Toews banged on the glass while the remaining Bruins fans headed up the runways.
He then continued the tradition of handing it from player to player before the team settled to the side of the faceoff circle for a picture with the trophy they will possess for the next 12 months.
“It’s unbelievable man,” Crawford said. “So much hard work to get to this point. Great effort by everyone on the team.”
The Blackhawks opened the season on a 21-0-3 streak and coasted to the Presidents’ Trophy that goes to the team with the best regular-season record. But regular-season excellence has not translated into playoff success: Chicago is the first team with the best record to win the Cup since the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
The Blackhawks went through Minnesota in five games and Detroit in seven, rallying in the Western Conference semifinals from a 3-1 deficit and winning Game 7 in overtime. They got through the defending NHL champion Los Angeles Kings in five games to return to the Cup finals, where Boston was waiting.
The Blackhawks won the first game at home in three overtimes but dropped Game 2 -- another overtime -- and fell behind 2-1 in the series when it returned to Boston.