BOSTON AND BEYOND -- "Are they still going strong in there?"
It was well past midnight when a member of the security detail at TD Garden veered toward the visitors locker room, peeking at his watch as he posed that rhetorical question.
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ARE THEY STILL GOING STRONG IN THERE?
Were they ever. Since Patrick Kane scored early in the delayed January opener in Los Angeles, these indefatigable Blackhawks had skated fast toward this magical moment in June.
So no way would they brake now, not after earning their second Stanley Cup in four years, especially with a final act that will be engraved in franchise history.
"I've got the puck!" exclaimed John McDonough, the organization's driven President/CEO, brandishing the black disk that had burrowed in the Boston Bruins' net twice in the last two minutes -- twice within 17 seconds -- to secure a memory-bank 3-2 victory in Game 6 of an epic series.
The puck from Kane's 2010 winner in Philadelphia is still at large, but not this one.
"This is the puck!" repeated McDonough, outside the tumultuous merriment of cramped quarters where the best team in hockey bathed each other in beer, bubbly and brotherhood.
Chicago's boys of winter staged serial choruses of "Chelsea Dagger," passed the most famous trophy in sports around like it was a 35-pound salt shaker and ignited cigars once they figured out which end takes the flame.
"Unbelievable … I thought we were going back to Chicago for Game 7," exclaimed a tireless Duncan Keith.
So might they all have, but not as much as they believed in themselves. It was Keith, with his goalie pulled, who pressured in Boston territory, where Jonathan Toews would then author a brilliant pass through giant Zdeno Chara to Bryan Bickell for a tying score past Tuukka Rask at 18:44 of the third period.
Can't quite click with five skaters on four? Then go with six on five. Corey Crawford returned to his post, and soon it was Bucky Dent time all over again in Boston.
Johnny Oduya took the puck from Marcus Kruger and fired on net, Michal Frolik tipped it off the post, the carom reached Dave Bolland, and 17 seconds later, 3-2 Blackhawks.
"Bolly threw his gloves off," chuckled coach Joel Quenneville. "Tell him it wasn't overtime. Game's not over."
"Their guy, 55 (Johnny Boychuk), was hanging on me," amended Bolland. "Only way I could free myself to celebrate."
At the game's amazing conclusion, Kane hoisted the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, an award he duly noted easily could belong to Crawford.
Then captain Toews lifted the Cup, passed it Michal Handzus, who relayed to Jamal Mayers, who bequeathed it to Michal Rozsival -- three elder statesmen yearning for such an introduction to that special silver. The Blackhawks, cued by Toews, ooze respect, even when bedlam reigns.
Rocky Wirtz, the chairman who galvanized an organization he described as once "irrelevant," chartered a jumbo jet to bring 200 family members and staff to Boston. Wives, girlfriends, babies. They joined the boys of winter on ice rendered mushy from a 96-degree afternoon.
Interviews, pictures, hugs. Then they adjourned to their private party. Andrew Shaw, still bleeding from a shot he blocked with his right cheekbone, kissed the Cup and left it with a spot of red.
"Unsurreal," gushed Shaw, popular linguist who was ignored for two full drafts, then selected 139th overall on his third crack.
"I'm still not sure what happened," pondered Kruger, who went through one draft untouched, then got the nod from Chicago the next time, at 149 on the pecking order.
What happened is what has happened for six glorious months.
Since the beginnings of their record streak, the Blackhawks had a bull's-eye on their backs, but a target on their agenda.
How they accomplished it Monday night was stunning, as witnessed by the Bruins, who shook hands with the stares of the shellshocked. Quenneville loves the Kentucky Derby, but what he saw here shall now stand as the most exciting two minutes in sports.
"Amazing," offered vice president of hockey operations Scotty Bowman, now linked to his 13th Stanley Cup. "Never seen an ending like that. Never been one, has there?"
Wirtz, who sets the tone, then lets hockey people breathe, came through the door and was sprayed mercilessly. He replied in kind, to any in his path.
McDonough had a nice blue suit once upon a time. Drenched.
The Swedes posed for a picture with the Cup. So did Team Slovakia.
Patrick Sharp embraced Brent Seabrook. And then Toews, the great leader drafted exactly seven years ago, sidled over to Crawford for a word. The masked man who blames himself for every goal stared at the floor, which now was under water.
Or under liquids.
When Toews, showered and dry, finally carried the Stanley Cup toward a big yellow bus in the loading dock area, it was 1:42 a.m.
Screeners preparing passengers for their charter flight playfully wanded the shiny memento, then Boston police on motorcycles revved their engines for an escort to the airport. A few from the hundreds who wore Blackhawks gear to the game were still hanging out, waving in the dark.
The Stanley Cup did not have a permanent seat on the plane. The boys, starved for food, passed the trophy from row to row. Niklas Hjalmarsson blasted music. Shaw, his eye turning blue, decided that there would be no card game this time.
Marian Hossa, after playing in his fourth Final in six years, glowed. Keith put his feet up for the summer, and you would, too, with his workload.
Stan Bowman, the cerebral architect, dozed briefly in sopping wet clothes while fellow executives around him wondered if he would awaken and think this game for the ages was simply a dream.
After all, the three stars for Game 6 were Milan Lucic, Keith and Tyler Seguin.
The ride through storms turned bumpy, but wheels touched down at 4:06 a.m. Fire trucks and water cannons awaited. So did cameras on the ground and helicopters above.
Handzus, a prince of a man, a Blackhawk only since April, took the Stanley Cup to the front. Toews, who left Chara in his rearview mirror on a goal that made it 1-1, could have carried the prize. Instead, he just observed, beaming. And still more noise.
"WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!" they croaked from the back.
What's that they say about acting like you've been there before? Not with the Stanley Cup. It requires too much effort to win.
And not with these Blackhawks, although they could get used to this sort of revelry. The boys of winter want to own it, like they own the city of Chicago, where hockey has never been bigger or better.
•Editor's note: As part of an alliance with the Blackhawks, the Daily Herald will offer occasional features by Team Historian Bob Verdi, who writes for the team's website at www.chicagoblackhawks.com.