Rozner: Blackhawks' band of brothers brings it home
The first one took 49 years.
The second one took 17 seconds.
The third one took 380 days, and cost more blood and sweat than the first two titles combined.
This trek began the night the Blackhawks lost to Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in 2014, and ended Monday night in Chicago with a Game 6 victory over Tampa, the culmination of an extraordinary run buoyed by a remarkable commitment to climbing the mountain one more time together.
They reached the summit as a group, dragging each other one step at a time, one brutal, mind-numbing, gut-wrenching, quad-burning step at a time.
And now they are Stanley Cup champions for the third time in six seasons, cementing a dynasty that in the salary-cap era is unseen and unheard of in any sport, perhaps not to be duplicated.
After a 2-0 victory over Tampa at the UC in front of 22,424 frenzied faithful, the players drank from the silver chalice and danced with Lord Stanley's bowl. They hugged and sang and cried, understanding too well that it will be the last time this group of men ever skates together.
As luck would have it, Hawks fans benefitted from Game 6 being at home, the first celebration here in 77 years and the result of a less spectacular regular season than in 2010 and 2013, when they clinched in Game 6 on the road.
"This is where we wanted to get it done," said captain Jonathan Toews, pointing to the fans. "We wanted to do it here for them."
They said this party would be the best. They said this party would be unlike any other. They said this party would last a lifetime.
Well, the memories certainly will.
"We've been through so much. It's been a really hard year," said Patrick Sharp. "We'll savor this for a long time."
It is easy to look ahead when there is no clock, but for the Magnificent Seven -- Toews, Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson -- that has been through all three celebrations together, they knew this time there was an expiration date.
With cap cuts looming, there is no guarantee they will all be back, and the calendar guarantees that the next time the Hawks lift the Stanley Cup, there will be new names chiseled.
"This is a very close group and we wanted to do this together," said Toews. "We all know that there will be some changes. There always are. It's emotional for sure."
Some will be watching on TV when there is a fourth or a fifth, and each time the Magnificent Seven will be reduced by a fraction.
That's what made this Cup run so emotional for the players, who understood the implications and ramifications. They dug deep for that and used it to survive Nashville and come back three times against Anaheim.
Once they got to Tampa, it was no fait accompli, trailing yet again in a postseason series. But these Chicago Blackhawks would not be denied, not after they had come so far and overcome so much.
"It's a special group," said future Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville, stemming the tide of emotion. "You have to feel fortunate to be around people like this. It takes incredible commitment to go this far and get it done. It's very special."
And as much as the players appreciate Rocky Wirtz, admire their coaches and love their fans, this was not about anyone but themselves.
They won this title for each other.
They fought for each other, bled for each other and pulled for each other.
Their commitment to winning for one another was admirable and moving, even for the most cynical of sports fans who can't help but applaud now a group that will sacrifice their health and well-being to win a hockey game.
Over and over and over again.
Perhaps nothing was more striking than seeing Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith chuck the trophy aside so that the captain could get his hands on the real prize and starting passing it around.
It's happened three times now and it's been the same each time, but then you already knew that hockey players -- especially this group of hockey players -- don't play the game for awards and accolades.
A real team is an amazing thing to behold, and we have witnessed now one of the great team efforts in sports history, the Hawks scaling hockey's Everest not because it's there, but instead because it's theirs.
They decided more than a year ago that they would not fall short again, that all 34 pounds of silver belonged to them, and they simply would not be stopped a few paces shy of the pinnacle.
How can you not be moved by their desire?
"This is a great group of guys," said a weepy Marian Hossa. "This group cares."
Yes, the first one was for the fans.
And the second was for Rocky Wirtz.
But this one, well, this one was for each other, and forever they will be bonded by this moment in time, every reunion and anniversary a chance to revisit and remember their collective pledge to greatness.
So let the celebration begin and let it end only when the last player has had his day with the Cup, and the last fan has taken a picture with hockey's Holy Grail.
Only then will Chicago move on to another season, another challenge, another long climb with an impossible ascent and an uncertain result.
But that is a day many months from now. Until then, drink up my friends.
And stay thirsty.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.