Rozner: Blackhawks knew 2010 Flyers wouldn't go quietly
It was the easiest of the three titles, but by no means was it easy.
Ten years ago Tuesday, Patrick Kane scored in overtime to give the Blackhawks the win over Philadelphia and their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Before that they had to squeeze past Nashville, there was another wacky series with Vancouver and a sweep over San Jose that featured some surprisingly bad goaltending from the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov.
Then came the Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers, a team that overcame a 3-0 series deficit to Boston in the second round, including a Game 4 win in overtime. The Flyers obviously would not go quietly.
And they did not.
Hosting their first Stanley Cup Final game in 18 years, the Hawks played an awful game. Fortunately, Philadelphia was slightly worse and the Hawks survived, 6-5.
"Well, we didn't protect the puck. We didn't protect the front of the net. We didn't do a lot right in our end," said veteran center John Madden, who was as disgusted as he sounded. "We turned the puck over a lot. It was ugly."
With the score 5-5 entering the final period, the Hawks got the only goal of the third when Tomas Kopecky waited out relief goaltender Brian Boucher and tucked one past him for the winner at 8:25. The Hawks chased Mike Leighton midway through the second.
"We didn't play good, but I'd rather be on our side right now than their side," said Duncan Keith. "Giving up 5 goals is bad, but giving up 6 is worse."
The teams tightened it up in a 2-1 Hawks victory, the Flyers down 2-0 in the series with a pair of 1-goal defeats. The visitors didn't want another track meet and the game was scoreless until one Philly giveaway near the blueline and another in the neutral zone led to a pair of Hawks goals late in the second in a span of 28 seconds.
Antti Niemi saved the Hawks in the final 20 minutes as the home team was outshot 15-4.
"I'm not sure we should be frustrated," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "I think we outplayed them and outchanced them, but their goalie was extremely good in the third period."
The Flyers held serve with a 4-3 victory, the Hawks' first loss in more than three weeks and their first 1-goal defeat in two months.
"I can't even remember that. That feels like a different season, a different year," Keith said. "We've had a good run and we have a lot of confidence in these kinds of games. We expect to win them. I guess it was going to happen at some point. It would have been nice if it didn't happen again until next season."
The Flyers were the better team, but they also finally got some breaks as the Hawks missed open nets and hit a few posts.
The home team won for the fourth time in four games, Philadelphia tying the series at 2-2 with a 5-3 victory. For the first time in the Final, Leighton was the better goaltender and Niemi had one of his worst games of the postseason.
The good news was that only two teams in history had ever come back from down 2-0 on the road to win a Stanley Cup. The bad news was one of them was the 1971 Canadiens, bringing back terrible memories for the Chicago faithful.
As most people were driving to the UC, there was horrific weather and a tornado outbreak, and once the game started it was the Hawks storming -- sorry -- to a big early lead and a 7-4 victory that put them within a game of the title.
The Hawks completely dominated the Flyers in the first period of Game 5, taking a 3-0 lead, and then traded goals the rest of the way. After two straight defeats in which they lacked the level of energy that got them to the Final, the Hawks came out on fire, outshooting, outhitting and outworking the Flyers from the opening minute to the final horn.
Dustin Byfuglien showed up for the first time in the series both physically and with 4 points, Kane found room to skate and Joel Quenneville's line juggling was magical as he draped a minus-5 on Chris Pronger.
"Give Joel credit," said Patrick Sharp. "He has a great feel for mixing and matching lines and he's been brilliant throughout the playoffs. He's got us close now."
Fifteen down, one to go.
Staring at the possibility of a Game 7 when anything could happen, at 10:06 p.m. Chicago time on Wednesday night, June 9, 2010, Kane beat Leighton 4:06 into overtime and the Hawks were champs for the first time since 1961. Kane celebrated, but everyone else on the ice just looked around and searched for an answer, perhaps the most bizarre Cup-winner ever.
"I kind of threw my gloves in the air and kept looking back at the other end," said Jonathan Toews. "I was thinking, 'We're throwing our gloves and sticks all over the place and maybe it's not even a goal.' But (Kane) said he knew for sure it was in."
Quenneville stood up on the bench and sort of hugged his assistant coaches, but was watching the refs and thinking about the next line change.
"(Kane) was the only one in the building who knew it was in, except maybe the goaltender," Quenneville said. "(Kane) was definitely the only one at ice level who had a view of it. It's probably the strangest celebration I've ever seen in a hockey game."
GM Stan Bowman watched the replay with his Hall of Fame father before he erupted, and Keith skated backward toward the Hawks' pile at one end of the ice while watching the officials at the other end.
"I wanted to know for sure so it felt really odd, but Kane was screaming it was in," Keith said. "I was just afraid they would call it back and then we look like fools and we gotta clean up all the (stuff) on the ice."
Team president John McDonough stood frozen.
"Well, I don't have a lot of experience with celebrating championships," said McDonough, who spent decades with the Cubs. "I just didn't want a false start. I needed to know it was over for real, because all these other things start running through your head, like an overtime loss and Game 7 and all that.
"Nobody wanted that. These Flyers were relentless."
As was the case for much of the postseason, Niemi wasn't great for much of Game 6, but even with the Flyers tying the game at 3-3 late in the third, Niemi was strong in the final period and in overtime. The rookie goaltender who barely made the team out of camp was a Stanley Cup champion.
Early the next morning amid a citywide party and a million hangovers, while the players took the Stanley Cup from bar to bar after arriving home, there were 3,000 people waiting in line at a suburban sporting goods store so they could be first to get their championship T-shirts, when only a few years earlier there weren't 3,000 people at the UC watching games.
What a turnaround, from worst franchise in sports to model franchise in hockey, driven to the top of the business by Rocky Wirtz and McDonough.
Ten years happens fast. Time sure flies when you're winning titles.