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Kimmo Timonen, Duncan Keith get the night they long deserved

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On a team defined by its star forwards, the triumph of Game 6 was particularly special for a pair of defensemen.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Kimmo Timonen has been deserving of a Stanley Cup for a long time. The same goes for Duncan Keith and the Conn Smythe Trophy. After the Chicago Blackhawks' triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 on Monday night, both finally have the hardware that's been a long time coming.

"I was crying a little bit," Timonen said on the ice after raising the Cup for the first time. "There were tears coming out of my eyes because I knew that it was going to be ... two goals against this team, it was going to be hard to score. I knew we had a really good chance to win it."

Timonen, 40, has been fighting for glory on the ice a long time. He's lost in finals of the Olympics, the World Championships, the World Cup of Hockey and the Stanley Cup Final. In 2010, he watched the Blackhawks celebrate in Philadelphia as a member of the Flyers. Five years later, he ends his playing career in a way most can only dream of.

"I'm living in a dream," Timonen said. "Where I left in August and I'm standing here, it's crazy. It's crazy what I went through. There's a risk involved obviously, but I wanted to do it. It was totally up to me and I wanted to take that chance, to have one more chance."

Brutal losses have been just part of what Timonen has overcome to finally become a champion. Last year, doctors found blood clots in his lungs, a situation that put not only his career but his health in question. Progress in the recovery came by December, however, and that was when the defenseman started thinking about returning for one final run. Now that's looking like the right decision.

"I didn't know what to do with the Cup," Timonen said. "I didn't know you could go around the rink with it. It was my first time. I played this game a long time and battled hard for years. I've been on the losing side of the story so many times that I know guys realize that. They know that I'm going to retire. This was my last game, last time I had my skates on. It's just the respect level goes both ways."

That respect was apparent as both sides leaned on each other in this series. The Hawks turned to Timonen when their defense wasn't working, and he stepped up even after getting battered by the Anaheim Ducks. Timonen needed everyone else on the roster to push him to make one last run worthwhile.

And yes, if you ask Kimmo, it was worth it. Obviously.

"I'm ready to go. I leave this game as a Stanley Cup champion, so I can't ask any more than that," Timonen said.

Meanwhile, on another part of the ice, Keith was celebrating not only his third Stanley Cup as a member of the Blackhawks, but his first Conn Smythe Trophy. Awarded to the postseason's most valuable player, Keith was undeniably that as he logged 30-plus minutes each night, led the playoffs in assists and scored the winning goal in Game 6. For Keith, this was the culmination of a long run of brilliant play on the blue line in Chicago. Get ready to hear old people recall Keith's heroic relentlessness in 50 years. His teammates were already doing it right after the the series ended.

"No one more deserving," Brad Richards said of Keith after the game. "Right from the first game against Nashville, I saw a different level of hockey that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on my team -- just how he kept doing it and never showed any signs of fatigue. He’s probably the best player I’ve ever seen live. It was unbelievable what he did out there."

Keith earned a clean sweep of the 18 Conn Smythe votes, but wouldn't focus on himself after the game, instead using his interviews to offer praise to others. Luckily, his teammates were there to applaud their playoff MVP after a two-month effort that'll go down in history.

"It’s about time," captain Jonathan Toews said on the ice. "We all know he’s going to go down as one of the great players to play the game. In our room, we knew that before the playoffs, but he keeps proving it time and time again. So I couldn’t be happier for a guy like that. It’s really incredible."

Those two final sentences could apply to either Timonen or Keith. Either way, you're talking about a defenseman getting something that's been a long time coming. And while their reactions weren't exactly identical -- Timonen said he'd sleep on his first day of retirement, but here's to guessing that'll only come after some celebrating -- there's little doubt everyone on the Blackhawks is cherishing how special these moments are.

Now Timonen heads into retirement, while Keith gets an offseason to recover and prepare for next season. For both of them, the summer should be a bit more enjoyable than usual.