Blackhawks step up when it matters most in Stanley Cup win
The series didn't get off to a terrific start, but the Blackhawks did what they were required to do in order to win, once again.
In the coming days, there will be plenty of talk about the Chicago Blackhawks being a dynasty and where they go from here and rank in history and everything pertaining to that sort of thing. But let's just take a moment to focus on the here and now, in regard to their Game 6 performance and the final stretch of the Stanley Cup Final that allowed them to capture their third title in six seasons.
The series against the Tampa Bay Lightning did not get off to the most favorable of starts. Sure, the Hawks were able to work their way to a 2-2 split across the first four games, but they were plagued by poor starts and stretches during the games in which the Lightning were able to dominate possession and maintain it in the offensive zone. They were unable to generate chances against an opposing goaltender, in Ben Bishop, that was both shaky and clearly not 100 percent healthy. They knew they needed to get off to better starts and make the opposition work in their own end more than the Bolts had been.
And that's what we got in Games 5 & 6 of this series. The Hawks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in Game 5. While the goal itself was a fluky play that resulted in Patrick Sharp finding an empty net, the Hawks peppered the opposing net with shots and created opportunities that weren't necessarily there in the first four games. They made the Lightning's defensive corps work, with quick, crisp passes that led to quick breakouts and a few of those stretch passes that the Hawks love so much.
The trends that we saw in Game 5 continued on into Game 6.
This just never seemed like a game that the Blackhawks were going to lose. After two periods, they held an edge in Corsi by a 43-30 count and a 23-11 shot advantage. Even the opportunities that they allowed Tampa Bay to generate never felt like anything overly threatening. They never allowed themselves to get frustrated, even with several close chances failing to find their way to the back of the net.
Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith followed up his own rebound in order to put the Blackhawks up 1-0. And you just knew at that point that the Blackhawks would not be denied. Even with a barrage of shots from the Lightning in the third period, the Hawks were able to put another up on the board, courtesy of one of those breakouts that were so effective in the last couple of games. After a chance by Tampa, Brandon Saad took the puck on the 3-on-2, gave it to Brad Richards, who passed the puck over to Patrick Kane, who took a shot that he wasn't going to miss. It was Showtime stepping up in the moment in which we all knew he would.
When the Hawks weren't generating chances, Corey Crawford was there. Crawford had been so stellar since "losing his net" in the first round, particularly in these last three games. As the Hawks won three consecutive games to seal the deal, Crawford stopped 82 of the final 84 shots he faced, pitching a shutout on Monday. That included plenty of high quality chances from the Bolts, including a breakaway from Steven Stamkos.
Even with the Lightning doubling up the Hawks in Corsi in the final frame, the Hawks kept things simple. When they allowed a shot or a scoring chance, they grabbed the puck and quickly and efficiently moved it out of the zone. It felt like a 20 minute penalty kill at times, but you never felt like their chances of winning were in danger.
That's what these Blackhawks do. We doubt them at points throughout the regular season and even the playoffs, a lot of which appears validated at the time. But when the Blackhawks needed to make adjustments and elevate their game, they did just that. We saw that in Game 5. We especially saw it in Game 6.
And now the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions for the third time in six seasons.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.