PHILADELPHIA – For a moment, Patrick Kane was the only one who knew the Chicago Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup.
As he skated to the other end of the ice, his teammates quickly joined in the celebration that ended 49 years of frustration for the Blackhawks without a title.
Kane snuck the puck past Michael Leighton 4:06 into overtime and stunned Philadelphia to lift Chicago to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 on Wednesday night for their first championship since 1961.
No one but the Blackhawks appeared to realize what was going on for a few frozen moments. Kane and his linemates knew the puck had found the side of the net. The goal light never went on, but that didn’t stop most of the Blackhawks from storming the ice and mobbing each other in celebration.
“I tried to sell the celebration a little bit,” Kane said. “Everyone came down, and I think some of the guys were still kind of iffy to see if the puck was in the net.”
Oh, it was in, a brief video replay confirmed—and the Blackhawks revival from the bottom of the NHL to the elite was complete.
“I believed in him,” said captain Jonathan Toews, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. “I don’t think he would have thrown his gloves off like that if he wasn’t 100 per cent sure.”
Kane will go down as scoring one of the biggest goals in team history.
He raised his arms right away and skated behind the net, knowing the goal was good. While the Flyers sat on the bench in stunned silence with confused looks, the Blackhawks began to celebrate in their own end around goaltender Antti Niemi.
“I was just hoping to God it was just an actual goal or we would be celebrating for nothing,” Toews said.
Before reaching the group hug, Kane stooped to pick up some loose ice shavings—looking like a mischievous kid on Christmas ready to throw a snowball in the backyard.
“There’s so many great things about winning a Stanley Cup. This is it,” Toews said. “This is the best feeling you can ever get. I just can’t believe it’s happened.”
Toews was first to touch the Cup, taking it from commissioner Gary Bettman and hoisting it above his head in triumph. Marian Hossa, whose last two attempts at a title were denied the last two years with Detroit and Pittsburgh, was next. He lifted it and bench-pressed the big trophy, snapping his head back in exhilaration.
“I put it on my shoulder. What a relief,” Hossa said.
Chicago won its first Stanley Cup since Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita led the way 49 years ago.
It ends the longest active championship drought in the NHL. Kane is the first player to score the Stanley Cup clinching goal in overtime since Jason Arnott did it for New Jersey at Dallas in 2000.
“I heard the sound, it was a funny sound,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the Cup-winner. “Nobody knew where the puck was. Kaner thought it was in.”
Leighton stopped 37 shots—just not the last one.
“I went to the corner and saw a guy drive the net,” he said. “I thought he was going to pass it but he threw it at my feet and it went underneath me.”
Fitting in a series where neither team had much wiggle room, this one needed OT.
Just when it appeared the Flyers season was over, Scott Hartnell squeezed out another clutch goal.
With the offence revved into desperation mode, Hartnell was levelled by Toews right in front of the crease as he knocked a loose puck in to make it 3-3 with 3:59 left in the third.
He raised his arms while flat on his back.
Knocked down, never out.
The Flyers faithful turned their white towels into rally symbols only moments after they could have been used for surrender.
The fans politely applauded when the game was over, but the few thousand who stuck around booed as the Blackhawks took their turns hoisting the silver trophy. A few hundred Blackhawks fans went wild as the team took a picture with the Cup.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette never saw the winning goal.
“I saw one of their players skate across the ice like he had won something,” he said. “I got a little pit in my stomach.”
The Blackhawks ruthlessly attacked the Flyers and it paid off with two should-have-been-stopped goals against Leighton.
Leighton, who had been flawless at home this post-season, couldn’t come up with two crucial saves and that helped put Chicago in the driver’s seat.
Andrew Ladd, an injury scratch the first three games, deflected Niklas Hjalmarsson’s slap shot from the circle with 2:17 left in the second. That made it 3-2 and nearly stood as the winner
His goal followed Patrick Sharp’s soft wrister that scooted under Leighton’s left skate to tie it a 2 midway through the period. Sharp’s 11th goal of the post-season came during a 4-on-4.
Niemi was barely tested.
Daniel Briere beat him for a 2-1 lead when he came streaking down the right side and went high glove side off a crisp pass from Ville Leino with 12 minutes left.
There were 40 goals scored in the first five games, the most for a finals since 1981. This one was a goalie’s duel early with only a power-play goal from each team in the first period.
Chicago pounded Leighton from all angles and were outshooting the Flyers 14-3 at one point late in the first.
Chris Pronger, who had one of the worst playoff performances of his career in Game 5 (minus-5), was penalized twice in the first. His antagonistic actions came after a day after he was the subject of an unflattering picture of him in a skirt in the Chicago Tribune.
Pronger’s penalty for high sticking was still being announced when Dustin Byfuglien popped out to face the net and one-timed a pass from Toews past Leighton with 3:11 left.
The Flyers didn’t even attempt a shot on their first two power-play chances. The special teams unit that had been so effective during their first Stanley Cup finals run since 1997 had suddenly gone dry.
That is, until Hartnell bailed them out.
He backhanded the puck through Niemi’s legs with 26.5 seconds left to tie the game. Hartnell barked at the Blackhawks and a home crowd on edge suddenly roared back to life.
This Flyers team had mastered the art of the comeback, starting all the way back on the last day of the regular season when a shootout win clinched a playoff spot. It became the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games when it eliminated Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and evened the Stanley Cup at 2-all after losing the first two games at Chicago.
It wasn’t enough and the Flyers are still looking for their first Stanley Cup since winning consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975.
“We just thought it was meant to be,” Briere said. “We just thought it was a matter of time we would win in overtime and go back to Chicago.”
NOTES: The Flyers have lost their last six Stanley Cup finals appearances. … The Flyers finished 9-2 at home in the post-season.