Photo courtesy of Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
The excitement in the United Center was palpable even before the game had started. The Blackhawks had an opportunity to win their first Stanley Cup in front of their home fans since 1938. The hum of the crowd seemed to steadily grow with every passing minute until the opening face-off. It was so close, Chicago fans could taste it, and so could their hockey team. But Tampa Bay was not about to simply hand over the rights to a coronation ceremony. They knew that a win would send the series back to Channelside Drive for a deciding game seven in front of their fans, and being 2-0 in game sevens in the playoffs, they wanted that chance.
The opening minutes of the game appeared to favor the Lightning, as Tampa spent large stretches in the Chicago end, while the Blackhawks appeared a little tentative. Whether the Chicago players were afraid of costing their team a goal in front of their eager fans, or it was just an acclimation period for them, their lack of aggression did not last long. They began to hound the net, and Bishop was tested often. Tampa was called for two penalties, and it could have easily been three. However, the Lightning penalty killers were up to the task and held the Blackhawks scoreless. Tampa was not without its own chances, most notably a shot from the right face-off circle by Stamkos, which rang off the cross-bar. The near-miss seemed to encapsulate all of the sniper’s lack of scoring touch in the Finals.
The second period featured the Lightning once again coming out with energy early, and some solid chances that they just were not able to connect on. Stamkos once again was given a chance to get off the schneid as he received a two-line pass for a breakaway, but after deking around Crawford, he simply shoveled the puck into the goalie’s left pad. As the failed chances piled up for Tampa, so did their frustrations, and the Blackhawks responded by pressuring them in their own zone. At the 17:13 mark, Duncan received a perfect pass from Kane near the blue line, skated in and fired on Bishop. The Tampa goalie made the initial save, but his rebound was corralled by the charging Keith, and he pounded it past Bishop. Moments after taking the 1-0 lead, the Blackhawks drew a bad penalty from Ondrej Palat, and went into the 2nd intermission with both the lead and a man advantage.
The Lightning knew they had to empty the tank in the third period, and they basically did just that. But with Corey Crawford at the top of his game, they were denied over and over again. Crawford made 14 saves in the final frame, including three huge stops while Tampa Bay was on the power play late. Blackhawks would add an insurance goal at the 14:46 mark when Coburn’s stick shattered on a one-timer attempt in the Chicago zone. The Hawks pounced on the puck and headed the other way, leading to ex-Lightning player Brad Richard’s no-look saucer pass over to Patrick Kane, who slammed the puck into an open net for his first goal of the series. The Blackhawks would spend the majority of the final minutes hemmed in their own end, while Tampa did just about everything except score, giving Chicago the 2-0 victory and the Stanley Cup.
Duncan Keith received the Conn Smythe for Playoff MVP and Hawks captain Jonathan Toews raised the cup for the third time. Reports later came out that the Lightning were hampered by injuries to key players including a torn groin for Ben Bishop and a broken wrist for Tyler Johnson, the playoffs’ leading scorer. But the Blackhawks came out hungry and they proved to be the better team. Patrick Kane showed a mixture of relief and exhiliration: “We’re going to enjoy this so much. We know it’s going to be a short summer, but that’s what we want. It’s unbelievable. I don’t think there’s going to be much sleeping tonight.