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Stanley Cup

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup Add to ...

For 49 years, or longer than any other team in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks had patiently waited for their Stanley Cup drought to come to an end.

There had been a few close calls and near misses since the days of Glenn Hall and Bobby Hull, but many more years when the Blackhawks were an NHL laughingstock, a sad reminder of what was once a glorious franchise. No other Original Six team, not even the Toronto Maple Leafs, had found so many unique and desultory ways to come up short for so long - almost half-a-century.

Until last night, that is.

Spurred on by the dynamic presence of team captain Jonathan Toews and the resolute leadership of defenceman Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks ended their championship drought on a rainy night in the City of Brotherly Love.

So what if it took overtime? You wait this long, it makes the end result just that much sweeter.

Showing little love - or affection - for the Flyers, who'd manhandled them in two previous visits to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks dominated play early, let the Flyers back in the game twice and then pulled it out Patrick Kane's shot from a bad angle that beat goaltender Michael Leighton 4:10 in the first overtime of a game that finished 4-3 in Chicago's favor and gave them the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final by a 4-2 margin.

"Crazy game, but unbelievable result," said Kane, of his game winner, which was almost identical to the goal Sidney Crosby scored to lead Canada to an Olympic gold-medal triumph over Kane and his American teammates. You wonder if Kane had it in mind to shoot from that angle and cross his fingers that it would go in for him.

"Exactly like the Olympics - quick shot on net, I don't know if he was ready for it or not, but it looked a lot like Crosby's in the gold-medal game; and I'm glad it went in," said Kane's centre, Patrick Sharp.

"I knew it went in, I saw the line on the puck all the way. Kaner let a quick shot go along the ice; I couldn't skate fast enough to catch up to him."

It was a dramatic night that exorcised many ghosts - probably none more heart-wrenching than Chicago's loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1971, when the Blackhawks allowed a two-game lead in the final to slip away. Mike Keenan's teams in the 1990s came close too, but ran into a force named Mario Lemieux that they couldn't overcome.

Philadelphia was in the process of writing its own story-book playoff script this spring - a tying goal by Scott Hartnell with 3:59 to go in regulation gave them fresh hope that they could force a seventh game - but finally the Flyers came up one miracle short, when Kane scored.

"You don't predict something like that," said Toews. "You just hope to God it was an actual goal, or we would be celebrating for nothing. That would take a lot of heart out of it."

The Blackhawks went into the series as heavy favorites and finally showed why - coming up with a sturdy effort as the visitors at the Wachovia Centre, where the Flyers had been 9-1 in their first 10 playoff games. Chicago is faster, deeper and more dynamic but in the end, it was by paying attention to old-school values - and gutting it out in overtime, after being fewer than four minutes away from a regulation victory - that permitted them to wrap it up on the road and not face the uncertainty of playing a one-game winner-take-all showdown Friday night.

"It's a great ending obviously," said coach Joel Quenneville, "but not the way we wanted it obviously. You give up a late goal like that and you know how long it is between games when you're this close to winning the Cup. It was great composure by our guys between periods to stick with it. It was a huge comeback by them. It was incredible pace. I thought we played maybe our two best games of the playoffs, these last two, in Games 5 and 6."

Dustin Byfuglien, Sharp and Andrew Ladd scored the other goals for a Chicago team that received contributions from every corner of its line-up.

Hartnell, with the pair, plus Danny Briere with his 12th of the post-season replied for the Flyers, who came to rely heavily on a select group of its elite players.

With 29 points, Briere broke the Flyers' team playoff scoring record set by Brian Propp in 1987, another year when Philadelphia was an underdog going into but gave the Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky a run for their money.

"It's going to sting for a while," said Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette, of the loss. "It hurts right now. But they never quit. They are a resilient group. I think we grew through adversity. I'm proud of the way they competed and fought."

For going on two years now, the Blackhawks have been a marketing triumph - reversing decades of indifferent managerial choices under president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman.

Much of the credit for putting the actual building blocks in place, however, belongs to Bowman's predecessor Dale Tallon, who drafted key players such as Toews and Patrick Kane, traded for others such as Sharp and Kris Versteeg and generally oversaw its transformation from a dull also-ran into an up-tempo winner.

Tallon left his role as the team's consultant to become the new GM of the Florida Panthers only last month; the expectation is that he will get his name on the Stanley Cup anyway for his contributions to building a team that - the salary cap willing - might be a factor for years to come. Chicago's nucleus is young - only a handful of players are over 30 and really only one, Marian Hossa, is guaranteed to be part of the team next year.

For Hossa, the decision to sign with the Blackhawks proved that the third time can be a charm. In each of the past two seasons, Hossa played for the runner-up in the Stanley Cup final - first the Pittsburgh Penguins, then the Detroit Red Wings.

The Blackhawks dominated all aspects of the opening period, but when they weren't getting a little unlucky - one shot off the crossbar, a puck that skipped right over Toews' stick alone in front of the net - Leighton was solid between the pipes.

It was not so good for goalie Antti Niemi at the other end. Niemi spent most of the first period as an interested spectator; he had faced only three shots before an interference penalty to Brent Sopel with 53 seconds to go in the first set up Hartnell's power-play goal and squared the game 1-1 after 20 minutes.

Briere gave the Flyers a lead early in the second, and it looked as if that poor start - featuring a couple of early penalties to potential playoff MVP Chris Pronger and a 17-3 deficit on the shot clock - was a thing of the past. For most of the first 19 minutes, the sounds of silence permeated the Wachovia Centre, but the capacity crowd of 20,327 perked up considerably after Briere scored.

Alas, it was a short-lived rally. Sharp scored a four-on-four goal to tie the game for Chicago, as the Flyers fell asleep, awaiting their turn on the power play - and turned the momentum right back Chicago's way and setting the stage for Ladd's decisive score.



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