BOSTON – Game 7: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson admitted he was already mentally preparing for it. With less than 90 seconds remaining and the Boston Bruins up 2-1, it seemed headed that way.
But for a team that had a ridiculous start to this season, it was only fitting to have a ridiculous ending.
Bryan Bickell scored with 1:16 remaining in regulation, and Dave Bolland scored about 18 seconds later as the Blackhawks pulled off the improbable 3-2 comeback to win their second Stanley Cup in the past four seasons. It was a thrilling ending, and one that few would have drawn up with time dwindling in regulation, the Bruins up by one and the TD Garden crowd feverishly chanting, “We want the Cup.”
But for a team that started this season with an incredible 21-0-3 start, the finale seemed appropriate. Still, even some of the players thought it was back to Chicago for a Game 7.
“Honestly, today I didn’t think we were going to do it,” Hjalmarsson said. “I was getting mentally prepared for Game 7 but we came up huge. I don’t honestly know what happened there. It was just unbelievable.”
What happened was something you couldn’t have dreamed up in a Disney movie: two goals in 17 seconds. First it was Bickell, who was open in front of the net for Jonathan Toews’ deft pass. Then Bolland got the clincher, knocking home a Johnny Oduya shot that Michael Frolik deflected off the goal post.
“It’s like a fairy tale. Two goals in 17 seconds: unbelievable,” said Marian Hossa, who was playing with a bad disc in his back. The right wing said the disc was pushing up against a nerve in his back, and that his foot was numb. “I wasn’t myself, but good things happen. Now I get time to rehab.”
The Blackhawks can exhale now, but it wasn’t looking that way with about 1:20 left. They pulled Corey Crawford, who finished with 23 saves on 25 shots and then, bedlam. For some Blackhawks, it was more a relief.
“I felt horrible. I made a bad turnover in the corner and it led to a goal,” said Duncan Keith, whose wife brought their baby boy on the ice, complete with massive headphones. “Next thing you now we get two goals, so I had to make up for that one.”
The Blackhawks had to gut this one out after a relatively forgettable start. The Bruins played exactly the way they needed down 3-2 in the series and with their home crowd behind them. They were punishing, they were relentless and they were pushing the pace. Chris Kelly gave them the early lead off a great pass from Tyler Seguin.
Jonathan Toews, who played through an injury he didn’t want to talk about following the game -– “I felt pretty good, and that’s all that counted” –- tied the game when he got the puck of Zdeno Chara’s stick and broke away on a 2-on-1 with Patrick Kane. Toews beat Tuukka Rask five-hole. Boston scored what looked like the goal that would lead to a Game 7, as Milan Lucic pushed the puck through Crawford with less than eight minutes in regulation.
But the Blackhawks had an answer. Make that answers.
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“When don't you dream about it? We all dream about scoring that Stanley Cup winner to hoist the Cup, so check that one off the bucket list,” Bolland said. “For sure it was harder (than 2010). We all battled harder. It was a tougher one. It wasn't easy. But we came through it all.”
The Blackhawks’ regular-season start left plenty of onlookers slack-jawed. So did their Cup-clinching finish. Considering the pushback, the determination they have had from Jan. 19 until tonight, it was only fitting.
“It was one of those seasons we were saying we were almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended. Nobody saw that one coming either way,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “A lot of great things (happened) in between, some great challenges in this playoff series or this playoff round, and then let alone the other three. But the resiliency of our team was in place all year long. It was one of those seasons: a fairy-tale ending and an amazing season.”