Last fall, when the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five years, many (many, many, many) people wondered whether that run was good enough to be considered a dynasty. The Giants had missed out on the playoffs altogether in the years they didn't win the title, but the discussion mostly came down to whether being champions of Major League Baseball in three non-consecutive seasons over a five-year span qualified them for one of those arbitrary terms sports fans and media love to argue about. (See also: "elite.")
I bring this up because Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons with a 2-0 Game 6 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, capping off an impressive run of postseason excellence. In the era of the NHL salary cap, there should be no doubt that the Hawks are a modern-day NHL dynasty. Three Stanley Cups in such a short span, when it's more difficult than ever to keep a team intact, is remarkable. The feat is even more impressive when you consider that since 2009, the year before the Blackhawks' first Cup under coach Joel Quenneville, they've reached the Western Conference Final on two other occasions, including a Game 7 loss to Los Angeles last season.
It's scary how dangerous the Blackhawks are in the playoffs, regardless of what their regular seasons have looked like. General manager Stan Bowman's roster has brand name forwards who are explosive offensively, with depth up front as well. On the blue line, they're led by one of the best defenseman on the planet in unanimous Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith, and when they were essentially relying on four defensemen this postseason, everyone stepped up in a big way. Corey Crawford -- who was in net for the last two Chicago titles -- probably doesn't get enough credit on a team so filled with high-profile names. The Hawks just beat a very good Tampa Bay team in six games to win the Cup, and I swear they had another gear they didn't even need to use.
In Monday night's Game 6, Keith opened the scoring by putting home his own rebound and all but locking up his postseason MVP award. (He tied for the postseason lead in assists, led all players in plus-minus and averaged a ridiculous 31:06 of ice time per game.) The anticipation built at the United Center, with fans ready to see their team clinch the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938. It had been even longer since anyone has seen the Cup skated on Chicago ice, as the trophy wasn't even in the building for a presentation when they won it that year.
Game 6 was fun and fast, with teams trading chances and both goalies playing well. Then Patrick Kane's scored off a no-look feed from Brad Richards that made it 2-0 in the third period, the first time either team had a two-goal lead in the series. Kimmo Timonen, the 40-year-old Blackhawks defenseman who'd never won the Cup before, admitted after the game that he began to cry when Kane scored. He knew that he'd retire after the game if the Blackhawks won, and he realized that he was just minutes away from going out a champion. In 2010, when the Hawks won the Cup, Timonen (then with the Philadelphia Flyers) was defending Kane when No. 88 scored the overtime Cup winner. The Kane goal Monday all but guaranteed Timonen a perfect ending to his career.
The last two Blackhawks Stanley Cups had ended in dramatic fashion. This time, there was a bigger cushion. The fans at the United Center soaked in those final minutes, then exploded with glee as the players poured onto the ice after the final buzzer, "Chelsea Dagger" playing over the arena sound system.
It wasn't that long ago that another deep playoff run seemed very much in doubt. Kane had surgery to repair a fractured left clavicle back in February, and at the time, he was expected to miss 12 weeks. Even as the playoffs approached, it was unclear whether Kane would suit up for Chicago's first-round series, and how effective he'd be once he did return. But Kane did play, and even with a scoring slump in the Final, led the Blackhawks in postseason goals, trailing only Tyler Johnson league-wide. Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Kane's goal at 14:46 of the third was the one that allowed Chicago fans to relax just a tiny little it, and prepare themselves for the celebration.
Now that the season is over, we learned the nature of Ben Bishop's injury (a torn groin, suffered in Game 2), and also discovered that Johnson played with a broken wrist in the Final. Still, this Lightning team had been resilient in these playoffs. They just ran into a buzzsaw.
The Tampa injuries shouldn't take anything away from what the Blackhawks accomplished. The franchise has been transformed into a model organization under Rocky Wirtz's ownership, while Jonathan Toews has already accepted the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman three times (same with Quenneville). They have nothing else to prove. Some may still debate whether or not this team is really a dynasty. But from the looks of the Chicago players and front office personnel lifting the Cup, it probably doesn't matter.