When Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup above his head on Monday night, it was the second time Winnipeg’s own had earned the pleasure in the past four years.
They say the first one is the toughest and in a 30-team league, the second one is almost impossible, but what happened on Monday clearly suggested that Toews and his Chicago Blackhawks were destined to win the National Hockey League championship.
After all, the team they faced on Monday played one way for 58-and-a-half minutes and then forgot how to play, altogether, for the next 90 seconds.
What happened in the final minute and a half on Monday night will be remembered forever in the history of Canada’s national game. No team, on the verge of elimination has ever collapsed as mightily as the Boston Bruins did in front of their fans on Monday night.
It was stunning, hard to believe. No, impossible to believe. Shocking! How could a team that had played so well for so long, completely stop skating and stop working, at a time when it had Game 6 in the bag and was ready to go back to Chicago for Game 7 on Wednesday night?
Boston opened the scoring at 7:19 when Chris Kelly banged home and outstanding pass from Tyler Seguin. Toews tied in for Chicago at 4:24 of the second on a snap shot between the legs of Tuukka Rask.
The 1-1 tie held until the 12:11 mark of the third period when Milan Lucic jumped on a loose puck in front of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford and banged it home to give Boston a 2-1 lead. At that point it appeared as if the Bruins had it locked up. In fact, Chicago barely mounted an attack until they pulled Crawford with about a minute-and-a-half to play. At that point, everything changed.
Bryan Bickell found himself all alone in front with the puck on the doorstep and jammed it past Rask at 18:44 to tie the game and apparently send it to overtime.
But there would be no overtime.
Just 17 seconds later at 19:01 Johnny Oduya blasted one off the post that bounced right to Dave Bolland standing beside the crease. He whacked it into the empty net and a full house at Boston’s TD Garden was relegated to stunned silence.
For almost the entire game (especially in the first and third periods), Boston controlled the play, had the better chances and looked like the better team. But in the final 90 seconds, they stopped skating and started coasting around in their own end. On both goals, there were plenty of Bruins sort of in position to shut things down and hold onto the win, but it was as if they were frozen in their steps. They stopped moving, they started watching and they watched a 2-1 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit within 17 seconds at the worst possible time.
When Bolland scored, I wasn’t even sure the Blackhawks had any idea what had just happened. I know for a fact the Bruins had no idea.
“We’ve said it before that that team in 2010, we really didn’t know what we were doing,” Toews told Pierre McGuire of NBC Sports. “We played great hockey and we were kind of oblivious to how we were playing.
“This time we know definitely how much work it takes and how much sacrifice it takes to get back here, and this is an unbelievable group. We’ve been through a lot together this year and this a sweet way to finish it off.”
The Hawks became the sixth team in 30 years to win both the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup. But they won the President’s Trophy by playing great hockey for 48 games. They won the Stanley Cup in six games because they played great hockey for a little less than 90 seconds.
“How can you call that ending?” Toews told NBC. “We knew we needed just one bounce there. Obviously that was a big goal for them to go up 2-1.
“You never know what can happen so you don’t stop playing till the end. This is a nice finish, not having to go back to Chicago for a Game 7.”
By playing average-to-less-than-average hockey over the final three games, Tuukka Rask played himself out of the Conn Smythe Trophy. The award, instead, went to Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks. It’s hard to imagine that a Boston team with a 2-1 lead in the series lost three in a row the way they did, but that’s hockey.
At the highest level of the sport, in the biggest games of the year, you can’t stop working. You can’t stop skating. The Boston Bruins did both. And a team with a very good chance to win its second Cup in three years just didn’t have the legs or the heart when it mattered most.