The 2010 Stanley Cup Finals deserved a seventh game, but Game 6 that finished the series was so good, it might have actually been overkill.
Too bad hardly anyone realized when it was all over. Chicago’s Patrick Kane did, but he seemed to be the only one sure that his shot from the far side had slithered past Flyers goalie Michael Leighton to end the overtime and give the Blackhawks their first title since JFK was a rookie in the White House.
|Patrick Kane, who scored the clinching goal in Game 6, lifts the silverware. (AP)|
So did the entire playoffs for that matter. There were several great series in the first three rounds and the NHL ended up drawing record network and cable television ratings as a result. And it didn’t hurt that teams with deep histories created some great storylines from remarkable upsets to historic comebacks to crowning achievements like Chicago’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.
The Blackhawks were heavy favorites by the time they reached the Finals, the last hurdle of an incredible turnaround that has taken the team from outcasts to darlings of Chicago sports fans in less than three years.
The new converts believed this was going to be a coronation for the Blackhawks, too, figuring it wasn’t a matter of if, but when yet Philadelphia made them work and nearly pulled off an upset that would have ended their own long championship drought.
At times, it almost seemed to be destined for the Flyers. They had made a habit of rising from the dead over the previous two months, and did it again in Game 6 essentially willed it to the overtime in the Finals moments of the third period.
It was great theater. Philadelphia had been trying to keep up with a really fast Chicago team skating in overdrive, but was being outshot badly and looked gassed by the last few minutes of the third period.
Yet the Flyers only trailed by a goal. During a timeout, a scene from the movie Rocky and then the theme hit the jumbotron, bringing the crowd to a standing ovation and the Flyers apparently back to life. Danny Briere’s line forced its way into Chicago’s zone with Scott Hartnell bulldozing his way to the front of the net and getting his stick on a desperate centering pass by Ville Leino.
The goal saved the season -- for a brief time, anyway. Philadelphia missed two great chances in the first 30 seconds of overtime and it wasn’t long before Kane took advantage of Kimmo Timonen being on the wrong side of the ice. Kane skated around the defenseman and got off a shot that fooled just about everyone in the building including the goal judge.
A strange ending certainly. But it brought the 2010 championship to the right conclusion because Chicago was the better team in this series, just not in the sense of a No. 2 seed facing off against a No. 7 that had 24 less points in the standings. Those differences were irrelevant by the time the talented teams met for the final because both had earned the right to be there during these playoffs.
But both were coming off week-long hiatuses that gave everyone too much time to get caught up in the hype, and the rust showed until the teams arrived in Philadelphia with the Blackhawks leading the series 2-0. The Flyers were several steps better back in their building and drew even in the series, but it took so much, they had nothing left after that.
Chicago made life tougher by shuffling the lines for Game 5, a move that was the fundamental turning point of the series. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville separated captain Jonathan Toews, Kane and Dustin Byfuglien from the top line and spread them out over three units, preventing the Flyers from getting any real matchups.
Philadelphia played mostly only three forward lines and two defense units as it had throughout the series, but with Chicago’s speed and scoring power coming from so many places, it became too much for the Flyers to handle.
And it was no better back home in Game 6. Philadelphia’s was hoping for one last home ice advantage but by then and really for the first time in the series, the Blackhawks looked like they had really figured out how to beat the Flyers.
Chicago got the jump in the game by getting pucks deep and dominating the first period, and even after falling behind briefly in the second period, it quickly regained control and ultimately found a way to win -- the way champions do.
But as Pronger said later, the Flyers fought through adversity and hung on long enough to give themselves a chance to win one of the most memorable post seasons ever.
Here are some reasons why.
|After a series-long physical battle, Chris Pronger and Dustin Byfuglien shake hands. (Getty Images)|
The offense: The gunners were out throughout the playoffs, but it really became noticeable during the Finals which turned out to be one of the highest-scoring in history. With 47 goals combined, Chicago and Philadelphia produced the highest total since 1980 and the second-highest for six games ever. Both teams talked about defense, but the games tended to be track meets with lots of pace and quick transitions that produced plenty of scoring chances. It says that you can win a Stanley Cup by having teams play to win instead of not to lose.
The upsets: Parity really does exist in the NHL. And the lesson is that if you can just get to the playoffs, you can go far because teams that barely squeak into the playoffs have knocked out teams that finished in another postal code -- despite the odds. The Flyers rebounded from losing the first three games of round two against Boston, which was historic if not necessarily an upset coming against a team that barely finished ahead in the standings. Still, Phoenix was an underdog that forced a Game 7 at home against Detroit, and the Kings were killing the Canucks for several games with their power play, but the poster kids were in Montreal where the Canadiens beat Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh. Those were upsets in every sense of the term, not the least reason being that both took Game 7 wins on the road.
The breakout stars: In the Finals, chances are you finally noticed how good a center Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux really is. Teammate Ville Leino probably caught your eye, while the same thing goes for Chicago’s Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg. But several other young players grew up fast in this postseason, despite being long gone by the time the Finals began. Among them Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, Ottawa rookie Erik Karlsson, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Boston’s David Krejci.
Top 10 moments
1. Patrick Kane’s on-ice celebration in overtime, while everyone else was trying to figure why he was so happy.
2. Flyers captain Mike Richards coming from behind the Chicago net to steal the puck from Niklas Hjarmalsson and score a shorthanded goal in Game 4.
3. Dustin Byfuglien flattening Chris Pronger in Game 5 and making an even bigger statement with two goals and two assists in a pivotal game.
4. Sidney Crosby playing catch-me-if-you can with Ottawa’s Jason Spezza behind the net before setting up the winning goal for Pittsburgh in Game 2 of their series.
5. The Sharks’ Dan Boyle making a bad pass that ended up in his own net to give Colorado an overtime win over San Jose after being outshot by 51-16 in the game.
6. Boston’s 42-year-old Mark Recchi separating Buffalo’s Tim Kennedy from the puck deep in Buffalo’s end before setting up the winning goal in Game 3 of the opening round.
7. The fancy footwork by Philadelphia’s Giroux on the Game 3 overtime winner against Chicago after the Flyers had a goal called back on review moments earlier.
8. Bolland agitating San Jose’ Joe Thornton enough to draw a slashing penalty off a faceoff that created a pivotal power play in Game 2, the game that turned the series for Chicago.
9. Patrick Kane’s shorthanded goal in the dying seconds of Game 5 against Nashville. It set the stage for an overtime win that kept Chicago's Cup run from being derailed almost before it started.
10. All of Chris Pronger’s podium sessions with the media during the Stanley Cup Finals.
They said it
"There’s an awful lot of you guys and it's an awful lot of questions. Some of them can be monotonous, [but] I think we all understand the game is there for good entertainment. It's not every day you have the opportunity to be here at the Stanley Cup Finals. You have to relish it." -- Pronger on how he handled having been made available to the media on the very day of the Final.