CHICAGO (AP) — Showing off their grit and determination, the Chicago Blackhawks finally put away the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.
The city of broad shoulders, strong enough to carry the silver trophy once again. A Windy City party 77 years in the making.
Duncan Keith scored in the second period and directed a dominant defense that shut down Tampa Bay’s high-scoring attack, and the Blackhawks beat the Lightning 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday night for their third NHL title in the past six seasons.
“It doesn’t feel real right now. It’s unbelievable,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “Feels like a dream. Every time we do it, it gets better and better. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, helping the Blackhawks clinch the Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938. Corey Crawford, who was pulled from Chicago’s first-round series against Nashville, had 25 saves in his fifth career playoff shutout.
Keith was a unanimous selection for the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP after he finished with 21 points while playing over 700 minutes in a grueling postseason.
“We just seem to get better and better every year,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “We’ve been lucky enough to win three. Every time we’ve won it, it seems to get better.”
It was an appropriate conclusion to a series full of near misses and close calls that had fans in Chicago and Tampa Bay on the edge of their seats for almost two weeks. It was only the second final to begin with five one-goal games, and no team enjoyed a two-goal advantage until an open Kane buried a perfect pass from Brad Richards at 14:46 of the third.
It was Kane’s first goal of the final, and it touched off a wild celebration by the frenzied crowd of 22,424, who broke out more chants of “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!”
“I’d say you have a dynasty,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the cheering crowd as he presented the trophy to the grinning Blackhawks.
Ben Bishop kept the Lightning in the game with 30 saves, fighting through a torn groin muscle that kept him out of Game 4. Led by Bishop and big defenseman Victor Hedman, the Lightning allowed just 13 goals in the series, but it wasn’t enough against the unflappable Blackhawks.
Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos finished the playoffs with an eight-game scoring drought that likely will chase him into the offseason. He rung the inside of the crossbar on a near miss at 7:50 of the first and was stoned by Crawford on a breakaway 58 seconds into the middle period.
The pair of missed opportunities for one of the NHL’s most gifted scorers looked even more costly when the Blackhawks got on the board in the second.
Keith got a nice pass from Kane in the middle and shot it around Tampa Bay center Cedric Paquette. Bishop stopped his first try, but Keith kept skating past Paquette and flipped in the rebound at 17:13.
Keith then skated with his arms out and yelled before he was mobbed by his teammates near the boards.
Crawford threw his gloves into the air as the final seconds ticked off, and a sea of red and black that braved a dangerous line of thunderstorms to pack the United Center erupted in pure joy. Kane pumped his right arm as Crawford approached for a big hug, and the goaltender then wrapped his arms around Keith after they helped limit the league’s highest-scoring team in the regular season to 10 goals in the final.
It was the first Stanley Cup for Kimmo Timonen, who has said he plans to retire. The 40-year-old defenseman was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia in February after he missed the start of the season while recovering from blood clots in his leg and lungs.
After Toews got the trophy from Bettman, he handed it right to Timonen, who proudly hoisted it into the air. Antoine Vermette, a key trade deadline acquisition who had two game-winning goals in the final, then got the Cup for the first time in his career.
The Lightning had Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup after the forward crashed into the Chicago goal during the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory Saturday night and missed the last part of Game 5. But Tampa Bay appeared to run out of gas at the end of a 26-game playoff run that matched the longest in playoff history.
The Blackhawks became the first team since the Detroit Red Wings won it all in 1997, 1998 and 2002 to win three titles in a six-year span. Next up for the Blackhawks is a parade and rally before another tricky summer negotiating the salary cap.
“We keep growing, keep maturing, we keep wanting it more and more,” Toews said. “This is what it’s all about. This is why we play the game, for the group in the room for all these great fans in Chicago that unites the whole city. It doesn’t get any better.”
NOTES: Blackhawks C Marcus Kruger spent part of the third period in the dressing room. … Chicago improved to 13-1 in Game 6s since the start of the 2009 playoffs. … It was the first three-game losing streak for Tampa Bay all season long.