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Chicago Blackhawks: Depth, Dedication, & Destiny

By Matt Barbato
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Tuesday, Feb. 24. The Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane was cross-checked by Alex Petrovic of the Florida Panthers and tumbled into the boards. Kane didn’t get up and was diagnosed with a broken collarbone hours later.

Chicago’s show-stopping superstar was projected to miss 12 weeks and all of a sudden his team’s season appeared to be in perilous doubt.

One hundred and twelve days later, Kane buried a one-timer from Brad Richards with 5:14 remaining that gave his team a 2-0 lead in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final and sealed Chicago’s third Stanley Cup in six seasons. Once again, Kane came through on the biggest platform the sport could provide.

But, Chicago’s Stanley Cup run involved plenty of heroes besides “Showtime.”

Take Corey Crawford, who two months ago was an embattled goaltender after surrendering nine goals in the first two games of the playoffs and was benched in favor of local favorite Scott Darling.

Many may still believe Crawford is Chicago Blackhawks Achilles’ heel, but he pitched a 25-save shutout to become the third goaltender in NHL history to earn a shutout in a Stanley Cup clincher Monday night. Crawford also made franchise history by tying Tony Esposito with 45th postseason victory, a record he is sure to break by the time his career concludes.

There were critical performances from role players such as Andrew Shaw, Antoine Vermette, Teuvo Teravainen, Kris Versteeg, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins.

Vermette was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on the final day of February and he didn’t score a goal with Chicago until April 21, which was Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. The next three goals he would score were arguably the biggest of his career.

His first strike won Game 4 of the Western Conference final in double overtime after he was scratched in Game 3. The next two were both game-winners in Games 1 and 5 of the Cup final.

Vermette was also instrumental in the faceoff circle and won plenty of crucial draws. He and Andrew Desjardins were two excellent acquisitions by GM Stan Bowman and were more than worth the compensation they sent in return.

Desjardins, Shaw and Kruger, was arguably Chicago’s best line throughout the Cup final, even though it didn’t always show on the scoreboard. If there was a Conn Smythe trophy for doing the little things, Andrew Shaw would have won it. He, Kruger and Desjardins shutdown Tampa’s vaunted “Triplets” line and put plenty of pressure on Tampa offensively.

Duncan Keith’s Conn Smythe award might be one of the hardest earned in league history. He exceeded 700 minutes during the postseason and was the do-it-all defenseman for the Hawks. Keith put up 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) while also being a defensive backbone for a thin defensive group. His third goal of the postseason was the eventual game-winner Monday night.

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It’s tough to forget captain Jonathan Toews, who is one of the best two-way forwards in the game. When he wasn’t on the stat sheet, he was usually impacting the game defensively and in the faceoff dot. He, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad played extraordinary two-way hockey throughout the playoffs. Saad will definitely see a significant pay raise after a stellar postseason.

Sometimes the pieces of a dynasty are not planned, but fall into place. During the 2010 run, Kane forced overtime with 14 seconds left while Marian Hossa was serving a major penalty in a pivotal Game 5 of the first round against the Nashville Predators. Then, four minutes into overtime, Hossa redeemed himself with the game-winner.

Destiny.

Or how about in 2013, when the Chicago Blackhawks crawled back from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round of the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings.

It was meant to be.

This season had its share of destined moments, but they probably were not as blatant as prior championship journeys.

Kane’s injury gave Bowman the cap flexibility to bring in Vermette, Desjardins and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. It gave Teravainen precious ice time and experience that mattered during the 20-year-old’s impressive performance in the final. In this case, a major injury was actually a blessing in disguise.

Lemont, Ill. native Scott Darling’s dazzling performance against Nashville may have saved the 2014-15 champions from an early elimination.

Chicago was forced to play with essentially four defensemen after Michal Rozsival broke his ankle in the conference semifinal. Head coach Joel Quenneville was forced to juggle a revolving door of defenseman throughout the postseason.

The Chicago Blackhawks  bounced back after giving up three goals in 37 seconds in Game 4 of the Conference final to stun the Anaheim Ducks with a double-overtime triumph.

Then they won two straight elimination games, including a Game 7 at the Honda Center that wasn’t as close as the 5-3 score indicated.

The Lightning hadn’t lost three consecutive games during the entire season until the Hawks dropped them in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Cup final. Chicago held the top offense in the NHL to two goals during those final three games.

Sometimes dynasties are built by moments of destiny. The Chicago Blackhawks were left for dead on that infamous day in February. By June 15, they were hoisting the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938 and cementing an unprecedented run in the NHL’s salary cap era.

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