Five reasons Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup
CHICAGO -- Ever since an unforgettable 24-game point streak to start the season, the Chicago Blackhawks repeatedly said that feat alone would mean nothing to them without a Stanley Cup title to go with it.
It ought to mean something now, after their come-from-behind 3-2 Cup-clinching win against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at TD Garden.
The late-game heroics of Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland, who scored 17 seconds apart in the game's final 1:16, not only clinched Chicago's second title in the past four seasons but validated a memorable season.
How did the Blackhawks do it this time? Here are five reasons they were able to upend the Bruins:
1. They got offensive by getting defensive
All season long the Blackhawks gave teams fits with their transition game, which was predicated on a deep set of defensemen who could skate and move the puck up the ice in a variety of ways. That didn't change in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Bruins -- like the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings before them -- found it out the hard way.
Duncan Keith quietly had a great postseason, scoring two goals and adding 11 assists to go with a plus-10 rating, while Johnny Oduya added three goals and five assists, and finished the playoffs with a plus-12 rating.
What made Chicago's defense so good was its ability to excel in all areas of the ice -- getting into shooting and passing lanes on defense, and using good passes and making enough smart decisions skating the puck up the ice to produce scoring chances.
2. The Toews/Kane Reunion
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane barely played together during the regular season, and it worked. The Blackhawks had balanced scoring and got what they were looking for by splitting the superstar forwards, but the playoffs proved to be different.
Defenses get stingier in the postseason, and sometimes coaches have to put their most dangerous line combinations together to see how they do while matched against the best defenders. That's largely what happened in the Cup Final, when Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, with his team trailing 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4, reunited Kane and Toews on a line, with power forward Bryan Bickell completing the trio.
It couldn't have worked much better. In the last three games of the series, all Chicago wins, the top line combined for six goals, seven assists and a plus-13 rating.
3. Challenging Chara
Toews, Bickell and Kane all drew criticism for "calling out" the Bruins' 6-foot-9 star defenseman, Zdeno Chara, but it should be noted they only were responding to questions about the way the Blackhawks appeared to play against him in Game 4 at TD Garden.
Rather than letting the physical Chara intimidate them with his long reach and hard hits, they decided to use speed and skill to test him that way. It worked, as Chara often was left flat-footed while defending in front of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and the Blackhawks got a number of good scoring chances, converting some into key goals in the last three games.
Chara was on the ice for 10 of Chicago's final 12 goals, all of which were scored in the last three games of the series.
4. Call it a draw
The one game the Bruins controlled nearly start to finish was Game 3 in Boston, the first game at TD Garden. The ice was in bad shape after a hot day, but the biggest reason the Blackhawks couldn't get going was their inability to stay competitive on faceoffs.
The Bruins won the overall faceoff battle by a wide margin, winning 71 percent of the draws taken, and that kept the puck away from Chicago for long stretches. Losing the faceoff battle wasn't new for the Blackhawks, but losing by such a large differential was problematic.
They were better in Game 4 and won that game 6-5 in overtime to knot the series at 2-2. The Blackhawks won the faceoff battle in Game 5, in part because of a broken rib and torn rib cartilage that knocked Bruins center Patrice Bergeron out of the game early, and won the game 3-1, putting them on the verge of clinching the Cup.
In Game 6, the Bruins dominated the action in the first period to take a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes, and also held another wide edge in faceoffs at that point. The Blackhawks, however, started chipping away at the overall percentages in the last two periods, with Toews leading the way with a 60-percent success rate. The game finished with the Bruins winning the faceoff competition at 56 percent, but Chicago's improvement from a 29-percent success rate after the first 20 minutes to 44 percent at the end of the game was enough to help them keep Boston close enough for that exciting finish.
5. Q had the right A's
Quenneville wasn't perfect behind the bench, but he was very good throughout the entire playoff run. He demanded a higher intensity -- and eventually got it -- following a five-game series win against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
His coaching really started making an impact against Detroit in the conference semifinals.
After limiting Seabrook's playing time because of his struggles in Game 4 of that series, Quenneville decided to reunite the defense pairs he started the season with, which meant Seabrook and good friend Keith were back as Chicago's top pair. The move increased Seabrook's playing time, and he responded positively.
Seabrook wound up scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 7 against the Red Wings, and later beat Rask for an overtime goal in Game 4 against the Bruins.
Quenneville also wasn't afraid of to put his top line of Bickell, Toews and Kane up against Boston's best defenders in the Cup Final, which led to some key goals -- including two by Kane in Game 5 and one each by Bickell and Toews in Game 6.