The Chicago Blackhawks are the NHL’s 2013 Stanley Cup Champions. Chicago hoisted the Cup in Boston after rallying to beat the Bruins in Game 6 on Monday. After a lockout that nearly killed the season, the NHL roared back and closed out the campaign with the first Finals matchup of “Original Six” teams since 1979.
On December 6, 2012, the sound of NHL hockey wasn’t rattling plexiglass and the cracking of sticks. It was Commissioner Gary Bettman announcing yet another breakdown in negotiations with the NHL Players’ Association.
“I am disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight, and we’re going to have to take a deep breath and try to regroup,” Bettman said.
Back To Hockey
It would take another month before a new collective bargaining agreement was in place, but eventually the real sound of NHL hockey did return.
And by the start of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday night, the sound of NHL hockey was the roaring crowd at Boston’s TD Garden. Fans didn’t know it then, but a wild ending was in the works, an appropriate finish to one of the most intense postseasons in NHL history. A total of 27 playoff games went into overtime, one short of tying the league record set in 1993. Bruins coach Claude Julien says after the lockout, the NHL fans deserved it.
“If I’m the guy on the other side, I know how I would have felt. Our fans are very forgiving and supportive and that’s what this game needs,” Julien said after Boston lost in Game 6. “In order for us to thank them or pay them back, you gotta give them the kind of hockey that I think that they saw from all the teams in the playoffs.”
An Exciting End To An Unusual Season
The road to the playoffs was new terrain for the NHL. Because of the lost time during the lockout, the league cut the schedule from 82 games to 48. That suited the Blackhawks just fine. They came out on a tear, going 24 games without losing in regulation.
“It was kind of like the season we had was one of those seasons where we’re saying, ‘We’re almost charmed.’ With the way we started the season and the way it ended, nobody saw that one coming either way,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
The Bruins and Blackhawks took three of the first four Finals contests into overtime, including a triple-OT thriller in Game 1. Coming into Game 6, Chicago led the series 3 games to 2, but there was still hope for Boston. A Milan Lucic goal late in the third period gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead, and the crowd at TD Garden could see Game 7 on the horizon.
When Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell tied it up with under 90 seconds left to play, it seemed fitting. So, there’d be another overtime game in a series already loaded with them. Then just 17 seconds later Dave Bolland gave Chicago a 3-2 lead and the Stanley Cup, Chicago’s second title in four years. Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said the end of the game was shocking.
“How close every game was for both teams and how hard fought this series was. It’s tough to be disappointed in the effort. It’s more just disappointed in the outcome,” said Ference. “It’s a sick feeling to lose like that, but it’s a sick feeling to lose anyway.”
Not Quite Forgotten
Bruins fans were stunned. Blackhawks fans were thrilled. But during the presentation of the Cup, they stood unified to let Bettman know that the lockout wasn’t entirely forgotten. As the commissioner congratulated the teams on a great series, the boos were steady and loud.
Long after fans in black and gold left the building, a small, but vocal crowd of Chicago roadtrippers wearing red celebrated in the stands, pounding the Plexiglass as players lifted, kissed, and posed with the Cup on the ice.
Out on the ice, Bolland was asked about his game-winner. He equated the moment with a more personal aspect of his life.
“I think it’s better than, almost, sex, but it was a huge goal,” he told reporters.
Bickell also spoke about the emotion of winning it all.
“To be where I am now, you can’t beat it. I’m on Cloud Nine.”
It’s safe to assume NHL officials are nodding their heads in agreement.