2010 Stanley Cup Finals: In the end, Patrick Kane was the difference

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Kane5.jpgPatrick Kane had just one game-winning goal in the entire postseason
for the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all they ever really needed from
him anyway. Jonathan Toews may have won the Conn Smythe trophy as the
Most Valuable Player of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, but in the end it
was Patrick Kane that was the difference maker as he pushed his team
the incredibly resilient Philadelphia Flyers.

Kane, like the rest of this top line of himself, Toews and Dustin
Byfuglien, had struggled mightily against the speedy and physicial
Flyers in the first four games of the series. He had just three points
in those first four games, and was a minus-6 overall. He was practically
invisible at times and rarely was the scoring threat that this team
desperately needed him to be in order to finally hoist the Cup.

After a disastrous Game 4 performance, Kane turned a corner.

He had five points between Game 5 and 6 and along with Byfuglien was
the catalyst for what the Hawks needed to get their skates back under
them. The series against the Flyers had gone off the rails in Philly,
and here they were headed back to the City of — supposed — Brotherly
Love with a chance to clinch the Cup finals once and for all.

Kane had just two secondary assists before the overtime period
started, but his presence had been felt all game long. It was the same
determination you saw in him after the debacle in Game 4 and it showed
once more in the biggest game of his incredibly young career; there
should have been no doubting that Kane would factor into the winning
goal for the Blackhawks.

For Kane, who at age 21 is just now starting an already incredible
career, it was perhaps the highest moment he’ll ever reach during his
time in the NHL. Skating with the puck in the offensive zone, he was
pushed wide by the Flyers before whipping a hard wrist shot on net.
Somehow, the puck found its way through Michael Leighton before lodging
in the far side of the twine. Kane instantly screamed in joy as the
arena went nearly silent.

No goal lights went off.

No referee signaled a good goal. In fact, there was no signal made.

Kane6.jpgJust the sight of a young kid with the world’s greatest mullet
skating as hard as he could to the other end of the ice, gloves, sticks
and other pieces of equipment falling to the ice in his wake. No one
knew what had happened, but Patrick Kane knew right away: he had just
scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime.

Of course, while talking about the goal, Kane was quick to ramble
onto another subject.

“I knew it right away,” Kane said, a smile on his face as emotion
started to wash over him. “It was stuck behind the meshing there. Got a
shot out to my people back in Buffalo. My hometown. I have four
buddies who drove all the way to come out here. My five family members.
Three sisters, three beautiful sisters. My mom and dad. What a
feeling. I can’t believe it.

“It’s unbelievable. We just won the Stanley Cup.”

Kane was emotional after the game, as many players are when the
reality of their accomplishments start to sink in. Kane is just 21 and
has plenty of hockey ahead of him, but after a long and grueling season
with all of the uncertainty and all of the pressure that was heaped upon
the Hawks, it’s a relief to realize you’ve just accomplished the
ultimate goal.

“I can’t believe this just happened,” Kane said as tears started to
show in his eyes. “It’s something you dream of as a kid. To score the
winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was just — it was
unbelievable.”

There’s no doubting how important and how deserving Toews is for the
Hawks, the quiet and serious captain who held this team together all
season long. Yet it was Kane, the flashy one of the two, who was
ultimately the difference maker in this series. It’s not how you start a
series or a game, it’s how you finish it that matters. When the
Blackhawks were locked in a must-win game, fighting to not have to head
to a dangerous Game 7 and with the Flyers seizing momentum, he did
exactly what all good hockey players know to do.

He threw the puck
at the net and made something good happen.

Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up to more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.

Lundqvist stays hot as Rangers move ahead of Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers laughs as Kevin Klein #8 misses an attempt at a hattrick during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2017 in New York City.  The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember those few weeks earlier this season when Henrik Lundqvist was struggling, he was losing playing time to Antti Raanta, and everybody in the NHL was freaking out about the Rangers’ goaltending situation?

At this point it seems like an eternity ago.

Lundqvist has been on an absolute roll over the past month and has helped the Rangers finally gain some ground in the Metropolitan Division.

After his 32 save performance — in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers are now in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who for the time being move down to the top Wild Card spot. The Rangers are now just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spot that would get them home ice in the first round.

Leading the way lately during this recent surge has been Lundqvist as he plays his best hockey of the season. In his past 13 starts the Rangers own a 10-2-1 record, while Lundqvist is carrying a .938 save percentage.

Even though the Rangers took huge steps over the summer to improve their forward depth — and it has absolutely paid off — it is still a team that is weak on the blue line and is only going to go as far as Lundqvist can carry it in the playoffs.

But with the way he is playing right now, and with the way the Rangers can roll four solid lines and score (3.28 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL) this could be a potentially scary team come playoff time.

Islanders shut out Canadiens for huge road win

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18:  Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.

Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.

The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.

But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.

With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.

It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson leaves game against Coyotes

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with what was later revealed as an upper body injury.

Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that they will no more on Hjalmarsson’s status when he is evaluated again on Friday.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.

In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.