With three Stanley Cups in six years, let the ‘dynasty’ debate begin

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CHICAGO — It’s hard to believe now, but in 2007, when John McDonough was named president of the Blackhawks, the franchise had devolved into an afterthought in the Windy City.

Monday at the United Center, right before Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time in the last six years, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proclaimed to the fans, “I’d say you have a dynasty.”

Funny what assembling a core of four future Hall of Famers — Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa — can do for a franchise’s fortunes.

Add secondary stars like Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, get a good coach, a smart general manager, draft well, develop well, throw in a little luck, and the result is the first team worthy of the “dynasty” label in the salary-cap era.

“We’ve had to fight through some things, but it was worth every second of it,” said McDonough, speaking to reporters at center ice while the players and their young families celebrated around him.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

“To see these guys mature into young adults, into grown men. Most of our guys when I started here were single. Now there’s babies all over the place.”

There will be those who question whether these Blackhawks are truly a dynasty. They haven’t won four straight Cups, like the Montreal Canadiens did from 1975-79, or the New York Islanders from 1980-83. They haven’t won five in seven years like the 1980s Oilers. Twice in the past six years Chicago has been eliminated in the first round.

When asked to weigh in on the dynasty debate, Kane replied, “I don’t know what that means. We’ve got three in six years. I know that’s pretty good.”

Similarly, general manager Stan Bowman deferred to others.

“I don’t think that’s really for me to say,” he said. “That’s really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we’ve got an amazing group here, they’ve accomplished a lot together, and I’m really proud of the effort they’ve given year after year. It doesn’t always go your way, but they’ve accomplished quite a bit and we’re not finished.”

Bowman has another tough summer ahead. The Blackhawks won’t be back in their entirety next season. Some will be forced out due to the salary cap. That’s the “reality” of the situation, as Johnny Oduya put it. That reality is why the likes of Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, and Antti Niemi are playing elsewhere now.

“I think we’re going to enjoy this one for a bit,” said Bowman. “I’ve been thinking of that stuff for a long time. It’s not like it’s going to surprise me. We’ll make it work. We’ve got a plan in place. That’s really for another day. Right now we’re pretty thrilled with this whole scene in here.”

Fair enough.

A decade ago, the Blackhawks were playing games before a half-empty arena, an Original Six franchise ignored.

Monday, they kicked off one of the great sports celebrations in this city’s history.

They deserve to enjoy it.

In closest Cup final ever, mistakes loom especially large

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TAMPA — The Chicago Blackhawks scored two goals Saturday. One came on a major blunder by Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. The other came moments after a more minor error by Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr.

You know what they say about hockey. And like clockwork, Andrew Shaw went ahead and said it after the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory.

“Hockey is a game of mistakes,” he said. “Whoever makes the least usually has the better chance of winning.”

They’re calling this the closest Stanley Cup Final in NHL history. All five games have been decided by one goal. There has yet to be a two-goal lead at any time. Heck, the most one team has outshot the other is by six.

Frankly, it’s amazing there hasn’t been overtime.

“This is five one‑goal games,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The margin of error for both teams is minimal.”

Even Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a participant in so many big games both professionally and on the international stage, has yet to develop an immunity to the anxiety.

“It’s always nerve-wracking,” he said. “I think that just shows you really want to win.”

And in a series where even the most benign-looking play can prove fatal — as it did for Tampa Bay early in the third when Sustr misplayed the puck along the boards in the Chicago end, ultimately leading to Antoine Vermette’s winner — it can be especially hard to keep from playing scared.

What’s the Blackhawks’ solution to that?

“I think everyone’s reassuring each other to go out and make plays,” said Toews. “Just go out there and make things happen. You’ve got five other guys out there with you. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

“We’re gonna bail each other out when we get in tight spots. So whether you have a lot of experience or you’re a young guy with not so much experience, we’re all trying to make each other a little more comfortable out there.”

As for that first Chicago goal, Bishop chalked it up to a miscommunication with defenseman Victor Hedman.

“I saw them going for a change and I thought I would be able to catch them,” he said. “You know, Heddy was coming for it, but you can’t really hear anything in the building when it’s that loud. And you saw the result.”

Indeed we did. Bishop collided with Hedman, Patrick Sharp picked up the puck, open net, 1-0 Blackhawks.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously,” said Bishop. “It’s the first time it’s happened, and it’s a bad time to happen.”

Said Hedman: “I was looking up ice, didn’t see him and didn’t hear him. Stuff like that happens.”

And so this series heads back to Chicago, where the Cup may or may not be hoisted Monday after Game 6.

There will be mistakes.

There will be nerves.

“That’s what we live for,” said Shaw. “This is playoff hockey and we expect nothing different.”

Vermette comes up big again, ‘Hawks take 3-2 series lead

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TAMPA — Antoine Vermette hasn’t scored much this postseason.

But when he has, he’s made it count.

Vermette came up large once again on Saturday night, scoring his third game-winning goal of the playoffs to give Chicago a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and a 3-2 series lead over the Lightning in the process.

Vermette, one of Chicago’s pickups at the trade deadline, has gone from maligned to magnificent in the span of a few weeks. Tonight’s goal, banged in off a Kris Versteeg rebound two minutes into the third period, wasn’t just his third-game winner — it was his third game-winner in the last nine contests.

Yep, safe to say No. 80 has developed something of a knack for big goals. Previously, he notched the deciding tally in Game 1 against Tampa Bay and, in the Western Conference Final against Anaheim, scored a double-OT winner in Game 4.

Not bad for a guy that opened the playoffs as a healthy scratch.

Vermette wasn’t Chicago’s lone clutch performer in Game 5, though. Corey Crawford — who’s faced his fair share of scrutiny this postseason as well — allowed just one goal for the second consecutive contest and, over his last 120 minutes of action, has now stopped 55 of 57 shots for a .965 save percentage. The ‘Hawks tender also saved his best for last, making 15 saves in the third period.

While Crawford was stellar at one end, Ben Bishop had his issues at the other.

Back in goal after missing Game 4 to an undisclosed ailment, Bishop made an egregious judgement call by colliding with Victor Hedman midway through first period while trying to play a puck, paving the way for Patrick Sharp to score one of the easiest goals of his career:

Tampa Bay erased Bishop’s gaffe courtesy Valtteri Filppula’s goal midway through the second period, his fourth of the playoffs and first of this series. But Filppula’s marker was the Bolts’ lone bit of offense on the night; with the club having scored just twice over its last two games, there will almost certainly be pressure to score more as the team now heads to Chicago, where the ‘Hawks will look to win the Cup at home for the first time since 1938.

The ‘Hawks will hope tonight’s win follows in the historical trend of Game 5 winners. Since 1939, the winner of Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Final has captured the Stanley Cup 16 of 23 times, a success rate of nearly 70 percent.

The Lightning, however, will hope to lean on a different piece of history. Recently, there have been four teams to lose Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, yet go on to win it all — and one of them was the 2004 Lightning, the first and only championship team in franchise history.

Notes

Nikita Kucherov left tonight’s game in the first period with a suspected shoulder injury, and didn’t return… With his goal, Sharp moved just three back of Steve Larmer (45G) for fifth all-time among Blackhawks playoff goalscorers… More good history for the Lightning: the club that has lost Game 5 after a split of opening 4 games of the Final has rebounded to win the #StanleyCup in 4 of past 7 occasions.

Video: Bishop’s gaffe leads to Chicago goal, Kucherov crashes hard

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Yikes, just yikes.

The first period of Game 5 has not gone well for the Tampa Bay Lightning. To start things off, the Chicago Blackhawks really carried the play early.

Things got rocky when both goalies suffered through puckhandling mishaps, yet the Lightning came out limping in both instances.

First, Nikita Kucherov nearly pounced on a Corey Crawford blunder, only to bash his shoulder into the post.

What came next was even worse, though. Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman clearly had a communication breakdown, as Hedman’s touch threw Bishop off, they both collided and Patrick Sharp scored the easiest goal you can imagine in this scenario:

It was a bad decision by Bishop, especially considering his shaky health. The best news for Tampa Bay is that as rough as this situation is, it’s still just 1-0.

Other than that? Yeah, that was pretty bad.

Brandon Saad is ‘just out for a Sunday stroll,’ scoring big goal after big goal

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CHICAGO — If Monday was the night to heap praise on Victor Hedman, tonight was the night to celebrate another young star: Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad.

Saad scored the winning goal in Chicago’s 2-1 victory over the Lightning, giving the ‘Hawks the goal they so badly needed to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece.

The play was Saad at his best, as the 22-year-old grabbed a loose puck off a faceoff, drove down below the goal line, then hard across the front of the net, ultimately slipping a backhand through the legs of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

It wasn’t the first time these playoffs we’ve seen that kind of burst…

Veteran forward Brad Richards spoke glowingly of Saad’s skating ability.

“It looks like he’s just out for a Sunday stroll sometimes,” said Richards. “He’s three strides and he’s beating people down the ice. He takes it to the net there because he’s so big and strong. It’s a good asset to have on your team.”

Added Patrick Sharp: “He’s a fun player to watch. He takes the puck, tells everybody what he’s going to do with it and bulls people over and gets to that net either way.”source: Getty Images

And just for good measure, here’s coach Joel Quenneville: “He’s fast, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s dangerous.”

Watching Saad during these playoffs, it’s no wonder there’s been speculation he could be an offer-sheet target this offseason.

But that’s a problem for later. For now, the ‘Hawks are only happy to see the Pittsburgh native scoring big goal after big goal, even if he is adding to his bargaining power in the process.

“He was good at the start of the season, but a different level right now,” said Richards. “As you go deep into the playoffs, a lot of players have to get to different levels, and he’s done that for us.

“He’s been better than you could ever hope for.”

Related:  ‘I think those young legs really help’