Hawks stand alone atop NHL: ‘You give them an inch, they took a mile’

SHARE Hawks stand alone atop NHL: ‘You give them an inch, they took a mile’

Jon Cooper’s lament was typical of those left in the Blackhawks’ wake. If only …

“I look back and when those first four games got played —it was 2-2 instead of 3-1 us, when we felt we could have been up 3-1. And we let them hang around,” the Tampa Bay Lightning coach said after the Hawks’ 2-0 victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final clinched the Hawks’ third championship in six seasons.

“Our goal-scoring dried up. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The chances —posts, missed nets, open nets that hit sticks — you need those to go in for you to keep going. Ultimately they dried up for us.”

The Blackhawks aren’t a juggernaut that leaves you wishing you were never born. Perhaps worse, they leave you kicking yourself all summer over missed opportunities that could have made a difference. That’s what separates the Hawks from the rest of the NHL. They defy probability to win coin flips.

Both teams missed open nets in the Final but the Hawks found a way to overcome it. In one 60-second span of Game 5 at Amalie Arena that defined this series as much as anything, goalies Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop made horrendous misplays with much different results. When Crawford botched a clearing pass, he not only recovered to avoid disaster, but the beneficiary —Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov — suffered an injury that knocked him out of the game. When Ben Bishop collided with defenseman Victor Hedman a minute later, Patrick Sharp — who had not scored a goal in 13 games — only had to stay upright to score on an empty net for a 1-0 Hawks lead.

It’s difficult to determine how the Hawks earn that kind of good fortune, but they do it so often it can’t be just the hockey gods. It’s what they do.

“Got to give a lot of credit to Chicago — extremely deserving champion,” Cooper said. “They’re a really, really good hockey team. You give them an inch, they took a mile. That’s what they did.”

With a roster of world-class players as a foundation, the Hawks have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the NHL with an uncanny knack for willing themselves to victory. A team might win three Cups in six years in the salary-cap era, but it’s unlikely they’ll do it like the Hawks have. This is a team that benched both of its goaltenders in the first round and won the Stanley Cup. This is a team that went 110 minutes without scoring in one game against the Ducks in the Western Conference final and allowed three goals in 37 seconds in another —and won both of them.

  • The Hawks are 30-30 in Games 1-3 of a playoff series under Joel Quenneville, but 43-14 in Games 4-7 — an indication of their ability to improve as a series progresses and reel in a team that has an early edge. No team is even close to Hawks when it comes to finishing strong. The next best records in Games 4-7 in the salary-cap era belong to the Ducks (27-20), Red Wings (32-28) and Rangers (29-26).
  • In the last three seasons, the Hawks are 13-6 in overtime games in the playoffs. The next best records belong to the Sharks (4-0), Lightning (3-1), Bruins (7-4), Kings (6-5) and Canadiens (5-4).
  • The Hawks are 7-1 in multiple-overtime games in that span — followed by the Bruins (2-1), Kings (2-2) and Canadiens (1-1).In the last three postseasons, the Hawks are 24-11 in “coin flips” — games that are tied in the third period. Next best are the Bruins (10-7), Lightning (8-6) and Kings (10-8).
  • In this year’s playoffs, the Hawks’ relief goaltenders were 2-0 with a 0.00 goals-against average and 1.000 save percentage (55-of-55) — including backup Scott Darling’s 42-save effort in a 4-3 double-overtime victory against the Predators in the playoff opener. The Hawks outscored their opponents 7-0 after changing goalies.The rest of the NHL teams were 1-9 when they pulled their starting goalie, outscoring their opponents 15-13.
  • The Hawks had four game-winning goals from players who were a healthy scratch in the postseason — Antoine Vermette had three and Teuvo Teravainen one. Only three other game-winning goals in the 2015 playoffs were scored by players who previously were a healthy scratch.

The Hawks’ top four goal scorers — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa — combined for three goals in the Final. But four players who were previously healthy scratches — Crawford, Vermette, Teravainen and Kris Versteeg —came up big on the big stage.

That’s how you win Stanley Cups. That’s how the Hawks do, anyway.

“Words can’t even describe how hard it is to get to this stage,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, whose sure-thing shot on the doorstep in the frantic finish of Game 5 somehow hit enough of Brent Seabrook’s stick to miss the net was one more mystifying event in the Final.

“You need so many things to go your way. You need a great team. You need to jell at the right time. You need some luck. You need great goaltending. You need timely goals. You need so many things. That’s why it’s so impressive to see those guys over there [the Hawks] the last six years.”

Stamkos came as close as anybody to defining the Hawks phenomenon — and a team winning as much as the Hawks do, the way they do is nothing short of phenomenal. There have been times this season and in the playoffs they Hawks weren’t a great team, didn’t jell, had bad luck, had goaltending issues and weren’t scoring timely goals. But they did all of them when they needed them most — when the opposition was the strongest and the pressure was the greatest. You can’t explain it, only enjoy it. And appreciate it — because we’ll see another Jordan before see a run like this again.

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