Staying the course sets Hawks on path to Cup

Bowman's belief in team's core validated by second title in four years

Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough wields the Stanley Cup outside of the United Center. (posted June 25)

BOSTON — Like a man who had done so before, the only Blackhawks captain to win two Stanley Cup titles hoisted the silver chalice over his head on the TD Garden ice after Monday night's manic 3-2 victory over the Bruins.

Interestingly, Jonathan Toews then passed the Cup to Michal Handzus, who arrived via trade in April. Handzus passed it to Jamal Mayers, a respected veteran who didn't play at all in the postseason. Mayers passed it to Michal Rozsival, who signed as a free agent in September.

Stars or subs, late additions or longtime Hawks, the Cup's rite of passage during the celebration conveyed the message that everybody on the roster mattered. The order was no accident.

Obviously, this championship team knew precisely how to pass everything but the buck.


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The responsibility for the organization's fifth Stanley Cup title — and second in four years, the first team to do that since the league imposed the salary cap in 2005 — dated back to a postseason meeting at the United Center last summer.

Make that postseason meetings.

"Stan (Bowman) and I talked a lot about what direction to go,'' President John McDonough said. "He really, really believed in this group.''

McDonough did too, but perhaps not to the extent Bowman did. It was after a flurry of free-agent activity by other teams that McDonough pressed Bowman at one of those meetings to make sure the status quo truly was worth embracing.

Bowman never wavered, not even with his boss. He stayed away from signing a big name to relieve public — or private — pressure and placed his faith in the core of a team coming off two straight first-round exits. He avoided a goalie controversy by reaffirming belief in Corey Crawford as doubt spread among the fan base. Mostly, he showed confidence in himself.

"I thought we had something in this group,'' Bowman said as fans chanted, "Corey! Corey!"

Bowman's conviction persuaded McDonough to stay the course. Sticking with a plan instead of succumbing to public calls for change also fit into the way Chairman Rocky Wirtz likes to operate — something Bowman would know after 12 years in the organization.

"Like all the businesses our family runs, we don't let emotion guide your better judgment," Wirtz said. "So why would we do that for a sports team just because somebody writes about them every day.''

Nobody paid much attention to Bowman's plan because of the 119-day NHL lockout that canceled 510 regular-season games before it ended Jan. 6. Three days later at the Hawks' first practice, Toews vowed to make it up to fans. More than six months later, nobody in Chicago would dare complain.

A season that once endured threats of no hockey happily ends with hints of a dynasty. Going 24 straight games without a regulation loss was a great way to start. Beating the Bruins in the final 76 seconds was an even better way to finish.

"Keep the bars open — we're coming home,'' Toews said. "We're going to fill the Cup and we're going to share it with the city of Chicago.''

Seven years ago Monday, the Hawks selected Toews out of North Dakota with the third pick of the draft. Two Cups later, the hockey world can agree that looks like an inspired pick.

Whereas the 2010 Cup was more historic, this one was more dramatic. Both were seismic.

The Hawks trailed 2-1 when Bryan Bickell beat Tuukka Rask in front of the net with 1 minute, 16 seconds left. For Bickell, who quietly played through a sprained knee in the finals, it capped a postseason bound to make the free agent richer in July. But the value of his final goal of 2013 was inestimable. Just 17 frantic seconds later, Dave Bolland knocked in a deflection off Johnny Oduya's shot to create a feeling he later would call "better than sex.''

Brent Seabrook beat the Red Wings in Game 7 with an overtime goal, his first of two in the playoffs. Patrick Kane ousted the Kings with a hat trick. Andrew Shaw authored the "Shaw-Shin Deflection" with his Game 1 goal in triple overtime. But Bolland's goal, the most important of them all, enhanced the meaning of every one of those.

"It's the kind of thing you dream about as a kid growing up in Canada,'' Bolland said.

It's the kind of thing Hawks fans had a hard time imagining when the Red Wings led their series 3-1. On the day before Game 5, the Hawks held a team meeting that would serve as the most pivotal of the postseason. Players and coaches reminded each other of the 3-0 hole they dug for themselves against the Canucks in 2010 before winning three straight. Remembering that experience buoyed spirits that had begun to sink and rebuilt confidence that had started to wane.

The Hawks responded to the words with action, winning three straight.

"We had a discussion with the whole group after Game 4, and I thought our belief was in the right place,'' Quenneville said. "Everything that happened this season just shows the character of the guys.''

It showed that the Hawks really can win a Cup with Crawford in goal and that Kane truly has matured. It showed that Marian Hossa, who played through a serious back injury, deserved the benefit of the doubt and that Duncan Keith earned back the respect he lost after two subpar seasons. It showed that Patrick Sharp is underrated and that Shaw isn't overwhelmed. It showed that Brandon Saad looks like a future star and that the Hawks penalty-killers need a vacation.

It showed that Quenneville is as good as they come among NHL coaches.

It showed what happens when an organization sticks to the plan it devises.

"Stan did a great job of retooling (the team) in different ways,'' Quenneville said. "It was one of those seasons, a fairy-tale ending. Amazing season.''

Finally relaxed, Quenneville was asked if he got as much of a kick out of being called "the best team in the world'' as he did in 2010.

"That sounds pretty cool,'' Quenneville said.

The most famous mustache in Chicago curled slightly as Quenneville cracked a smile that isn't going away anytime soon.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

 

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