PHILADELPHIA — After nearly half a century, the Stanley Cup again belongs to Chicago.
The Blackhawks brought it home for themselves and their fans -- both long-suffering and those who jumped on board during a remarkable resurgence that began just three seasons ago -- when they defeated the Flyers 4-3 in overtime Wednesday night at a raucous Wachovia Center.
The NHL championship is the Hawks' first since 1961, snapping 49 years without the coveted Cup in their grasp and is their fourth in a team history that began in 1926 as members of the Original Six franchises.
Jonathan Toews, the youngest captain in the league at 22 years old, hoisted the Cup as the Hawks celebrated on the ice in front of a stunned Philadelphia crowd that saw the Flyers' miraculous postseason run come to a crashing halt.
Patrick Kane scored the game-winner 4 minutes, 6 seconds into overtime and Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd also had goals. Goaltender Antti Niemi claimed his team-record 16th victory in a postseason.
The win capped a dramatic turnaround for the organization that began with the drafting of Kane with the top overall selection in the 2007, continued with the ascension of Rocky Wirtz to team chairman following the death of his father, William, and the hiring of John McDonough as team president.
Along the way, former general manager Dale Tallon was assembling much of the team that boarded a flight home Wednesday night with the Cup in tow after a spirited celebration.
Kane scored on a shot from along the goal line that eluded Michael Leighton to the far side. The puck went in like a flash and under the goal, and for a moment no one in the arena knew what had happened except one person.
"I knew it was in right away," said Kane, who ripped off his gloves and skated down the ice with his arms thrust in the air. "I just kind of tried to take off and book it to the other end and try to start the celebration.
"It was crazy. At the moment it's just like, 'We won the Stanley Cup' and that's all you're thinking about. To play this game, this is the only thing I want to do in the world and be a part of moments like this."
The Hawks were just under four minutes left in regulation from claiming the Cup when Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game for the Flyers to tie it at 3-3 and send it to overtime.
It didn't take Kane long to cap a memorable season that began with games in Europe and ended in Philadelphia.
"So many great things have happened for this team and this is the height of it all," said Toews, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. "It was awesome. I just wanted to rip (the Cup) off that table and go give it to the boys. It's everything it was hyped up to be."
Added coach Joel Quenneville: "It's just the greatest feeling. We had some good momentum and mostly positive and upsides all year long. From the start of the year to the end of the year, you can't ask for a better bunch of guys to work with."The celebration on the ice lasted well after the game and included members of the organization, each taking their turn with the Cup in the air as Hawks fans who made the trip to Philadelphia cheered them on.
"I was so happy for my dad and grandfather (Arthur) that we could do this, so I hoisted that Cup in honor of them," Rocky Wirtz said. "I've never felt this exhilaration in my life. We put the right people in place and anything can happen if you dream big."