It took 49 years plus a few extra OT minutes in Game 6, but the Chicago Blackhawks are bringing the Stanley Cup back to the Windy City following their series win over the Flyers.
They’ve been waiting 49 years. A few extra minutes didn’t hurt.
The Chicago Blackhawks are your 2009-10 Stanley Cup champions. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center; Patrick Kane scored the Cup-winning goal from a sharp angle at 4:06 of overtime as the Blackhawks took the series 4-2.
NHL odds put Chicago at -104 on the road, the same price as Philly, and the 'over' cashed in for the fifth time in this series on the total of 5½ goals.
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Dale Tallon absolutely deserves the credit for assembling this team. He lost his job as general manager last year despite bringing the Hawks out of the basement with players like Kane, Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell. Tallon landed on his feet last month when the Florida Panthers named him their new GM; perhaps there will be a similar hockey renaissance in South Florida.
For now, the spotlight is on the Windy City and their long-suffering hockey fans. This was their first Stanley Cup since 1961 and just their second since 1938, but it didn’t come as a surprise given the talent the Hawks brought to the table this year. And yes, Chicago was a bargain at 12-1 betting odds to win the Cup – twice the payout of the preseason favorites, the Detroit Red Wings. Remember, you heard it here first.
What we didn’t know back in October was that Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton would be the starting goaltenders in June. Niemi, an NHL rookie but also a veteran of the Finnish leagues at age 26, took over for the struggling Cristobal Huet and played brilliantly at times, although he really only had one good game in the finals. Leighton was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes when this all started, but was picked up on waivers in December and thrust into action when both Ray Emery and Brian Boucher were injured for the Flyers.
The goalie carousel didn’t stop there. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins led all netminders during the regular season with a .931 save percentage after winning the No. 1 job from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. Jimmy Howard (.924 SV%) was a rock for the Red Wings in his first full year of duty following the sharp decline of veteran Chris Osgood. And Craig Anderson (.917 SV%) was instrumental in leading the Colorado Avalanche from last place in the Western Conference at 32-45-5 to a playoff berth at 43-30-9.
The biggest goaltending story of the season, though, was Jaroslav Halak (.924 SV%) of the Montreal Canadiens. He spent the past two years splitting time with presumed No. 1 Carey Price (.912 SV%), but was finally given the nod after a brilliant performance for Slovakia at the Winter Olympics. Halak and the Habs squeezed into the playoffs with the eighth seed in the East and proceeded to knock off both the Washington Capitals (first in the league at 54-15-13) and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing to the Flyers.
Of all the surprises the 2009-10 season brought us, none was more pleasantly surprising than the Phoenix Coyotes. They were left for dead in the desert after filing for bankruptcy last May; Wayne Gretzky resigned as head coach, to be replaced by Dave Tippett, and the franchise was rumored to be on the move to Hamilton, Ontario.
The team’s future is still in doubt, but behind the goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov (.920 SV%), Phoenix went 50-25-7 this year and extended the Wings to seven games before losing in the first round. Don Maloney was named GM of the Year for his efforts.
Before we put a bow on this season, kudos to Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks for winning the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points (29 goals, 83 assists), and to a pair of first-overall draft picks who’ll share this year’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning with 51 goals apiece. See you on the diamond.