CHICAGO – Suppressing the childlike grin that identifies him as easily as his red No. 88 sweater, Patrick Kane talked about offensive hockey.
He could have been referring to Blackhawks history, too.
“Sometimes you catch some breaks, and I think I was in the right spot at the right time,” Kane said after his two goals spurred a 3-1 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Everybody in Chicago knows how much Kane loves Saturday nights in the city. People even have been known to take pictures of Kane’s exploits. Exactly 2 weeks after Kane’s hat trick eliminated the Kings in overtime, bulbs were flashing at the United Center, as the right wing with what coach Joel Quenneville calls “high-end talent” made the crowd of 22,274 point and click for posterity.
“Everybody wants to be that guy in big-time games, and I’ve been lucky enough to be that guy a couple times,” Kane said.
Everybody else marveled about Kane’s skill. Uncharacteristically sticking his nose near the net, Kane backed up his reputation as one of the NHL’s money players. On a night meteorologists warned of a super moon, a superstar shone on the West Side brightly enough to expect an Indianhead summer on the lakefront.
Kane’s performance brought the Hawks within 60 minutes of becoming the standard for NHL organizational excellence.
No team has won two Cup titles since the NHL implemented a salary cap in 2005. Kane also put the Hawks – and himself – in position to create another landmark memory in a Game 6 of the Cup Final, a task complicated by uncertainty surrounding Jonathan Toews’ health.
Will Kane stay hot and make June 24, 2013, as special as June 9, 2010? If Brent Seabrook earned the nickname “Mr. Overtime,” can Kane claim “Mr. June”? Did Kane move atop the list of Conn Smythe trophy candidates?
For the Hawks, these questions sure beat asking what’s wrong with the power play.
Exactly 6 years after the BlackHawks drafted Kane No. 1 overall, he continued to fulfill the star potential Hawks ex-GM Dale Tallon saw when he selected the kid from Buffalo. Kane’s big game began with 2 minutes 33 seconds left in the first period when he made a difficult play look easy. Johnny Oduya unleashed a shot so hard it broke defenseman Dennis Seidenberg’s stick. The puck tumbled toward the stick-side of goalie Tuukka Rask, where Kane gained control and backhanded it into an open net.
“He gets those goals too,” Andrew Shaw said, smirking.
Just 7:46 seconds later, the reunited top line of Kane, Toews and Bryan Bickell provided another example of what good comes from crashing the net. Bickell controlled his own rebound on a quality rush led by Toews and maneuvered around the crease. The ricochet hung in the air when Kane connected for the backhand score. Any scientists studying elite hand-eye coordination can start with Kane’s brain.
“Guys like that have a kind of innate skill of scoring,” Quenneville said. “They anticipate like the rest of us would like to.”
While Kane displayed rare talent, the Hawks complemented him with toughness. Their unifying theme: go after the tall guy.
Toews created a surprising subplot by announcing the Hawks needed to stop showing Bruins captain Zdeno Chara so much respect. Following orders, the Hawks attacked the 6-foot-9, 256-pound D-man like somebody shorter and lighter. After Bickell took Chara down, Milan Lucic wanted to drop the gloves. But the Hawks had less interest in fighting the Bruins than rattling them. The Bruins’ mindset got worse when Chara was on the ice both times Kane scored — the seventh time in the last eight Hawk goals.
“There’s a fine line between being respectful and overly respectful,” Duncan Keith said. “We had to play our game.”
Mounting frustration showed when Chara elbowed Toews in the head early, which wasn’t as vicious as the hit Johnny Boychuk delivered. The impact of the collisions knocked Toews out for the third period — evening up the loss of Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who earlier left the arena in an ambulance with a reported spleen injury.
“It has been a war,” Quenneville said.
Chara gained a measure of vindication with a goal 3:40 into the third that set up another furious finish the hockey world expected and the Hawks survived.
Now a civic sense of inevitability looms. But proceed cautiously, Chicago. The Bruins lost Game 5 of the 2011 Cup Final yet beat the Canucks two straight. The Hawks will be buoyed by their own past: A Game 5 win in 2010 preceded an overtime victory in Game 6.
You might remember whose clutch goal made that possible.