Chicago’s third Stanley Cup win against Tampa Bay last Monday night was a gritty grace note to a hard-fought season where other teams (and coaches) garnered the headlines while the Blackhawks made off with the Stanley Cup.
Just as they did in 2012/13, the Hawks had to fight back from a 2-1 deficit in the Finals to win the Cup. However, unlike 2012/13 where they fought a Boston Bruins which had been vying with Chicago for the honor of being the best team of the decade, the Hawks had fallen behind a young upstart Tampa Bay Lightning team that had beaten three other Original Six teams (two of which: Montreal and New York had been favored to beat Tampa) to reach the finals.
Imagine the surprise and shock of the hockey world when the Lightning took that 2-1 series lead; playing with the same youthful insouciance and remarkable lack of fear and intimidation which had distinguished a young Blackhawks team that won the Cup in 2009/10.
And yet, unsurprisingly for this writer, Chicago showed its mettle and maturity by sweeping games four through six; holding the vaunted Lightning offense (which had averaged 3.19 goals per game—the best in the NHL) to only two goals in three games; stoning them in game seven. When the Lightning were able to hold offensive stalwarts Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to a goal apiece throughout the finals, the Hawks showed their depth when Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette, and Teuvo Teravainen filled the breach with offensive heroics of their own.
On the defensive side Duncan Keith played marathon minutes to lock down the Conn Smythe trophy and scored the Cup-winning goal in game seven. Goalie Corey Crawford (who allowed seven goals in games two and three) regained his pride and poise with the greatest playoff goaltending in his eight season career.
Chicago’s talent was on full display but fate was also wearing the colors of the Blackhawks. How many times did Tampa Bay shots hit the post? How many times did Tampa Bay fail to score on empty nets?
For Chicago coach Joel Quenneville his third Cup win has elevated him in ways unimaginable to him seven years ago when he took over as head coach of Chicago. Last Monday night he became the 11th head coach to coach three Stanley Cup winners (the last man to do this was Glen Sather in 1986/87). He also became the first coach to win three Cups in a decade since Scotty Bowman did so in the 1990s. In terms of playoff games coached and playoff games won, Quenneville is surpassed only by Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour—rather rarified company when you think about it.
Coach Q’s third Cup win also makes him the greatest NHL coach of the 2010s (according to my rating system) and, most significant of all, he has surpassed Mike Babcock as the greatest NHL coach of the 21st century. Since 2007/08 Babcock had always stood atop all coaches based according to my calculations but throughout the 2010s Quenneville advanced closer and closer by leaps and bounds until, finally, on Monday night he passed Babcock in terms of coaching value during this century.
Joel Quenneville has now reached that place where every game he coaches (and wins) he makes some sort of history by surpassing some august hockey figure. Quenneville himself is now part of the ranks of the august and the exalted and the view from the summit of Mount Olympus is limitless and wonderful to behold.