CHICAGO — Corey Crawford threw his gloves off and ditched his helmet as the Chicago Blackhawks poured onto the ice and swarmed the goaltender at one end of the frenzied United Center.
And just like that, the celebration was on. The marquee at Wrigley Field had a congratulatory message for the Stanley Cup champions, and there were fireworks and honking horns all over Chicago.
Call it a Windy City party 77 years in the making.
Duncan Keith scored in the second period and led a dominant defense that shut down Tampa Bay’s high-scoring attack, and the Blackhawks beat the Lightning 2-0 in Game 6 on June 15 for their third NHL title in the past six seasons.
Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, helping the Blackhawks clinch the Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938. Crawford, who was pulled from Chicago’s first-round series against Nashville, had 25 saves in his fifth career playoff shutout.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called the Blackhawks a dynasty, and the delirious crowd of 22,424 agreed wholeheartedly.
“We won it for each other, for the city,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “In so many ways, winning a championship like this in our home city, I think it really transcends the sport. Everyone wants to be a part of it. It’s amazing.”
Keith was a unanimous selection for the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP after he finished with 21 points while playing more than 715 minutes during a grueling postseason. It was the sixth NHL title for the franchise.
“It feels so great. You want to keep being a part of these things,” Keith said. “You don’t get these awards without being on great teams with great players and like I said, I’m just proud to be a part of this group of guys who cares so much and do whatever it takes.”
It was an appropriate conclusion to a series full of near misses and close calls that had fans in Chicago and Tampa Bay on the edge of their seats for almost two weeks.
It was only the second final to begin with five one-goal games, and no team enjoyed a two-goal advantage until Kane buried a perfect pass from Brad Richards at 14:46 of the third.
It was Kane’s first goal of the final, and it prompted more chants of “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” from the red-and-black clad fans.
“Just wanted to play my best game and control the puck as much as possible and try to step up for my team,” Kane said.
Ben Bishop kept the Lightning in the game with 30 saves, fighting through a groin injury that kept him out of Game 4. Led by Bishop and big defenseman Victor Hedman, the Lightning allowed just 13 goals in the series, but it wasn’t enough against the unflappable Blackhawks.
“Our goal scoring dried up. It wasn’t for lack of trying,” coach Jon Cooper said. “The chances, posts, missed nets, open nets that hit sticks, you need those to go in for you to keep going. Ultimately they dried up for us.”
Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos finished the playoffs with an eight-game scoring drought that likely will chase him into the offseason. He rung the inside of the crossbar at 7:50 of the first and was stoned by Crawford on a breakaway 58 seconds into the middle period.
“It’s so frustrating especially for me not being able to get the job done these last couple games,” Stamkos said. “That’s something you’re going to remember for a long time.”
The pair of missed opportunities for one of the NHL’s most gifted scorers looked even more costly when the Blackhawks got on the board in the second.
Keith got a nice pass from Kane in the middle and shot it around Tampa Bay center Cedric Paquette. Bishop stopped his first try, but Keith kept skating past Paquette and flipped in the rebound at 17:13.
Keith then skated with his arms out and yelled before he was mobbed by his teammates near the boards.
It was the first Stanley Cup for Kimmo Timonen, who plans to retire. The 40-year-old defenseman was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia in February after he missed the start of the season while recovering from blood clots in his leg and lungs.
“I leave this game as a Stanley Cup champion. I can’t ask for anything more than that,” Timonen said.
After Toews got the trophy from Bettman, he handed it right to Timonen, who proudly hoisted it into the air. Antoine Vermette, a key trade deadline acquisition who had two game-winning goals in the final, then got the Cup for the first time in his career.
The Lightning had Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup after the forward crashed into the Chicago goal during the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory June 13 and missed the last part of Game 5. But Tampa Bay appeared to run out of gas at the end of a 26-game playoff run that matched the longest in playoff history.
“Good teams find a way to win,” Hedman said. “It’s not a fluke they won three of the last six. A lot of credit to them.”
The Blackhawks became the first team since the Detroit Red Wings won it all in 1997, 1998 and 2002 to win three titles in a six-year span. Next up for the Blackhawks is a parade and rally before another tricky summer of negotiating the salary cap.
“We keep growing, keep maturing, we keep wanting it more and more,” Toews said. “This is what it’s all about.”
(JAY COHEN, AP Sports Writer)