the Fifth Line: Second City Triumphant

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Macbeth, Act I, Scene I

Those were the exact words I thought as we skipped down Addison Street the moment Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final concluded. Two years ago, a trio of us celebrated the Blackhawks’ second Stanley Cup win this decade by running down to Wrigley Field to celebrate. Monday night, we re-enacted that ritual for Cup #3.

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We even happened upon the Recorder’s editor-in-chief, already celebrating (despite the fact that he’s wild for the Wild).

Monday was a day of hurly-burly in Chicago. Tornado warnings blanketed the city and its suburbs, sirens blared as rain pelted the area, flooding side streets and major thoroughfares alike. Amidst the meteorological chaos was the excitement and hope for Chicago sports fans: our team had a chance to clinch the Cup on ice for the first time in almost a century.

Oh, and the team they were facing seemed way too apropos for the weather. Amidst the raging storms, the Blackhawks strove to defeat the Lightning — the fates were asking for the purplest of prose. The perfect encapsulation of Chicago’s excitement could be found in the channeling of Snoopy / World Famous Author.

Since the Fifth Line is hanging up the skates until the start of next season, permit me this victory lap around the rink before I do.

A Two-Goal Lead?!

Much was made about this series being tight. Games 1-5 all had a margin of a single goal, and Game 6 looked to be following a similar script. Then Chicago fans got a gift in the 3rd period almost as sweet as the Cup itself. On a 3-on-2 breakaway, Saad and Richards brought the puck into the Tampa zone before Richards fired a no-look pass to Patrick Kane, who buried the shot.

It was a 2-goal lead in a series that had never seen such a thing. Kimmo Timonen later stated that he started crying for joy after that goal. Every bar and neighborhood in the city screamed for joy. Promises of suffering through malört shots rained down as fans begged with the fates to let our team survive the desperate, final Lightning onslaught.

The ‘Hawks not only survived, they posted a shutout against the NHL’s highest-scoring offense to win the Cup. Who saw that coming?

Eating Crow

In the opening series, Corey Crawford stumbled. He sat in favor of local boy Scott Darling for a few games before returning to the crease to close out the series. Even though he had won the Jennings this year, even though he’d outlasted a Vezina finalist, there was question whether Crawford would start. It was obvious that Crow would be the weaker goalie against another Vezina finalist (Devan Dubnyk), right?

When they made it to the conference finals, the hole in the blue line would expose Crawford as merely an okay goalie in front of a great system, right? When they made it to the Stanley Cup Final, everybody knew that Ben Bishop was the better goalie.

If this year’s championship doesn’t give Crawford some cache, then nothing will. This is the goalie that kept the most potent offense limited to so few goals. This is the goalie that stopped Stamkos on a 1-on-1. This is the goalie who is arguably the most successful netminder in Blackhawks history.

Conn Smythe for Keith

Crow’s success doesn’t do anything to reduce the inhuman resolve and skill displayed by Chicago’s defense. The depth was found wanting, and Coach Q leaned on his top four blue-liners to play the majority of the minutes. The Ducks and Lightning saw this as a weakness — no mortals could play that many minutes, under assault from Anaheim or pressure from Tampa, and still play to a high caliber.

It was a solid strategy, but Chicago’s defensemen weathered it. They fought back against the Ducks, they suppressed the Lightning shots, and Duncan Keith lead the NHL in playoff assists. Teams made the Blackhawks’ defense their target, and Keith & Co. raised their game to another level. The moment the final buzzer sounded in Game 6, every text, message, and discussion wondered if Keith would get the Conn Smythe trophy for playoffs MVP. Everyone thought he deserved it, and we were happy to see the D-man get his due.

Because He is Marian Hossa and You are Not

At some point in the next few years, the question will come up about Marian Hossa’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. As a player closer to 40 than 30, it’s already come up, and it’s not uncommon to hear hot takes about how he’s “Hall of Very Good” material.

If these playoffs don’t cement him as one of his era’s best two-way players, then we know which writers weren’t paying attention to them. Hossa will never win a Selke because he’s not a center, but he is the spark plug that keeps Chicago’s offensive engine running. Without Hossa, Saad may never have truly become the Man-Child. Without Hossa, the third and fourth lines don’t get the favorable matchups. Without Hossa, Chicago probably doesn’t pull out of the holes they dug in the last two series. Without Hossa, Chicago doesn’t win three Cups in six years.

‘Nuf said.

The Top Lines

A lot is being said about the disappearance of players like Stamkos, the injuries that hampered the Triplets line, the good but workmanlike play of Toews, and wondering where Kane went for much of the Final. The fact that the top lines of both teams are being painted with these brushes shows you how good both coaches were at cancelling each other’s biggest threats.

There’s a reason Kane contributed to both points in Game 6 — the Lightning resources were banged up and stretched thin, but had to commit more resources to the “lower” lines. Plus, Coach Q has no problem playing blender with his forward line to get his stars against weaker opposition.

Stan Bowman pulled off a coup when he got Vermette to anchor the third line between Sharp and Teuvo. This allowed Shaw to move to a wing position on the fourth line, which is unfair to other teams. Vermette’s utility was underscored not only by his game-winning goals, but the game where Chicago fell flat when he was scratched.

Pulling Out of the Dive

Despite that horrible decision — and it was a stupid, indefensible decision — Coach Q won another Stanley Cup, and proved himself the consummate gamesman. I’ve seen references to him as playing chess, but I don’t follow that. Quenneville is a gambler, a poker-player through-and-through.

During the season, Coach Q will make a lot of very questionable decisions, not undoing them only after they’ve caused more damage than necessary. He experiments a little too much with line combinations, and holds onto struggling veterans over mistake-prone but explosive newbies. He digs himself into a hole at the poker table.

But then…

When it comes to the midgame and endgame, and to the final table, Coach Q is a goddamned shark. He’s tried every permutation and made every mistake, and observed very closely how the opponents react. It seems like he suddenly knows how to control the series and bring it to a close. It’s not sudden — Quenneville adapts and adjusts over a series better than most coaches, and his GM gave him a team that can roll with his gambler style.

He still makes the occasional gross miscalculation, and he’s really going to need to work on that anti-rookie reputation, but Coach Q has been a big reason why Chicago survived to win the Cup.

Next Season…

Yeah, I know that we have a lot of free agents, and that everybody will be after Saad. But for the moment, this is what I’m focused on. Until next season, y’all.

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-J.

-J.

The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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