By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) As hats littered the United Center ice, Jonathan Toews pointed at his longtime teammate and gave him a big hug.
After over 91 grueling minutes, Patrick Kane had just beaten Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick for the third time on the night, this time with the double-overtime game-winner that sent the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four years with 4-3 Game 5 win.
“It’s almost like I’m in a different zone,” Kane said.” Like the Twilight Zone or something. I’m kind of out it.”
Well, he’s in some sort of zone. Just four days after his head coach called him out and said he wanted more, Kane delivered a hat trick to put his team on the biggest stage in hockey.
“That was more than more,” Joel Quenneville said. “It was certainly an outstanding game by him.”
Minutes later, with Aerosmith’s “Dream On” playing in the locker room, Kane sat in his personal Twilight Zone and calmly took off his sweater and equipment as if he had nothing left.
“If you watch the bench after we scored to win the game, it almost seems like it was just another goal because no one could celebrate because we were all so tired,” Kane said.
Double overtime will do that to you.
And yet, Toews certainly had enough energy to skate around and make sure no one touched the Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference Champions. Trophy touching — and hoisting — will have to wait until the next round.
There’s still business at hand.
But the Blackhawks were nearly headed back to Los Angeles instead of to the Stanley Cup Final. Holding a lead with just 15 seconds left in regulation, Bryan Bickell iced the puck and disaster struck. Jonathan Toews lost the ensuing faceoff and Kings center Mike Richards deflected an Anze Kopitar shot into the back of the net to send the game to overtime.
“That’s a tough feeling,” Toews said. “I honestly don’t think there’s a worse feeling in hockey — when you’re just nine seconds away.”
But the Blackhawks had been there before. It was just a week and a half ago when Niklas Hjalmarsson’s game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Red Wings was wiped out by the referees and the Blackhawks had to win it overtime.
That was something addressed in the locker room before the first overtime and even though the Kings outplayed the Hawks during most of the free hockey played Saturday night, they dug deep to find a way to win.
“We definitely did not want to go back to L.A.,” Kane said.
They won’t have to. The Blackhawks were just too much for Jonathan Quick and the Kings’ defense.
Too fast. Too deep. Too good.
It’s a formula that has worked all season long and for most of the playoffs, even if it did take a while for the Blackhawks to find their stride.
But now the Hawks have won seven of their last eight games going into the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
It’s the first Original Six Stanley Cup Final since 1979, but if the Blackhawks play at the pace they’ve become accustomed to, they might not need six games to hoist the Cup again.
Remember, they’re faster, they’re deeper and they’re better.
And oh yeah, they also have home-ice advantage.
“We have the ability, the talent, but most of all we’re hungry to get back to where we were in 2010,” Toews. ” We have a great opportunity to do it.”
And if they continue to play their game and dictate the pace, they will do it.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.