By Shane Nicholson
The Chicago Blackhawks played the role of favorites to perfection Monday night closing out the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 to claim their third Stanley Cup in six years.
A physical first period saw a 0-0 score at the end. Andrej Sustr was lucky to escape a penalty for a low hit on Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg just 4:30 in as he was leaving the ice for the change.
Two minutes later Lightning captain Steven Stamkos rung the post, beating Corey Crawford high to the glove side only to be denied by the frame.
Crawford was called back into action just seconds later as Stamkos laid on a pass from the right side to a crashing Matt Carle at the back post.
An ensuing face off saw Tampa Bay draw their first penalty of the game. The Hawks just missed taking advantage immediately with Ben Bishop saving a Teuvo Teravainen effort with the tip of his right skate.
Back-and-forth action ended with the Lightning taking their second penalty after Patrick Kane drew a roughing call off Brian Boyle on the half board.
Seconds into the man advantage he laid on a pass from the right side to Jonathan Toews at the back post, but the Hawks captain lost his edge and had the play the puck with the shaft of his stick, giving Bishop time to get across to make the save.
With less than a minute left in the frame Brad Richards fired a low wrist shot through the Tampa defense forcing a save from Bishop, who was slow to get up and appeared to struggle through the closing seconds.
Bishop was pulled from Game 3 twice and missed Game 4 with an undisclosed lower body injury.
Just 50 seconds into the second period Patrick Sharp’s attempt to keep a puck alive in the offensive zone led to a clear breakaway for Stamkos after Cedric Paquette knocked it forward.
But Crawford was able to stop the Lightning captain down low before the Hawks cleared their zone, preserving the 0-0 scoreline.
A Chicago 3-on-1 with Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins couldn’t break the deadlock either as Shaw’s pass toward the crease was lacking, leaving Desjardins open to an on-charging Bishop as the puck skirted wide left of the goal.
With just over 12 minutes to play in the period Marian Hossa ran the weave to perfection off the right wing with Sharp trailing, but Bishop was again able to stop the initial shot and keep Sharp from pouncing on a rebound at the near post.
The Hawks peppered Bishop’s net at 9 minutes to play with the Tampa Bay goalie making a series of outstanding saves to keep the score level.
Bishop was called into action again with 3 minutes in the period, stopping a high blast from Duncan Keith as Toews lurked down low, but he was unable to stop Keith seconds later.
Kane collected a pass from Richards high on the right boards as Tampa Bay went for a line change. He fed to Keith in the slot who fired an initial shot on Bishop.
The Bolts goalie made the first save but Keith followed his wrister and beat Bishop from just inside his left face off circle to break the deadlock and give Chicago the 1-0 lead.
A Hawks power play in the final minute saw another chance created as Brent Seabrook beat Bishop from the point low to his glove side only to find every part of the post.
After a strong start to the second Tampa Bay escaped the period down only a goal.
Hossa tested Bishop 3 minutes into the third after a Tampa created a couple clear chances at the other end but Crawford was able to keep the Lightning at bay.
Halfway through the third saw the Hawks clinging onto a one-goal advantage with Tampa Bay were creating chances and forcing Crawford into saves.
But at 5 minutes to play Brandon Saad broke out deep from the Hawks zone, finding Richards in the slot who fed on right to Kane to record his first goal of the Stanley Cup Finals, giving the Blackhawks the first two-goal lead of the series.
Desjardins drew a penalty with 3:39 left and Tampa Bay pounced, but Crawford was able to stop a pair of point-blank chances from Palat to keep the 2-0 lead.
Bishop left his net with 3 minutes to play, giving the Lightning the 6-on-4 advantage on the power play, but Tampa Bay iced the puck at 2:26 forcing him back into action.
He returned to the bench at 2 minutes to play only to be called back out again after a hand pass in the neutral zone from the Hawks.
Bishop left the ice for a final time at 1:20 to play as Tampa Bay scrambled to even the game, but Chicago closed ranks to see out the 2-0 win.
Crawford finished with 25 saves in the shutout. Kane had a goal and an assist.
Keith claimed the Conn Smythe as MVP of the playoffs.