PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks ended 49 years of Stanley Cup frustration with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday that clinched the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven championship series.
Patrick Kane’s goal early in the first sudden-death overtime period gave the Blackhawks a 4-2 series win for their first title since 1961, a drought that was the longest of any franchise in the 30-team league.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored seven goals in the playoffs and 22 assists including one on Chicago’s first goal on Wednesday, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player for his team in the NHL playoffs.
Not since the days of Hall of Famers Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and goalie Glenn Hall had the Blackhawks hoisted the Cup, and Chicago unleashed nearly 50 years of frustration with a euphoric celebration on Philadelphia’s home ice.
“The spell, the number of years that this team has been close and never won a Stanley Cup, you want to do it for every guy in your locker room and your fans but especially for guys like Bobby and Stan and the guys that came before you who made this team and this crest so special,” Toews told reporters.
Gloves and sticks were scattered over the ice as Chicago players mobbed one another, while Flyers fans sat in stunned silence after Kane snuck a puck past Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton about four minutes into overtime.
The red light to signal a goal did not go off right away but that did not stop Chicago players from celebrating. After a brief review the goal was ruled good.
“I just tried to hold onto the puck and shot at the net. I don’t think anyone knew it was in but me,” Kane said in an on-ice interview after the game. “This is just surreal, we just won the Cup.”
Once reality sunk in for the shocked fans at the Wachovia Center, they serenaded their team’s unlikely run to the finals with a rousing chant of “Let’s Go Flyers,” and then booed the winning Blackhawks.
The Flyers, who qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, also had to come back from a 3-0 deficit to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semi-finals en route to booking a spot in the finals.
“The story book ended the wrong way for us,” said Scott Hartnell, who scored a pair of goals for the losers.
“It hurts, it stings. Every bad adjective in the book. Obviously it’s sad, you get mad. But we played well enough to be here, we deserved to be here.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of his team: “I‘m proud of the way they competed and the way they fought.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville tipped his cap to the Flyers with relief that the series had a happy ending for his team.
“It’s a great hockey game,” Quenneville said. “Philly I thought was extremely competitive. It was a great series, exciting games. Wow! Tonight’s game, the pace was all-world.”
The never-say-die Flyers gave their fans one last thrill when they erased a 3-2 deficit with four minutes left in regulation, Hartnell stuffing the puck past goalie Antti Niemi off a pass from Ville Leino and forced overtime.
But the fast-skating, skilled young Blackhawks denied a Flyers fairytale finish when 21-year-old Kane, a member of the silver-medalist U.S. Olympic team, blasted in the game-winner.
The first five games of the championship series had gone to the home team, but the Blackhawks steered clear of a decisive seventh game and showed their superiority as second seeds over the seventh-seeded Flyers.
Chicago’s victory also passed the dubious distinction of the longest title drought to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
Editing by Frank Pingue/Alastair Himmer