BOSTON – Michal Handzus and Jamal Mayers have played a combined 1,865 games in the NHL. The furthest both had gone in the Stanley Cup playoffs was the Conference Final before this season. Now, the pair who spent their first two full NHL seasons together in St. Louis are celebrating a first Cup victory after the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a dramatic Game 6.
Mayers did not play a game in the playoffs for the Blackhawks. He may not have contributed on the ice during their Cup run, but he did provide a spark in the locker room after Chicago fell behind 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in the second round. His passionate speech the day after helped wake up the Blackhawks as they would go on to win the next three games.
On the ice at TD Garden Monday night, Mayers was at a loss for words.
“Unbelievable,” Mayers said. “Can’t even describe it. Surreal right now.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who accepted the Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman, planned it out so that Handzus and Mayers, the two who have waited the longest for this moment, got to raise it second and third.
“Pretty much my mind was empty,” he said about the Cup raise. “I kind of want to do it again. That’s what everyone always says. But what a great gesture and honor for Tazer to set it up so I would get it third. It’s just a great group of guys and I’m speechless.”
Handzus didn’t join the Blackhawks until a deadline day deal that brought him back to Chicago, where he spent the 2006-07 season. Back then, things were different, but the seeds of this team’s success were just being planted.
“That was a long time ago. It was a different organization,” said Handzus. “They’ve been great the last five, six years. It shows [that it’s a] great city. It shows it’s a great organization from top to bottom. A lot of guys deserve it.”
He was brought in for depth reasons and to win faceoffs. At first he wasn’t even sure he’d see the ice in Chicago.
“I thought I’d have a hard time cracking the lineup, honestly, because they’ve been playing great,” he said. “They’ve been on the top from the beginning of the season and I just tried to fill in and help as much as I could. It was either fourth line, faceoff, whatever. I got a chance to play second line with great players and the coaches trust me, the players trust me and I just tried to do as much as I could.”
Two goals in 17 seconds late in the third period completed the wild Blackhawks comeback. It was a turnaround that Handzus said he had only seen in the Champions League soccer tournament in Europe.
“It shows the team, the leaders, the characters,” he said. “The whole team just believed in each other, battled for each other. Obviously we got bounces, but every champion needs them. We got it in the end.”
A 24-game point streak to open the season set the tone for what would end with the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks also became the first team to win both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Cup in the same season since the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings. Despite the litany of stars on the roster, everyone chipped in.
“I tried to just play as best I could, but we were a team,” said Handzus. We weren’t individuals. We battled for each other and that’s why we won. You can’t win with one, two, three guys.
“You’ve got to win as a team and that’s what we did.”
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy