CHICAGO — He never forgot that feeling. Not when his numbers declined again, not when his team lost in the first round again, not when he got into off-ice trouble again, not when his bosses sat him down for a talk, not when the trade rumors swirled, fueling him even though they were false.
Patrick Kane never forgot what it felt like that night in Philadelphia, June 9, 2010, when he stickhandled in front of Kimmo Timonen, took off down the left-wing boards, cut toward the net and fired low in the left circle. Was it in? Did it really find a hole through Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton? Yes! Kane had scored in overtime. The Chicago Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup.
“It was a great moment,” Kane said, dressed in a suit, calm and collected. “I think it’s exciting to be in that situation again.”
The Blackhawks are one win away from their second championship in four seasons. Kane scored the first two goals Saturday night as they beat the Boston Bruins, 3-1, and took a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. He has three goals in the past two games as they have poured cold water into the tank of a defensive machine, and though his offense might be partly by accident – “sometimes you catch some breaks,” he said – this is no accident overall. This was his mission.
“Funny,” said teammate Patrick Sharp, “how he keeps showing up in big games.”
Kane kept showing up in the wrong places after scoring that Cup winner – off the scoresheet, at center, on Deadspin. His goals went from 30 to 27 to 23. His points went from 88 to 73 to 66. He had one goal in two playoff series as the Blackhawks suffered back-to-back early exits. Some of that was due to a wrist injury. Some of that was due to a position switch. Then came Cinco de Mayo in Madison, Wis., the third embarrassing incident of his career, and a sitdown with the brass.
The Blackhawks never threatened to trade Kane. General manager Stan Bowman knew him well, having housed him his rookie year, and said he didn’t worry about Kane’s character. But the brass expressed its disappointment and told him he needed to change some things, and the criticism, the trade talk, all of it ticked him off. He played in Switzerland during the lockout, living with his mother, staying sharp, and he returned saying he had something to prove.
[Watch: Patrick Kane powers 'Hawks to Game 5 win over Bruins]
“Just want to get back to having that feeling after winning the Stanley Cup,” said Kane in February at the ripe old age of 24. “I was 21 years old when it happened. It almost feels like you’re invincible. You feel like you’re …”
He paused, searching for the right words.
“I wouldn’t say, like, given everything,” he continued. “But you feel it’s just going to kind of come to you after something like that happens. After a couple years of coming back down to earth and back to reality, you realize how hard it is and how hard you have to work to get there.”
Kane started red-hot and finished with 23 goals and 55 points during the 48-game schedule, fifth in the league in both categories. Those numbers project to 39 goals and 93 points in a normal 82-game schedule, which would be career highs.
People wanted to say it was because he had matured, but that was oversimplifying it. He was growing up, not grown up. He was also healthy and back on the right wing, and the team was humming. Most of all, he always loved hockey, always loved to excel, always worked hard, and he was motivated to get back to where he was as a young punk.
The playoffs didn’t start so well. He had only two goals through the Blackhawks’ first 15 games, and they came in 3-1 and 4-1 losses in the second round. But he scored four goals in the final two games of the Western Conference final, lifting the Blackhawks into the Stanley Cup Final with a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings that included the series clincher in double overtime. And now this.
The Bruins had shut out the Blackhawks for more than 120 minutes entering Game 3. Defenseman Zdeno Chara loomed. But because Chicago coach Joel Quenneville had success playing Kane with captain Jonathan Toews late in the Kings series, he decided to put them back together again and go right at Chara. Kane and Toews both scored in Game 4, and Kane delivered again in Game 5.
First, a point shot broke a stick, slowed a beat, glanced off the goalie’s pad and sat to the left of the net. Kane swooped in, collected it, stickhandled quickly and stuffed it inside the post – 1-0. Then, a teammate wrapped around and threw the puck off the side of the net out front. Kane was there and put it high – 2-0.
“I think I was in the right spot at the right time tonight on both goals,” Kane said.
[More: Bruins hopeful, but ready for Game 6 without Patrice Bergeron]
True. But why? Kane has a habit of disappearing, sometimes too much, but then reappearing in a soft spot in the defense. He takes advantage when the puck finds him. He looks like a magnet when it finds him a lot, and it found him a lot Saturday night. He had more scoring chances and was the most dangerous player on the ice.
“Kaner has got high-end skill,” Quenneville said. “He’s dangerous with the puck. His anticipation without it offensively is high-end. I think reading off those guys in the offensive zone has been very effective for him. Guys that have that kind of innate skill of scoring and being a top player, they anticipate like the rest of us would like to.”
Now we have Game 6 to anticipate.
Both teams have plenty of worry. The Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron left the game in the second period and went to the hospital for tests. Toews sat on the bench throughout the third period. So the last two winners of the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward are nursing undisclosed injuries. Their coaches say they might play. We’ll see.
But both teams have plenty of confidence, too. In 2011, the Bruins lost Game 5 of the final and faced a 3-2 series deficit. They won at home in Game 6, then won in Vancouver in Game 7. In 2010, the Blackhawks won Game 5 at the United Center and took a 3-2 lead. They went to Philly, Kane closed it out.
“I just kind of threw it on net, got a lucky break,” said Kane, who had three goals in the final four games of the 2010 final. “I think the biggest thing most people remember is that you didn’t know whether it was in the net or not.”
It was in, and it was unforgettable. And now Kane has put himself and Chicago oh, so close to that feeling again.
“This is what you work for, this opportunity,” Kane said. “We’ve got to seize the moment.”
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