Forward Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime and Corey Crawford stopped all the shots (minus one), but the players who propelled the Chicago Blackhawks to a victory over the Minnesota Wild and to the Western Conference Final on Tuesday night were the players usually on the outside of the spotlight looking in.
In fact, they are usually the ones in the press box looking down. But Blackhawks defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and center Peter Regin deserve a standing ovation for their efforts to practically will Chicago into victory. While Crawford displayed phenomenal goaltending, a few chances in a hard-fought second period left parts of the net wide open for Wild rebounds. Enter Brookbank, who robbed Minnesota’s Jason Pominville of an open net on what would have been the game-winning goal. For the guy known around Chicago as “Brent Seabrook‘s suspension replacement” he sure made a name for himself.
And while defense keeps the game in check, offense is needed to actually win. Regin’s time on the ice was dominant from the first drop of the puck to the last minute on the clock. His net presence created the right amount of traffic for Kris Versteeg to net the first goal of the evening for the Blackhawks, and his distraction of Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter in overtime allowed for a wide-open puck to find a wide-open Kane for the series-winning goal.
But such is the story of what makes this Blackhawks team great. While the stars of this team might have finished off the series with actual goals, the depth of this team is what kept some often ailing and tired Chicago lines in it much further than perhaps they even deserved. And while one Chicago reporter joked on Twitter about both Regin and Brookbank being in the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy after tonight, the point of the witty remark was spot-on.
Why can the Blackhawks realistically become the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups? Because on any given night, any one of the 23 players on this roster has the ability to shine.