BOSTON -- In this year where a Stanley Cup presentation almost didn't happen, we would have been thankful for the typical routine. The typical, majestic routine.
Five skaters on the ice, suddenly, in one fluid turn pausing their season-long pursuit towards the opposing net, tossing their gear high into the air or far off to the side and, for the first time all year, turning in unison towards the opposite direction. Towards their goaltender, who's jumping up and down in the crease like a child. Towards the rest of their teammates, who are streaming off the bench into what will shortly become one massive dog pile.
The opponents, defeated, standing and staring aimlessly from somewhere around the blue line, wishing and hoping it were them. Or that someday it will be them. The handshake line and the juxtaposition between the hatred of just moments prior and the sincere respect and admiration that comes out when it's all over.
The rolling out of the red carpet. The setting down of a tiny circular table with a black cloth draped over it. The presentation of the Conn Smythe Trophy. The entrance of the commissioner and the booing that's become more than routine over the last 20 years.
The entrance of the Stanley Cup, in all it's white-glove-handled glory, and the presentation of it to the victors. The quiet respect from the visiting crowd or the giddy euphoria of the home crowd, depending on the year. The always-too-long pause between handshake, hand off, photo op and finally, the hoisting of the Cup by the captain. Then, the order. Player to player to player to player to coach to player to coach to owner to player to trainer and so on.
Eventually, the team finds their way back to the dressing room with their family and friends and more Bud Lights than bottles of champagne, because they're still hockey players after all. They hug, they kiss, they yell. They celebrate. They win the Stanley Cup.
It always unfolds this way. It's the greatest celebration in professional sports, only fitting for the greatest trophy in professional sports. It's something we can always rely on to be stirring and inspiring and just plain fun to watch, regardless of which team we cheer for. We can set our clock by it.
But this year, it was more than just the typical routine. I was sitting there six floors above the ice at TD Garden on Monday night, and my eyeballs saw the Chicago Blackhawks score two goals in 17 seconds to shock the Bruins, shock the entire City of Boston, and win the Stanley Cup. We all saw it happen, but it's still hard to comprehend.
I took the chance after the game to ask a few of the Blackhawks what had just happened. I'd share exactly what they told me, but the hundreds of Chicago fans screaming and chanting and singing in the background drowned out most of voices on my recorder. It doesn't really matter, anyway. It was all a mix of "I don't know, man" and blank stares, followed by bewildered smiles. Patrick Kane noted how he "didn't know a single thing that's happened in the last 20 minutes, to be honest" as he stood there on the ice with his Stanley Cup Champions hat firmly gripping his mullet.
Coach Joel Quenneville tried to explain it with actual words, although he didn't do a great job either.
"We got to the net," he said. "Quick, nice hands around the net. ... You equalize the game there. [Bryan Bickell, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews] might have been a little tired. I could have kept them out there, but [Dave] Bolland, that line hadn't played in five or six minutes, and offensively, defensively, you know you get a contribution all year long of all four lines. No matter who you throw out there is capable of making plays. Next play on the wall, cruised back to the point one time and, bang, it's in the net."
Bang, it's in the net. That's really the only way to describe it.
You can try to break down the hockey part. The Blackhawks stepped up, pinched their defensemen, took risks, ultimately pulled their goalie and got a bunch of pucks on net. The Bruins just sat back a bit too much with the lead in the third period, and in the end, Tuukka Rask couldn't stop 'em all. It cost them a shot at the Stanley Cup in Game 7.
But teams step up and sit back all the time in hockey, and it doesn't always lead to two goals in 17 seconds. The Blackhawks sat back in the first period of this same game, letting the Bruins dictate the play and making us all feel like a Game 7 was imminent. Boston took 24 more attempts at the net than Chicago did in the first period but only had one goal to show for it. They poured it on again early in the third, but again only got one goal out of it.
"I thought that we came out the way we wanted to come out," B's captain Zdeno Chara said. "We played aggressive and with a lot of energy and putting a lot of pressure. I thought we did a good job, especially in that first 20. I think second 20 we were kind of making some turnovers and obviously was an even game. But in the third again, we came out strong and played more like we did in the first. We got the lead and we probably could have scored more goals in the first and the third, but we didn't."
But we didn't.
There's no real reason to why the puck goes in the net some times and why it doesn't go in at other times. It's just the will of the Hockey Gods, and we are mere mortals who cannot control it. But if this is how they choose to treat us -- the great reward after an arduous four-month-long lockout -- then I'm a loyal worshipper.
The 2013 NHL season delivered exactly what we all deserved, and the most entertaining Stanley Cup Final in recent memory concluded with possibly the wildest, most insane closing game in Cup Final history. This season, these playoffs, that Cup Final and that conclusion were the only proper way to repay us for still being here nine months after Gary Bettman, his 30 bosses and the NHLPA shut down the sport last September.
The season -- short as it was -- started with an incredible Chicago win streak and will rightfully end with another million-or-two-strong Chicago parade. But even Bruins fans have things to love about this year, despite the disappointment on Monday night. The comeback against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of Round 1 was one of the 2013 season's incredible memories, but more importantly, the Garden faithful admirably stood in place for all of us in booing Bettman mercilessly, like he's never heard it before, after the Final.
We almost didn't get this incredible finish in Game 6. We almost didn't get these unbelievable playoffs, and we almost didn't get this amazing year. We almost didn't get the gloves flying, the joyous yelps of the winners, the blank stares of the losers, the crying of the fans on both sides and a coat of polish on Lord Stanley's Cup on a Monday night in June.
But after months of enduring the fear that this would be the second of those years where the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded, those are the boos Bettman deserved, and this is the hockey we deserved. We would have taken it the boring way, but luckily for us, we saw more than just the usual routine.