CHICAGO –áThree years later, Patrick Kane can still feel it.
Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, on the road in Philadelphia, overtime. The puck hit his stick, it disappeared momentarily and then no one knew for sure if his shot hit the back of the net or not.
Three years later, the Blackhawks will play another Game 6. On the road, with a chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.
On Saturday night, Kane took the lead in putting the Hawks within reach of another championship, putting himself in the kind of positions top-line players do.
He took advantage of his linemate, Jonathan Toews, clearing space for him, taking one ferocious hit after another – the final one knocking Toews out of Saturday night’s 3-1 Game 5 win over the Bruins, a victory that gives the Hawks a 3-2 series edge.
For the final 20 minutes, with Toews unable to play – perhaps for the night, perhaps longer – it was Kane who took the responsibility on himself to finish the deal, keeping the pressure on Boston’s defense.
His goals were more gritty than flashy. He worked in the space created by Toews, somehow going almost unnoticed at the edge of the crease, punching one rebound past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask and then another.
While Boston was intent on knocking Toews to the ice in the corners and in front of the net, where Johnny Boychuk leveled the decisive blow against the Hawks’ captain, Kane patiently waited for the puck to hit his stick, knowing exactly what to do once it did.
“It’s not a coincidence that Kaner makes the big goals,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He wants the puck when it comes down to the wire. He’s a difference maker.”
But as much credit as Kane will get moving forward to Monday’s Game 6 in Boston, he – along with his teammates – must be prepared for the possibility that his top line partner, Toews, may not be available.
Throughout the third period, Toews could be seen petitioning Hawks coach Joel Quenneville to return to the game. Every time, he stayed put. Afterward, Quenneville offered little on Toews’ immediate future.
“We’re hopeful he’ll be ready next game,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see how he is [Sunday].”
The deciding games of the Stanley Cup Final often come down to star power. But the Hawks aren’t the only ones hinging on uncertainty. The Bruins played most of Game 5 without its own playmaker, Patrice Bergeron, who first left the ice and then the United Center, transported by ambulance for observation.
Bruins coach Claude Julien danced around inquiries about Bergeron’s condition before finally shutting it down for good.
“I’m not going there,” he said repeatedly.
Julien admitted that the Bruins could be forced to deal with the possibility of playing an elimination game without Bergeron. Just like the Hawks could be without Toews.
“Yeah, that kind of evens itself out if that’s the case,” he said. “But there’s still a lotá of good players on both teams that can certainly make things happen.”
That brings us back to Kane, who played the first three games of the series separated from Toews before Quenneville put the two back together prior to Game 4. While they’re used to playing apart from one another, there’s a certain magic that appears when they’re paired together.
Whether the Hawks face another Game 6 on the road with their two biggest stars together or not, Kane understands that the Hawks are again on the verge of bringing hockey’s biggest prize back to Chicago.
Like in Philadelphia three years ago, closing out an opponent on the road won’t be easy. But after playing the role of hero in 2010 and having scored three goals in the past two games, Kane stands prepared to deliver once again.
And that takes him back to 2010 – the moment he can’t forget.
“It’s exciting to be back in that situation,” Kane said. “This is what you work for all summer. You’ve got to seize the moment and take advantage of it.”
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter with The Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter