A Cup-Lifting Win: How 17 Seconds Proved that Hockey Players’ Resilience and Toughness Is Unparalleled

With just 1:17 left in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals, a game seven appeared to be on the horizon.

Not so fast, Boston fans.

Trailing 2-1 (and leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven series), Blackhawks’ forward Bryan Bickell drove the puck past the glove side Boston’s highly-appraised goaltender, Tuukka Rask. With just a buck fifteen remaining in the game, the score now read 2-2. Overtime now materialized as a certainty.

Not so fast, lovers of “free hockey.”

Just 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland fired a Michael Frolik redirect into the back of the net. Soon after, he threw off his gloves as if the Blackhawks had just won the Stanley Cup, but there were still 58.3 seconds left on the game clock in Boston’s TD Garden.

No “not so fast” this time, because Bolland’s celebration was justified. The Blackhawks had just clinched their second Stanley Cup title in the previous four seasons.

Until the fat lady sings: Just 17 seconds earlier, a game seven seemed certain, but Dave Bolland (36 in white) reminded us all that it truly ain't over until it's over.

Until the fat lady sings: Just 17 seconds earlier, a game seven seemed certain, but Dave Bolland (36 in white) reminded us all that, as Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”

Clearly, this game six showed all of America how hockey play always stick the mantras, “never give up,” and “it ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Applying this label of perseverance to hockey players is supported by two comeback victories during this postseason: The Bruins’ recovered after trailing Toronto by three goals to win game seven of their round-one matchup and the Blackhawks’ claimed a series victory over hated rival Detroit, winning the series in seven games after trailing three games to one.

In other sports, coaches and players often throw in the metaphorical white flag before the sounding of the final buzzer. Look at game 3 of the NBA Finals: With his team being pounded by the Spurs in San Antonio, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled his starters, essentially giving up. While the format of hockey rosters doesn’t allow a coach to “pull his starters,” any sort of giving up is intolerable throughout this great sport. That is one thing that makes the game and its players so unique.

In contrast to hockey, petty injuries often cause players in other sports to miss games: “Cracked skin in right thumb” (Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander on 4/25) and “Sensitivity after tattoo application” (Rangers’ infielder Elvis Andrus on 2/28) are two examples in Major League Baseball.

Now, imagine this: Boston bruiser Zdeno Chara leaving the game with “cracked skin” in his thumb. Imagine Anaheim and Philadelphia great Chris Pronger missing action with “soreness from a tattoo.” If you are going to great pains just to imagine these blasphemies, you’re not alone. There’s a simple reason why we can’t imagine these: Hockey players are some tough dudes.

Here are some examples of bearded Bruin warriors who gave it a go in game six, despite injuries that would end most athletes’ season:

  • Boston’s Patrice Bergeron amassed 17:45 of ice time in game six despite suffering from a punctured lung, broken rib, separated shoulder and torn cartilage and muscles in his ribs. Bergeron later summed up his resilience like a true hockey player, telling Yahoo! Sports, “It’s the Stanley Cup Final, everyone’s banged up, everyone wants to help the team.”
  • Bruins’ winger Nathan Horton played games two through six with a severe shoulder injury sustained in game one.
  • Zdeno Chara, who was on the ice for 10 of Chicago’s final 12 goals of the series, and Jaromir Jagr both dealt with “undisclosed” injuries, but persevered, maintaining presence for a combined 39 shifts in game six.

On the Chicago side, the roses were no redder:

  • 36-year-old Michal Handzus played the series despite suffering from a broken wrist (how does one lift the 35-pound Stanley Cup with a broken wrist?) and a torn MCL (Bears’ fans might remember Jay Cutler leaving the 2011 NFC Championship Game with a sprained MCL).
  • Marian Hossa endured a pinch nerve in his back that led to his loss of feeling in his right foot, and played in games four, five and six with his injury.
  • Andrew Shaw, who scored the game-winner in the Cup Final’s epic triple-overtime thriller, suffered a broken rib in the Western Conference Semifinals vs. Detroit.
  • Captain Jonathan Toews recorded two points in 20:12 of ice time after “getting his bell rung” by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuck in game five. Toews: “We had guys willing to do whatever it took.”
  • Bickell, who also showcased a gaping hole where his front teeth once were after enduring a puck to the face, suffered from a grade-two knee sprain sustained in the Western Conference Finals against the defending-champion Kings.

The never-ending catalog of injuries encountered in these Stanley Cup Finals proves that hockey players are some of the most relentless, toughest athletes on planet Earth. Especially in the playoffs, the prototypical image of a hockey player is a crazy-eyed, bearded dude with two black eyes, five missing teeth, and stitches on his chin. Blackhawks’ forward Andrew Shaw epitomized this image in game six. In the first period, Shaw (who was suffering from a broken rib at the time!) took a Shawn Thornton slapshot to the face. The blood dripping on the ice and streaming onto his sweater was unavoidable, but just a few minutes later, Shaw was back on the attack with stitches sealing up his swollen right cheek. Shaw would continue to bleed throughout the game, often forced to clean up on the bench in order to return. He fought, refusing to leave the game, a decision Shaw later coined as “worth all the stitches.” The lasting image of Shaw’s game six is his lifting of the Stanley Cup, looking up at the gleaming silver barrel with blood streaming down his considerably swollen right cheek.

No glitz, no glamour: Lifting Lord Stanley's Cup over his head as blood streamed down his cheek, Andrew Shaw showed us the determined heart of a hockey player. (Click on image to enlarge)

No glitz, no glamour: Lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head as blood streamed down his cheek, Andrew Shaw showed us the determined heart of a hockey player. (Click on image to enlarge)

Featuring its wide array of injuries, the starting lineups of game six resembled an MLB disabled list and even an NFL physically unable to perform list, which indeed demonstrates the innate toughness of hockey players. They refuse to use injury as an excuse, embracing the image of bearded, battered warriors; they never give up on a game, even if it seems like a lost cause. Considering its array of injuries and stunning comeback, game six of these Stanley Cup Finals embodied all of this, and showed fans all over the world the beauty of the wonderful, not-so-glamorous sport of hockey.

By Sam Brief

Feel free to leave a comment below! Your opinion is always welcome.

The Sports Brief is on Twitter! Follow @SamsSportsBrief for even more insight and opinion.

(Related: Cup heads West to Chicago)

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42 thoughts on “A Cup-Lifting Win: How 17 Seconds Proved that Hockey Players’ Resilience and Toughness Is Unparalleled

  1. Great article, I agree with you. There is something about hockey that no other sport can reflect. It’s uptempo like basketball/football. However, it also has the feel of baseball/soccer with any one “thing” being able to change the entire outcome of the game. We saw it all last night. What a finish. What a sport.

  2. Along with football, hockey has to be one of the toughest sports there is. Saw the game and if you left your seat to get a cup of water…well..you missed an amazing 17 seconds of hockey! It was indeed, “A thing of beauty!”
    Nice piece Sam!

  3. It was a comeback for the ages by the Blackhawks. You’re right Sam, most teams do let up in the closing seconds of a game. Most teams in the Blackhawks position would concede victory, and simply move on to the next game.

    The team on top typically puts it on cruise control, as it’s expected that the losing team will shut it down. But that 1:17 seconds may have been the thing that won the Stanley Cup for Chicago, had they not taken advantage of even that small amount of time, they might have gone on to lose game seven.

      • I thought Chicago would win the series comfortably, but Boston surprised me early in the series. However, reality eventually set in, and the outcome I thought would happen did in the end.

      • I had the Hawks winning in 7, but after taking a 2-1 deficit, I began to form the opinion that Boston was too physical and their goaltending was too much for the Hawks, whose power play resembled that of fifth-graders and had no star power (neither Toews nor Kane nor Sharp nor Hossa stepped up in the first three games). Then, once Kane and Toews were reunited on the same line, the sparks flew. I see that line adjustment as a huge difference for the Hawks. What do you think made the difference for Chicago?

      • Your analysis sounds good Sam. But other than checking the standings and watching a game here and there, I doubt my analysis on the difference for Chicago would be worth much. I know of Marian Hossa from his time with the Atlanta Thrashers,

        But since the Thrashers left Atlanta I haven’t focused too much on the NHL. However, games like this past one makes me want to become more excited about it. But hey, football’s right around the corner so I doubt it.

      • It surely must be difficult to follow the NHL without a team in your city, mostly because hockey is rarely nationally televised, so you don’t get the chance to see many games. Games like these sure get the blood pumping, though!

      • Check this out: The city of Toronto was unconditionally enraged after the Bruins spoiled their return to the playoffs with a comeback from down 4-1, so the Toronto Sun thanked the Blackhawks for beating the Bruins. Toronto Sun

      • That`s great for hockey granted, but that figure is probably dominant in the prevailing markets were the NHL is popular . What type of market share is that overall and what percentage of the nation`s households does that connect to ? That is one of the questions you should be asking overall ? Or does that not concern you ?

        toph atal …………

      • When I look at that number, I see that over 5 million people watched each game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Who that was is not important to me, I just see that hockey is indeed a popular a growing sport in America.

  4. Sam

    It is a popular growing sport or is it once again a popular growing sport ? Levels of viewership are not back at te levels prior to their self inflicted labor stoppage . The game is also financial mess wit tere not being a clear cut remedy concerning the Coyotes . The NL`s financial woes are far more precarious than any of the oter major professional team sports .

    Teams are already back in some cases, offering players outlandish contracts without the revenues to back it all up .

    Also , you say, all you see are figures ? What do you think that the major corporate advertisers see ? They want to see rising figures tat will reflect specific demographics and that will sell their ware .

    Call me when the NHL starts to pull down a 7- 8 1/2 share and then we can have a real discussion on the matter.

    • A key first step in rebuilding the NHL is getting rid of Gary Betman as commissioner. He has allowed the league to slip into not one, but two labor stoppages, both of which hurt the popularity of the league. I look at the NHL as a league that needs a new man in charge.

      • Clearly, two men need to be fired. If the NHL’s governing body is jumbled up (Betman, Fehr fired, among others), could you then see the NHL competing with the likes of the NBA and MLB (the NFL is obviously in a league of its own)?

    • Yes it does, and he is one tough cookie. For me, that was the lasting image from this championship run. It was also moving to see Shaw fight to stay in the game in its waning minutes as he wiped up the persisting streams of blood. What a fighter.

      Thanks for reblogging, Shayn!

  5. Pingback: Cup heads West to Chicago | BackCheck's Blog

  6. Wow. I know sciatica first hand. Hossa may not even have been able to tie his own skates. He risked being crippled for life by playing.

  7. That Toronto Sun cover is classic! I’m a Chicago fan who was in Boston last night (unfortunately not at the Garden) and pretty much everyone I met today was in shock. They were SO certain it was going to Game 7, and in an instant they saw their expectations dashed. As soon as Toews knocked the puck toward Boston’s empty net they just turned off the TV and went to bed trying to make sense of what they just saw.

    Alan is correct that the NHL still doesn’t register on the national radar the way that baseball, football, and basketball do, but we’re a far cry from talking about something like soccer. Cultural change takes time. 30 years ago the NFL draft was an afterthought, and today it has become a heavily analyzed and hyped spectacle. Thanks to an amazing playoff season and *decent* viewership, a lot of people have become turned on to hockey who never gave it a second thought. Seeing what happened last night in 17 seconds is going to make more people tune in next year and the year after that. If big sports markets like Chicago, Boston, and LA continue to excel that’s going to get fans — and advertisers — more excited. Now if the Rangers were to join the Stanley Cup conversation, watch out!

    • I agree. As more exciting NHL postseasons that occur, hockey will grow on the nation. Moreover, the organizational structure of the NHL needs to change in order to ensure financial stability for the future.

  8. I was happy to see the team that began on such a hot streak finish their season that very same way. I think there were some (Barry Melrose) who thought the Bruins hard hitting style was going to neutralize the Usain Bolt-like skating skills of Chicago, but as you say, not so fast. Tenacity unparalleled, indeed.
    Great post.

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