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Five reasons Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Of the three Stanley Cup championships the Chicago Blackhawks have won during the past six seasons, the one they clinched with a 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at United Center on Monday was the most difficult and least probable.

The Blackhawks played most of the Cup Final using four defensemen; one of them, Johnny Oduya, told he played the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final with a torn elbow tendon.

Chicago's top forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, were limited to one goal each in the six-game series by the Lightning defense.

The Blackhawks' four wins in the Cup Final weren't pretty, but they showed why they were the last team standing.

Here are five reasons the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup:

1. Shape-shifting -- The Blackhawks say they use their own style of play to win, but throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs they used adjusted to their opponents' style and were able to use it against them. The Lightning was the latest team to lose at its own game.

Tampa Bay played great defense, but Chicago was better. The Blackhawks allowed 10 goals in six games, two in the final three. They broke up an increasing amount of plays before the Lightning were able to transition into the Blackhawks zone.

The Blackhawks usually play a strong defensive game but typically use it to create extra time in the offensive zone. The Lightning didn't allow that to happen much; the Blackhawks scored 13 goals in the series. But it was enough, because when the need arose for stronger defensive play, the Blackhawks ramped up theirs enough to grind out wins.

2. Deeper contributions -- In a series that featured little offensive input from star players on either side, the deciding factor became which team got more key goals from depth players. That team was the Blackhawks because of forwards Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen.

Teravainen earned the nickname "Finnish Cold" for his goal and assist that led to the Blackhawks' 2-1 victory in Game 1 at Amalie Arena, and Saad scored in Games 3 and 4 at United Center. His goal in Game 4 was the game-winner, which turned out to be the first of three straight victories for the Blackhawks.

Teravainen, a 20-year-old rookie, showed great development during the postseason and might have earned himself a top-six role next season. Saad, 23, is about to make a lot more money this offseason. An impending restricted free agent, the Blackhawks are expected to sign him to a new contract or match any offer sheet he might sign with another team.

3. Corey Crawford -- The adversity Crawford had to endure at the start of the playoffs could be enough to ruin other goalies. Pulled after the first period of the first game of the first round against the Nashville Predators, Crawford was relegated to backup duty behind Scott Darling to start Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the first round.

Crawford wasn't happy but channeled his anger into an impressive comeback. After replacing Darling and helping the Blackhawks win Game 6 against the Predators, Crawford became one of the Blackhawks' best players and stole several key victories, including Games 1 and 5 of the Cup Final, with a shutout in Game 6.

4. Superhuman defensemen -- Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler had one of the most memorable quotes of the 2015 playoffs when he said "No human can withstand that many hits," referring to the physical play the Blackhawks' top four defensemen absorbed in a grueling seven-game Western Conference Final.

At the time, coach Joel Quenneville was using his top four defensemen about 85 percent of the time. Rather than backing off, he pushed the pedal down and played them 90 percent of the time the rest of that series and through the Cup Final.

Conn Smythe Trophy winner Duncan Keith spearheaded the charge, but just as impressive was the ability of Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Oduya to handle the taxing workloads with virtually no drop in their play. There were those who doubted they could sustain it and win the Cup, but no doubts remain now.

5. Kane's clavicle -- When Kane left the ice at United Center on Feb. 24 because of a fractured left clavicle sustained in a game against the Florida Panthers, the thought was he wouldn't return until the conference final at the earliest.

Losing their leading scorer and a Hart Trophy contender could have been crushing, but the Blackhawks were able to take advantage of the situation.

With Kane placed on long-term injured reserve, the Blackhawks had enough salary-cap space to acquire defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the Philadelphia Flyers, center Antoine Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes, and forward Andrew Desjardins from the San Jose Sharks. The extra depth paid dividends in the postseason. Vermette scored three game-winning goals, including in Games 1 and 5 of the Cup Final. Desjardins and Timonen added valuable depth.

Kane didn't miss a single playoff game, returning in time to play Game 1 of the first round against the Predators.

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