By Steve Keating
BOSTON (Reuters) - A National Hockey League season that nearly never was will be remembered as one of the greatest after the Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Boston Bruins on Monday for their second Stanley Cup in four years.
A labor dispute that delayed the start of the season by four months was all but forgotten when the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final came to a close with a wild Game Six that saw Chicago score 17 seconds apart in the final 76 seconds for a 3-2 win.
For Chicago, it was their third consecutive win and ended a season that began with the team setting an NHL record by going on a remarkable run in which they earned at least one point in their first 24 games.
"It was one of those seasons we were saying, we're almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters. "Nobody saw that one coming either way.
"A lot of great things in between, some great challenges in this playoff series or this playoff round, and then let alone the other three (series).
"But it was one of those seasons, fairytale ending and an amazing season."
While it was a fairy tale finish for the Blackhawks, it was a nightmare end to the season for Boston.
Bruins fans had believed the series was headed back to the Madhouse on Madison in Chicago for a winner-take-all Game Seven after Milan Lucic scored late in the third period to put the Bruins ahead 2-1.
But with the TD Garden in full party mode, the Blackhawks staged an improbable rally that is sure to go down as one of the most spectacular comebacks in a Stanley Cup clinching game.
With Chicago goalie Corey Crawford pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Bryan Bickell tied the game with a tap in from the side of net moments before Dave Bolland crushed Boston's Cup dreams when he drove a loose puck into the Bruins goal.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Blackhawks players poured off the team bench and tossed their sticks and gloves into the air as the arena fell silent.
By the time the Blackhawks paraded the treasured silver mug around the ice it was to a mostly deserted arena as Bruins fans had no interest in watching their Original Six rival celebrate.
While it was anything but hockey weather with temperatures soaring to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius), Boston had been caught in the grips of hockey fever with the Bruins facing a do-or-die moment needing a victory to extend the series.
With the Stanley Cup in the TD Garden and champagne on ice, it was all hands on deck for with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and Bruins top faceoff man Patrice Bergeron on the ice after missing the end the previous game with undisclosed injuries.
For many of the players who took part in the traditional hand shake at the end of the game, they were not so much winners as survivors of a punishing playoffs marathon that featured four hugely entertaining but bone-jarring best-of-seven series.
Toews was among the wounded, admitting afterwards that he had his bell rung in Game Five while Bergeron soldiered on despite a separated shoulder and damaged ribs.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner the last time the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, Toews was fit enough to tie the game after Chris Kelly had given Boston a 1-0 first period lead.
"Since the start of the Stanley Cup, we had some injuries," admitted Boston coach Claude Julien. "It's hard to keep guys out.
"They want to play through it and some guys were able to do that.
"But playing hurt is part of it, and our guys did that, and that's why I said earlier you've got to be extremely proud of those guys."
(Additional reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)