CHICAGO - At the Northeast corner of the United Center, just across the street from where Chicago Stadium used to be, there are two bronzed statues that you can’t help but be consumed by.
One is of Stan Mikita. The other is of Bobby Hull. Perhaps the two greatest players in Chicago Blackhawks history.
Yet if this current Blackhawks team – still dressed in the bright red of the greatest uniform in the sport – wins two more games against the Boston Bruins in this Stanley Cup final, it will mark the second championship season for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
That would be one more than the celebrated Mikita and Hull managed in the 13 years they dominated together with the Hawks.
And somehow that seems wrong and yet so very right all at the same time. Almost like you want a recount on those old Chicago teams and wonder how it is that Hull and Mikita, with Glenn Hall in goal and Pierre Pilote on defence, didn’t win more than once.
In a six-team league.
Doesn’t add up.
It’s a similar yet different story with the Bruins.
The greatest Bruin of them all, maybe the greatest player of all, Bobby Orr, won two Stanley Cups and the greatest Boston scorer there has ever been, Phil Esposito, was a huge part of those teams.
But should the Bruins win two of the next three games, it will mean that Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron will have an equal number of championships to Orr and Esposito.
Chara and Bergeron. Orr and Esposito. Toews and Kane. Hull and Mikita.
One of these things is not like the other. Yet in a team sense and in a different time it brings some historical reference to just how great this year’s Stanley Cup matchup is and how important these teams can become.
Here are the Bruins and the Blackhawks, and one of these teams will do the near impossible in the days to come: Win the Cup for a second time. The same number of championships that Pittsburgh won with Mario Lemieux. One more than the current Penguins have won with Sidney Crosby.
Either it will be Toews 2, Crosby 1. Or Bergeron 2, Crosby 1.
And all of of this coming at a time when the Cup has never been more difficult to win. To think that this year’s Bruins or this year’s Hawks are greater than the Orr-Esposito teams or the Mikita-Hull is ludicrous in thought and statistics, just not in delivery.
And if you really want to break it down, you can argue that one of Boston’s championships with Orr and Esposito was just slightly tainted by the expansion from six teams to 12 when the NHL oddly determined that existing teams would play in one conference, new teams in the other, and the winners would meet for the Cup.
No doubt the Bruins victory over the New York Rangers in 1972 against such players as Jean Ratelle, Ed Giacomin, Brad Park and Rod Gilbert had to be more meaningful than the win two years earlier over Scotty Bowman’s St. Louis Blues, Orr’s picturesque overtime goal notwithstanding.
And, looking back, how great were Hull and Mikita? Hull was a five-time 50-goal scorer and when he managed it for the fifth time in Chicago, there were only six other 50 goal scoring seasons in history.
Mikita led the NHL in scoring four times in his career and in one five-year period, either Mikita or Hull led the league in scoring. For a four-year stint in the 1960s, the Hart Trophy was presented to Hull two years in a row, followed by Mikita the next two years.
That wasn’t necessarily unique at that time. After the four straight Chicago Hart Trophy wins, Boston won the next four: Esposito once, Orr, in the three years that followed.
How the Blackhawks only won the Cup once with Hull and Mikita and the Bruins won just twice with Orr and Esposito is hard to quantify all these years later.
In the six-team NHL, four teams made the playoffs and it took eight wins for a parade. In the 12-team league, the division between haves and have-nots in the early picks post-expansion, made the Cup final almost an afterthought.
The Blackhawks won in 1961 and never really came close again. One of the best Chicago teams was beaten out by the Maple Leafs in 1967, the last Toronto championship, and the star of that playoff run was Dave Keon, who won his fourth and final Cup that year.
The player in today’s NHL who most resembles Keon in style and size – and happens to be Keon’s favourite player to watch – is Toews.
Keon didn’t, like Hull or Mikita, get the most goals or the most assists. He did a lot of everything, the way Bergeron, a larger version of the same, does for the Bruins.
There are few cities that cherish and celebrate their sporting heroes the way Boston does. From Ted Williams to Larry Bird to Orr to Carl Yastrzemski to Bill Russell there are trails of greatness, not all of which lead to championships.
But in recent years with Tom Brady and the Patriots winning three Super Bowls, the two Red Sox World Series wins and the Bruins’ Cup win two years ago, here is this year’s Boston team, with big Chara and big-hearted Bergeron along with coach Claude Julien, two victories away from equalling the modern history of the Red Sox, equalling Orr and Esposito in rings but not necessarilyfame.
It doesn’t feel right or sound right. But one team in this Stanley Cup final, tied at two games apiece, is about to make some history.
Considering the names and the players of the past, that alone is somewhat miraculous.