Duncan Keith keys Blackhawks’ success, wins Conn Smythe Trophy

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center.

CHICAGO — When Patrick Kane scored a late third-period goal to give the Chicago Blackhawks breathing room in their quest to win another Stanley Cup, 40-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen was overcome by emotion.

“I was crying a little bit,” Timonen said. “Tears were coming out of my eyes because I knew it would be hard to score two goals against (our) team.”.

When the crowd counted down the final seconds of a 2-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Timonen had the first Stanley Cup championship of his career and the Blackhawks owned their third in the past six seasons.

“I’d say you have a dynasty,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said before handing the Stanley Cup to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

The Blackhawks are unquestionably the most accomplished franchise in the salary cap era. Since 2009, they have won 73 playoff games and three Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015). The Los Angeles Kings are the only other franchise that has won two Stanley Cups since the cap was introduced in 2005.

Chicago players say they have run out of words to describe how important defenseman Duncan Keith is to their success.

But they will somehow have to expand their vocabulary to find more superlatives because his legend expanded again when he scored a Stanley Cup-clinching goal and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff Most Valuable Player.

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“There is nothing that Duncan Keith doesn’t do as well as or better than everyone else in the league,” said Toews.

Per his custom, Keith made a smart play at the right time to score the only goal the Blackhawks truly needed at 17:13 of the second period.

Cruising into the Tampa zone late in the second period, Keith took a pass from Patrick Kane and fired a shot on goal that Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop blocked. Bishop’s problem was that he spit out a rebound and Keith went around his checker Cedric Paquette and flipped the rebound over Bishop for his 21st point of the playoffs.

Although the Blackhawks have known considerable success in recent years, this Cup will be remembered because it was the first won in Chicago since 1938.

“We talked about after we won our second one we said ultimately if you could ever win one here in Chicago that would be the ultimate Stanley Cup,” Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough said. “I think they’re going to be celebrating in Chicago the entire summer.”.

Keith was clearly the best player in the NHL playoffs this season, setting a franchise record of 18 assists in the postseason by a defenseman. He also became only the fourth non-goalie to log more than 700 minutes of playing time in a playoff year, joining Drew Doughty (2014), Chris Pronger (2006) and Nicklas Lidstrom (2002).

It was Keith who launched the Predators’ playoff run by scoring an overtime goal to defeat the Nashville Predators 4-3 in their first game of the playoffs. He had three goals in the playoffs, and all of them were game-winners. He led all league defensemen in scoring and plus-minus (+16).

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This series will be remembered as one of the most competitive Stanley Cup Finals in NHL history.

“It was really hard as to look at (my players and coaches) and see how crushed they truly are,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

The Blackhawks and Lightning are similar teams, with dynamic offenses and mobile defenses. No team ever forged a two-goal lead until Kane scored with 5:14 left in the third period to give the Blackhawks a cushion. Chicago’s other three wins in the series came by scores of 2-1. In the end, it was probably experience that provided the Blackhawks with the edge they needed to get past the Lightning.

Coach Joel Quenneville’s team proved again that they have the league’s best survival skills. The key to their success has been their ability to keep games close until one of the Blackhawks steps up and wins it with an exceptional individual effort.

“We know how to play the game and we know there’s going to be rough times,” Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa said. “We believe in our system. Our coaching staff was unbelievable. We’ve done it again and it’s unbelievable.”.

Chicago goalie Corey Crawford started slowly, even losing the starting job in the first round, but he played impressively in the Stanley Cup Final. He gave up only two goals in the final three games of the series. He made 25 saves in the clinching game.

“Unbelievable feeling,” Crawford said. “Unbelievable feeling. Its hard to describe. You could never describe it. “.

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The Blackhawks may have wanted this Stanley Cup even more than the other two because there is a strong possibility that the team will make some significant roster changes this summer for salary cap reasons.

Toews said he told Timonen Monday morning that he would get to hoist the Stanley Cup first if the Blackhawks won.

“He said, ‘Holy something,’ and he skated off really fast,” Toews said. “I kind of expected him to get fired up, maybe raise his heart rate a little bit this morning. … It’s awesome. It’s awesome to win but also more than anything to win for guys like that.”.

Timonen has been in the NHL since he debuted with the Nashville Predators in 1998.

“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I can tell you that. Last August I didn’t know if I could play anymore, but my desire was so deep inside that I wanted to give it one more shot. But obviously doctors said, ‘Hold on boy.'”.

After Timonen was cleared to play by doctors, the Philadelphia Flyers traded him to the Blackhawks who were looking for depth on the blue line.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s been unreal.”.

PHOTOS: Best of Stanley Cup Final.