CHICAGO -- The 2012 Cup champs are off the checklist.
Now for those 2011 Cup champs, so bring on the Boston Bruins.
The Chicago Blackhawks booked their ticket to an Original Six Stanley Cup finals Saturday night with a dramatic end to a Western Conference finals that nearly needed a few extra days.
But Patrick Kane avoided subjecting his team to a long plane ride back to Los Angeles for Game 6 when he rifled a one-timer off an all-world pass from Jonathan Toews past Jonathan Quick, Kane's hat trick goal 11:40 into double overtime nearly bringing down the Madhouse on Madison in a 4-3 win.
"You know what, big two wins the last couple games, especially tonight, after they came back and tied it up with nine seconds left," Kane said. "For us to hang in there in the first overtime and pull it out in the second overtime was huge. We definitely didn't want to go back to L.A. Just a huge win to get us to the final."
The Bruins and Blackhawks open the Stanley Cup finals with Game 1 here Wednesday, the winner of the series being able to claim almost a mini-dynasty in the salary-cap era.
"It's exciting," Blackhawks winner Patrick Sharp, a holdover from the 2010 Cup champion Hawks, said. "For a couple years, it was tough just getting out [of] that first round. I've been watching Boston play in the East; they look like they're rolling. Another tough series ahead of us, but it's an exciting time."
First, though, the Hawks had to get there, and the defending champs from L.A. on Saturday night left it all on the ice in trying to force Game 6.
After Duncan Keith and Kane had scored to give Chicago an early 2-0 lead, the Kings were under siege, and it looked liked it might end up a blowout. But goals from Dwight King, short-handed, in the second period and a power-play marker by Anze Kopitar early in the third period tied the game 2-2.
When Kane went upstairs on Quick with 3:52 left in the third, it appeared the Hawks had booked their ticket. The party was on.
Ah, but the defending champs weren’t done just yet.
Mike Richards, back after missing a week with a concussion, tied it with 10 seconds remaining, sending gasps through the United Center crowd.
"Man, nine seconds left and they score," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said. "We've been through so much so far in the playoffs, and we've been able to play our game after something like that happens. That was just another step for us."
The Kings dominated the first overtime session but couldn’t finish, which allowed the Hawks to regroup for double OT.
Toews and Kane broke in on a 2-on-1 break -- the Kings' nemesis all series long was giving up too many odd-man rushes and turning the puck over way too many times -- the Hawks captain waited for just the right time to send the puck across to Kane for the winner.
Some Kings players bent over in agony, crushed by the heartbreak of the moment.
"We wanted to keep playing," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "We wanted to play until the end of June, and that was our goal, that was our mindset. We just didn’t have it against these guys. They’re a great team. [I] Wish them all the best. They’ve got a lot of great players, and they play their system and they’re well coached. We just couldn’t find a way to win a road game I was just disappointed. You can’t be happy with losing. You never are, whether it’s Western Conference finals or Stanley Cup finals or not even making the playoffs. It’s that same empty feeling.”
Back in the Cup finals for the second time in three seasons, the Blackhawks are on a roll, winning seven of their past eight games.
"We've had an interesting playoffs," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think as we progressed here, [we] had an ordinary start in the first series, on the ropes [down 3-1] against Detroit. I thought we've gotten better as we've gone along in these playoffs. You look back over several games of your career; that was a game you'll always remember tonight. That was an amazing hockey game. Give L.A. credit. You go up a goal late in the game. The guys, commend them, staying positive, persevering. L.A. might have played their best in overtime this series. Finding a way was exactly what we were looking for."
The 2010 champs versus the 2011 champs. Two Original Six franchises. Two great hockey markets.
Can it get any better?
"It's a special couple places. The tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special," Quenneville said. "I'm sure, you know, the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1.
"I think it's good for the league. It's good for hockey. Two great hockey markets. We're very excited to be a part of it."