CHICAGO -- When the Stanley Cup finally made it onto the ice at the United Center, its arrival was accompanied by the strains of "Fanfare for the Common Man."
But while the majestic entrance was made for such a moment, make no mistake there is nothing common whatsoever about the Chicago Blackhawks.
In fact, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman strode onto the red carpet next to the great silver trophy, the United Center's sellout crowd still standing as it had been since the final moments ticked away in the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, he told the fans in the stands and the players and coaches on the ice what most already knew.
“I’d say you have a dynasty,” Bettman said.
Dynasty or not -- Patrick Kane would later admit he wasn’t even sure what the term actually means but figured winning three championships in six years was defining -- all of that winning puts the Blackhawks in a unique position among NHL teams.
Their consistent greatness, their consistent ability to navigate the salary-cap world and still find ways to win at the highest level when the games mean the most -- as they did Monday night -- makes them the gold standard.
Quite simply, they stand alone.
“We have players that believe we can win every night,” said Patrick Sharp, one of eight regulars from the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team who were on the ice Monday night.
“We’ve got an organization that does whatever they can to make it, give us a chance to win. To make our lives comfortable. It’s the best place to play in the league, here in Chicago. Great feeling to win again."
Six years ago, when Kane scored the overtime winner in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers, those core players were in completely different phases of their lives.
Since that time, they've grown -- older, yes, but also in myriad other ways.
Look around the ice on Monday night and look at the number of young children being held by those players.
Through it all, the team has forged an uncanny ability to deliver.
What are the elements to that success?
“A lot of different things,” said Kane, who chose an opportune time to score his first goal of the series, an insurance marker late in the third period.
“Experience. We’ve been here before. We kind of know what it takes. Great goaltending,” added Kane, the playoff MVP from the Hawks' 2013 Cup win. “So we’ve been around the block once or twice. And I think we enjoy these moments. We enjoy being in these situations. Who knows how many opportunities are going to come along even after this?”
Maybe greatness is a little bit like art: You can still enjoy it without knowing how to describe it.
“Same with [the] Anaheim series. It’s so tight,” Sharp said. “Every shift’s important. I wish I could tell you the answer. I know we’ve got a lot of players on our team that want the puck on their stick in big games. Maybe that’s the difference. Who knows? But it’s a great team from top to bottom.”
Kris Versteeg was with the club in 2010 but was a casualty of the team’s post-Cup salary cap dispersal sale that saw a handful of key players traded away that offseason.
He returned to the team last year, and although he was in and out of the lineup this playoff season, he helped set up the winning goal in Game 5 and was in the lineup for Game 6.
He was joined on the ice by his newborn son.
“It’s incredible,” Versteeg said. “My son’s first game, and he gets to see a Stanley Cup. Yeah. Pretty amazing.”
The calmness in the Chicago locker room makes these kinds of games easier to play in, he said.
“I just think the clutch moments,” he said, "they find ways in clutch moments. It almost makes you not nervous because you always feel you’re going to find a way. That’s what seems to happen."
Versteeg played his first NHL game as a Blackhawk during the 2007-08 season. It was a team still very much in transition.
“When I first came here, there were 7,000 people in the crowd,” Versteeg recalled. “To see what this is now, it’s ridiculous, it’s a whole monster and hopefully it can be tamed.”
The man who has presided over this remarkable sporting renaissance is owner Rocky Wirtz. He took over the team after his father, Bill Wirtz, passed away, turning a league laughingstock into something dynastic. Wirtz was appreciative of Bettman's comments, but he figures these championships are more like “a reinvention” than a true dynasty.
Whatever you want to call it, does it get old, all this celebrating?
“No, it never gets old,” Wirtz told ESPN.com. “But I have to tell you this was the longest day waiting for this game, and once it started, it was the longest game I’ve ever been at in my life. I didn’t want to jinx myself by getting too far ahead of myself. I sound like one of the players. I just sat there and just took it all in and it really felt good.”
He admitted that even he didn’t see this kind of success coming when he took over.
“I know no one else saw it coming, either,” he added.
Now, he said, it’s like a tidal wave.
Looking around the ice at the United Center, it was easy to identify all the different components of a champion.
There were the supporting players, those brought in to fulfill specific needs or roles at various points in the season, and the up-and-coming players who perhaps overachieved, became part of the process before people imagined they might -- players such as Teuvo Teravainen and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Van Riemsdyk missed much of the season because of injury, but coach Joel Quenneville had such confidence in the rookie college free-agent signee that he put him in the lineup in the finals after he was medically cleared to play.
“It’s pretty awesome to have that trust in me to throw me out here,” van Riemsdyk told ESPN.com.
So, who passed him the Cup?
"Scotty Darling, I think. I don’t even remember. I blacked out, I think,” he said with a smile. “Light as a feather. It’s been a long year and it’s all worth it to have an ending like this.”
Nearby, his parents and two brothers waited to share the moment.
“It’s incredible,” said James van Riemsdyk, one of Trevor's brothers and a forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I know the road that he’s taken to get here and especially this past year all the adversity he’s fought through, and if anyone deserves it, it’s him."
At the opposite end of the spectrum are players such as Antoine Vermette, who was acquired at the trade deadline and who will hit the market as a free agent. And Kimmo Timonen, the classy Finnish defenseman who, at 40, is retiring now as a champion. And veteran Brad Richards, who signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks after he was bought out of his contract by the New York Rangers last June.
He will be moving on, too, but the 2004 playoff MVP with Tampa was on the ice on this night with his own infant son, relishing a long-awaited return to this stage.
“This is something I only watched from the outside last time I won,” Richards said, his slumbering son snuggled happily in a papoose slung over the player's jersey. “I was young and no family, no children. And that’s why I really wanted this one, so I could have some memories with this guy. He’s going to be in the Cup this summer. We’re going to have some family memories that’ll last forever."
Watching Richards and his young family, it reinforced the idea that as much as a team like this has its distinct identity, it is still made up of individuals and that each person on the ice celebrating this win would remember it in a distinct way.
“I’ll be honest: Last June was, that week where we lost [in the Stanley Cup finals] and getting bought out, I was pretty down on my luck,” Richards said. “I just can’t believe the difference a year makes and what I’m doing tonight. You always stick with it, do the right things and you hope everything’ll work out, and it did.”
You could say the same thing about this Chicago Blackhawks team.