Kimmo Timonen: I leave this game a champion

CHICAGO -- When Patrick Kane scored Monday night, Kimmo Timonen began crying on the bench. He couldn’t help it. What he had been dreaming about all these years, it was about to come true.

When Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews handed him the trophy first over any of his teammates, Timonen took it, gratified and honored to be soaking in this moment. Finally.

When he saw his family on the ice for the first time since he hoisted the Stanley Cup, he trailed off midsentence, skating over to them and said nothing, just smothered them with an embrace and held them tight.

And when he was asked what this meant, for an illustrious career and the immediate future ahead, the 40-year-old veteran defenseman did not hesitate: "That’s it."

Timonen, one of the most widely revered, well-respected, gentlemanly players of his generation, will retire like this. There will be no lingering doubt, no second-guessing, no regrets.

It was everything he had ever hoped. And now he can walk away.

"I leave this game as a Stanley Cup champion," Timonen said. "And I can’t ask for anything more than that."

The proud Finn wanted this so badly that he was willing to risk his health and his future for one last shot at the gleaming, sparkling trophy that had eluded him throughout his fine career. It is what drove him into Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall's office day after day, fighting to get a chance to come back following a harrowing blood clot diagnosis last summer that robbed him of almost the entire season and threatened to halt his career.

It is ultimately what led this long journey to take a circuitous route through Chicago, following a trade before the deadline this season that would embed him in a Blackhawks locker room already replete with leadership and experience.

It might not have always made sense to most people, but this was his chance, and he did not want to be denied.

"It’s been a long journey. I can tell you that," said Timonen, who first broke into the league with the Nashville Predators in the 1998-99 season. "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."

That he had been a member of the Blackhawks' franchise for just a few months, yet was still the first to get the handoff when Toews completed his victory lap, shows his stead in this game.

That his teammates urged him to skate with it a bit longer gives a glimpse into their appreciation for him both as a player and a person.

Toews told him Monday morning that he better be ready if the team won. He made good on that promise.

"He said, 'Holy something' and he skated off really fast. I kind of expected him to get fired up, maybe raise his heart rate a little bit this morning," Toews said. "It's awesome to win but also more than anything to win for guys like that and guys like [Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Andrew Desjardins], guys that came into our lineup around the deadline. I could go on all day talking about how happy I am for these guys."

Timonen’s fellow Finn, 20-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, said that in the days leading up to Game 6, there were times he had to be the one to soothe the nerves of his elder countryman. For Teravainen, this was a joy ride. But for Timonen, there was so much more at stake.

Even Timonen admitted he lied Saturday morning when he told reporters he had slept OK. He had not.

But he likely will on Saturday night.

"It’s unbelievable," Teravainen said. "He had an unbelievable, great career. I’m so happy for him. He’s 40 and I’m 20 and we both get the Stanley Cup for the first time. It’s unbelievable."

Timonen has perspective on this, too. He was on the losing side of things in 2010, when his Flyers were defeated in the finals by the Blackhawks -- a dream shattered, ironically, by another Patrick Kane goal.

Kane managed to deliver the heroics again, adding an insurance goal to make it 2-0 in the third period -- one that made Timonen’s eyes fill with tears.

"I was crying a little bit. There were tears coming out of my eyes because I knew that it was going to be ... two goals against this team, it was going to be hard to score," Timonen said. "I knew we had a really good chance to win it."

Kane was just thrilled that he got to see Timonen have his time with the trophy.

"That was a fun moment," Kane said.

Even his longtime agent, Markus Lehto, was on the verge of tears when he gave one of his oldest clients a warm embrace on the ice afterward. There were times even he had doubts about how all this would work out. In the end, no one could have imagined it any better.

"Maybe I’m just a typical Finn, but I’m feeling pretty empty. I feel so great about it," Lehto told ESPN.com. "The happy ending is like a storybook."

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, who brought Timonen to Chicago in a trade in late February, couldn’t have been happier, either.

"It’s an incredible feeling. I’m so proud of him to end it like that," Bowman said. "What an ending."

Meanwhile, Timonen was huddled with his family: his wife, Johanna, and three kids, Samuel, Ella and Ava. He wore a huge smile and had his arms surrounding his significant brood. He had played just three games in the series, but it didn't matter one bit.

This was a man who had chased the ultimate prize to the very end. And he never gave up.

"This was the dream," Timonen said. "Every time we talked about my coming back, this was the dream."