Top Shelf: Shortened season ends in glory for Hawks

Several months ago, when it seemed like yet another NHL season would be lost to labor strife, hockey fans lamented the potential loss of their beloved Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fittingly, this year's Stanley Cup Finals -- a battle that almost never was -- served as a shining example of what the NHL's loyal masses were so scared of losing, even if it only was for a year.

Even better, if you could bottle up what makes the postseason so special to the legions of NHL fans all over the world, it would look a lot like the last two minutes of Game 6. Just like that, a season that so easily could've been scrapped due to a petty battle over dollars and cents, ended up showing the sport in a much more favorable light.

Although the Chicago Blackhawks were the ones lifting Lord Stanley's Cup in jubilation at the end of Monday's thrilling Game 6 battle, the real winners were the fans who love professional hockey and want nothing more than to see it thrive.

Really, the only people who could be disappointed in the way the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals ended were the ones rooting for the Boston Bruins, and it'd be hard to blame them for not seeing this crushing loss as a victory for the sport. After all, the B's seemed to have a potential Game 7 in their sights before disaster struck.

For six games -- three of which ended in overtime -- the Blackhawks and Bruins treated the hockey-loving public to a battle for the ages. A series that began with a triple-overtime victory for the Blackhawks in Game 1, was never short on drama, but nothing matched the hysteria at the end of Game 6.

Trailing by a 2-1 score after Boston's Milan Lucic staked his club to a lead with 7:49 left in the third, the Bruins appeared poised to send this series back to Chicago for a Game 7 on Wednesday.

The Blackhawks, of course, had other ideas.

Bryan Bickell tied the score for Chicago with 1:16 remaining on the clock, deflating, but not yet killing the spirit of the hometown crowd.

Unfortunately, Bruins fans didn't have to wait long to see their ultimate nightmare become a reality, as Dave Bolland all but shattered their Cup dreams with the go-ahead goal just 17 seconds later.

"Yeah, it's kind of like the season we had," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "It was one of those seasons we were saying, we're almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended. Nobody saw that one coming either way."

Sure, Boston still had 59 seconds with which to mount a comeback of their own, but much like those of us watching in amazement, the Bruins seemed unable to recover from the shocking turn of events. Soon enough, the final horn sounded and the Blackhawks leapt for joy on the TD Garden ice. The only thing left for the Bruins and their fans to do was ponder what went so horribly wrong in those fateful final minutes.

As a result of Chicago's furious comeback, the Blackhawks returned to the winner's circle for the second time since ending a nearly half-century championship drought in 2010. The Bruins, meanwhile, were denied a second title in three years, as the club failed to wear down Chicago the way it did Vancouver over the course of seven games in 2011.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Monday's finish ensured the 2012-13 season would be remembered for more than the lockout that caused the campaign to begin in January, and not October.

With the way the playoffs ended, we can all be glad this hockey season came later rather than never.