The Blackhawks' journey to their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons ended Monday with a boisterous celebration on the ice at the United Center followed by festivities that spilled into the wee hours Tuesday morning, leaking distinctive aromas of cigar smoke and champagne into the hallway outside the locker room.
Their journey back to the top began not with training camp last September but on that ice early last June, when they stood in stunned silence after the Kings beat them in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
"I think the guys remember last year, how important it is to find a way," Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said Monday. "It shows you the competitiveness of our group, how tough it really is to get back to where we were."
They got back because of the work and maturity of a remarkable core group and because General Manager Stan Bowman made some smart calls to acquire elements that complemented those top-tier players.
Bowman, son of legendary coach and club advisor Scotty Bowman, gave the team depth and increasingly valuable speed. The one certain impact of this Final will be that NHL general managers will covet the speed the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning displayed in their fast-paced series.
The six games were low-scoring because the teams' skills and strengths matched so well, not because of negative tactics. If fans are lucky, that pace will be copied throughout the league.
Maintaining that excellence is Bowman's next task.
Salary-cap problems forced him to massively revamp the roster soon after the Blackhawks' 2010 triumph, and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 before they won again in 2013.
He won't have to ax half the roster this time but he will have to rely on younger, cheaper players and continued player development. While on the ice Monday, Bowman said he had a plan in place to make all the math work next season, when long-term extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will kick in.
"We'll try to enjoy this for a little while, but we'll get it done, we always do," he said. "Obviously I've been thinking about that as well, but we're trying to enjoy this win as well."
Are the Blackhawks a dynasty? They and the Kings have won five of the last six championships, starting with Chicago in 2010. Since the Boston Bruins won in 2011, the Kings (2012 and 2014) and Blackhawks (2013 and 2015) have alternated as champions.
The Kings, unable to score and depleted by the physical style they played during three long playoff runs, missed the playoffs this season, so there was no showdown between the teams that are as close to being dynasties as possible under the parity-promoting salary-cap system. The Blackhawks probably are closer to that designation because of their third title.
"Kind of thought I'd get asked that question," Bowman said. "I don't think that's really for me to say. That's really for other people to make those proclamations.
"All I know is that we've got an amazing group here, they've accomplished a lot together, and I'm really proud of the effort they've given year after year. It doesn't always go your way but they've accomplished quite a bit and we're not finished."
There are many reasons to believe he's right. Toews, a three-time Cup winner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is only 27. Kane, a three-time Cup winner and Olympic silver medalist, will be 27 in November. Standout defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, a fearless shot-blocker, just hit 28. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, 23, and forward Teuvo Teravainen, not yet 21, are primed for bigger roles. Winger Brandon Saad, 22, might draw offer sheets as a restricted free agent but Bowman intends to keep him.
"It's incredible to be part of such a great team and to be able to have these experiences and be comfortable out here," Saad said. "Keep 'em coming."
The Blackhawks just might do that. "It's incredible," Toews said. "It gets better every time and to win again in our own city, in front of our own fans, it's crazy. I think it's what everyone wanted. It's what everyone was hoping for."