Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blackhawks outlast Bruins in triple OT classic

There a few things in sport that compare to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The intensity level and desperation the players bring to the rink, compared to a regular season tilt, is quite literally night and day. It is without question as grueling a competition as you will find for any trophy in team sports. Before a team earns the right  to hoist the Cup, they must embark on a two month journey, in which players are typically pushed to their limits.

While always entertaining, we occasionally get those special moments that will forever live as part of the game's history and in the minds of those who were lucky enough to witness it. Last night's opening game of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, was one of those moments. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the result was a near carbon copy of the last time they found themselves in a similar predicament...during the 1990 Final against the Edmonton Oilers.

Back on May 15, 1990, Petr Klima scored the winner at the 15:13 mark of the third overtime, propelling the Oilers to a 3-2 victory in the opener of the series. To this day, it remains the longest game in Stanley Cup Final history, though the Hawks and Bruins did their best to surpass it with this year's opening act.

On a night in which the two sides combined for 117 shots on goal, Boston(54) and Chicago(63), it was a point shot off the stick of defenceman Michal Rozsival that proved to be the difference. Rozsival's shot changed directions twice, first clipping off Dave Bolland and than Andrew Shaw, before finding its way behind a helpless Tuukka Rask.

Just like that, Chicago had themselves a come from behind 4-3 victory and major momentum heading into Game Two. The goal came at the 12:08 mark of the third extra session, falling short of Klima's record, but still managing to hand hockey fans across the globe, a memory they soon won't forget.

Right from the drop of the puck, this one had all the makings of a beauty. The opening three and half minutes of play featured some of the finest end-to-end action seen during this year's post-season. Both sides were trading chances but it was the usually subdued Hawks, that were pounding bodies at every turn. They wanted to the Bruins to know they were going to be every bit as physical as their Eastern Conference foe.   

Unfortunately for Chicago, that overzealous style would prove to be rather costly. as Niklas Hjalmarsson was simply outsmarted by Boston's David Krejci, leading directly to Milan Lucic's series icebreaker. It would only get worse from there, as Lucic would bury his second early in period two, courtesy of a lazy backcheck from Patrick Kane, making it 2-0 for the Bruins.

Brandon Saad wasted little time responding, wiring his first of the post-season past Rask, just over two minutes later, and suddenly the Blackhawks had life. Chicago would be handed a glorious opportunity to draw even before the period was out but accomplished absolutely nothing on three chances with the man advantage, including a five-on-three for well over a minute.

Boston would restore their two goal cushion six minutes into the third, as Patrice Bergeron rifled a laser past Corey Crawford with the Hawks down a man, to make it 3-1. At that point, game one seemed to be all but over. It was pretty simple. The Bruins converted on their chance with the man advantage and Chicago did not.

There was no way they were scoring two, never mind three, more goals on the Bruins starter netminder. It was time to focus on Game Two and ensure the did not suffer the same fate as the Pittsburgh Penguins during the Eastern Conference Final. Fortunately for us, the Hawks had not thrown in the towel quite yet.

Dave Bolland would cut the lead to one at the 8:00 mark, after just an awful clearance attempt by rookie blueliner Torey Krug. Four minutes later, Chicago would complete the comeback, when Johnny Oduya's point shot deflected off the skate of Andrew Ference and into the back of the Bruins net. It was a tough break for the visitors and one that was made far worse, with the fact Oduya's shot was headed well wide before glancing off the foot of the Boston rearguard.

From that point on, the goalies stole the show, as both teams turned it up a notch in overtime. Rask was looking more and more like a brick wall as this one moved deeper into OT. He turned away one wave after another and do so in such manner, that beating him on anything other than a lucky break, seemed to be an impossibility. Whereas Crawford was equally as good, if not better, making a brilliant stop off Tyler Seguin and robbing Nathan Horton at the doorstep, to keep the Blackhawks in it.

Both Horton and Chara hit the post during overtime, with the towering blueliner's coming in the dying seconds of period number five. The fact they both came with  the Bruins on the man advantage, courtesy of a pair of too many men on the ice penalties from the Blackhawks, only made things worse.

Neither side appeared to have much left in the tank for period six, making the likelihood of a fourth overtime session almost a foregone conclusion. Which is when it happened. On a seemingly innocent play, a harmless looking wrist shot found its way through a maze of bodies and brought what had become an instant classic, to a rather abrupt end.

The United Center erupted in celebration, while the Bruins and their fans were left thinking of what might have been and back to that dreadful night of May 15, 1990.

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