CHICAGO -- As long as they were here in the Windy City, the teams should have invited Ernie Banks to join them. Let's play almost two!
In one of the longest, most memorable and draining matches in Stanley Cup Final history, the Chicago Blackhawks needed five-and-a-half periods and two deflections of a shot by defenseman Michal Rozsival, the first by Dave Bolland, the second by Andrew Shaw, with 7:52 left in triple overtime, to gain a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 1. By then, the opening face-off seemed like a distant memory.
"It wasn't going to be pretty at that point," Shaw said. "A tip or something could do it."
It did, but not before the teams had exhausted nearly every other way to win the game. Boston and Chicago combined for 117 shots on goal, 120 hits, and three penalties for too many men on the ice, including a pair by the Hawks in overtime of what was clearly a battle of attrition. For the Blackhawks, it was their second straight multi-OT game since eliminating Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals.
"It's not easy to play six periods," Bolland said. "By the time five rolls around, your legs are cramping up and it's really tough to stay hydrated."
The Bruins struck first on a pair of goals by forward Milan Lucic. On the first, Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson went for the big hit behind the net against Boston forward Rich Peverley and delivered the hit solidly, but Peverley still managed to gain control of the puck. He then worked a tic-tac-toe passing play to Nathan Horton and finally Lucic in the slot. Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, was pulled over too far to his right side to make the adjustment, leaving Lucic with room to bury the shot at the 13:11 mark. But Lucic wasn't done. Just 51 seconds into the second period, he worked a give and go with David Krejci, who flipped a nifty backhand pass into the slot for Lucic to bury with a shot that went off Crawford's pads. Despite the two tallies, the 'Hawks' goalie was still sharp for most of the night as he faced a total of 63 shots.
During one early sequence, Crawford reached out to make a stylish glove save on Brad Marchand, who was no more than 15 feet in front of him. His next save, which may not make the same impression on the highlight reels, was actually better. With Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy sliding in front of him and inadvertently making contact, Crawford was able to see through the screen and stretch out his left pad to make a toe stop on Tyler Seguin, who had a number of good chances throughout the game. Seguin was later moved up to the line with Lucic and Krejci when Nathan Horton went down with an injury in the third period.
Give Marian Hossa full marks for Chicago's first goal of the series. He worked his way into the left corner and outdueled both Horton and Dennis Seidenberg for the puck before poking it to Brandon Saad in the slot. Saad then beat Tuukka Rask over the left shoulder. It was the first goal that Boston's netminder had surrendered in nearly eight periods.
The Bruins hadn't scored a power-play goal since their second-round series against the Rangers, and the Hawks' magical penalty-killing combination of Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger had been fabulous. But six minutes into the third period, it was Frolik who took down Boston's Zdeno Chara with a trip in the offensive zone. Bruins coach Claude Julien made a key decision to use Chara on the point instead of Torey Krug, presumably because it would be harder for Chicago to create a shorthanded chance against the veteran Norris Trophy-winner than the inexperienced rookie. The move proved to be smart on two fronts. First, Chara made an important keep-in during the power play, enabling the Bruins to set up a sequence with Seguin feeding Patrice Bergeron, who put Boston up 3-1 with six minutes gone in the third period.
On the next shift, Krug, who has been generally fairly secure during the playoffs, made a rare giveaway by trying a long diagonal pass out of his own zone when the safe path along the left boards was available. Shaw intercepted the puck at the blueline and fed Bolland, who beat Rask for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Hawks caught a break with 7:46 to play, as Johnny Oduya drove a shot that was going perhaps a foot wide of Rask's left side. Instead it hit the left skate of Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who was turned toward the corner. The puck slid slowly behind Rask and into the net.
That started the long march into and through overtime.
Boston had three good chances to win in the first extra session, but Crawford made excellent stops on Shawn Thornton, Rich Peverley and Seguin.
In the second OT, Patrick Kane appeared to have the game won for Chicago, but after he collected a rebound with Rask down, the puck rolled off the end of his stick. And with the 'Hawks serving their second penalty of the game for too many men on the ice, Chara drove a shot in the closing seconds that Jagr tipped off the post. It would have been Jagr's first goal of the playoffs.
"Both teams were kicking, trying to survive," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Every time you go on the ice, you think this is going to be the one."
The Bruins missed a golden opportunity in triple OT when Kaspars Daugavins, the replacement for injured center Gregory Campbell, had the game-winner on the edge of his stick with Crawford sprawled out of position. But Daugavins fell forward while trying to shift the puck to his backhand and was unable to take advantage of the wide-open net. "When I was falling forward, that tied up my hands and I couldn't get off a shot," he said.
Both teams were getting sloppy. Jagr and Lucic threw the best checks of the night -- against each other during a center ice collision.
The fifth-longest Cup final game was finally ended in pinball fashion by Rozsival's fairly innocent-looking long shot from the right point that Bolland tipped into Shaw, who was arriving in front of the net.
"Especially in the third overtime, you know everyone is thinking, 'keep it simple,'" Rask said. "That's what everybody's doing. Both teams aren't trying to make big plays. So as a goaltender, you know it's a standard play that will probably win it."
Even in giving up four goals, Rask made several huge saves among his 59 for the night. "Usually that's the way it goes," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "If nobody gets one in those first few minutes, you know you could be in for a long night or a very long night."
It was only the first game, but the sweat, emotion and momentum swings made the first victory feel even more significant, as if the capacity to rally from such a loss could be measured by the minutes played.
Said Shaw afterward, "I'm just too exhausted to express it."