CHICAGO — So we will go to six. Or seven.
What the hell? Why not nine games, in a series that thus far has taught us only one thing: There is absolutely nothing to choose from between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins.
“I wouldn’t think so at this point,” agreed Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, sweat still pouring down his face in a sparsely populated Blackhawks room, after a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 2. “Both sides felt it was going to be a tight series, and every shift is going to matter. You saw in this game, it is pretty evenly matched.”
They have logged 10 periods of hockey in this Original Six Stanley Cup final, the work more blue collar in Game 2 than the high-flying artistry of Game 1. And after all of that, Daniel Paille’s snipe at 13:48 of Period 4 Saturday night landed us right back where we began — dead even in this quest for the Cup, with a best-of-five tussle lying ahead.
“As soon as I got it off I knew I had a good shot,” said Paille, a Welland, Ont., boy who hadn’t scored since Game 3 at New York, or two rounds ago.
“Just glad it went in,” he sighed. “We all knew we had a terrible first period and they came out flying, and you would expect better from us. But we kept each other accountable, and Claude (head coach Julien) came in and told us we all needed to be better.”
This series was on the brink for Boston after Chicago had given 22,154 fans at the Madhouse on Madison an impressive show of force, outshooting Boston 19-4 in the first period. A man would have bet his golf clubs that this one was heading to Boston at 2-0 for the ‘Hawks — but that’s what we’ve got going on here in a Stanley Cup final that may yet prove historic.
Just when you think you know what’s coming next, they flip the record. They change gears — into reverse.
Chicago didn’t outshoot Boston in another period all night, and by overtime it was total Bruins domination until Paille finally scored.
“We just didn’t continue to play the way we’d been playing,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We let them have the puck a little too often. We didn’t move our feet. We were too easy to check.”
That’s how it works in hockey. When a team plays well, it is to their credit. When they play poorly, it speaks to something lacking in their game. It’s never about the opponent, at least internally.
On this night however, with everything on the line this spring, Toews might look down the hall at the team that took this game away from his Blackhawks — plain and simple.
“A sense of desperation came in,” said beefy winger Milan Lucic, who lumbered a bit in Game 2 with zero shots or points, yet still charted 10 hits. “You never want to get yourself down 2-0. That’s what we were talking about in the dressing room between periods, so we wanted to go out there and give ourselves a chance.
“We were more desperate on pucks, trying to win pucks. Hunt the puck better and win more battles.”
You can make a case that Boston easily could have won Game 1 as well, that it was Chicago goalie Corey Crawford who was forced to make the more heroic stops through three overtime periods on Wednesday night.
And just as readily you could note that, had Chicago been given that disallowed goal in the first period — or scored on another of their 19 shots in the frame — that they could clearly be heading to Boston up 2-0.
This time, a grinder came through for the Spoked B, rather than the third-liner wearing Blackhawks red that caught the two-carom break in triple-OT in Game 1.
“We’ve got to swallow this one and move on,” Sharp said. “They’re a good team. They’re tough to play against. They protect their net well, and for all the talk about how big tough and physical they are they move well too.”
This baby is just warming up, folks. It’s into Beantown now, to the most hostile building in the National Hockey League.
The last visiting team in a Cup final — Vancouver in 2011 — got outscored 17-3 in three games at The Garden. By the time it was done, many travelling Canucks fans had stored their blue, green and white jerseys and resorted to plain clothes for games in Boston, so intimidating can Bruins fans be for the visitor at this time of year.
“It’s 1-1, we’re going home, and it’s going be a battle,” big Zdeno Chara said. “Two good teams playing in the final. It’s very even.
“You know, small things are usually going to decide those games.”