Editor’s Note: GT hockey analyst Nick Pellegrino is mending after suffering a concussion in his athletic exploits in San Diego. He’s tough and plans to return next week.
Right from the pregame singing of the national anthem you knew this Stanley Cup final was going to be special.
Original 6 cities of Chicago and Boston take the anthem so seriously both franchises award Cup rings to the singers.
We have been treated to a number of Original 6 matchups this postseason – Detroit/Chicago, Boston/Toronto, Boston/New York Rangers and, finally, the current Bruins/Blackhawks battle.
Two games, five overtimes and all that’s happened is a best 4 of 7 series has been reduced to a best of 5.
The momentum Chicago took from erasing a 3-1 third period deficit to win 4-3 in triple OT is gone. Credit Boston goalie Tuukka Rask for keeping the Bruins in Game 2 when the Blackhawks outshot Boston 19-4 in the first period. The Bruins were fortunate to only be down 1-0.
“We got away from what made us successful in the first period of Game 2,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said last Sunday. “You know your opponents are going to get their turn.”
Game 3 took place Monday night in Boston. The Bruins were a -130 favorite with the OVER/UNDER total at 5. Hall of Fame hockey announcer Mike Emrick said that if the two teams played 100 times, each would win 50. How true.
This is the first Original 6 Stanley Cup final since 1979 when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Rangers, which even the most ardent New York supporters figured would happen. After all, this was hockey’s all-time winning franchise going up against one where the last previous Cup champ came way back in 1940.
This is different. The eventual winner of this series will have taken the Cup for a second time in the past five years. In fact, the past four previous winners of the Stanley Cup all made the final four – Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Unlike the NBA Finals where the zig-zag trend is working to perfection, this series has been hard to judge. The team scoring first wound up losing each game. That serious goes against the grain in hockey, where home ice is especially vital and considered a big advantage.
“I guess the main thing is to always keep it simple,” said Chicago’s standout playmaker Patrick Kane. “If you can do that, usually you can take away some of their momentum. I think right now they do have it, especially after the last overtime period where it seemed like they had a lot of chances compared to ours.”
The Bruins led 2-0 on goals by Milan Lucic and 3-1 in the opener. But then they allowed two goals in the last 12 minutes of regulation and the Blackhawks won 4-3 in three overtimes.
Boston then got physical in Game 2, outhitting the Blackhawks 50-34, and dominating overtime.
“I’m used to getting hit back there quite a lot,” Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I know how to take a hit or two. I think for the most (part) we might not be the most physical D corps in the league, but we’re trying to move the puck quick. Sometimes you have to take a good hit to deliver a pass.”
Any momentum Chicago gained by winning Game 1 carried over into Game 2, despite two days between games. The Blackhawks started aggressively, pressuring Rask and shutting down the Bruins offense with tight checking.
The Blackhawks are scoreless in six power-play opportunities against the Bruins and in 14 over their past five games. They’ve scored just once in the past 24 times they’ve had the extra skater.
In a series in which both teams emphasize playing disciplined hockey and avoiding risks that could lead to costly mistakes, all it takes is one play – a big hit, an intercepted pass, a goal – for control to shift from one team to the other.
So how can the Blackhawks regain the momentum against a team they didn’t play during the regular season?
“I guess that’s something we’re learning as we go, especially in a series like this with a team you haven’t seen all year, don’t really know much about,” Kane said, “until you do play these games.
Another interesting twist that separates the NHL from NBA finals is the format. The NBA goes with the 2-3-2 major league baseball has used for years to determine a World Series champ. The NHL stays with the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 setup used throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Thus Game 4 will be Wednesday night in Boston, followed by a Game 5 this Friday back in Chicago. Should Games 6 or 7 be needed, it’s back to Boston and a third trip to Chicago for what is considered the most exciting situation in competitive sports.
There really is nothing comparable to the excitement of a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals where teams play until a conclusion when one goal quickly settles the issue. Judging on the first two games, if we’re sitting in the third overtime of Game 7 on June 26 in prime time on NBC, don’t be surprised.
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].