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By Sean Hartnett
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Until Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins never met in the Stanley Cup Finals. Game 1 was certainly worth the 86-year wait. These two storied, “Original Six” franchises made up for lost time by delivering a triple-overtime classic befitting their distinguished histories.
Tornado-like conditions rolled through Chicago and the Midwest, making travel difficult for fans arriving at the United Center. The nasty weather outside set the stage for the storm that was brewing inside the arena, as the Blackhawks and the Bruins pushed themselves beyond the pain barrier in an emotionally-charged epic that felt like two games jammed into one.
“Thank God it’s over,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp said after the Hawks sent their fans home happy after notching a 4-3 Game 1 victory following 112 minutes of action-packed hockey.
SHAW DELIVERS THE DAGGER
New heroes emerge in every Stanley Cup Final. Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw is known for being an irritating, grinding winger. The 21-year-old didn’t back down 6-foot-9 Bruins captain Zdeno Chara all game and catapulted his team to the triple-overtime glory by cutting to the net and deflecting the game-winning goal past Tuukka Rask.
The shocked Bruins skated off the ice as quickly as possible while Chicago’s goal song, “Chelsea Dagger,” by the Fratellis blared over the United Center speakers. Blackhawks fans finally erupted into wild celebrations after living and dying with every pressured moment and close call that unfolded during the near-five hours that they spent in the arena.
Shaw’s teammates rushed him, yelling “I love you, I love you, I love you,” as well as some colorful words that cannot be printed. It took a double-screen and double-deflection from Dave Bolland and Shaw to finally beat Rask, who made 59 saves.
Then, whoops … an exhausted Shaw unleashed an accidental “f-bomb” when being interviewed by NBC’s Pierre McGuire after notching the Game 1 winner.
“Slip of the tongue,” Shaw said while smiling in response to his postgame slipup. “I couldn’t think at all actually. Could barely breathe. I think I made up a word in there, too, actually. I was never good in English.”
The Game 1 hero would later call his winning goal “luck” in his postgame press conference.
“The puck goes to the point, Rozsival gets a nice shot through and Bolland got his stick on it,” Shaw explained. “I just happened to be going to the net wide. Kind of went off my leg into the net. An exciting moment. I think guys are just glad the game ended.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews praised Shaw’s goal and overall contributions. Toews loves having a player like Shaw on his side, who enjoys getting under the skin of opponents.
“I think you could ask players on other teams and they’ll tell you that he’s not the type of guy that they like to play against,” Toews said of Shaw. “But that’s what we love about him. We love having a guy like that on our team. He’s not afraid.”
CRAWFORD AND RASK BRING THE GOODS
Despite the final scoreboard reading 4-3 in the Blackhawks’ favor, there was some sensational goaltending on display between Rask and Corey Crawford.
Between the two of them, the opposing netminders made a remarkable 110 saves that pushed Game 1 into the top-five longest Stanley Cup Final games in league history. Crawford and Rask kept battling away flurries of chances. Had Rask not been screened on Shaw’s triple-overtime winner, Game 1 could have went far beyond midnight Central Time.
Crawford has had his share of doubters throughout his career who have questioned whether he’s a true number one goalie. His performances throughout the 2013 playoffs are winning over some of his naysayers.
Toews feels that Crawford’s impact in Game 1 was immeasurable.
“Can’t even put that into words,” Toews explained. ”He made some unbelievable saves. A couple times we gave up a few too many chances off the rush. He was there every single time.”
BRUINS WILL BE IN TROUBLE SHOULD HORTON MISS TIME
During Boston’s power play in the first overtime, winger Nathan Horton suffered what appeared to be an apparent shoulder injury after shoving Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. After the game, Boston doctors had not fully evaluated Horton’s upper-body injury.
“Our doctors have not finished their diagnosis,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien stated.
The Lucic-Krejci-Horton line has emerged as the most in-sync line during the 2013 playoffs. Their chemistry has been demonstrated throughout the Bruins’ run to the Finals and was on display once again as the trio combined for the opening goal of Game 1.
“I thought they had a monster game, their top line,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of the Bruins’ top forward unit.
Losing inspirational center and key penalty-killer Gregory Campbell for the rest of the playoffs to a broken leg was a big blow to the Bruins. They rallied around each other and pushed on.
Should Horton miss significant time, he will be a much harder individual to replace, and it will force Julien to dramatically shuffle his lines.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN GAME 2
Game 1 was everything that a hockey fan could dream of. It was a brilliant comeback by the Blackhawks to force overtime and eventually triple-overtime after falling into a 3-1 hole in the third period.
The Bruins must be kicking themselves over missed chances, considering that Chicago gifted them two too many men on the ice penalties in separate overtimes.
Still, there isn’t much separating these teams – especially if Horton gets the green light to participate in Game 2.
Game 1 offered a glimpse of the closely-contested drama and outstanding goaltending that is likely to play out as this series moves forward. I think fans are in for a real treat. The Hawks and Bruins will claw for every inch and empty their tanks in every contest until one team is left shattered on the ice and the wobbly-legged victors lift the Stanley Cup above their heads.
Wednesday night was what the Stanley Cup Finals are all about.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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