Arthur: Finalists have been through it all
Overcoming playoff adversity is nothing new to Bruins, Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, left, shoots as Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40), of Finland, leaps in vain as Kane's shot scored during the second period in Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Boston. Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19), and Bruins defensemen Andrew Ference (21) watch. Chicago won 6-5 to even the series 2-2.
Photograph by: HARRY HOW, POOL, AP PHOTO
BOSTON — The first time you walked back into TD Garden after covering Game 7 of the Bruins’ first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, you had flashbacks. Of the sound of the place as the Bruins fell behind, of the sound as they came back, of the stock-still silence in the Toronto dressing room, a cracked and shattered quiet. Of where men stood, how they stood, the hush and the celebration down the hall. The feeling faded with repeated visits, of course. But it didn’t disappear.
Wednesday night in Boston the flashbacks returned, if a little distorted. In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, the Chicago Blackhawks led 1-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, and 5-4 in regulation. It was far from an elimination game, but it was the first time Boston had trailed by two goals since Game 7 against Toronto. And Boston came back. A Milan Lucic goal on a rebound, like in Game 7. Patrice Bergeron once, and again, like in Game 7. Overtime, like in Game 7. It was different, but the echoes were there. If you were at that Game 7, a part of you expected Boston to win.
Only this time the Bruins didn’t pull it off. They got to overtime, rode Bergeron’s fierce sense of where to be and Lucic’s force and Johnny Boychuk’s storybook slapshot, and … lost midway through the first overtime period.
“When you look back one month ago, when we had a tough game against Toronto, we were down 4-1 with 11 minutes to go, if we weren’t lucky we would be sitting home for a month,” Jaromir Jagr said last week, before the final began. “Since that game, I feel like we’ve been on a roll. The one game we lost against NYR, I felt like we lost it. We took it easy. It was the one game we didn’t play the way we should play.”
This was the second, and it revealed how lucky Boston was to get here, and what got them there in the first place. Like Toronto, Chicago opened the game up, tried stretch passes, created odd-man rushes. Even Zdeno Chara wasn’t impregnable anymore; Chara was on the ice for five goals against in Game 4, after being on the ice for one goal in his previous seven games, all but one against either Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. After the game Toews spoke of Chara’s greatness, but with a caveat.
“Credit to Chara, he’s one of their key players,” Toews said. “He’s a great player. We know his No. 1 advantage is his size, reach and strength. I think at the same time you can’t give him too much respect and want to compensate the way you play as a line, considering the fact he’s out there against you guys. I mean, there’s certain ways you can expose him. I think the dump-ins that we made tonight were going to his side.
“We made sure we were outnumbering him everywhere we went, taking away his stick first thing. We just try not to be intimidated by his size. You have to get to the net, find a way inside, not be, like I said, intimidated by that. We can outwork him, and we did that tonight, and we want to continue that.”
That wasn’t a flashback, because while Chara may have intimidated Crosby with a punch to his jaw in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final — Crosby seemed to stay away from the middle after that — Toews has refused to back away, even as Chara has tried to push him around, and scored his first goal of the series with Chara seven feet away. The Blackhawks have not fallen into Pittsburgh’s trap of being pushed away from the hard areas of the ice, and they refused to wilt under Boston’s relentlessness. It’s a different game.
Still, it demonstrated one thing: This Bruins team is hardened to pressure, to deficits, to bad situations, because they have won or lost Game 7s, won overtime Game 7s, blown a 3-0 series lead and come back from 0-2 deficits to win a Stanley Cup. They have been there before.
“Well, experience helps,” Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference said. “It’s one of those things, though, for all of us who are going through this time with this team, you think of some of the games we’ve had, we’ve blown some — to lose to Philly, and to win some of the series that we have, and the craziness that’s happened, a lot of guys are lucky to have one or two games like that in their career. We’ve probably had a dozen.
“I think we mentioned it even in the finals against Vancouver, that afterwards we kind of laughed at that at the time was kind of normal: we scored an empty-net goal, and there was some celebration, and everyone sat right back down. Celebrate for three seconds, and then become a sociopath again.”
It is part of what has made this series so drum-tight, because Chicago faced a 3-1 series deficit and a Game 7 overtime on the way here, too, and lost a Game 7 overtime two years ago, and won a Cup the year before the Bruins did. These teams don’t crack, or haven’t, yet. Boston was up 3-1 in the third period of Game 1, and lost. They surrendered the first goal in Game 2 and won. They clambered back over and over in Game 4, opening up their clamshell game and becoming vulnerable, and they came most of the way back. This series is so unpredictable, in part because neither team panics, and both have the talent to decline an offer to be buried.
“They’re a good team, and so are we,” Boston’s Chris Kelly said. “It’s two confident teams, two teams that have been in the post-season, and both won championships, and know how to play.”
It always felt like this series was destined to go seven games, to put these teams to the ultimate test, to see how they react.
That would bring back memories, too.
© Copyright (c) National Post