- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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CHICAGO -- Nearly 10 periods of hockey through two games of the Stanley Cup finals and one thing is crystal clear.
Five goals apiece and two overtime games, a series many expected to go the distance sure smells like it will.
"Two good teams playing in the finals," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said after his team evened the series with a 2-1 OT win. "It’s very even. You know, small things are usually going to decide those games."
Small things, like Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid pinching to stand up Brandon Bollig inside the Blackhawks' blue line, which forced a turnover and led to Daniel Paille's overtime goal 13:48 into the first extra session.
One little play, a good one by McQuaid, a mistake by Bollig, and that’s all that separated two great hockey teams on this night.
The smallest of margins will decide games in this series.
"Both sides felt it was going to be a tight series," said Blackhawks star forward Patrick Sharp, who scored his team’s lone goal. "Every shift is going to matter. And you saw it in this game, it is pretty evenly matched. I expect more of the same heading forward. ...
"Every shift is important. Every bounce is important. Momentum is definitely huge as well."
The Blackhawks had all the momentum early on in Game 2, outshooting the Bruins 19-4 in the opening period, definitely tilting the ice on the visitors, but getting only Sharp’s goal out of it.
"Well, we definitely were in survival mode there for a bit," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who saved his team in the opening period. "It looked like they had more guys out there than we did. They were pouncing on every single puck in front of net, had a lot of chances. We definitely played pretty bad. But, you know, it was good that we were only down by one and regrouped after that."
Regroup the Bruins did, finding their legs and their style of game in the second period, eventually tying it on Chris Kelly's first of the playoffs at 14:58.
The Bruins outshot the Hawks 24-15 in the final two periods and overtime, gradually turning the tables on the Blackhawks, particularly in overtime, when Boston enjoyed most of the chances.
"I don’t think we played well enough to win that one in overtime at all," said Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. "We played well in the game, but in overtime they had lots of chances."
The Bruins began the evening frustrated; the Hawks ended the night feeling the same way.
It’s a microcosm of what this series is already about: neither team able to dominate the other for an entire game, instead one team counterpunching the other. Both will get their stretches; whether they capitalize enough during those stretches will be key.
The Hawks’ speed game gave the Bruins fits in the opening 20 minutes, causing turnovers in the Boston zone and generating tons of chances and zone time. That’s Chicago’s game.
The Bruins countered with their trademark physicality, hitting every Chicago jersey in sight in the hopes of softening some Hawks players as the night went on. It appeared to work.
"They definitely came out with a lot of speed in the first period and we wanted to somehow change that," Paille said. "Playing physical is a part of our game where we've been successful. I think that's been huge for us. We started to pick up the pace after that."
Well, as Kelly pointed out, after being outshot 19-4, something had to be done, so why not go to their bread and butter: banging bodies.
"I figured we had to do something because we weren't doing much in that first period," said Kelly, laughing, after his team outhit Chicago 50-34. "We're a big, strong team. We want to finish our hits when they're there, try to wear teams down. We didn't really have the puck a whole lot. There was lots of times to hit. Maybe it was a little one-sided that way."
The question, though, is whether the turning of the tide in this game was simply because of Boston’s physicality or perhaps also because Chicago was guilty of taking its foot off the pedal after the opening period.
From the sidelines, it just seemed like the Hawks suddenly seemed content to nurse a 1-0 lead and stopped attacking in droves the way they had earlier.
"Scoring first was big, the building was into it, we were using our legs and skating and for whatever reason that didn’t sustain itself," said Sharp.
Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville stresses the importance of the defensive side of the game. His team is underrated for its ability to play on that side of the puck. But, to me, in this particular series, that plays into the hands of a grinding Bruins team that would like nothing else to make this about 2-1 hockey games.
Easier said than done, but I believe the Hawks have to use their most important asset -- team speed -- for 60 minutes of hockey to gain the upper hand on the Bruins.
"When you score a goal and are playing the way we were playing in the first period, you need to find a way to sustain that, and we didn't quite do that tonight," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews.
"No one said it was going to be easy," Toews later added. "No one said everything was going to go our way. Some moments, you feel pretty darn good, like when we won Game 1 and triple overtime, and tonight it doesn't feel good. You've got to find a way to get over it to move to the next time you're going to be on the ice, and not let it affect you."
The pressure now shifts to the Hawks, who need to win at least one game in Boston in this series if they’re going to win a second Stanley Cup in four years.
But just like you never got the sense the resilient Bruins were rattled one bit by their triple-OT heartbreaker in Game 1, I don’t think the Blackhawks -- who rallied from 3-1 down against Detroit -- are going to suddenly feel overwhelmed by the task at hand.
"I don’t think at this point either team is going to get upset with the word 'pressure,'" said Sharp. "There’s a lot of pressure being in the finals, both teams are excited to be here. We know it’s going to be tough, Games 3 and 4 in Boston. Dropping this one makes it that much more of a challenge. But we’ve got a day to regroup and recover and we’ll be ready to go."