Milan Lucic’s go-ahead third period goal in Monday night’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final likely had trainers packing up equipment and scribes furiously writing Game 7 narratives.
The Boston Bruins, of all teams, should be able to fend off an injured Chicago Blackhawks roster for a less than half a period. Game 7, after all, would have been welcomed by most who took in this final—one more closely contested Original Six matchup.
It was a great story waiting to be written.
Only this time, last-minute heroics would serve to derail their best-laid plans.
The Blackhawks scored two goals in 17 seconds with less than 90 seconds to play to take the lead and the Stanley Cup in a series that should be dubbed “Last Man Standing.” Not only was this series to be decided by the team who could withstand the most injuries, but simply, which team will score the last goal.
The Blackhawks went in to Game 6 leading the Bruins in goals in the final 15–14. The last game was decided by one goal and that goal was scored in the final minute.
And though many, including this author, will try to explain what happened, it is perhaps best described as a fitting finale to a fantastic 2013 for the NHL.
Not a mention of the lockout could be heard in all the postgame talk, though there is no question about the significance the lockout had on the NHL league-wide. These were the best two teams left in June and it was reflected in the ratings. NBC reported that this year’s final was the most-watched “on record,” meaning as far back as the 1994 season.
Chicago Wins War of Attrition
The stories surrounding injury, however common-place once teams reach the final round, gave a clear picture of why Chicago succeeded and Boston failed. Boston’s best players were seemingly their most hurt and Patrice Bergeron was the shining example.
Having scored the series-clinching Game 7 overtime goal to help the Bruins escape the first round, winning at times 85 percent of his faceoffs, and scoring other statement-making goals, Bergeron struggled to keep himself together in the final games against the Hawks. In fact, he separated his shoulder on Monday night, adding to an already broken rib and torn cartilage.
Nathan Horton was a non-factor in the final and Zdeno Chara, though little detail has come out regarding his health, looked absolutely spent as the series wore down. He was unable to make a play on Chicago’s first two goals, getting beaten in a scramble by Jonathan Toews in the second period and passed through by Toews to find Bryan Bickell for the tying marker.
Chara who won his battles against the likes of Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby had to try to contain both Toews and Patrick Kane playing together with the injured Bryan Bickell. He simply lost in the end.
Bickell, for his part, battled through a knee injury and scored what was his first goal of the series to tie the game.
And it was Toews who looked to have injured a wrist and possibly his head in Game 5 after taking a huge hit from Johnny Boychuk. So when Bergeron, Chara, and Horton lost their grip slightly, Toews, Bickell, Kane, and company took advantage.
Kane winning the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs was also symptomatic of how the best in the NHL came to play in the last couple of weeks.
Two rounds and four games in to the postseason, Kane had a total of three goals. Then he proceeded to single-handedly beat the defending champs, the Los Angeles Kings, by scoring four goals in the deciding two games.
In the final, he again won a game on his own, scoring two in the tie-breaking Game 5.
Certainly goaltender Corey Crawford was also deserving of the Conn Smythe as the winning goalie who has emerged as one of Canada’s best.
Good for Years to Come
Though the Bruins are aware of the irony in the nature of their loss, they need not hang their heads.
“We did it to Toronto, so I guess we get a taste of our own medicine,” Rask told the Globe and Mail.
On Tuesday’s Sportsnet radio, Leafs GM Dave Nonis agreed. “I just hung up with Pete [Chiarelli] and he said you are probably the only guy I can talk to today.”
Like Chicago however, this Boston team is unlikely to go away any time soon. Rask, particularly, performed at his best this postseason and should be able to lead this team, in whatever form, into the future with confidence.
Rookies such as Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton, developing stars in Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, and superstars like Bergeron and Chara will keep the Bruins a powerful force in the Eastern Conference.
In a league that has not seen a true dynasty since the Edmonton Oilers of the 80s, Boston, Chicago, and a couple of others stand up as being resilient teams that make a mark each year.
The Blackhawks of 2013 proved their Presidents’ Trophy in a shortened season was no fluke, but also, neither was their 2010 success. The core of Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, and more are no longer the naive group of young Hawks who stole the hearts of the NHL for one, eventful season.
They were the last ones standing of a final four that included the best of the last five years in hockey. That’s a tall hill to stand on.