BOSTON—What’s best about this outrageously entertaining Stanley Cup final is its relative infancy. When Brent Seabrook, sultan of sudden death, unleashed the winner 9:51 into overtime to bring the Blackhawks a 6-5 conquest in Game 4 Wednesday night at TD Garden, that only tied this series 2-2.
It might feel as though the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have been sneering at each other through beards forever, but these are just preliminaries. Neither of these two estimable teams has even reached three victories yet. Wait until one of them gets there, and thus to within a win of a championship. That next step will be reached in Game 5 at the United Center Saturday night. Or Sunday morning.
Then the real fun stuff begins, at least for most of North America and whatever other countries are tuned into the international television feed. For impartial observers, this series has to be a blast. But for the sleep-deprived, fidgety fan bases of both teams, it is a brutal test of controlling emotions without any influence whatsoever on controlling the outcome.
If the Blackhawks had lost this terrific hockey game 6-5, it would not have been so terrific for their supporters. And that’s what’s not best about the immediate future. One of these Original Six franchises is not going to win the 2013 Stanley Cup, and its belated summer vacation will be haunted by a feeling more awful than original sin.
Seabrook, a bona fide leader without any letters on his sweater, saved the Blackhawks from a potentially perilous situation when he raked goalie Tuukka Rask, who had a couple other white jerseys hovering around his blue porch. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, each of whom scored in the second period, were diversionary targets, as was Bryan Bickell, the third member of a line that Coach Joel Quenneville put together again, as often happens when the going gets tough.
Notably, the two Bruins defensemen on the ice were Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, big bodies with whom Coach Claude Julien will take his chances against any opponent’s top forward combination. But after being shut down 2-0 in Game 3, the Blackhawks did what they had to do—generate offense and challenge Boston to engage in a speed game. For the most part, playing to their strengths worked for the Blackhawks, although pulse rates might have been calmer had they won in regulation on yet another power-play goal. This one, by Patrick Sharp, sent electricity throughout the visitors bench. It was 5-4 Chicago midway in the third period. Repeat: a powerplay goal.
He enjoyed it for all of 55 seconds, at which juncture Johnny Boychuk jettisoned a puck past Corey Crawford to alter the situation again. So went the evening. The Blackhawks led 3-1 and 4-2 but were caught both times. The Bruins, who spent a couple of two-goal leads in Game 1, never led. The Blackhawks won virtually half their faceoffs, flung 47 shots on Rask and won a game they said they had to win by employing five defensemen not named Nick Leddy (three shifts, 2:37).
“Never doubt this team’s heart and character,” said Sharp. Indeed, if the Blackhawks go down, they will go down together. Wednesday night, when smiles were available somewhere beneath all that facial hair, Seabrook praised Toews for occupying Chara and Toews praised Seabrook for his second overtime playoff goal. The first eliminated Detroit in Game 7. Earlier in that series, Seabrook spoke to the captain after Toews staged a rare tantrum. Lately, Seabrook has been a sounding board for Toews on life without scoring. But Toews can change the subject now, having rerouted Michal Rozsival’s effort for a 2-1 Chicago lead.
Toews’ second of the postseason materialized after Marian Hossa’s return from a one-game injury absence allowed Coach Q to deploy a more familiar look. Michal Handzus opened between Sharp and Hossa and also began the fireworks with a shorthanded goal. In the second period, after Quenneville burned his time out early, Toews bagged his, Kane buried a backhand rebound, and Marcus Kruger, stuffed once by Rask’s left leg, roofed his mulligan for a 4-2 Chicago bulge that didn’t bulge for very long.
During the Bruins’ own time out, Julien appeared to be scalding his athletes in three different tongues—English, French and hyphenated. He wasn’t enthralled with how his team played, or how his team allowed the Blackhawks to play. Coach Q’s stomach couldn’t have felt like the sea of tranquility, either, but Game 4 was just one of those nights. On Boston’s third goal, Chara’s missile sailed over the net, banged against the glass, careened back over Crawford and to Patrice Bergeron for his first of two. Weird stuff.
Probably will be library-quiet in the United Center Saturday night, don’t you think?
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