The Verdict: Game 1 drama sets bar high for rest of Cup Final
|Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
Andrew Shaw called it “luck,” attached to another emotional outburst for which he received unconditional absolution from Rocky Wirtz during a morning-after radio appearance by the Chairman of the Blackhawks.
But as long as we’re on the subject, why not reach for a hat trick of rhymes and settle on “pluck”? Those who have observed his brief yet busy career will attest that Shaw, the “Pocket Pest” whose given weight of 180 pounds seems a bit lofty, has a competitive gene that leads him into areas where angels fear to tread.
Branch Rickey, the legendary baseball executive, famously intoned that “luck is the residue of design.” So it was on Wednesday night, that after Bryan Bickell’s body began the play without earning an assist, Michal Rozsival’s shot grazed Dave Bolland and eventually found Shaw typically in traffic. He redirected the puck, and theBlackhawks seized a historic 4-3 triple-overtime victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at the United Center.
"THE VERDICT" WITH BOB VERDI
Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
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Some five hours before what would be the fifth-longest marathon in Cup Final annals, Shaw introduced himself to Zdeno Chara, the gigantic Bruins defenseman entrustedwith minimizing congestion in front of his goalkeeper, Tuukka Rask. In civilian clothes, Shaw could pass for a kid who delivers Chara’s newspaper. But in uniform, Shaw routinely displays a character that does not register on yourbathroom scale. Heart.
Shaw’s “shot” was the last of 117 fired by either side in another episode of brilliant theater annually produced by the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Corey Crawford, Rask’scounterpart, comported himself magnificently with 51 saves. That is not close, however, to a franchise high for masked men. In 1941, during regular-seasontarget practice, Sam LoPresti stopped 80 pucks during a 3-2 loss to the Bruins and lived to talk about what remains an NHL record.
Nor did Wednesday night’s 11:59 p.m. finish establish a Blackhawk standard for not-so-sudden death. In 1931, Cy Wentworth scored 53:50 into extra time for a 3-2 victory in Game 3 of the Final at Montreal. Then there was 1961, when Murray Balfour won Game 3 against the Canadiens at the Stadium with a power-play tally at 52:12—four seconds beyond Shaw’s clincher. Balfour’s score did not occur in the Final, though it might as well have. Montreal was aiming for its sixth consecutiveCup, but did not find the upstart Blackhawks easy pickings in the first of two playoff rounds.
The Canadiens complained of Chicago’s truculent tactics, injuries were mounting, and Game 3 was angry. With Dickie Moore serving the 26th penalty of the match, Balfour’s goal so infuriated Toe Blake that the iconic Montreal coach left the bench and took a swing at Referee Dalton McArthur. He was fined an exorbitant $2,000 by President Clarence Campbell—he of the Clarence Campbell Bowl, which the superstitious Blackhawks recently earned but refused to touch, lest it be radioactive.
“That game proved to us that we would win the Cup,” recalled Stan Mikita, a kid on the 1961 team, now a Blackhawks Hall of Fame ambassador. “The Canadiens won the next game, but then Glenn Hall pitched two shutouts, we took the series, and there was no doubt in our minds that we would win the next series against Detroit for the Cup. Which we did.”
Bobby Hull, another twenty-something at the time, thought Stanley Cups would be plentiful thereafter.
“But we never wonanother,” noted The Golden Jet. “That’s the message I took to our guys in 2010. You never know if you’ll get another chance, so give everything you’ve got.”
The Blackhawks have another chance now, but they shouldn’t depend on the Bruins being demoralized after losing a 3-1 third period lead Wednesday night. They didn’t look too demoralized when they trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 in Game 7 of their first-round series before rescuing a miraculous 5-4 triumph.
Nathan Horton, a vital cog for Boston, left Game 1 after apparently injuring his left shoulder in a joust with Niklas Hjalmarsson. But the Bruins are deep, and Chara isn’t about to shrink. How does a man who is 6-foot-9 commit a high-sticking infraction? Granted, the rule precludes raising one’s stick above an opponent’s shoulder. But still, Chara could go to his knees and stiil foul Shaw, no?
Thursday morning, Rask accurately described the course of events that precipitated three straight goals for the Blackhawks. But if you need know why teammates dearly like laboring before Crawford, besides the fact that he has been so steady this season, consider this: Every goal is his fault. Tony Esposito was that way. Crawford’s soundtrack is eerily similar.
Every turnover, every deflection, every bounce is part of the game. He is responsible for every red light that shines behind him. Period, case closed, next question.