CHICAGO – All Claude Julien could do was appreciate the moment.
Never mind that the Boston Bruins lost, that a key player in Nathan Horton was injured and that they trail the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals.
That was one epic series opener, a 4-3 triple-overtime thriller that ranked as the fifth-longest finals game in NHL history.
“I even talked about it with my management,” Julien, Boston’s coach, said Thursday. “I said, ‘You know, in reality, it was a great hockey game. You watch the video afterward and you see the excitement and the chances and everything else, the only thing I would be mad about is the fact that we didn’t win. Other than that, this was a great hockey game for people to watch. It was a great hockey game. I thought both teams played well. I don’t think there should be any disappointment in what happened last night, except for us not getting the win that we wanted.”
No matter what happens in Game 2 on Saturday, it will be just about impossible to match that opener.
The first Stanley Cup final between Original Six franchises got off to a rousing start, with the Blackhawks rallying from two goals down in the third period to tie it and Chicago’s Corey Crawford making one big save after another, particularly after regulation.
There was a close call in the closing seconds of the second OT when the puck deflected off Jaromir Jagr and hit the post, and the game finally ended when the Blackhawks’ Michael Roszival delivered a soft shot from the right point that deflected off Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw before slipping past Tuukka Rask.
“I’m sure we captured a few more fans (Wednesday) night with the excitement, and I’m sure it would be a lot better if we came out on top,” Torey Krug said.
Instead, they’re down in this series after winning five in a row and nine of 10.
It’s not exactly foreign territory for the Bruins, though. They blew a 3-1 series lead to Toronto in the opening round and were trailing by three in the seventh game. Yet, somehow, they managed to pull that one out and roll past the New York Rangers in five games, then sweep Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When they won the championship in 2011, it wasn’t an easy ride, either.
Boston started with back-to-back losses to Montreal in Round 1 that year and fell behind Vancouver 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals before rallying to win in seven games.
Dropping Game 1 to Chicago?
“You get on with it, turn the page,” Andrew Ference said. “Whether it’s a goal, whether it’s a game or whether it’s a play, tough luck. That’s the game. What are you going to do? You’re going to make a lot of great plays and a lot of lucky bounces are going to happen for you as well. Everybody has played enough hockey on this team and for the guys that haven’t, they’re surrounded by guys that can let them know that as well.”
One unfortunate bounce for the Bruins came on Johnny Oduya’s tying goal for Chicago with 7:46 left in regulation. His long shot would have gone wide had it not hit Ference’s left skate, but it went into the net instead to knot the game at 3-all.
Earlier in the period, it was Shaw picking off a clearing attempt by Krug and feeding Bolland on a two-on-one rush to pull Chicago within one.
It didn’t help, either, that Horton left the ice in the first OT after getting with Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Part of Boston’s top line, he’s been a big contributor in the playoffs with seven goals and 11 assists to go with a plus-22 and is day to day.
Losing him would be a big blow for a team seeking its second title in three years. But the Bruins have won in the past without him.
They did it against Vancouver after he suffered a season-ending concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, when they started their rally to win the championship.
Now, the Bruins are trying to pick themselves up again, their resilience getting another test after an electrifying opener against Chicago.
“I think playoffs, you need to shake it off win or lose,” Patrice Bergeron said. “That’s something we’ve always said is to be in the moment, the task at hand. It’s going to be no different in Game 2. Put the first game behind you and you worry about that Game 2.”