CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks know all about Andrew Shaw’s reputation around the league. They also know the pesky little forward is so much more than just another irritant for opposing players.
The diminutive Shaw sparred with Zdeno Chara, dished out nine hits and was in the right place when his team needed him the most Wednesday night in a thrilling start to the Stanley Cup finals.
Shaw popped back up after he was knocked down and skated to the front of the goal to get a deflection on Dave Bolland’s tip for the winning score in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins in the fifth-longest game in the history of the NHL’s biggest series.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty at that point,” Shaw said. “You could tell both teams were physically exhausted. We’ve preached it: Go to the net, you’ll find a way to get a greasy goal. We did a heck of a job of it there in the third overtime.”
Shaw was knocked down near the boards but got up as the puck came out to Michal Rozsival, who started the winning sequence with a shot from the right point into traffic. Bolland’s tip then went off Shaw’s right leg and past Tuukka Rask at 12:08 for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
And just like that, the longest finals game in five years was over. Shaw skated off to the side and pumped his arms furiously, then joined his teammates for a weary celebration.
“I mean, I think you could ask players on other teams and they’ll tell you that he’s not the type of guy that they like to play against,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “But that’s what we love about him. We love having a guy like that on our team. He’s not afraid.”
Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Shaw still decided to shove the 6-9 Chara after play stopped in the first. Bruins coach Claude Julien called Shaw an agitator who is “good at embellishing, too, at times.”
But he also has four assists in the playoffs after he had nine goals and six assists while playing in all 48 games during the regular season.
“The bigger the stage, the bigger the challenge, he rises to the occasion,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Milan Lucic had two goals and an assist for the Bruins, who had won five straight and nine of 10. Patrice Bergeron scored a power-play goal and David Krejci finished with two assists.
“Not disappointed in our effort,” Julien said. “There’s certain things you’re going to want to fix for next game. But as far as the game is concerned, it was a hard-fought game.”
Rask made an astounding 59 saves in a finals marathon that surpassed Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win over Detroit on June 2, 2008, when Petr Sykora scored at 9:57 of the third overtime.
Game 2 is Saturday night at the United Center.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Bruins centre Rich Peverley said. “It’s fun to watch, so we’ll think about this until we get out of here and then shake it off and get ready for Saturday.”
Bolland and Johnny Oduya scored in the third period for Chicago, which never would have made it to the third overtime if not for an impressive performance by goaltender Corey Crawford. Brandon Saad had his first goal of the playoffs.
Crawford gave the Blackhawks a chance by standing his ground when the Bruins had repeated opportunities in the extra sessions.
Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille skated in for a 2-on-1 in the first OT, and Crawford turned away Thornton on the doorstep. He denied Peverley and Tyler Seguin in rapid succession, and helped Chicago kill off two power plays when it was whistled twice for too many men on the ice.
Nathan Horton hit the post in the first extra session, and Chara’s slap shot deflected off Jaromir Jagr and then the inside of the right post at the very end of the second overtime.
“It’s exhausting,” said Crawford, who had 29 of his 51 saves in the overtimes. “I just try to tell myself to make the next save, and we’re going to score on our next shot.”
The action was so fast and furious that it took a toll on the players with Horton skating off during a power play with an injury—likely a serious one to leave the ice during that pivotal moment.
The Blackhawks trailed 3-1 in the third period before they turned up the pressure on Rask, who stepped up when he faced a similar attack from Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals. This time, he coughed up the lead, hurt by one unlucky carom.
First, Bolland converted a nice pass from Shaw for his first goal of the playoffs. Then Oduya’s long slap shot went off the left skate of Boston defenceman Andrew Ference and into the net for the tying goal with 7:46 remaining in regulation.
Oduya’s shot was going wide and wouldn’t have gone in if it hadn’t hit Ference’s skate.
“We were up two goals and all of a sudden the game was tied,” said Chara, who had more than 45 minutes of ice time. “We’ve got two days to regroup and get ready for the next game.”
The sellout crowd of 22,110 cheered as Krejci and Toews stared each other down for the opening faceoff of the first Stanley Cup finals between Original Six franchises in 34 years.
And it almost didn’t happen.
Game 1 came exactly five months after the official end of a long and bitter lockout. The labour dispute wiped out 510 games, but the sides managed to come together in time to save an abbreviated 48-game season and playoffs.
They were rewarded with a final playoff series between two big-market teams with passionate followings and scores of top players. The Blackhawks returned to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since they won it all three year ago. Boston won the title the following season, and the same core of players is at the centre of this year’s playoff run.
It was enough to attract the attention of President Barack Obama, who has a home in Chicago and made it clear whom he was pulling for before the opener. He wished the Blackhawks good luck over Twitter before adding: “hope to welcome you back to the White House again as #StanleyCup champs.”
Boston countered with a Rolling Stone: Mick Jagger tweeted a photo of himself holding a Bruins jersey before a show at TD Garden.
The Bruins got off to fast start behind Lucic, who scored in each of the first two periods. The Blackhawks got on the board when Marian Hossa stole the puck from Dennis Seidenberg in the Boston end and fed Saad, who one-timed it past Rask at 3:08 in the second.
Saad’s goal ended a scoreless streak of 149 minutes, 36 seconds for Rask dating to Game 3 of the sweep against the Penguins.
NOTES: It was the first game between the teams since Boston’s 3-2 shootout victory on Oct. 15, 2011. There were no games against teams from the other conference during the lockout-shortened season. … This is the first playoff series between the teams since Boston swept Chicago in the 1978 quarterfinals. The Bruins won five of their six previous post-season series against the Blackhawks.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap