CHICAGO — Before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked if the league had proven “impenetrable’’ after resurrecting itself from the throes of a lockout with a spirited 48-game regular season that produced a compelling playoffs.
“To suggest that anything or anybody or any business or any sport is impenetrable, nobody would dare think that because that’s not true, it’s not real life,’’ the commissioner said in his State of the League address Wednesday night at the United Center.
That description might have applied to the Bruins’ defense, especially in the second period when Boston’s penalty killers erased three Chicago power-play opportunities (including a 1:17 stretch in which the Blackhawks enjoyed a 5-on-3), blocking 12 shots in that frame alone.
But impenetrable the Bruins were not in the third period when Johnny Oduya recorded his third goal of the playoffs, tying it, 3-3, at 12:14. It was Chicago’s second goal of the period.
Oduya helped the Blackhawks force overtime when he rifled a shot on net from the left point that ricocheted off the left skate of defenseman Andrew Ference, who had lost sight of the puck when he marked Michael Frolik, who came swooping in on the net.
Oduya’s shot went off Ference’s skate and trickled behind goaltender Tuukka Rask.
It was but a momentary lapse to an otherwise stellar effort by Boston’s defense, which submitted a yeoman’s effort in blocking 26 shots through the end of regulation, with Ference and Dennis Seidenberg each recording a team-high six.
Chicago, in comparison, only blocked half as many shots after three periods.
In the first overtime period, Seidenberg recorded three Huge – with a capital H — blocks that kept the Blackhawks at bay and provided a layer of insulation that helped protect Rask.
The Blackhawks fully expected the Bruins would try to set a physical tone in the opener. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was particular concerned by the presence of Zdeno Chara on Boston’s back end.
“Obviously, Chara stands out as far as his presence on the ice defending against no matter what line, he’s a pretty efficient guy,’’ said Quenneville, who shook up his lines to spread out the offense in the hopes of minimizing the Chara factor, on Tuesday.
“I think their group basically recovered health-wise over the last round or two,’’ Quenneville. “They’re back to where they’ve been all year. They’re mobile. They have some big point-shooters. I want to make sure we manage that in our own end.
“Something we talk about going into every round, we want to make them play defense as best we can, spending time in their end and getting the puck behind them is going to be the challenge.’’
Seidenberg was more than up for the challenge, setting the physical tone early when he drove Jonathan Toews into the glass the first time the Blackhawks dumped the puck into the zone.
Johnny Boychuk, who had eight hits through three periods of regulation, flattened Marian Hossa as he attempted to carry the puck into the offensive zone and delivered a seismic hit that registered on the Richter scale.
Torey Krug, whose defensive zone turnover led to a Dave Bolland strike that pulled Chicago within 3-2 at 8:00 of the third, seemed to atone for his miscue when the diminutive defensemen stood tall in net, blocking a blue-line blast the screened Rask was unable to see.
When the game lapsed into triple overtime, three players had logged 50-plus shifts. All were Bruins defensemen, with Seidenberg recording a game-high 48:36 when it was all said and done. Chara logged 45:05 while Ference had 45:19, underscoring the importance of Boston’s back end in the opener of this series.
Impenetrable? Perhaps not. But indefatigable? That was a more fitting description of the tireless effort submitted by Boston’s defense.