CHICAGO — Nearly bumrushed out of the United Center in the first period Saturday night, the Bruins ultimately stiffarmed their way back into the Stanley Cup Final when Daniel Paille’s wrister from the left circle ricocheted halfway up the right post and behind goalie Corey Crawford 13:48 into overtime and carried the Bruins to a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks.
The series is tied, 1-1, which did not seem remotely possible in the first period, amid a Chicago torrent that saw the Blackhawks attempt 30 shots to Boston’s meager, almost pitiful total of five. The chance of a second Cup in three seasons fast slipping through their fingers, the Bruins were looking at a 1-0 deficit (goal by Patrick Sharp) after the first 20 minutes.
“It was a hard period to coach and watch,’’ acknowledged Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We didn’t have our legs.’’
His club staring at the 1-0 deficit, as well as their own dead legs and potentially shattered dreams, Julien was looking at something else. Desperation.
And with it came invention.
The oft-slow-to-change Julien pushed around his cast of misfit toys among his third and fourth lines and conjured up magic in the likes of a new trio that put Chris Kelly between speedy wingers Tyler Seguin and Paille. When the night was over, Kelly had his first goal (the 1-1 equalizer) of the postseason and Paille had the winner, his third of the playoff season, as well as the key assist on Kelly’s game-tying strike.
Paille and Seguin are the club’s two fastest skaters. Teamed up with Kelly, the surehanded and defensive-minded pivot, they immediately flashed consistent, dogged effort, their game and their confidence growing with each shift. It was by far Seguin’s best effort and performance in his 18 playoff games this season.
Whatever had been holding Seguin back, be it training wheels or the burden of expectation, he emphatically dumped all that and darted all over the ice, especially in the offensive end. Seguin has the skills to be an NHL superstar, but his produciton these first three years has been held back by his inconsistent effort over long stretches.
Paille is a former first-round draft pick, prized for his speed and his effort, both huge factors in his penalty-killing tool kit. He lacks touch, but he had it in abundance on the winning shot, riveting the puck off the iron. If he displayed that sort of marksmanship on a regular basis, he could be a 25- or 30-goal scorer in the NHL. For one night, with 6:12 left in overtime, he flashed a touch that might bring a tear to the eye of aged Blackhawks great Bobby Hull.
“We started skating . . . leveled the play,’’ said Julien, whose club returns to the Garden Monday night for Game 3. “That third line came up huge for us tonight.’’
The Seguin-Kelly-Paille trio carried the show, the entirety of it, on a night when the Bruins couldn’t squeeze a point out of their top two lines. Injured Nathan Horton gutted it out from a shoulder injury and teamed up again with headliners David Krejci and Milan Lucic. They were as bad as everyone else in the Spoked-B uniform in the first period, but they got better as the night went on, even if the game summary didn’t show it.
The second line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Jaromir Jagr also bundled up bupkis. Jagr, ripped on national television by Mike Milbury after the first period, nearly won it with 1:28 gone in overtime with a wrister from the right side that banged off the post. It was one of five shots he put on net. Marchand took four shots on the night, and landed but one.
With Julien’s new line eventually in place, the night began to change drastically in the second period. For all their lack of production, the Bruins weren’t short on hitting. At one point, they were outhitting the Blackhawks by a 3-1 margin (39-13), and they finished the evening with a 50-34 edge in the hurt department.
The Blackhawks, after squeezing only the one goal by Rask in the first period, seemed to lose interest, or at least their legs, as the night grew longer. It very well might have been the constant contact delivered by the Bruins. True or not, bet on the Bruins returning with that Big Bang theory on Causeway Street. Until the new line was cobbled together, hitting was all they had, and the hits made the Blackhawks’ game grow smaller. At least that’s how it looked.
“In the second period, we lost the pace of the game,’’ said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, his squad with only 15 shots after the first period. “We stood around and they countered. We slowed ourselves down and maybe we left something out there [after scoring only once in the first].
“It’s a long game and we have to be better than that.’’
Now it looks as if it also will be a long series. Had the Bruins dropped Game 2, another Cup for the Blackhawks might have been a fait accompli. Down by a pair, the Bruins likely wouldn’t have climbed back into the series the way they did two years ago against the quick-fold Canucks.
The Bruins now have at least a mental edge in the series, knowing they can weather the Blackhawks’ mightiest of storms, believing that they wore down the Western champs with constant hits, knowing they’ve discovered some much-needed giddyup in the unlikely likes of Seguin, Paille, and Kelly.
“Not much needed to be said after that first period,’’ mused Kelly. “If it wasn’t for Tuukka it would have been a lot worse. We had to do something. We weren’t doing much in that first period. We got better in the second, even better in the third, and the OT was by far our best period. We controlled the flow.’’
No one yet is in control of the series. The Bruins will be back here on Saturday for Game 5 and the same could be true then. But what they know now is that they’ve got enough to gain control under the most difficult circumstances. That little bit of confidence could go a long way.