You didn’t think it was going to be that easy did you?
The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have that kind of skill, skating, and scoring ability. But they have a key ingredient Pittsburgh lacked — a sandpaper side to their game. The Blackhawks are willing to do what the Penguins never were in the Bruins’ four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference final. Chicago is willing to get its hands dirty and let the game get ugly and messy to win.
That’s what Chicago did Wednesday night at TD Garden, scoring a wild 6-5 overtime victory to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece. Despite twice blowing two-goal leads and losing a 5-4 third-period lead, the Blackhawks persevered. They did it by turning the series on its ear.
The Bruins and goalie Tuukka Rask had been playing better defense than the 1985 Chicago Bears, holding the Blackhawks to five goals in three games and shutting them out in Game 3. But Chicago battled for the valuable real estate in front of Rask and relied on the oldest axiom in the game. A goalie can’t stop what he can’t see.
That was the case on the game-winner, a long shot from defenseman Brent Seabrook at 9:51 of the extra period that came with captain Jonathan Toews bivouacked in front of the Boston net.
“If they’re ugly goals, fine we don’t care,” said Toews, who notched his first point of the series on a tip-in goal in the second period that gave Chicago a 2-1 lead. “We’ll find a way. That’s what we need to keep doing.”
For the third time in four games, the teams had to go to overtime to crown a victor. For the second time it was Chicago.
This was not Bruins hockey. After scoring a combined five goals in Games 2 and 3 the teams combined for five goals in the second period of Game 4, which was pure green flag hockey. No pit stops, no cautions. At the end of it Chicago led 4-3.
Just 2:08 after Toews’s goal, Patrick Kane netted his first goal of the series. Bryan Bickell took a shot that Rask saved but the rebound came to a wide-open Kane, who lifted a backhander past Rask. Chicago led, 3-1.
It marked the first time in the series that the Bruins trailed by multiple goals. The Bruins trimmed Chicago’s advantage at 14:43 of the second, when Milan Lucic batted home a rebound of a Zdeno Chara shot on his backhand.
Before the goal could even be fully announced Chicago had restored its two-goal lead, taking just 49 seconds to do so. Marcus Kruger collected his own rebound at the right post and flipped it home.
The Bruins nearly tied the game with 42 seconds left in the period. Peverley made a beautiful pass to Chris Kelly, who had a net opening the width of the Charles River. But his tip struck the left post. It was such a golden opportunity that the fog horn used to celebrate Bruins goals sounded off with premature celebration.
Boston pulled within 4-3 on a fluke goal by Patrice Bergeron that was set up when a Chara shot appeared to be tipped and took a wacky bounce off the glass landing right in the lap of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford. Bergeron tied the game just 2:05 into the third with a rocket from the right face-off circle.
Patrick Sharp put Chicago ahead at 11:19 of the third with a power play goal. But 55 seconds later, Boston’s No. 55, Johnny Boychuk, unleashed one of his patented megaton slap shots and tied the game, 5-5. Eerie numerological symmetry was fitting in a game that was stranger than fiction.
But the Blackhawks refused to be pushed into a 3-1 ditch by the Bruins.
This is a team that was down, 3-1, to the Detroit Red Wings in the second-round and became the first team in franchise history to rally from such a deficit. It’s a team that stared down the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. It’s a team that didn’t lose in regulation for the first 24 games of the season. It’s a team that still has eight players from its Stanley Cup winner of 2010.
We like to think the Bruins have the patent on resolve, resiliency, and character. But it’s not exclusive to the Black and Gold.
If there was ever a sign of the grind of the Blackhawks it was in the faceoff circle. After getting whooped by the Bruins in Game 3, losing 71 percent of the draws, Chicago won 49 percent of the faceoffs on Wednesday night.
They did all the little things and got some dirt under their fingernails when it was required.
“It just goes to raising the compete level and the battle level,” said Sharp. “There was a lot of talk after Game 3 about how we weren’t getting to the net, playing from the outside. We never really doubted the heart and the character in our room. We can do that. We’ve done it against Detroit. We did it against LA.
“They’re a tough team to play against, a tough team to get on the inside. But we got a few tonight.”
This definitely wasn’t the type of game the Bruins wanted to play.
Boston almost beat Chicago at their own game, but in the end it was the Blackhawks who beat Boston at theirs.
They were bent, but they never broke.
“We’ve never doubted the heart and the character in the room,” said Sharp. “This team has been together for two full seasons. We’ve been in tough situations before. We believe in each other, even when we’re giving up goals that we probably shouldn’t give up and the game is on the line we find a way to dig deep and get the next one.”Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.