Casual hockey fans, this one was for you.
The Bruins stood within a goal Wednesday night of all but guaranteeing their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, but their stranglehold on Lord Stanley turned all butterfingered when Brent Seabrook’s slapper from above the right faceoff circle eluded Tuukka Rask and delivered the Blackhawks to a 6-5 overtime victory at the Garden.
The win, their second in overtime in this series, also deadlocked the series, 2-2, with Game 5 Saturday night in Chicago and Game 6 back on Causeway Street on Monday.
The outcome aside, it was among the wackiest, most entertaining evenings in recent Stanley Cup history. No lead (all of them owned by Chicago) was safe. Defensive play, long the Boston strong suit, was consistent only in its sloppiness.
In a sport too often dominated by goaltending, Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Boston’s Rask, two of the best puck stoppers in the game, spent the night fishing pucks out of the net with the regularity that a Stop & Shop deli worker snags lobsters out of the tank.
All in all, not what we’ve become accustomed to in the 3-2, 2-1 NHL. No one left the building fretting over lack of shots (47 for Chicago; 33 for Boston) or the outrageous size of goalie equipment, or the all-too-frequent propensity of clubs to retreat to the defensive end and concentrate on blocking shots.
Instead, it was fun, fun, fun until Seabrook put his tee shot away — a steaming shot that eluded Rask, in part because Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews was jamming at the top of the crease with Zdeno Chara. Patrick Kane, missing much of the series, also had a presence in front. Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was partially in the lane of Seabrook’s shot, but not enough to prevent a different outcome with 9:51 gone in overtime.
“Two-on-ones . . . three guys caught low . . . not very aggressive in the neutral zone,’’ lamented Boston coach Claude Julien, ticking off the parade of horribles that led to his club’s defeat. “Lots of our game was average — and average is not good enough at this stage of the season.’’
Obviously not, but there was no denying it’s entertainment value.
NBC, trying to build an audience for America’s fourth sport, can use Game 4 as a promotion piece on par with its cherished Winter Classic. Even purists had to like how Game 4 unfolded, because it was chock-a-block full of good plays and booming shots, the best case of the latter being Johnny Boychuk’s slapper that tied it, 5-5, with 12:14 gone in the third period.
Blanked in Game 3, 2-0, the Blackhawks came out with a revised No. 1 line, reuniting Toews and Kane, with Bryan Bickell on the left wing. The trio finished 2-3—5, which included Toews’s first goal in the series and both a goal and assist for Kane, who previously notched only one assist in the first three games.
The key difference for the Blackhawks was scoring the first goal, a Michal Handzus shorthander at 6:48 of the first, amid a very lethargic start for the Bruins. Tyler Seguin gave up the puck high in Chicago’s zone on the Handzus goal, setting a tone for the night for Seguin. He finished minus-3, did not pick up a point, and landed but one shot on net. Brad Marchand, left wing on the No. 2 line, also recorded a minus-3, as did team captain Chara. Perhaps nothing underscores a wacky evening better than Chara with a minus-3. He often found himself trying to cover up for mistakes by partner Dennis Seidenberg and whatever trio of Boston forwards were running around, a la the Three Stooges.
“I thought we did a better job of our offense getting pressure on their defense,’’ said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who also noted how hard it has been for his club to beat Rask. “It was a nice end . . . with some traffic to the net.’’
Lost somewhat in the back and forth was how the Bruins erased a 4-2 lead with back-to-back goals by Patrice Bergeron across the second and third periods that tied it. Bergeron’s eighth of the postseason cut it to 4-3 at 17:22 of the second on the craziest strike of the night. Chara’s shot from long range sailed over the net, bounced off the back wall, then ricocheted off the top of the net before it fell (where else?) in front of the crease. Before Crawford could adjust to the serendipity of it all, Bergeron swatted the puck high into the net.
Bergeron was back at the start of the third, with only 2:05 gone, to sweep home the equalizer off a Jaromir Jagr feed.
Patrick Sharp and Boychuk then traded goals at 11:19 and 12:14 (55-second span), setting the stage for OT.
Once Boychuk’s tying goal went in the net, it would not have been a surprise to hear Garden organist Ron Poster banging out “The Nutty’’ theme from Channel 38 days of old. The place had sure gone crazy.
In the previous two games, the two clubs combined for five goals. Rask was unbeatable in Game 3. As Game 3 dragged on, the Blackhawks grew increasingly listless, looking tired and dispirited. But because hockey is hockey, ever unpredictable and deliciously crazy at times, they came back in Game 4 with a half-dozen goals, and now the 2013 Stanley Cup Final is guaranteed to go a minimum six games.
It also remains possible that the Bruins will win the Cup on home ice for the first time since May 10, 1970, the afternoon that Bobby Orr soared through the air, a moment captured in time by the statue now at the edge of Causeway Street.
So hang in, purists and casual viewers alike, there is plenty more fun to follow. No matter what happens in Chicago Saturday night, the Cup will be in the Garden on Monday night. Maybe something both wacky and wonderful this way comes.