CHICAGO — Five games of blood and thunder. Three overtime contests and five overtime periods. Three wins for Chicago, two for Boston. An aggregate score of 14-13. Heavy hits and breathless action that raises the hair on your forearms. Midnight confessions after each game.
Is this the best Stanley Cup Final in the history of the National Hockey League?
“This is as good as I’ve seen,’’ said Hall of Fame hockey play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick. “I can’t remember any better than this. The play has been at such a high level. You think there is nothing left for these guys, and then they keep coming back with more.’’
The Blackhawks beat the Bruins in Game 5 Saturday night, 3-1 (empty-net goal in the final, furious seconds) and will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup Monday night at TD Garden.
Don’t count on it. This thing has to go seven. And maybe a few more overtimes. Then it can be the best ever.
We live in an age of hyperbole and absolutes. Nothing can be simply great. It has to be the best of the best. There is a rush to anoint the latest as the best.
Adele is the best singer of all time. “Mad Men” is the best television show ever. Floyd Mayweather Jr. claims he’s the greatest fighter of all time, and Tiger Woods was on his way to being the best golfer ever.
LeBron James has two championships, so now he’s better than Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan. He’s the best of all time.
Just like Bruins-Blackhawks, 2013.
We’ve got a pair of NHL Original Sixers and a raft of starpower. Three of the first four games went into overtime. Game 1 was a three-overtime epic, the fifth-longest game in Cup Final history. We’ve got an epic duel of anthem singers — Chicago’s Jim Cornelison vs. Boston’s Rene Rancourt.
Saturday night featured another 60 minutes of smashmouth hits and frenetic play in front of the nets. Johnny Boychuk blasted Chicago’s Jonathan Toews out of the game. Boston’s best player, Patrice Bergeron, was injured in the second period and left the United Center in an ambulance. The 22,274 who stayed until the final horn saw the Bruins come close to tying the game in the closing seconds.
This 2013 Cup Final is making a case as “best ever.’’
Top series in other “major” sports are more easily identified. When folks speak of the greatest World Series of all time, we round up the usual suspects. The 1975 Red Sox-Reds classic tops many lists. More recently we’ve had the Cardinals and Rangers in 2011 and the Twins and Braves in 1991. Going back, hardball historians cite the 1960 Pirates-Yankees classic and there is always support for the 1912 duel between the Red Sox and the New York Giants. That’s more than 100 years ago.
Ten-year-old kids and assorted Heat fans will make a case for the just-concluded Heat victory over the San Antonio Spurs as the greatest NBA Final ever, but I was there for the 1993 joust with the Bulls and Suns, which was much better than what we just witnessed. The 1957 Celtics-Hawks seven-gamer (first win for Russell and Red Auerbach) gets support from old-timers, but in my book nothing tops the 1984 Celtics-Lakers series, which included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, Byron Scott, and Dennis Johnson. It was the last of the 2-2-1-1-1 NBA finals. It was Boston-LA and Jack Nicholson flew on commercial aircraft with the Celtics to see games in Boston.
Football? Forget it. Super Bowls don’t count. They are not “series.’’ The good Super Bowls are one-hit wonders.
Playoff hockey is tough to beat for sheer excitement and entertainment. Bruins-Blackhawks has been a smorgasbord for fans, with wild, back-and-forth drama that’s kept us up way too late. The mood swings are full 180-degree turns. This is the first matchup of Original Sixers since 1979. Both teams have won games in overtime, in the other guy’s barn.
“One of the most celebrated Finals is 1973 when the Montreal Canadiens won (over Chicago) because that gave Henri Richard 11 championship rings,’’ said Richard Johnson, curator of the New England Sports Museum. “I think the one most people remember these days is the Rangers winning in 1994 in seven games against Vancouver because the Rangers hadn’t won a Cup in 54 years. It was a lot like when the Red Sox finally won here in 2004.’’’
“One of the memorable ones was in 1993 when Montreal played Los Angeles,’’ added Emrick. “The Kings had Wayne Gretzky and those games were pretty engrossing. I don’t think we’ve had anything quite like that since until now.’’
“You’re fighting for every inch of space on the ice,’’ said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “It’s been an amazing series. Both teams are leaving it on the ice.’’
Most citizens of Canada would dispute the notion that any Cup series could be considered “best-ever” unless it included one, preferably two teams from Canada. Bruins-Blackhawks represents the first meeting of two Original Sixers in a Cup final since 1979, but no Canadian team has won the chalice in the last 20 years.
Since we are all about overtimes in 2013, it needs to be mentioned that the 1951 series between the Canadiens and Leafs included five overtime games. The last time a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 was decided in overtime was 1954 (Detroit over Montreal).
“This series so far has been a great advertisement for the sport of hockey,’’ said Johnson. “When you add the layer of history of Boston and Chicago, it’s a delight. We are really getting spoiled. I think the Hawks might be the best skating team I’ve seen. The Bruins have Tuukka Rask and a ton of heart. People are going to talk about this series for years to come. It certainly came at the right time for the league after the lockout.’’
Ninety-five-year-old Milt Schmidt, a two-time Cup winner as a player with the Bruins in 1939 and ’41, said his favorite series was the Cup semifinal against the Rangers in 1939, which included four games that went to OT. “Sudden Death” Mel Hill scored three game-winners in that series.
“There was no love lost between us and the Rangers,’’ said Schmidt.
Is Schmidt able to stay awake for the overtime decisions?
“Oh, no,’’ he said. “At 95, I don’t stay up at nighttime as much as I used to. I’ve got to be honest. One night I went to bed early and then I couldn’t sleep and I was wondering who won, so I got up and turned it on and we were still playing.’’
We all need to get our rest so we can stay up again Monday night. Then comes the inevitable Game 7 Wednesday in Chicago.