WILMINGTON — The last time the Chicago Blackhawks were on the ice at TD Garden, they were raising the Stanley Cup, as the Bruins left in a mess of dashed hopes, bruised bodies and egos, and one collapsed lung. The Cup run had ended in a nearly unbelievable sequence, two goals allowed in 17 seconds, starting with just 1:16 remaining in the game.
The Bruins were moving on to Game 7 in Chicago. And then they weren’t.
The team have met since that game, a 3-2 win for the Blackhawks at the United Center Jan. 19, so there won’t be quite the same emotion when they face off Thursday night at the Garden. But still, this is the first trip to Boston for the team that denied the Bruins two Cups in three years. It might still be a little raw for some.
“Probably brings some good memories to them,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. “At least this time they’re not going to wreck our visiting locker room, I hope.”
Added Rask, “It will be a tough game. Year in, year out, they’re a good team, a great team. And they always give a great challenge to teams. So, it’s going to be a good matchup. But we faced them in Chicago, so the first game is over.”
This is a different sort of rivalry than the one between the Bruins and another Cup Final opponent. With the Canucks, even three years later, there is chippiness, dislike, insults back and forth. Not so with the Blackhawks.
“It was a little different,” Rask said. “I thought that last year’s finals were really honest and well-fought. There was no crap besides hockey. What happened on the ice stayed on the ice, and both teams played tough, so there was no hard feelings from our team or from their team.”
No hard feelings then. No hard feelings now. Only respect.
“They’re a great team,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “They play the game the right way. We like to think that we do as well. And it makes for a good matchup, it makes for exciting hockey, and it just goes to show you that you don’t need all the extracurricular stuff to make it a good game.”
As the Bruins go into Thursday’s game, their focus is not on any rivalry. Instead, it’s on beating a team that, like Montreal on Monday, should give the Bruins a playoff-like challenge. The Bruins’ 12-game winning streak was halted by the Canadiens, of which Milan Lucic said, “We can’t let a shootout loss deflate us and ruin our momentum we have right now.”
Because with just 10 games to go in the regular season and their spot in the playoffs assured, it would be easy for the Bruins to let up.
“This time of year you want to be playing these types of games, playing these playoff type of games, where [Thursday’s] most likely going to be a tight game like the last one was,” Lucic said. “But I think the main focus right now is keeping that momentum and playing the right way and creating those good habits and getting that little final tuneup before the playoffs start. You know, it’s not a switch that you can just turn on and off and you want to have a good last 10 games to finish the year.”
Nor are the Bruins wishing away those last 10 games. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s just get it over with, let’s get the playoffs to start.’ We want to have a good last 10 games to where we’re feeling good about ourselves heading into the playoffs,” Lucic said.
That starts against the Blackhawks. The Bruins know that a win Thursday night won’t erase the hurt of losing the Cup Final, nor will a loss mean they won’t be the ones hoisting the Cup in a few months.
“It’s going to be fun to play against another team that we know is a great team,” Julien said. “Right now we need to continue to get these challenges that we’re getting. That’s what’s going to keep us on our toes. I don’t think we’re looking for any easy games. Doesn’t suit us.
“As a team, we like the challenges. We like the games that are intense and have meaning to it, and certainly that one [on Thursday] is going to give us that. But you know that nobody in the dressing room is going to forget that we played them in the Final last year. Nobody is going to forget any of that stuff. But I think [Thursday] is not about remembering that, more than knowing it’s going to be a good game between two good teams.”