NBC is getting its money’s worth from these Stanley Cup Finals. After a three-overtime opener on Wednesday won by the Chicago Blackhawks, the network got another round of extra advertising time last night, as it took the Boston Bruins nearly fifteen minutes into overtime to get a 2-1 win that evens the series.
CHICAGO’S WASTED FIRST PERIOD
The story of the game is indisputably the first period, what happened and what didn’t happen. What did happen is that Chicago completely dominated play to a level rarely seen in the playoffs. The shots tell part of the story—19-4 for the Blackhawks. But even that only gives you a glimpse into how thoroughly the home team was controlling play.
Chicago didn’t just get 19 shots, they got 19 good shots. They were able to easily move up towards the net, they got repeated rebound attempts, as Boston’s defenseman looked like they had cement in their skates, as the puck and was never cleared. This wasn’t a case of an offense just launching a lot of shots from long range and artificially padding their totals. This was one team completely outskating the other and putting itself into great position, over and over.
But it was only 1-0 when the period ended. I won’t say Boston goalie Tuuka Raask gave a performance for the ages or get all hyperbolic. Not when the game settled back down in the ensuing two periods. But Raask certainly gave twenty minutes of goaltending for the ages. He made repeated great saves and literally turned the tide of this game all by himself and gave his team a chance to win. It was the greatest display of momentum-turning Boston sports fans have seen since the Roberts steal in the 2004 ALCS (okay, I guess I got a little hyperbolic).
There was one bit of controversy and Chicago fans might feel like the score should have been 2-0. In a pileup near the goal, the whistle blew. After play was stopped, the puck trickled through Raask’s legs and nudged past the red line for what would be a goal. There’s no question play was stopped, so on its face the call was correct. The relevant question was whether play should have been stopped, and if a premature whistle saved Boston a goal.
As to the question of whether it should have been stopped, I’m going to cop out and say I don’t know. Those pileups are always a mess and you can argue it either way all day long. But the goal came because of a push by Chicago’s Marian Hossa on Raask that caused the puck to come out, and the push clearly came after the whistle. Thus, this is not a case of the puck already being loose in the pile, the officials being unable to see it, blowing the play dead and the Bruins escaping on a technicality. It’s a tough call to have go against you if you’re Chicago, but that doesn’t make it an officiating train wreck.
THE BRUINS TURN THE TIDE
The rest of the Boston team decided to join Raask on the ice for the ensuing two periods and the Bruins were able to settle in and play their game. Amazingly, they limited Chicago to just nine shots for the rest of regulation. I’ve had 30 in my mind as a baseline number that the Bruin defense needs to keep Chicago scorers under, and it’s frankly astonishing that they could pull it off in spite of all but taking the first period off.
Chicago’s defense played very well themselves, and Boston only took 20 shots in regulation, but Chris Kelly was able to scrape out the game-tying goal and send it to regulation.
It was overtime where Boston truly outplayed Chicago for the first time in this series. The shot totals for the roughly fifteen minutes of play are 8-6 Bruins, which look reasonable, but that doesn’t tell the story. Boston got a number of clean looks, and good rebound chances, whereas the Blackhawks only had one shot that was a credible scoring effort.
Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford made some great saves in overtime, but there’ s no denying he was flat-out beat by Daniel Paille on the game-winner. It was a close-up shot, but there was no screener to block Crawford’s view and it’s a save an NHL goalie needs to make, especially at this level of competition. But given the number of times the goalie bailed his mates out in overtime, he can get a little slack.
SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON
The series now goes to Boston for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Wednesday. It’s a fair question of which team has the edge and which team should feel regret.
As a Boston fan I was morose after Game 1, feeling like you can’t blow a 3-1 third period lead and expect to win a Finals against a very good team. Losing some close games are a part of a hockey series, but you can’t give one away—either losing by blowout, or missing a chance to close out a win. Boston did the latter.
Therefore, the relevant question this morning is this—did Chicago just return the favor and give one right back? It wasn’t as dramatic as a blown third-period lead and triple overtime loss, but Game 2 will rightly stick in any Chicago fan’s craw. With or without the officiating debate, the Blackhawks absolutely owned the first period, and were still the significantly better team for the game as a whole. Yet they lost.
I’d have to say this series is at where it should be at, tied at a game apiece. Although each team should have won the game it lost. Now it’s going to be a question of tempo. Can Chicago continue to create the offense-friendly tone that characterized most of Game 1 and the first period of Game 2? Or will Boston be able to turn it into a grind, like they did in the latter two periods last night. Answer that question and you have a good idea on who the champion will be.
Game time on Monday is 8 PM ET and NBC Sports Network has the coverage. TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis comes back on Tuesday.