The longer the night stretched on into the early morning hours, as an increasing number of golden opportunities to end it fell by the wayside, the more it was eerily reminiscent of the last time the Bruins went to three overtimes in the Stanley Cup finals.
Unfortunately for Bruins fans, Wednesday night’s Cup opener against the Chicago Blackhawks echoed Game 1 of the 1990 finals against the Edmonton Oilers right to its conclusion, with the Bruins enduring nearly three full overtimes before succumbing to defeat.
The question is: Will their painful 4-3 loss on Wednesday prove as difficult to overcome mentally as the one to the Oilers 23 years ago when a fresh-legged Peter Klima hopped off the bench to score the game-winning goal at 15:13 of the third extra session? The Bruins never recovered from that disappointment, dropping the next game 7-2 and losing the series in five games.
Back then, the Bruins could look back at one especially excruciating missed opportunity when Glen Wesley shot the puck over an open net. This time? Overtime included a 2-on-1 breakout from Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille that failed to materialize, a Nathan Horton shot that clanged off the post, and many other sparkling chances, particularly in the first overtime when they were handed a power play after the Blackhawks were tagged with a penalty for too many men on the ice.
Don’t blame Tuukka Rask, who made 59 saves and could not be faulted on Andrew Shaw’s winning goal, which pin-balled off two players before finding its way into the net. Milan Lucic was also a beast, scoring twice, assisting on Patrice Bergeron’s goal, and continuing a torrid playoff performance that in no way reflects his often tepid regular season. David Krejci, with two assists and a bevy of spectacular, artistic maneuvers, appeared on the verge of ending the game throughout overtime.
Where did this game go south on the Bruins and turn in Chicago’s favor? It was probably when rookie defenseman Torey Krug made a classic rookie mistake. With the Bruins in possession of a 3-1 advantage and the clocking ticking down to less than 12 minutes remaining, Krug had possession of the puck in the middle of the Bruins’ zone near the left wall. Instead of taking the safe route, and with a two-goal lead it should have been the only route to choose, by moving the puck out of danger through an opening along the boards, he attempted a pass toward the middle of the ice. Predictably, it was intercepted, leading to Chicago’s second goal. With renewed life, the Blackhawks then got lucky when Johnny Oduya’s long and normally harmless slapshot, which was headed wide of the net, deflected off Andrew Ference’s skate and slipped in behind Rask.
Afterward, a despondent Rask was brutally honest. He said the Bruins gave away the game. He pointed out the “terrible turnover” that led to the second goal, and the deflection that tied the game. “We had the game. We were up 3-1 in the third,” he lamented. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
We know that these Bruins have proven remarkably resilient during the playoffs, with their miracle comeback in Game 7 against Toronto serving as Example A. But Chicago isn’t Toronto or New York or Pittsburgh. The Blackhawks, who opened the strike-shortened season with 24 games without a regulation loss, have appeared hell-bent toward the Stanley Cup all year. They are the real deal. Trailing by two goals in Game 1, with their raucous United Center crowd silenced, and facing the normally stifling Bruins’ defense, they roared back for the win.
After two much-needed days off, the teams meet again in Game 2 on Saturday night. The Bruins lost the first two games of the finals in Vancouver two years ago and won the Cup, so I won’t say that Saturday night constitutes a must-win situation. But it sure feels that way.
Rob Duca was an award-winning sports columnist for the Cape Cape Times for 25 years. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, Yankee magazine, Cape Cod Life and Golf & Leisure Cape Cod.