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June 13. 2013 10:09PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: We're well on our way to an epic series


Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw scores the game-winning goal in triple-overtime past Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) during Game 1 of their NHL Stanley Cup Finals hockey series on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Bruce Bennett/POOL)

THE 2013 Stanley Cup Final has epic written all over it.

It took nearly six periods for Game 1 to end, with Chicago's Andrew Shaw getting a double-deflection goal to end the fifth-longest overtime game in Stanley Cup Final history and give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins in triple-OT.

The tone set in Game 1 bodes well for a series that could be one for the ages. An Original Six battle between two of the last three Stanley Cup winners started with an opening game that will keep fans talking all the way up to Saturday night's Game 2 — and beyond.

From the opening minute of play, it was clear that both teams had little interest in taking things slow and playing through any kind of feeling-out process. Dennis Seidenberg delivered a thumping hit on Chicago star Jonathan Toews in the first 30 seconds, and there was pushing and shoving to accompany the first whistle of the game less than 30 seconds after that.

Not bad for two teams that didn't face each other in the regular season.

"We haven't seen that team all year, but judging by how the game went, we're going to have to be ready," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

When reach the no-man's land of multiple overtimes, the winning goal is rarely a thing of beauty. Luck usually is as much a factor in an overtime game-winner as skill and grit. The Bruins had the edge in chances in the extra frames, but a poke-check here and a ring off the post there allowed the game to keep going.

"I thought in overtime we got better," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We got a little stronger. We had some great looks, and we had some great opportunities. We just didn't bury them, and eventually someone is going to score a goal here as fatigue sets in. I'm not disappointed in our effort. It was a hard-fought game."

Much already has been said about the Bruins "allowing" the Blackhawks to get back in the game and force overtime after Boston led 3-1 in the third period. But with two teams playing at the top of their games, no lead will be safe in this series.

Just watching how the goals were scored tells you all you need to know about the quality of play you can expect throughout the Stanley Cup Final.

The passes, the shot selection, players getting to the tough areas and digging in ... A tiny error for either side and the puck goes the other way for a scoring chance.

And then there was the goaltending, with Tuukka Rask battling Corey Crawford save-for-save.

The Bruins will look to regroup and try to earn a split in Chicago before returning to Boston for Game 3 on Monday. The big question for the Bruins now is, just how badly hurt is Nathan Horton?

Horton holds a plus-22 rating in the playoffs, tops in the NHL. His line with David Krecji and Milan Lucic has been the league's deadliest in the postseason. Horton's absence — with the Bruins already feeling the loss of fourth-line center and special teams ace Gregory Campbell — would create a massive hole in the Boston lineup.

The man most likely to be tabbed to step up is Tyler Seguin. The crucible of that kind of pressure could be exactly the talented but underperforming young forward needs.

Seguin in this postseason has just one goal and four assists in 17 games. Being elevated to the top line might be the push he needs to take the next step in his career. But if he struggles, it could also set him back and further slow a player of great potential but limited payoff so far.

That said, fear not for the Bruins. Remember, Boston won the Cup two years ago without Horton after he was blindsided by Vancouver's Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the Final. The Bruins lost the first two games of that series, then lost Horton, and everything still turned out just fine.

"The last time we won the Cup, we lost the first two games to Vancouver," Julien said. "It never stopped us from coming back."

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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