Vin Sylvia: Cup Final has 'classic' written all over it
IF GAME 1 was an NHL instant classic, Game 2 was simply classic 2013 Bruins.
Saturday night in Chicago, after a first period totally dominated by the Blackhawks, the B's improved with each successive period, tying the game in the second and winning it, 2-1, in OT to send the series to Boston even at a game apiece.
It was a microcosm of this Bruins postseason run, displaying all the traits — good and bad — that make this team so compelling and, ultimately, so endearing. And it made a world of difference in mindsets around New England yesterday and today.
Three days after a potentially disheartening loss in triple-overtime, the first period of Game 2 had the look of a back-breaker for the Bruins, a Cup-clincher for Hawks. But instead of folding with Chicago leading 1-0 and owning a 19-4 advantage in shots on net, the B's regrouped and recovered, thanks in no small part to a key line change by coach Claude Julien.
Now, instead of returning home for Monday's Game 3 to an atmosphere of desperation, Boston carries momentum and renewed confidence into what is certain to be a raucous TD Garden.
Just as their comeback win over the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the opening round infused the Bruins with the belief that another Cup was attainable, what transpired Saturday night had to boost their faith in each other. What had been the team's weak link throughout the lockout-shortened season and on into the playoffs, the third line, suddenly became a strength when Julien partnered Tyler Seguin with centerman Chris Kelly and left wing Daniel Paille early in the second period.
Pointless in the postseason to that point, Kelly scored the tying goal off the rebound of a Paille shot at 14:58 of the second. Two periods later, at 13:48 of OT, Paille took a feed from Seguin and wristed a shot over the glove of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, off the post and into the net to give the B's the win.
Now, instead of being dependent on the first unit of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic — and, to a lesser extent, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — for front-line scoring, the Bruins have a new source of production.
Balance? Teamwork? Check and check.
Julien's line-juggling was possible only because of a move he didn't have to make: replacing Horton.
Knocked out of Game 1 with an apparent shoulder injury in the first overtime, Horton returned to action Saturday night, keeping the first line intact. He doesn't do that, Seguin likely skates in his place, and the third-line magic probably never happens.
Horton's return may have lacked the drama of Gregory Campbell staying on the ice with a broken leg to kill a penalty in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh, but it gave his team an emotional lift, as well as a much-needed physical presence, nonetheless.
Whether that lift was at least partly responsible for Seguin's performance Saturday night is uncertain, but there's no question the previously underachieving young forward played his best game in months, going aggressively to the net, throwing his body into the dirty areas.
He's still stuck on one goal for the postseason, but now, instead of being an endless source of frustration, Seguin truly does look like a player on the brink of a performance recalling his two-goal outbreak against Tampa Bay in Game 2 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
Heart? Toughness? Resolve? Check, check and check.
Of course we probably wouldn't be discussing any of this right now were it not for Tuukka Rask. The Bruins may lack a superstar, but their goalie has given them a superstar-caliber performance, compiling the NHL's best record (13-5) and save percentage (.944) in the postseason.
To a man, the Bruins credited Rask for keeping them in the game Saturday night, and rightly so. With his teammates skating in a fog in front of him, he stopped 18 of those 19 Blackhawks shots in the first period, making everything that came afterward possible.
Were it not for the onslaught he withstood in Saturday night's first period or the 54-save performance in the Game 3 double-overtime win over the Penguins, it might be easy to overlook Rask. Cool and steady — in contrast with the goaltending hero of the 2011 Cup run, the fiery and frenetic Tim Thomas — Rask, along with captain and defensive stopper Zdeno Chara, has been a postseason given.
Stalwart goaltending. One very big check.
Here's another given: With Saturday's Bruins victory ensuring the Final will go at least five games, we are assured of summer hockey Saturday night in Boston.
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at email@example.com.