CHICAGO – Milan Lucic scored late in the first period and the Boston Bruins took a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday.
In the first championship meeting in 34 years between Original Six franchises, the teams spent much of the first period feeling each other out — and hitting each other, too.
Then, the Bruins started to take charge and they went ahead at the 13:11 mark after David Krejci knocked Niklas Hjalmarsson off the puck along the boards behind the net. He fed a pass to Nathan Horton, who feathered the puck across to Lucic, whose quick wrist shot from the slot in front of the net went past Corey Crawford to make it 1-0.
Tuukka Rask stopped all eight shots he faced for the Bruins, who are seeking their second title in three years.
Crawford made 10 stops. But the Blackhawks, back in the finals for the first time since their championship run three years ago, didn't get much going early on. They had a chance in the opening minutes when Brandon Saad took a pass from Andrew Shaw, but he got stopped by Rask hugging the post from a few feet out.
Not since the Montreal Canadiens knocked off the New York Rangers in five games in 1979 had Original Six teams played for the championship. But both these teams have been here, done that, with Chicago winning it all in 2010 and Boston taking the championship the following season.
For the Blackhawks, it was a long climb back.
The buzzer had barely stopped ringing after Patrick Kane scored the winning goal against Philadelphia to end a 49-year championship drought when the bulldozer hit Chicago. Salary cap issues forced the Blackhawks to part with a long line of supporting players, and the result was back-to-back first-round playoff losses.
But things sure came together this year.
From a 24-game points streak to start to capturing the Presidents' Trophy at the end, no team dominated like Chicago during the regular season. In the playoffs, things haven't been as easy. The Blackhawks took out Minnesota in five games, but had to rally to beat Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals.
They won that one in seven games and didn't blink facing arguably the league's hottest goalie in the conference finals. Instead, they took out Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, winning Game 5 in overtime on Patrick Kane's third goal of the game to get to this point.
The Bruins, meanwhile, nearly got eliminated in the first round but have been on a roll ever since. They almost got derailed in Round 1 against Toronto, blowing a 3-1 series lead and then falling behind by three in the seventh game.
Then they did something no other team had done. They became the first team in league history to take a Game 7 after trailing by three in the third, with Patrice Bergeron scoring the tying and winning goals. Since then, they've made it look easier.
They beat the New York Rangers in five games and swept Pittsburgh, never trailing and allowing just two goals in the series while keeping former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a point.
Now, here they are, the physical Bruins going against high-flying Blackhawks. Both teams came in with hot goalies, with Rask posting a league playoff-high .943 save percentage for Boston and Crawford not far behind at .935.
A big question for the Blackhawks was how they would get around the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara. Coach Joel Quenneville decided to split up Toews and Kane and keep one of his biggest stars away from the big defender, after they played on the same line for the last part of the Los Angeles series.