Philadelphia, PA – As Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals carried on deeper and deeper into the night, it seemed increasingly likely an ugly goal was going to be the difference.
Sure enough, at 12:08 of the third overtime period, a shot from the point played pinball on its way past a helpless Tuukka Rask, prompting the home crowd at United Center to begin the celebration shortly after the clock struck midnight in Chicago.
Although the opener ended with the Blackhawks on top, it took a while for the Western Conference champions to warm up to the task. Chicago was able to find its legs before it was too late, erasing a pair of two-goal deficits before ultimately winning it on Andrew Shaw's deflection.
The game-winning play seemed harmless at first, with Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival floating a wrister on net from the right point. However, after Blackhawks centerman Dave Bolland deflected the shot, the puck ricocheted off Shaw's leg and into the net, ending the fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history.
It's the kind of goal Joel Quenneville has come to expect from the gritty Shaw and the Blackhawks coach isn't the least worried about what the game-winner looked like.
"Doesn't have to be pretty," Quenneville said. "He's a warrior. He's one of those guys that you appreciate he's on your side and he's relentless.
While Shaw did his job on the winning goal by creating traffic in front of Boston's net, the Blackhawks didn't start out doing the right things in Game 1.
That's because in the early going, the Bruins were using a formula that has proven successful time and time again this postseason. Simply lure the opposition into trying to match them physically and just sit back and reap the benefits.
The gameplan worked for a while, but the Blackhawks eventually cracked the code and found a way to win a game that seemed to be slipping out of their reach.
While there are countless individual matchups to follow in this year's Stanley Cup Finals, in a general sense the team that can dictate the style of play has the best chance of winning this series. For the Bruins that means wearing down the other side with its size and physicality, but for Chicago it's all about possessing the puck and beating the opposition with speed and skill. When Milan Lucic -- the meanest member of Boston's red-hot top line -- scored the game's first two goals it appeared the Bruins were primed to bully the Blackhawks into submission. Chicago, of course, had other plans.
After getting outshot 11-8 in the opening stanza, the Hawks were able to use their speed more in the second and third periods, firing 31 shots Rask's way over the final 40 minutes of regulation.
Boston's final goal of the game, a power-play tally from Patrice Bergeron at 6:09 of the third, had Chicago seemingly buried in a 3-1 hole, but by the end of the period it was a surprise to see the Bruins still alive.
Dave Bolland scored for the Blackhawks just 1:51 after Bergeron and Johnny Oduya tied the game at 3-3 with 7:46 left in regulation. Chicago kept coming in waves until the end of the third, but Rask, who ended the tilt with 59 saves, managed to keep his team in the game.
For Boston head coach Claude Julien, the biggest positive he can take from Game 1 is how his team pushed back after collapsing in the third period. The Bruins carried the play for sizeable portions of the overtime sessions and came close to taking the 1-0 series' lead on several occasions, only to see goal posts or an unlucky bounce come between them and a win.
"I thought that in overtime we got better," Julien said. "We got a little stronger. We had some great looks, some great opportunities, we just didn't bury them."
In addition to dropping Game 1 in heartbreaking fashion, the Bruins also lost top-line forward Nathan Horton to an upper-body injury during the first overtime. Along with Lucic and David Krejci, Horton has helped form the NHL's most potent line in this postseason, and his status for Game 2 and beyond could loom large on the outcome of this series.
The good news for Horton and both of these tired teams is they'll get an extra day of rest before renewing hostilities in Game 2 on Saturday. After an epic Game 1 battle, the additional 24 hours couldn't come at a better time.