The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have split the first four battles of the Stanley Cup Finals and both clubs will be fighting for the lead in Saturday's Game 5 at United Center.
Three of the first four tilts in this best-of-seven series have gone into overtime, including Wednesday's wild Game 4, which Chicago won by a 6-5 count after Brent Seabrook notched the winner 9:51 into the extra session. It was the first win for the Blackhawks since taking Game 1 in triple overtime and the victory evened this series at two games apiece.
Wednesday's game certainly was a departure from the first three contests, when goaltending and defense took center stage. The clubs combined for a total of 12 goals through Game 3 before exploding for 11 more on Wednesday night alone.
There was a point in Game 4 when it didn't seem like OT was going to enter into the equation. In fact, after Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored goals just over two minutes apart to stake Chicago to a 3-1 lead early in the second period, it briefly seemed like the Blackhawks' strong start would propel them to an easy victory.
However, Boston cut the score to 3-2 with 5:17 left in the second period and was hardly phased when Chicago's Marcus Kruger restored the two-goal edge less than a minute later. Instead, the Bruins used consecutive goals from Patrice Bergeron to tie it up at 4-4 by the time the third period was a little over two minutes old.
The back-and-forth action continued when Patrick Sharp restored Chicago's lead at 5-4 with a power-play goal at 11:19 of the third, only to watch Johnny Boychuk even things for Boston a mere 55 seconds later.
Seabrook eventually ended the classic battle by beating Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was dealing with some serious traffic in front of his crease. It was the second OT winner of these playoffs for Seabrook, who on May 29 scored a series-clinching goal against Detroit, scoring in overtime of Game 7.
The winning goal on Wednesday came after some sustained pressure in the Boston zone. Kane threw a shot on net from the right wing that Rask made a stop on, but the rebound came out to the left point. Bryan Bickell grabbed the disc there and tried to get it down low, but it bounced off of a couple of Bruins. However, it then found its way to the stick of Seabrook, who glided over to the right point and fired a shot on net that beat Rask cleanly to the stick side for the win and a tied series.
"I like shooting from that spot," said Seabrook. "But to be honest I was just trying to get it past their forward who was trying to block it. They do such a good job of blocking shots that I just wanted to get it through."
Kane finished the game with a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who had just five goals in the series coming into the game.
It was a good night for the Chicago offense, but not for Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who yielded five goals on 33 shots and was beaten badly on his glove side more than once.
Still, head coach Joel Quenneville brushed aside any notion the team was displeased with Crawford's performance in Game 4.
"No, not at all," Quenneville said on Thursday. "No, we're very comfortable with Corey. Corey has been rock solid all year for us, and when he's got the (start), he's been outstanding, and he's the biggest reason why we're here (right now)."
Chicago is 10-2 as the home team in this postseason, but did drop Game 2 at the United Center. That 2-1 overtime victory improved Boston's road record in the 2013 playoffs to 6-3.
The Bruins received 41 saves from Rask on Wednesday just two nights after he posted a 28-save shutout in Game 3.
"Our guys battled hard and played some good hockey to get us to overtime," said Boston head coach Claude Julien. "But I don't think that we played our best game tonight."
The Bruins were 2-for-5 on the power play while Chicago went 1-for-4. For the Blackhawks, it was their first goal on the man advantage in 30 chances.
On the injury front, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa is expected to play in Game 5 despite missing practice on Friday. Hossa sat out Game 3 due to an unspecified upper-body injury, but returned for Wednesday's contest.
This series marks the first time Original Six franchises have met in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1979, when Montreal defeated the New York Rangers in five games.
Boston has won five of the six postseason meetings with Chicago.
Game 6 is scheduled for Monday in Boston. If necessary, Game 7 will be played Wednesday at the United Center.