CHICAGO – If you came looking for shining stars in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final, you were clearly in the wrong place. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding them even with the Hubble Telescope. That’s largely because the foot soldiers and goaltenders keep standing in the way.
For the first time since Lockout Part II (2004), the Stanley Cup final is tied 1-1 after two games. We’ve had two overtime games and our heroes have been Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks and Daniel Paille of the Boston Bruins, who drew his team even in the series with the overtime goal in Game 2.
It caps a strange couple of days in Chicago for the Bruins. It could be argued in Game 1 that the Bruins deserved to win and they didn’t. In Game 2, they spent the first 20 minutes looking like the Washington Generals, but managed somehow to ride the goaltending of Tuukka Rask until they found both their legs and their brains, which were apparently left in the dressing room.
“Well, we definitely were in survival mode there for a bit,” Rask said. “It looked like they had more guys out there than we did. They were pouncing on every single puck in front of net, had a lot of chances. We definitely played pretty bad.”
Yeah, you could say that. The Bruins were outshot 19-4 in the first period and only a quick whistle kept them from being down by two. The good news was they could not have possibly played more badly, or managed the puck worse, but were down only by one goal. If the Bruins do end up winning this series and the Stanley Cup, they can point to the turn of events in Game 2 as a major factor.
“Yeah, we started playing,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien when asked whether the Bruins did anything different after the first period. “I mean that in the right way. We were on our heels. We were second to the puck. We were just throwing pucks out of our own end. We weren’t making plays. We were standing still in our own end. A couple of point-blank shots. We were just not ready to play.”
So what do we make of the Stanley Cup final so far? Well, we’ve seen 10 goals in the equivalent of just over nine full periods of hockey and the goal-scorers have been Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Sharp…and Shaw, Paille, David Bolland, Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad and Chris Kelly. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each had two shots in Game 2. Plugger-turned-scoring-star Bryan Bickell is back on the third line and playing like a third-liner. Jaromir Jagr looked really, really dangerous in Game 2 and came as close to scoring without actually putting the puck in the net as one could. David Krejci and Brad Marchand each had one shot in Game 2 and Lucic did not put a single puck on net. Nathan Horton is playing hurt and Tyler Seguin hasn’t been able to find the net all post-season.
And, hey, it’s great that these gritty guys who have worked so hard to forge an NHL career are coming through on the biggest stage, but wouldn’t you like to see some of these stars begin to have more of an impact on the game? Of course, that’s very difficult to achieve when the league clearly mandates its referees to swallow their whistles so as not to affect the outcome of the game. But what they fail to realize when they do that is they are affecting the outcome of the game. When Brent Seabrook can slash and crosscheck Marchand on a breakaway with no penalty called, that is having an effect on the game.
But the same league that thought it would be a good idea to give out its Hart, Calder, Norris and Vezina Trophies the same night as Game 2 when there were two off days in the series seems to have no problem stunting its stars as the most crucial time of the year when most people are watching. The NHL could be attracting a legion of fans by allowing its best players to excel during the final, but prefers to allow the grunts to slow them down.
It makes no sense. But so little of what this league does makes any sense. We all still love the game in spite of those who run it. It is thus and, sadly, probably always will be.
For the Bruins, the decision to put Seguin on the left side with Kelly and Paille turned out to be a stroke of genius.
“We didn’t have much going. At one point I thought that line would give us something,” Julien said. “They responded well. Got both goals tonight. It’s a hunch from a coach. I know that Dan is a great skater, can make a lot of things happen. Seguin after the first period was one of the guys that picked up his game. Kelly was one of the guys that was good right from the start. I put those three guys together and they answered.”
1. Tuukka Rask, Boston: If not for his solid play in the first period, the game would have been essentially over by the 20-minute mark.
2. Chris Kelly, Boston: He scored the first goal of the game and anchored the line that gave the Bruins all their offense.
3. Dennis Seidenberg, Boston: For the second straight game, he led all Bruins in ice time, blocked five shots and was a rock on the blueline.