Boston Bruins center Chris Kelly (23) celebrates his goal past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50)during the first period in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals, Monday, June 24, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON - An NHL season cut short by a labour dispute will be long remembered, thanks to a glorious finale between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
The two teams will have vastly different memories of the championship series, but neutrals won't soon forget a Chicago's Game 6 comeback that saw two goals in 17.7 seconds—a wild sequence that started with less than 80 seconds remaining before a packed TD Garden on Monday night.
Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland scored back-to-back as the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in dramatic fashion with an amazing 3-2 comeback victory over the Bruins.
"Nobody saw it coming," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
Milan Lucic's third-period goal looked to have given the Bruins a 2-1 victory and a new lease of life in the final. A Game 7 on Wednesday in Chicago seemed next.
But with Chicago goalie Corey Crawford out for an extra attacker, Bickell tied it up at 18:44 after Jonathan Toews circled out of the corner when Boston was unable to clear the puck. With two teammates waiting for him in front of goal, Toews chose Bickell and the game was suddenly tied.
Bolland then won the Cup seconds after the puck drop, tucking in a rebound of a Johnny Oduya point shot that hit the goal-post. Bolland nipped between two defenders to redirect the puck in at 19:01 to stun the Bruins and previously raucous crowd.
"It's a tough way to lose, tough way to lose a game, tough way to lose a series," said Boston captain Zdeno Chara.
Even more so for a Bruins team that hoped to win a Cup for a city rocked by the Boston Marathon bombings in April, said coach Claude Julien.
"You know, at the end of the day, I think that's what hurts the most is in the back of our minds, although we needed to focus on our team and doing what was going to be the best thing for our team to win a Stanley Cup ... It hit close to home, and the best way we felt we could try and cheer the area was to win a Stanley Cup," he said.
"I think that's what's hard right now for the players. We had more reasons than just ourselves to win a Cup."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was once again booed after the game during the trophy presentations that saw Chicago sniper Patrick Kane win the Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP.
Toews, reduced to a spectator the final minutes of Game 5, added a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks clawed their way back into Monday's game. The captain was the first to hoist the Cup as his teammates jumped up and down on enemy ice.
Chicago's stars came through when it counted. And its depth showed against a Bruins side that was clearly hurting.
For Boston, it was a painful reminder of how it feels to be at the wrong end of a comeback. The Bruins had mounted a history-making three-goal charge in the third period of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round before winning in overtime.
"Sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don't. We've lived through both of them, so we know how it feels on both sides of it, winning and being the losers," said Julien, who was gracious in defeat.
Crawford finished with 23 saves in the victory that marked Chicago's fifth championship and second title in four years.
"That team in 2010, we didn't really know what we were doing," Toews said. "We played great hockey, and we were kind of oblivious to how good we were playing. This time around we know definitely how much work it takes and how much sacrifice it takes to get back here, and this is an unbelievable group.
"We've been through a lot together this year, and this is a sweet way to finish it off."
Added Quenneville: "It's always the greatest feeling in the world, so it can't be any better. So it's always a tie, and once you do it, you can't wait to do it again. The stories, the ups and downs and the process of trying to win a Cup, that's what makes it so special."
Chris Kelly had the other goal for Boston, while Tuukka Rask made 28 saves. The Bruins offence was limited by a power play that went 0-for-4 on the night.
Lucic had taken advantage of a Crawford handling error behind the goal to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 12:11. The bruising forward disrupted the Chicago goalie and when the puck came back in front from David Krejci in the corner, Lucic wristed it in.
The Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, had their way with the Blackhawks in the first period, but only managed to turn that dominance into a 1-0 lead. Chicago rallied in the second to tie it up and make a contest out of it before completing the memorable comeback.
Tied 1-1 going into the third, the game was up for grabs. And the stakes were high, ratcheting up the pressure for the capacity crowd of 17,565—Boston's 165th straight sellout.
It made for a fast-placed third period, with both teams getting chances in what felt like overtime. A lot of hearts were in throats as pucks flew through the crease or just missed sticks.
Both teams endured a bumpy ride to get to Game 6. There were question marks over the health of Chicago's Toews and Boston star Patrice Bergeron. It was revealed that Toews had his bell rung in Game 5, while Bergeron had a broken rib and cartilage damage before separating his shoulder in Game 6.
"He had a monster game," Quenneville said of Toews' performance Monday.
Chicago's Marian Hossa, who was dealing with a back injury, and Boston's Nathan Horton were also playing hurt. Julien said Chara was also at less than 100 per cent.
The players also had to contend with searing summer heat in the low 30s that did little for the ice. It was warmer in Beantown than Libya. A thin layer of fog was visible over the ice as the Bruins started their morning skate over some bumpy ice.
Monday matched the deepest the Stanley Cup playoffs have stretched into the summer. New Jersey capped its sweep of Detroit on June 24, 1995, in the last lockout-shortened season.
The last time the Cup was presented on Boston ice was in 1990 when John Muckler's Edmonton Oilers defeated Mike Milbury's Bruins four games to one. Craig Simpson, who was in CBC's commentary booth for the 2013 final, scored the winning goal. Milbury is a studio analyst for NBC.
The final, the first to feature Original Six teams since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers in 1979, did not disappoint.
There were three overtime games and plenty of drama as Chicago's speed and skill was matched against the hard-hitting Bruins, who balanced talent with truculence. But in truth, both teams had a bit of everything including clutch goaltending and a high pain threshold.
If Chicago is a sleek Porsche, Boston is a muscle car. Both have power, but one was built to give and take some more knocks.
Going into Game 6, Chicago led in shots (204-175) and goals (14-13), while Boston had the edge in hits (237-176).
After a painful lockout, a memorable final series was just what the doctor ordered.
"I think it's been a good bounce back half-season for the league personally," said Julien. "I think the fans got back into it, and you always appreciate their support because if I'm a guy on the other side, I know how I would have felt.
"Our fans are very forgiving and supportive, and that's what this game needs. In order for us to thank them or pay them back, you've got to give them the kind of hockey I think that they saw from all the teams here in the playoffs. It was an exciting last couple of months."
The Blackhawks become the first team in the salary cap era to win the Cup twice.
Chicago also won the Cup in 2010, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. Given the Blackhawks' recent success, it is easy to forget that the 2010 championship was Chicago's first since 1961—at the time the league's longest active Stanley Cup drought.
The Blackhawks had to shed players in the wake of that Cup run because of salary cap issues. But once again it finds itself celebrating on enemy ice, thanks to GM Stan Bowman's refreshing of the roster.
Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell, Ben Eager, Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Antti Niemi and Kris Versteeg all moved on after the 2010 Cup win.
Chicago, with a full-season salary tab of US$79.8 million, ranked fourth in the league this season in payroll.
Boston was eighth at $73.2 million and seemed to run out of weapons in the final.
Krejci had nine goals and 12 assists in the first three rounds of the playoffs but only managed two assists in the first five games of the final. That was two more points than Brad Marchand, who led the team in scoring this season.
Tyler Seguin, fourth on the team in scoring during the season, was 11th on the team going into Monday's game with one playoff goal and six assists.
It said something that going into Game 6 defencemen had scored 17 of Boston's 63 goals (27.0 per cent), the most among all playoff clubs.
And Chicago seemed to have solved Chara. The hulking defenceman was on the ice for eight of the nine goals against in Chicago's Game 4 and 5 wins.
After falling victim to several fast starts by the Blackhawks, Boston came out buzzing Monday and soon had the Chicago on its heels.
Hard work paid off for the Bruins' third line as Kelly won a faceoff in Chicago's defensive end. Seguin batted the puck down out of the air and passed over to Kelly, who scored his second of the playoffs at 7:19 by snapping a shot past Crawford.
With 4:01 remaining in the period, Chicago's Andrew Shaw went down after taking a Shawn Thornton shot to the face. That required workers to clean blood off the ice, while Shaw needed repairs of his own.
The fast-paced game was taking its toll. Jaromir Jagr played just 3:03 of the first period, with Rich Peverley taking his place alongside Marchand and Bergeron. Jagr returned for the second period, took one shift then headed back to the dressing room, with Seguin filling in.
The first period was all Boston, who led the shot attempts category 32-8.
The Bruins outshot Chicago 12-6, won 17 faceoffs to the Hawks' seven and also outhit Chicago 16-13. It could have been worse but the Blackhawks blocked 13 shots to the Bruins' one.
Still it was only 1-0 on the scoreboard. And that soon changed.
Toews tied it up at 4:24 of the second period with his third of the post-season, winning a faceoff and then—after Michael Rozsival chipped the puck ahead—beating Chara down the boards before swooping in to rifle a shot past Rask.
To make matters worse, the goal came at the end of a Boston power play—the exact second that a Shaw roughing penalty expired as the Blackhawks killed off their third penalty of the game.
It was Toews' second goal in his last three outings, equalling his total from his prior 22 playoff contests. For Chara, it meant he had been on the ice for nine of Chicago's last 10 goals.
But it was Chara to the rescue later in the period on a Chicago power play, clearing the puck away with Rask out of position after a pair of saves and Kane ready to stuff the rebound in.
Chicago outshot Boston 9-6 in the second period. And the Hawks were working hard to limit the Bruins chances, leading 20-4 in blocked shots after two periods.
Bergeron, clearly not 100 per cent, won three of seven faceoffs in the first 40 minutes.
Jagr was back on the bench to start the third period and returned to the ice.
The Blackhawks—who also won the Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1961—opened the lockout-shortened season with a statement, picking up at least a point in 24 straight outings.
Colorado beat the Chicago 6-2 on March 8 to end the streak. The Blackhawks had won 11 in a row and were unbeaten in regulation in 30 straight games (24-0-6) dating to last season.
For Quenneville, it was trial by fire as every team facing the his club wanted to take them down.
Prior to the defeat at the hands of the Avalanche, the last regulation loss for the Blackhawks was a 6-1 home defeat to the Nashville Predators almost a year before.
Only the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (25-0-10) have enjoyed a longer unbeaten NHL run. They did it in an era before regular season overtime.
Chicago finished the regular season with 36-7-5 record to lead the league. Boston was 15 points behind, in fifth spot overall.
The Blackhawks become the first Presidents' Trophy winner to win the Cup since the Red Wings did it in 2008.
"We're almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended," said Quenneville.
The Bruins finished with a 28-14-6 record, winning just two of their last nine in an end-of-season schedule disrupted by the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
"They're deep," Julien said of the Hawks. "They got stronger as the series went on, and they're a great hockey club. They need to be congratulated on that.
"But at the same time, I'm going to stand here and tell you how proud I am of our team, how those guys battled right until the end. Without getting into all these injuries today because it's not the time, we battled through a lot."
Notes: The game had Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attention who tweeted: "Original 6/Game 6 - fans like us can't lose" prior to the game. ... Prior to the final, Boston beat Toronto in seven games, the New York Rangers in five and the Pittsburgh Penguins in four. Chicago dispatched the Minnesota Wild in four, the Detroit Red Wings in seven after trailing 3-1 and the Los Angeles Kings in five.
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