By Sarah Kwak
CHICAGO — In the wee hours of Thursday morning, in the bowels of the United Center visitors’ dressing room, the Boston Bruins tried their best. They said all the right things, sat confidently, and made sure not to look too worn, too weary. They reminded the microphones in their faces of the times they had fought back from tough losses, and that here, they were close; the game could’ve gone either way. As they moved through the halls after the game, they did so with heads held high. Yes, they may have just lost, 4-3, in a triple overtime thriller, but they refused to be defeated by it.
But here’s the reality: The Bruins can try to convince themselves and the world that this wasn’t a devastating, irreparable loss, but that’s exactly what Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was. And here’s why:
• The emotional toll of a game like this will not soon be forgotten, and each and every Bruin will feel exactly that in his muscles on Thursday morning. To the Blackhawks, the fatigue and burn will be remnants of a hard-fought victory; to the Bruins, it will be a physical reminder of their failure. At a certain point — and I think it’s around the midpoint of the second overtime — a game becomes worse to lose than it is better to win. The joy of victory becomes less intense than the bitterness of defeat, and Game 1 on Wednesday night had long passed that point.
• The Bruins may have lost Nathan Horton, who left the game in the third period with an apparent upper-body injury and did not return. Coach Claude Julien had no update on Horton’s status, and Horton was spotted walking the halls after the game moving freely and unencumbered. But losing the winger will mess with the Bruins’ most effective scoring line. Without him late in the game, linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic were less effective than they had been when Horton rounded out the trio. Lucic, for instance, had no shots in overtime despite scoring Boston’s first two goals. Horton’s situation will force Julien to switch up his lines, perhaps force him to increase Tyler Seguin’s minutes. That could be a good thing for the Bruins if Seguin plays as he did late in Game 1, but consistency hasn’t been a strong suit for the youngster. It’s still a little early to understand what the impact of Horton’s injury or non-injury will be, but if he couldn’t return during the 50-plus minutes they played after he left, then chances are it’s serious enough to keep him out of a game or two.
• What’s got to be most disconcerting for the Bruins, however, was how much the Blackhawks dominated for long stretches of the game. In the end, Chicago fired 132 shots, 63 of which made it to Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. The Bruins took 85.
• Twice, Boston held two-goal leads that they squandered. They let Chicago back into the game in the third period when Johnny Oduya tied the score with less than eight minutes left, his shot from the point bouncing off Andrew Ference’s skate and past Rask. And then, in overtime, the Bruins were given two power play chances — off of bench minors — and they failed to convert. Boston’s power play has never been a fearsome one, of course, but so late in the game, that has to be an opportunity utilized rather than wasted.
• Depth is key, as they all say, but Game 1 began to show some cracks in Boston’s depth. Diminutive Torey Krug, the defensive wunderkind, had his pumpkin moment in the third period, giving the puck away at the blue line, a mistake that led to the goal that reignited the United Center crowd. Julien benched him for the rest of regulation, brought him back three minutes into overtime, and managed his ice time like a veteran coach who is weary of rookie mistakes.
Said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton: “That’s part of hockey. We have to go through it, the good with the bad. Hey, we could be home.”
A silver lining, perhaps, but it’s not as rich as the Bruins might like to believe.