Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you know that the annual battle for possession of Lord Stanley’s Cup has begun; pitting two of the National Hockey League’s Original Six, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, against each other for the first time in the Stanley Cup playoff history.
For the Blackhawks, a Finals berth was almost expected after Chicago began the season with the best start in NHL history, earning a point in each of their first 24 games. Using a three-headed-monster comprised of Patrick Kane, Captain Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp to lead them, the Blackhawks tore through the Western Conference, finishing with 36 wins and only 7 losses to nab the top seed heading into the postseason.
The Bruins, on the other hand, entered the season shouldering a heap of uncertainty after being bounced by the Washington Capitals in the first round of last year’s playoffs and losing 2011 Con Smythe winning goaltender Tim Thomas to retirement. Marred by inconsistency, the Bruins finished fourth in a tightly packed Eastern Conference with a 28-14 record.
Fast forward to the night of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and we’ve got an instant classic brewing between two teams that seem evenly matched down to the last man. The result? An epic Game 1 that saw the Blackhawks erase two two-goal deficits to force an overtime that would lead to two more overtimes before Chicago finally broke through with a double-deflection goal off the shin pads of Andrew Shaw to end the fifth-longest Finals game ever. Then, as if these two teams actually LIKE playing free hockey, they squared off for another overtime in Game 2 before Daniel Paille knocked in the game-winner off the right post of the goal.
Photo Credit: (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports)
Somehow, after both teams were left for dead at some point in this postseason, each squad has shown the guts and the heart necessary to eke out victories when they need them most. Now we have the makings of a classic series from two classic teams from two classic cities. THIS is the reason they say playoff hockey is the best in all of sports.
Did I mention that this season was cut in half by NHL owners locking out their players? The lockout, which was touted as devastating for a sport that had only just begun to gain traction in the mainstream, now seems to be only a distant memory. Now, the question isn’t when the sport will recover from the lockout, but when the NHL will finally get a lucrative TV deal on par with the NBA, the NFL, and MLB. It seems to be about time doesn’t it? Eventually, perhaps, that issue will be solved, but right now the NHL can get away with it.
Why? Because it’s the Cup.
There’s really a storyline for everyone in a series that is bursting at the sutures with intrigue. For some, it’s the thrill of seeing the dynamic scorers of the Blackhawks skate headfirst into the towering Boston defense. For some, it’s the amazement of seeing 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr compete to win his first Stanley Cup since 1992, when many of the players he shares the ice with were in diapers. For others still, it’s the awe of seeing men jump in front of a puck howling at them at 100 mph for one reason.
Because it’s the Cup.
Now, after all the beards, overtimes, and luck on display at the United Center, the series ships up to Boston deadlocked at a 1-1 tie. They said there was no bad blood between these two teams that hadn’t played each other since the fall of 2011, but that’s all beginning to change. Already, we’ve been treated to diminutive Andrew Shaw picking fights with 6-foot-9, Johnny Oduya diving at the skates of the Bruins, Jonathan Toews versus the Bruins’ rough-and-tumble defense, and Milan Lucic versus the whole world. If this series goes seven as projected the professional tough guys on each bench may find themselves a little tired of the guys wearing the other sweaters. And who could blame them? Through two games, they’ve already played 10 periods of hockey. Yet, if we know anything about these two teams, it’s that they’ll continue to bite, scratch, and skate until they shake hands with the guys they’ve been beating to a bloody pulp for half a month because…
Because it’s the Cup.