CHICAGO – One got the distinct impression that both the Bruins and Blackhawks are looking to put on a show given the Sunday afternoon national TV spotlight on NBC, and the Original Six rivalry spiked by last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Both teams are coming off satisfying wins after tough stretches for different reasons, and could use the springboard win as a way to generate some energy over the final month before the Sochi Olympics break.
But one thing is certain for the Bruins: this first game at the United Center against the Blackhawks since losing the Cup Final is going to be nothing like the first game against the Vancouver Canucks after the 2011 Cup Final. Those were two teams that still, even to this day, harbor a bitter hatred toward each other that kicked off when Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron at the end of the first period in Game 1. It just devolved from their over the next seven games, and that turned into a gong show at TD Garden when the teams met in January the following season.
Five Vancouver players jumped Shawn Thornton in front of the Canucks bench, the two teams combined for 107 PIMS and Brad Marchand was suspended for clipping Sami Salo on a hit in the corner. That game was as nasty as they come with the Bruins looking to settle some scores from dirty deeds done during the Cup Final, and the Canucks attempting to show they could stand up to the Big Bad Bruins.
It was the perfect recipe for things to get out of control.
But last June’s Cup Final was a different animal altogether.
The Bruins fell in six games to a Blackhawks team that was clearly the superior team against an ailing Patrice Bergeron, and a slowed down shutdown tandem of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Maybe it would have been different had the Bruins been completely healthy, but it’s not difficult to argue that the better team under any circumstances.
“When you take time to look back there was some great hockey played, and some great games: overtimes in a lot of them, and everything else. I thought it was well-played final, and hope for the better of the game that it was appreciated,” said Claude Julien. “If you’re talking about cheap shots and all of that, I don’t think it’s the case here.
“You’re talking about a well-played final. If anything I thought there was a lot of respect gained between the two teams. That’s the way I felt anyway. Everything I heard and ready it seemed that it was the same the other way [in Chicago] as well. Both teams respected each other until the end, and it was decided by the game of hockey. Nothing else.”
In fact, the mutual respect between the Bruins and Blackhawks once things had been decided was NHL hockey at its best. Milan Lucic said he couldn’t recall another playoff series where both teams essentially gave a respectful stick salute to the other franchise after such high stakes.
“I would definitely say it’s different [than Vancouver],” said Milan Lucic. “There was so much more…I guess you could say, chippiness in the Vancouver series. The bad blood has still carried over as you could see in the last Vancouver game [last month].
“There isn’t as much talk of that headed into [Sunday]. We both know what’s on the line. I wouldn’t say there was any other series where there was a mutual respect [like with Chicago.] But I’m sure once the puck drops and we get going that the emotional level will get us right back at it pretty quickly.”
That’s no surprise given the ultra-class players like Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa that were involved in the series, and probably one of the reasons why this matchup was dropped in at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time as a league showcase prior to the NFL conference final games.
“It is a regular season game, but obviously there’s going to be some emotion. It should be an atmosphere that’s going to be great,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We’re playing a great team, and it’s going to be a big challenge for us. We had a good win in Dallas, but lately we’ve needed to be better.
“It’ll be a tough game tomorrow morning, and we need to make sure that we’re ready.”
There’s little doubt both the Bruins and Blackhawks will be ready given the stage and the circumstances behind their last meeting, and now it’s up to them to produce the kind of hockey that will get people hoping for a Boston/Chicago rematch in this June’s Stanley Cup Final.
The Blackhawks certainly look like they’re well on their way. Who knows what can happen in Boston once they stabilize their defensemen situation and start functioning at their highest level without Dennis Seidenberg?
They can start answering plenty of questions with a dominant performance against a Chicago team that made the Ducks look like they were moving in slow motion on Friday night.