"Old people don't watch it, because you might die just watching." -- Jaromir Jagr, on the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final
Jaromir Jagr is exaggerating for effect, of course, but his point is well taken, especially once you get past the easy jokes about the future Hall of Famer's own relatively advanced age. The Stanley Cup Final so far has given us a pair of overtime games, the first of which wound up the fifth-longest Cup Final game in history. It's given us in-game momentum shifts and highlight-reel moments and periods of "helter skelter" play, to use the Doc Emrick-ism. And through two games, it's given us a win for each team. In other words, it's been pretty much exactly what we expected.
We knew coming into the series that both the Blackhawks and Bruins were deep, talented, experienced teams, and that neither had an overwhelming advantage over the other in any particular area. I'll take the Blackhawks' forwards and the Bruins' defensemen, for instance, but Chicago's solid on the blue line, while Boston can roll four forward lines themselves. I might give the slight goaltending edge to Tuukka Rask, but Corey Crawford posted comparable numbers over the first three rounds of the postseason. Neither team had a particularly good power play in the regular season -- or in the postseason, for that matter -- but they have two of the best penalty kills in the league. And Chicago's five-game defeat of the defending-champion Kings only appeared less impressive because of how thoroughly the Bruins dismantled Pittsburgh. These teams appeared poised to play a long, tight series -- the kind that will torture fans of either team, but delight everyone else. And, so far, they've delivered.
Boston struck first in Game 1, taking a 2-0 lead on a pair of Milan Lucic goals. But the Blackhawks, who trailed 3-1 in the third period, rallied to tie the game and force overtime, then eventually finished the job after some 52 minutes of extra time. In Game 2, the situations were reversed: Chicago dominated Boston in the first period, outshooting them 19-4 over the first twenty minutes. (Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa each outshot the Bruins in the period.) They would score just once, though --well, once before a referee's whistle blew play dead -- and Boston would settle down, tying the score in the second period and eventually winning it 13:48 into a frenetic overtime.
In other words, it's been the type of back-and-forth series one would expect from such evenly matched teams. Leads have been erased -- in fact, neither team led at any point in its victory before scoring the sudden-death winner -- and the ice has tilted in favor of both teams for stretches, but never for so long that the games have gotten out of hand.
As the series shifts back to Boston for Game 3, it's also clear that little details -- single moments, really -- can change everything. The freak double-deflection that ended Game 1 wouldn't play out exactly that way if Michal Rozsival took 50 more of the same shot from the point. And if the game didn't end there, it's anyone guess who would have won. (There's also like a two-percent chance Game 1 would still be going on, with the teams crawling around right now in the 106th overtime.)
And what would have happened if Brandon Bollig had handled the puck along the boards in overtime of Game 2 as he felt pressure from Adam McQuaid? The Bruins might not have scored on that shift, and though Boston had a lot of jump in their game at that point, who knows if Game 2 would have turned out differently.
As in any close game, you can point to a million things that could have tipped things in the other direction: If a referee hadn't blown play dead before Hossa pushed at Rask's pads, sending the puck over the goal line, or if the officials, after huddling, had penalized the Blackhawks for delay of game in overtime. (It's started already, but the debate over that rule -- which penalizes a player for shooting the puck directly over the glass from the defensive zone -- would really heat up if a key goal in this series were scored after such a penalty.)
This doesn't seem like a series where momentum will carry over from one game to the next (if such a thing even exists anyway). Indeed, this is a series of one-night battles -- each with its own unique qualities. In Game 1, for instance, the Blackhawks got a goal each from third-liners Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw, while the Bruins' top line accounted for two of Boston's goals. But in Game 2, it was Boston's third line that scored a pair of goals -- including the game winner -- after Claude Julien changed up his lines and put Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin together.
The keys in Game 3 aren't drastically different than they were in the previous game. Both teams, for instance, could afford to be a bit more consistent. (Boston, especially, won't want to get off to such a sluggish start and allow the Blackhawks to take the home crowd out of the game.) And the special teams story hasn't changed much: Boston does have a goal with the man advantage in the series, but with these teams, generally speaking: power plays, bad; penalty kills, good.
There was speculation before this series began that with two high-profile teams in the Final, Game 3 could set a record for viewers on the NBC Sports Network. And that was before Chicago and Boston opened the series with an epic triple overtime game (which received the highest overnight rating in 16 years), and needed extra time to decide Game 2, as well. So far, this series has been as good as advertised, and the hockey world -- as well as a lot of people outside of that world -- will be watching Monday night. If the first two games are any indication, we're all in for a good show.