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Blackhawks find way to win epic Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

Updated: June 13, 2013 10:05PM



There is still a long way to go in a series that already appears destined for seven long games, but Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals provided another insight into the beauty of the Blackhawks. Considered along with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the fastest, most-skilled team in the NHL, their trump card is often their unique ability to morph into any team they want.

They can hit. They can muck up the game. Their goaltender can turn white-hot in an instant. And they never run out of unsung heroes.

Rookie Brandon Saad and third-line center Dave Bolland each scored his first goal of the 2013 postseason at the most opportune time — Saad when the Hawks were down 2-0 and Bolland after they trailed 3-1. Defenseman Johnny Oduya tied the game and Andrew Shaw won it with a deflection of a deflection by Bolland of a shot by Michal Rozsival. In fact, Marian Hossa, who fed Saad for his first career postseason goal, is the only name player on the scoresheet for the Blackhawks. Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik had the other points for the Hawks in their 4-3 triple-overtime victory.

Asked what he learned about his team’s mental toughness as the 112 minute marathon, Patrick Sharp said, ‘‘Nothing that we didn’t know all season long. We’ve got a team that any night somebody can be the hero and be the star. We’ve had plenty of situations where we’ve batteled back late in games. We’d like to think we’re prepared [for anything].’’

Almost miraculously — if the Hawks should have won this game once after regulation, the Bruins should have won if four or five times — the Hawks found a way to win using their less-vaunted resilience (and their on-again/off-again friend, the goal post) than their more-vaunted speed. They hit with almost reckless abandon at the outset — giving up the first goal of the game when Niklas Hjalmarsson went for the check and not the puck, only to have David Krejci avoid most of the impact and slip the puck to Nathan Horton, whose nifty touch pass set up Milan Lucic for a one-timer that beat Corey Crawford and quieted a United Center crowd that was still buzzing from the National Anthem.

In the end, they won because Crawford made more plays and had more luck than Rask. As Sharp pointed out, the time for Crawford to provide ‘‘statement’’ games is long past. ‘‘I don’t think he needs to make any more statements as far as being a No. 1 guy and a great player,’’ he said. But in Game 1, Crawford took it to another level of clutch-ness — again showing a knack for being one shot better than the hottest goalies in the playoffs — he outplayed Jonathan Quick throughout the Western Conference final and he looked more like the red-hot Tuuka Rask than Rask on Wednesday night.

‘‘Crow was great. He kept us in there,’’ Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘He made several all-alone plays and saves. Had some off-man breaks, some dangerous looks. He was great.’’

Crawford’s excellence can’t be mentioned without adding that he had a tremendous amount of help and good fortune in this one. That’s how you win after falling behind by two goals twice in a Stanley Cup Final game.

‘‘We’ve been like that all year. Didn’t really matter,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘Whatever happens we seem to play the same way and play with confidence and not play on our heels. We did that again [in Game 1]. Just kept playing hard and believed that we would tie it up.’’

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a taxing grind that tests teams even when things are going their best. For both the Hawks and Bruins, Game 1 was a new challenge — nearly two full games in one on the biggest stage in the game, with so much on the line. It will be remembered and referred to for a long time, moreso in Chicago than Boston, though.

‘‘I think [the challenge] was more mental than anything,’’ Sharp said after the game — early Thursday morning as it was. ‘‘Once the game starts you’re tired, beat up and sore after your shifts. But mentally you’re not really prepared to play six periods in a row. I thought both sides stayed focused. I looked across and saw the Bruins ready to go as well. We could still be playing that game.’’

Before the series started, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews expected a close series that would be determined by ‘‘which team wanted it more.’’ In Game 1 it was clear that each team wanted it as much as the other. The difference will be even more intangible than Toews expects. However undefinable that is, though, right now it looks like the Hawks have it — or will find it if they don’t.



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