Championship teams are built over weeks, months and years. Championship bids are earned over the course of games, series and a season. But championships sometimes are won — or lost — in the course of just seconds.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Final featured the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, two top-notch organizations that had been there before. The margin of difference between the teams was so slim that many believed the matchup of Original Six franchises would be one for the ages. Boy, was it ever.
The six-game series probably should be remembered as a grueling test of wills. Three games went to overtime, including a triple-OT thriller in Game 1. No game was decided by more than two goals, and the road team won three of the six meetings. All-world players battled through injuries, some of the nagging variety and some of the potentially life-altering variety. Every punch seemingly was returned with a counter-punch.
That was, of course, until the Blackhawks finally caught the Bruins with a blow they could not withstand. That’s why this series likely always will be remembered for just 17 seconds — the amount of time uncertainty turned into sheer joy and jubilation for the Blackhawks.
Sunday’s meeting in Chicago will be the teams’ first since that jaw-dropping Game 6 finish in Boston on June 24.
Both teams have moved on, no doubt, and both are back among the NHL’s best teams. But as we look back to those mind-blowing moments on that warm June night, it all still seems pretty unbelievable.
The Blackhawks’ comeback started in the fleeting moments of the game. The Bruins, facing a 3-2 series hole, were just 90 seconds away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 back in Chicago. Obviously, Chicago had other ideas. Eventual Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane started the furious push when he carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the Boston end. Behind him, goalie Corey Crawford headed to the bench.
Kane eventually got a shot on Tuukka Rask, who kicked it aside. Boston center David Krejci appeared to have position to move the puck up the wall, but Chicago captain Jonathan Toews wrestled it away from him. Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith pinched in and grabbed the puck, then passed it back to Toews, who had cycled down to the goal line. Toews took the pass, walked in front and found Bryan Bickell on the doorstep with a pass through Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara‘s legs. Bickell pushed it by Rask, and the game had inexplicably been tied.
“Well, they started pinching, and we talked about that. We knew they were going to pinch, and you lose a puck battle here or there, and they made great plays. The tying goal is a great play. They’ve got their best players out there on the ice, and then they made a great pass. We got caught a little bit on the wall with their Ds pre-pinching.”
— Bruins coach Claude Julien
“Yeah, you pull a goalie. You just want to make sure everybody knows where they’re supposed to head coming off the bench. We got to the net. Bicks had an amazing playoff round and playoff season for us. He absorbed big minutes for us. Quick nice hands around the net.”
— Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
“It is a blur. I saw the puck come at me, I shot it, and I didn’t even know where it went. It went in.”
— Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell
The Bruins won the ensuing faceoff, but for whatever reason — whether it was shock, nerves, disappointment or some wicked combination of all of those — the B’s were especially sloppy with the puck. That led to a failed dump-in along the boards and then a turnover at center ice.
“They [the Bruins] kind of got deflated with that late goal against to tie it up 2-2. We pressed them, and we kept on going.”
The successful comeback effort left Quenneville with a decision to make. He couldn’t necessarily put his top line back on the ice after the game-tying goal. Those players were fatigued, meaning Quenneville had to go with someone else. He sent his fourth line against the Bruins’ top group, which also had been out there for the game-tying goal.
“You equalize the game there. They might have been a little tired. I could have kept them out there, but Bolly, that line hadn’t played in five or six minutes, and offensively, defensively, you know you get a contribution all year long of all four lines. No matter who you throw out there is capable of making plays.”
Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland got the puck at center ice, skated into the Bruins’ end and took a shot that Rask calmly kicked aside to the left wing. Had Rask kept the puck a little bit deeper, the Bruins would have been able to at least gain possession and perhaps get it out of the defensive zone. However, Rask’s kick save sent the puck a little farther up the boards — just far enough, in fact, that Marcus Kruger was able to retrieve it. Kruger then sent it back to the blue line to Johnny Oduya. As Oduya began to shoot the puck, Michael Frolik skated to the middle of the slot.
Oduya quickly flung the puck toward the net, and Frolik, coming across the slot, redirected the offering. That was the beginning of the end of the Bruins’ season. While Oduya’s shot might have gone through to Rask for a potentially easy save, Frolik changed all of that. His deflection appeared to catch Rask off guard. The puck beat Rask, but it didn’t find the back of the net. It hit the post and, instead of deflecting wide, settled in the crease.
Bolland just was in the right place at the right time. The veteran forward went to the front of the net, just hoping for some sort of good fortune. That good fortune came by way of the Frolik redirection, which hit the post and sat in the Boston crease. Bolland reached through the legs of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference and shoveled the puck by Rask. Bolland threw his gloves off in a fit of joy, jumping up and down in front of the glass. Stunned Bruins fans sat in silence while a large party of Blackhawks fans, family and friends exploded with shocked exultation.
In just 17 seconds of game time, the Blackhawks had tied the score and then taken the lead. That sequence left the Blackhawks just 58.3 precious seconds away from the Stanley Cup.
“Next play on the wall, cruised back to the point one time and, bang, it’s in the net. Kind of the way you had to score in this whole series. The pretty ones weren’t there. It was the ugly goals that seemed to work.”
“The other one, as you say, Johnny-on-the-spot kind of thing. He just happened to be there at the post, and his stick was there. Our guys were close to him, but, you know, he just out‑muscled them on that. That’s what I mean. Sometimes they go your way, and sometimes they don’t. We’ve lived through both of them, so we know how it feels on both sides of it, winning and being the losers.”
“The puck went back to [Oduya], and someone shot it, and it was just sitting in front. I just had to tap it in.”
The final 58.3 seconds, which must have seemed like the longest for anyone wearing a Blackhawks sweater that night, came and went with no real push from the Bruins. They pulled Rask but couldn’t muster any real scoring chances. It was pretty clear that the wind had been taken out of the Bruins’ sails after what happened in the shocking moments before. Almost six weeks earlier, the Bruins had stormed back to win Game 7 of their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps this was the hockey gods evening things out a little bit.
“Yeah, well, we’ve done it to somebody else, so we got to feel how it feels being on the other side. This season, we were known to lose a couple of leads. Even in the regular season, we were up by goals, and we lost the games. I guess that sums it up pretty good. I just said to somebody that we did it to Toronto, so I guess we get a taste of our own medicine here. It sucks.”
“It’s a bad feeling. Bad, like an awful feeling. You can’t really describe it. As a player, it’s probably one of the worst feelings you can get when you are up by one goal with a minute and 20 left and somehow you lose the game. It’s just like a total shock. I mean, you are going to remember [it] forever. You remember winning it, but I think you remember losing it a little bit more, now that we have had that happen.”
For the Blackhawks, the win was the ultimate end of a dominant season. They set an NHL record by beginning the season with 24 games without a loss in regulation. That dominance carried into the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final. They were the better team in the final, and their Game 6 comeback proved they were a darn tough one, too.
“It was a big one. We never give up as a team. We [expletive] die hard. We do great things as a team, and we always battle until the end.”
“The resiliency of our team was in place all year long. The depth of our four lines made it such a great season and a fun team to coach as well. And the back end — the contribution and the goaltending combo we had with Corey running with it here in the playoffs. But it was one of those seasons, fairy-tale ending and an amazing season.”
Photos via AP
All quotes from 2013 Stanley Cup Final