The Chicago Blackhawks headed for the East Coast, one win between them and the Stanley Cup title. The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, went home knowing they had to win the next game to avoid elimination, not to mention the bitter experience of watching someone else celebrate winning the Stanley Cup on their ice.
Sound familiar? It should.
Not only were those the scenarios for the Blackhawks and Bruins as they made their way to Boston for Game 6 on Monday night, they were the exact situations each team faced the last time they were in the Stanley Cup finals.
Chicago won Game 6 in Philadelphia in 2010 to give the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup title since 1961. The Bruins won Game 6 at home in 2011, then beat the Canucks in Vancouver for their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years.
“We could all take some experience from that and realize that, to win this game, we’ve got to make sure we leave everything on the ice,” Boston forward Brad Marchand said, referring to the Bruins though his words could have applied to the Blackhawks, as well.
“We want to win the cup, and to do that, you’ve got to push to the last second of the last game,” Marchand added. “We’ve learned that the hard way.”
In 2011, the Bruins lost the first two games of their finals series with Vancouver. They evened it up with wins on their own ice, only to put themselves on the brink of elimination with a loss in Game 5.
The Bruins came out roaring in Game 6, scoring four goals in the first period on their way to a 5-2 win that forced a winner-take-all finale. Two days later, it was more of the same as Boston routed the Canucks 4-0 for the Stanley Cup title.
“You always have life until it’s over,” said Boston goalkeeper Tuukka Rask, who was Tim Thomas’ backup in 2011. “This is a new season. Obviously, we know what we did in the past, but it’s not going to help us (Monday) on the ice. We still have to go out there and make it happen.”
But this current group has shown some resilience, too.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Bruins were down 4-1 to Toronto with 11 minutes left in Game 7. Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored to give Boston new life, then Bergeron scored in overtime to send the Bruins into the next round.
Not that Boston coach Claude Julien planned to remind his players of any of this.
“I don’t need to go in there and give this big speech and get these guys riled up because they know what’s at stake,” Julien said. “We’ve proven it in the past, and now we have an opportunity to prove it again. That’s up to us to show it on the ice versus talking a great game in the dressing room and not showing up on the ice.”
The Blackhawks didn’t see much point in reminiscing, either.
In 2010, they took a 3-2 lead to Philadelphia after beating up on the Flyers 7-4 in Game 5. They were four minutes from winning the cup in regulation when Philadelphia tied the game, but Patrick Kane won it in overtime. After the puck crossed the goal line, it got stuck beneath the padding in the net and no one could see it. It took a video review to uphold the goal — though Kane and Patrick Sharp didn’t wait to start celebrating in front of the Philadelphia fans.
“It’s a similar feeling, especially having the series tied 2-2, taking Game 5 at home and coming on the road for Game 6,” Sharp said. “You’ve got to be careful. You’ve seen a couple years ago Boston was down 3-2, they won at home and then won Game 7 in Vancouver. We know this team is capable of coming back.
“For us, I know it’s a big game,” he added. “But you want to play it like it’s any other game, play the way we have all season and try to pull one out here on the road.”
While both the Bruins and Blackhawks acknowledge the rarity of facing identical Game 6 scenarios as they did just a few years ago, not everything is exactly the same.
The goalie for each team is different, with Rask and Corey Crawford both newcomers to playing in the finals. (Thomas may or may not be retired while Chicago’s goalie in 2010, Antti Niemi, was a Vezina Trophy finalist this season with San Jose.) Salary cap concerns forced the Blackhawks to overhaul their roster after they won the Stanley Cup — though Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa still make up Chicago’s core — and Mark Recchi, one of Boston’s biggest stars in 2011, is enjoying retirement.
And if this series has taught anyone anything, it’s that nothing works out quite like it’s expected.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself in the process,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got some guys that have been there, they know the experience. … There’s some guys that they’re so excited, you dream about this moment. We’ve got to keep everything in perspective. We want to make sure that we’re confident playing the game and putting yourself in the now position as opposed to ahead of yourself.”