Bruins-Blackhawks Cup final a battle of inches

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews spits during a break in play against the Bruins in Game 2 of the...

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews spits during a break in play against the Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at the United Center in Chicago, June 15, 2013. (JOHN GRESS/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

BOSTON - You should have known better.

If there was part of you that was willing to hand the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks just 20 minutes into Game 2, you probably weren't alone.

But you should have known better because of what the Boston Bruins have done so far in the post-season.

Before they evened the best-of-seven series with a 2-1 overtime win Saturday night at the United Center, there were enough prime past performances to handicap this team.

There was the comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Game 7 thriller that had its one-month anniversary last week.

There was the beat down of the weak-minded New York Rangers, a five-game series in which the B's started to gather momentum.

And as their defining act so far, the head-scratching shut down of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.

So sure enough, after barely surviving an onslaught by the Hawks in the first period Saturday, the Bruins showed why and how they may be both the toughest out and the toughest team in the 2013 playoffs. They’re now just three wins away from a second Stanley Cup title in three years.

Saturday's loss was not only a demoralizing one for the Hawks, but it was a physically impressive, character-driven bounce back win by the Bruins.

So instead of leaving the Windy City in a 2-0 series hole, the Bruins return home with at least a slight edge as action resumes with a pair of games here at TD Garden on Monday and Wednesday nights.

After what happened Saturday, the biggest question mark heading into Game 3, then, could be whether the Blackhawks will be up for the fight and whether they can respond to the physical challenge the Bruins clearly delivered in Game 2.

"We just kind of let them play their way and we didn’t make them earn it," was Chicago captain Jonathan Toews' muted assessment of the 2-1 loss. "That’s a little disappointing."

It had to be disturbing as well to a team that had won six in a row on home ice and had the 22,000-plus fans at the Madhouse on Madison in full Saturday night party mode after a 19-shot surge in the opening period.

When it ended with a thud on Daniel Paille's game-winning overtime goal, the famed United Center organist had resorted to music fitting for a funeral. Fitting considering, in their own way, the Hawks rolled over and let the Bruins dictate the action.

In truth, it's difficult to determine which team holds an edge at this point. At least fuelling hope for the Hawks is the fact they saw a version of Saturday's script earlier in these playoffs.

It happened in Games 3 and 4 in Detroit two rounds ago, where we first saw a hint that Chicago's Presidents' Trophy winning form wasn't necessarily going to hold up through the post-season. The Red Wings pushed and battled, and for those two games at least, the Hawks didn't like it.

The Hawks trailed the series 3-1 at that point but stormed back to win three in a row, then four of five against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final.

In what by all accounts was an emotional first intermission in the Boston dressing room Saturday, the Bruins came out fuelled by the dual motivators of anger and embarrassment and were determined to inflict a pounding on the Hawks. It took some time, but by midway through the second period, you could sense some of the Chicago players backing off, if not at least looking over their shoulders.

"You felt that a little bit," Bruins rookie defenceman Torey Krug said when asked if his team was noticing the effect the punishment was having on their opponent. "I think it's fair to say they were feeling pretty good about themselves after the first period and we were a little upset about how we played.

"You see a guy with a big hit and all of a sudden things change a little bit. We started taking care of the puck and getting our forecheck going and everything turned from there."

Once again, it's the Hawks' turn to respond and that in itself won't be easy. If the Bruins do hold a physical edge, it will only be magnified by the enthusiasm provided by their own crowd.

That said, the Bruins are expecting a battl. Not just Monday night, but for the week or more ahead.

"I would be surprised if it wasn't (a long battle,)" Bruins forward Tyler Seguin said. "Obviously we have two (strong) goalies, two Selke winners, two great teams with not too many holes. So I think every chance is an inch that you’re going to have to earn."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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