The Stanley Cup Final arrived at the United Center on Wednesday night for the first time since 2010, and fans began trickling in about an hour before Game 1 between the Blackhawks and the Bruins.
They got more than they paid for. Again. And much more.
Facing a two-goal third period deficit, the Hawks got scores from Dave Bolland and Johnny Oduya to force overtime, then some spectacular work by Corey Crawford in three extra sessions and then, finally, an Andrew Shaw redirect of a redirect for a 4-3 victory in Game 1 at the United Center.
A Michal Rozsival blast from the point hit Bolland in the high slot, which then bounced off Shaw and in for the score and a long, long-awaited celebration at the end of the longest NHL game of the year.
A Patrice Bergeron power-play score had boosted the Bruins lead back to two goals early in the third period, but Bolland answered with a score and then Oduya rocketed a shot off the skate of the Bruins' Andrew Ference and into the net for the equalizer with about 8 minutes left in the game.
That held up until the end of regulation, and Crawford held up after that. The Hawks' netminder made several brilliant, verging-on-inexplicable saves – while getting help from the near post on a Nathan Horton power-play shot – to keep the Hawks in the game and into their second straight double-overtime contest.
The Hawks would have their own chances in the second overtime, most notably when Patrick Kane couldn't finish off a feed from Michal Handzus on the doorstep and Michael Frolik's shot of a rolling puck clanged off the crossbar. But they would hold on thanks to Crawford and friendly iron at the end of the second extra session.
With the Bruins on the power play due to a too many men on the ice call, a Zdeno Chara shot deflected off Jaromir Jagr's skate and hit the far post, bouncing back out behind Crawford. And then Milan Lucic whiffed on a chance to punch in the rebound for the game-winner just before time expired and things headed to the third overtime.
Two Milan Lucic goals gave the Bruins a crowd-silencing lead, but Brandon Saad's first postseason goal cut the Hawks deficit to 2-1 after two periods of Game 1.
The Hawks emerged ready to hit anything and everything, recording 13 hits in the first 6 1/2 minutes alone. But it was a failure to connect that started the Bruins' scoring sequence, with Niklas Hjalmarsson going for the skull-rattler that the Bruins' David Krejci sidestepped.
That allowed Krejci room to work behind the net, and he started a tic-tac-toe that left Hawks goalie Corey Crawford with no chance. Krejci found Nathan Horton in the faceoff circle, and Horton slid a pass to Lucic that was one-timed in for the 1-0 lead at the 13:11 mark.
Lucic then started the next scoring sequence to stun the United Center crowd into near silence at the start of the second period. He outbattled Patrick Kane for a puck along the board and then eluded an aggressive Hjalmarsson charge at the blue line, with the Hawks defenseman falling as the play went past him.
Krejci took the puck into the zone and then dumped it back to Lucic, who ripped one past Crawford for the 2-0 lead just 51 seconds into the second period.
Then Saad found his long-awaited breakthrough to return the Hawks to relevancy. The rookie winger, goal-less the entire postseason, skated the puck deep into the Bruins zone and nudged it down the boards. There, Marian Hossa picked it up and began to skate back to the faceoff circle, where he spied Saad open.
The rookie one-timed a nasty wrister to the far side of Tuuka Rask, ending a shutout streak of 1:49:36 for the Bruins' goalie, to cut the deficit to 2-1 at the 3:08 mark.
The Hawks would have multiple chances to even it, but power-play failures continued to dog the Hawks, with the club failing to muster even a single shot during a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period.
Special teams would turn on the Hawks again in the third, when Michael Frolik went to the box for tripping and the Bruins would cash in. Tyler Seguin found Bergeron in the faceoff circle, and he whipped a wrister by Crawford for the 3-1 lead at the 6:09 mark.
It did not take long for the Hawks to answer. An odd-man rush resulted in Bolland finding an open net to fire in his first goal of the postseason to slice the deficit to 3-2 at the 8:00 mark. Oduya followed about 4 minutes later, collecting a pass from Marcus Kruger and sending a shot toward the net but just wide of it.
Fortunately for Oduya, the skate of Ference was right there, and the carom off his foot eluded Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for the 3-3 tie at the 12:14 mark.