CHICAGO - By midnight, half the game was a distant memory. The fifth-longest in Stanley Cup final history featured 112 minutes of hockey between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
"Just basically played two hockey games in one night," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Game 1 only counted for one victory, but the Blackhawks will gladly take it after Andrew Shaw ended the thriller in triple overtime to beat the Bruins 4-3 Wednesday night at United Center. It was a game that felt like an instant classic before it ended.
"It's fun being in the finals, the last two teams playing, all the hockey world is watching," Blackhawks right-winger Patrick Sharp said, "and to put an effort like that from both sides, it was fun to be a part of. And thank God it's over."
How it got to overtime felt like such a footnote by the time Michal Rozsival's shot deflected off Dave Bolland, then Shaw and into the net past brilliant Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Boston took a two-goal lead in the third period and blew it, only to regret it hours later after two unsuccessful power plays and countless chances to wrest home-ice advantage from the Presidents' Trophy winners.
"It's never easy to lose a game when you're in the third overtime period," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Eventually somebody is going to score a goal as fatigue sets in."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews didn't play as long as defenceman Duncan Keith (48:40) or Dennis Seidenberg of the Bruins (a game-high 48:36), but he felt the fatigue as the overtimes dragged on. He tried not to focus on it.
"Both teams are just kicking, trying to survive," Toews said. "Every time you go back on the ice, you just try and get that feeling that it's just going to be that one chance that makes the difference."
Just as it hit Thursday morning in the Central Time Zone, the Blackhawks got that chance. Shaw called it simply "luck," as a double deflection finally beat Rask, who stopped 59 of the 63 shots he faced.
It was hard to fault Rask and easy to credit Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks goalie whose 51 stops, including many quality ones after regulation, kept the game rising in the record books.
"Any time he makes those saves and gives you that sort of jump, when you make a mistake as a D-man and he's there to stop it, it feels good," said defenceman Johnny Oduya, who scored the tying goal in the third period. "Sometimes it's mental and you get that little bit of extra energy and you can keep going."
The Blackhawks and Bruins had no other choice but to keep going.
"It's just part of the playoffs," Keith said. "You have to battle through things like that. There's no saying you're tired. It's just finding a way."
Time and again the Bruins had their chances to find a way to end it. Toews couldn't recall when it happened, but the Blackhawks took two penalties for too many men on the ice in overtime and twice killed them off.
Midway through the third overtime, Kaspars Daugavins had Game 1 heroics on his stick and Crawford beat. By the time the Bruins forward tried to deke, Oduya was there to intercept it for the defensive play of the night.
"I just tried to put my stick in and kind of force him to do something," Oduya said. "I got lucky on that play."
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Bruins would have left happy had captain Zdeno Chara's shot late in the second overtime bounced of Jaromir Jagr's skate and in, instead of ringing off the post and out.
But the teams played on until Shaw's goal 12:08 into the sixth period of the game. The 21-year-old was "too exhausted" afterward to describe the feeling of scoring the game-winner in a marathon, though cursing on live television probably did the trick.
"Stanley Cup Playoffs, something you dream of as a kid," Shaw said. "The opportunity's there. You have to seize it when it's there."
And so the Blackhawks seized opportunity, sending a sellout crowd of 22,110 home happy long after they had to claw back from a two-goal deficit with 13:51 left in the third period. As their goal song, "Chelsea Dagger," played above the echo of the goal horn, fatigue was replaced by relief and much more.
"Just the feeling overall is just tremendous," Oduya said. "You go out there, you got nothing to lose. You feel alive. This is what it's all about."