Stanley Cup Final one for the ages

With Hawks and Bruins on their games, it shapes up to be greatest finals of expansion era

Chicago Tribune sports reporters Chris Kuc and Steve Rosenbloom discuss which Blackhawks player will step up in Game 5. (Posted on: June 21, 2013)

Wearing a microphone for NHL.com as he celebrated his second-period goal Wednesday night in Game 4, Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane captured the essence of why the Stanley Cup Final returns to Chicago reduced to a best-of-three.

"That's how we play!'' Kane yelled after releasing a guttural scream prompted by his first goal of the series.

Kane had just wickedly backhanded a rebound past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask after Bryan Bickell fired a shot inside the left circle as Jonathan Toews camped out in front of the crease. Aggressive again, the Hawks were anything but Rask-averse on this night. The top line's bottom line in a 6-5 overtime victory was sparking the team's biggest scoring outburst since a seven-goal victory March 31 over the Red Wings.

Like he did before Game 5 of the finals against the Flyers in 2010, coach Joel Quenneville picked the ideal time to juggle his lines and return to the Toews-Kane-Bickell combination — matchup concerns made waiting understandable. The Hawks improved dramatically on faceoffs because they respond to Quenneville, who emphasized the dot. And as the Hawks showed Bostonians on Brent Seabrook's overtime game-winner and earlier on Kane's backhander, Chicago traffic can ruin your day too — especially if you're a goalie.

"That's how we play the game!" an elated Kane repeated as teammates mobbed him.

When the Hawks play their kind of game, it can be a thing of hockey beauty to behold. When the Bruins counter by imposing their bruising style, as they have consistently through four memorable games, it creates a series shaping up to be the greatest Cup Final of the post-1967 NHL expansion era. Two Original Six teams have conspired on something authentic indeed.

Savor this, Chicago. Appreciate all the antacid and caffeine required to survive these two weeks of pulsating, nail-biting, couch-pounding hockey. A winter sports season that will stretch into summer later than ever still will end too soon, whenever it does. The Hawks and Bruins have played in three overtime games in the finals for the first time in 20 years — but the Canadiens needed only five games to beat the Kings in that 1993 series. In contrast, this is so close between Chicago and Boston that it might require a Theo Epstein trivia contest to break the tie.

With potentially three games left, the Cup record of five overtime games the Canadiens and Maple Leafs set in 1951 looks within reach. If you just scoffed at that sentence, you didn't see the Bruins overcome two two-goal deficits Wednesday night. Did you know that the last championship decided in overtime of Game 7 was 1954? Remember that, in case you want to impress your friends Wednesday night — or early Thursday morning depending on when the last lamp is lit.

The only thing this series has lacked consistently since it began is logical rhetoric from the outside, specifically the noise pollution surrounding Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford. Anybody questioning Hossa's toughness after missing Game 3 with an upper-body injury risked being more absurd than those questioning Crawford's worthiness to keep his job.

Former Hawks All-Star Tony Amonte sounded like an out-of-touch old-timer on a Boston radio station when he unfairly labeled Hossa the kind of player unwilling to play through injury.

"I don't really care what Tony Amonte says,'' Hossa said.

Nor should he. Playing in 1,168 NHL games gives Hossa the benefit of the doubt. The Hawks enhanced the mystery by rushing Ben Smith into action without warm-ups, but if Hossa felt injured enough to face teammates before declaring himself out, he must have had valid reasons. This wasn't like Derrick Rose dominating practices and looking fit in public workouts, only to watch Bulls playoff games from the bench in a suit. This was a tough hockey veteran who likely has been playing through something nobody knows about making a hard decision that deserves respect Hossa has earned.

As for Crawford, Quenneville spoke truth Thursday when he defended his goalie by saying "he is the biggest reason we're here.''

Without Crawford, the Hawks would be playing golf. You don't go from being a Conn Smythe candidate to getting benched in 69 shaky minutes, even if Crawford gave up more goals than in any other playoff game. Yes, Crawford was so bad with his glove he could play infield for the White Sox. But adjusting to the way the Bruins attack Crawford is the issue to address. Discussing a replacement in backup Ray Emery, who hasn't made a save in two months, isn't.

Emery enjoyed a terrific regular season but needs to remain a spectator.

In a Stanley Cup Final setting a new standard for excitement, there are worse fates.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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