CHICAGO — Torey Krug heard a text message arrive Thursday morning, so he whipped out his iPhone – only to have the damn thing fly out of his hand. He had a chance to catch it. He had another chance. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Fumbling with our phone, helplessly watching it slip through our fingers and fall to the ground in super slow-mo. Stuff happens, even to professional athletes who are supposed to have amazing coordination.
“Maybe my hands just haven’t been working the last 24 hours,” Krug cracked.
At least Krug could laugh about it.
Yeah, he’s a 22-year-old rookie defenseman with only 13 games of NHL experience, and yeah, he committed a turnover his own goaltender called “terrible,” and yeah, that was a turning point Wednesday night as the Boston Bruins blew a 3-1 third-period lead and lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3, in triple overtime. The Bruins fumbled that game like Krug fumbled that phone – letting it out of their hands, failing to rescue it on multiple occasions, seeing it crash to the floor.
But the damage is done. The Bruins trail the series, 1-0. Krug’s screen has gone to black. Now it’s just a matter of keeping perspective and repairing the damage. It’s just one game. It’s just a phone. A little adversity has never bothered the Bruins before, and it isn’t so bad having a busted device when you’re trying to block out the noise.
[Game 1: 'We just gave it away,' Tuukka Rask says]
“It’s always nice getting away from your phone for a few hours,” Krug said.
The physical toll of more than 112 minutes of hockey is the same for both teams, and it shouldn’t be an issue. Both teams stayed off the ice Thursday to rest and hydrate. Both teams can practice Friday and skate Saturday morning. Game 2 isn’t until Saturday night. Plenty of time.
The mental toll is the difference and should be more of an issue – in theory. Though the Blackhawks can’t plan their Cup parade based on one game, it should be easier for them to recover because they won. It should be harder for the Bruins not just because they lost, but because of how they lost.
They blew that 3-1 third-period lead. They blew it because Krug threw a puck up the middle of the ice and the Blackhawks cashed in to cut it to 3-2, because a puck glanced off the inside of the left skate of Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference and slid into the net. They lost because they couldn’t finish several chances in the overtimes – a post, another post, a breakaway, a glorious chance – and because the Blackhawks scored the winner on a double deflection. Goaltender Tuukka Rask made 59 saves, the most in a Cup final game since 1996, and yet they weren’t enough because of three fluky bounces.
Teams can panic after tough losses in series openers. Look at the last round: After losing Game 1 to the Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins tried to do too much in Game 2, got away from their game plan and looked awful in a 6-1 loss. You have to keep calm and carry on.
“It’s a huge part of this game,” said Ference. “It sucks having guys that are emotional trainwrecks in the room. It really does. Because it’s contagious and it’s just like, you just try to …”
“Well, you do tell them to shut up once in a while,” he continued.
But you knew coming into this series that both of these teams had been hardened by experience. The Blackhawks had rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, so a 3-1 third-period deficit in Game 1 was no big deal. The Bruins rallied from a 4-1 third-period deficit in Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, so this should be no big deal.
[Related: Game 1 on NBC earns best ratings since 1997]
Go back further. In the 2011 Cup final, the Bruins lost the first two games to the Vancouver Canucks, and they didn’t just lose them, they lost them in heartbreaking fashion. In Game 1, they gave up the only goal of the night with 18.5 seconds left. In Game 2, they lost 11 seconds into overtime. What happened next? They won the next two games, then fell into a 3-2 hole, then won the last two games and won the Cup.
“Vancouver was kind of everybody’s first time around, right?” Ference said. “And so you lose those couple games, and it’s maybe a heavier feeling than it is this morning amongst the group because I think guys are probably a little bit better at turning the page.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I don’t think much is going to rattle our team. We’re a pretty resilient group of guys. We live in the moment. This is a game – we all know, hope we should all know – that could have gone either way. Both teams had great chances. We could be sitting here today up 1-0 as much as we are down 1-0.”
Krug is young. He’s inexperienced. And when you’re young and inexperienced, games like these can get to you. Ference was 25 and playing in his first Cup final in 2004, when his Calgary Flames almost clinched in overtime of Game 6. He said he wasn’t as even-keeled then after they lost. They went on to lose Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Individuals are different,” Ference said. “But I think talking to guys that have a lot of experience and guys that have been through it, I think it is a fairly consistent thing where early in your career or first time around, the highs are higher and the lows are lower and you bounce around a lot more. It’s easier to ride those big ups and those highs, but man, you can get some pretty big swings, whether it’s over the course of a series or the course of a game.”
But Krug has bounced back already. After being benched for a stretch, he made some strong plays at both ends of the ice in the overtimes. And the vast majority of the Bruins are older and experienced. Almost all of them played on that Cup team. Though they know that you work to create your breaks and that it’s not all luck – had the Blackhawks not had possession, had they not had two men in front, there would have been no double deflection in triple OT – they also know that hockey, especially playoff hockey, can fly out of your control.
You work hard. You try to increase your odds. When you get the breaks, you celebrate – just not too much. When you don’t, you don’t lose sleep. Had that puck not gone off Ference’s skate, the Bruins would have won. They would have avoided three more periods of hockey and all that lactic acid. But Ference said he did not toss and turn, brooding over what could have been. Stuff happens.
“You’d drive yourself crazy at this point,” Ference said. “I might have when I was 22 or something like that. But at this point, whatever. It was out of my mind the next shift. Honestly. At this point, you almost just kind of shake your head at it and say, ‘What can you do?’ And you hope somewhere down the line that you shoot one off one of their feet. That’s the way playoffs go.”
On to Game 2. Hold the phone.
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