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BOSTON (CBS) — If the Boston Bruins had to lose, it couldn’t have come against a better team than the Chicago Blackhawks.
Here in Boston, things tend to get ugly when the local teams get into spirited playoff matchups. Whether it’s the players in the games, the fans in the crowd (and on Twitter) or the media-on-media crime, a certain level of nasty always finds its way into our lives when the postseason rolls around.
Yet on the grandest stage in hockey, in a hard-fought six-game series, the Bruins and Blackhawks battled for nearly two weeks without incident, and nothing has brewed between the cities of Boston and Chicago except for even more respect than when the series began.
You see, it doesn’t usually matter if the opponents come from as far away as possible and have zero history of any bad blood against Boston — things just tend to happen. It took all of one period for the hatred to begin brewing in Vancouver two years ago, when Alex Burrows kicked off the Stanley Cup Final by biting the finger of Patrice Bergeron. From there, things just got worse, to the point that Boston and Vancouver seemed like hundred-year rivals by the time the series ended. It carried over into the following year, with Michael Felger and Shawn Thornton going at it with Tony Gallagher on live television in one of the greatest spectacles these eyes have ever seen.
But this time, that wasn’t nearly the case. Sure, the two teams spent six games trying to knock each other’s heads off, but that’s just the nature of the sport. Where the Blackhawks differed from all too many Bruins opponents over the years is how they’ve simply accepted the fact that a series against Boston is going to be tough. The Blackhawks not only accepted it but they seemed to embrace it.
Through the six games, there was little, if anything, that anyone from Boston could have taken issue with. And though a stray column or two lobbying for a Johnny Boychuk suspension following Game 5 came out of Chicago, the feeling seemed to be the same there.
From a media perspective, it was a refreshing change of pace. Writing about dirty hits, arguing for suspensions and defending against conspiracy theories from opposing cities can frankly get a bit tiresome. But this time around, the focus was all where it should have been — on the game, on the sport, and on the players.
And thankfully, the players rewarded all of us with some excellent hockey. It was an even matchup heading in, and the 17-15 advantage in goals by Chicago over the 23 periods of hockey are a good indication of just how close the series played out.
Fortunately, the attention remained there, and we weren’t left to yap about a Scott Walker sucker punch, a Mike Richards open-ice hit on David Krejci, a P.K. Subban flop for the ages, an Aaron Rome head shot on a star player or even Kevin Bieksa’s hypocritical mockery of the Bruins’ team jacket. There was no air of superiority coming out of the Blackhawks dressing room, as they chose to let their play do all the talking for them.
Chicago brought lots of physical play and zero complaints. A coach, GM or player could have complained about Boychuk’s hard hit on Jonathan Toews, which was legal but nevertheless had an unpleasant effect from a Chicago standpoint. But the Blackhawks said nothing – at least not publicly – and instead decided to just hit back harder. They were rewarded with a championship.
It seemed, too, that many Bruins fans agree that if it had to be someone to end the season, the Blackhawks were a worthy foe. It was evident when, minutes after seeing their team suffer the most stunning of defeats, a healthy majority of the fans in attendance stayed in their seats to applaud the effort displayed on the ice. They didn’t hurl cups and rags onto the ice but instead gave a rousing ovation before doing the work of any good hockey fan base and booing Gary Bettman.
And so, though the city of Boston would have enjoyed soaking in another championship, and while I can’t speak for everyone here, it’s worth saying to Chicago a very simple message: “Hats off to you.”