Going into the game, the Boston Bruins spoke of the obvious: Beware of their speed. Stay out of the penalty box.
In the evening, the matter was indeed decided by speed and dumb penalties – but, in an entertaining flip-flop of imagined scenarios, it was the Bruins flying and the Chicago Blackhawks in the penalty box as Boston won 2-0 for a second straight victory in the best-of-seven series.
The Bruins now hold a two-games-to-one lead in the Stanley Cup final, with Game 4 scheduled to be played here Wednesday.
Playoff series are filled with gospel truths, some of them positively goofy – "the fourth game is the hardest to win" usually holds true only if a series goes seven games – but some are at least intriguing.
Take Game 3s, for example. The team that wins the third outing after splitting the first two games, as is the case here, have gone on to win the Cup 21 of 25 times. Only four teams have ever rebounded from a loss under these circumstances have clawed their way back to the Cup: the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning against the Calgary Flames, the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins against Minnesota North Stars, the 1989 Flames against Montreal Canadiens and the 1964 Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings.
What will become of the Chicago Blackhawks? Can they fix their problems – can't win faceoffs, no power play, dumb penalties – and come back to become the fifth team?
"Faceoffs…," said a disappointed Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville, "that and our power play were basically differential in the game."
But, as Boston head coach Claude Julien had said earlier in the day, "Stats at this time of year don't mean a thing."
Chicago was at a slight disadvantage when the puck dropped, not just for losing the previous game in overtime, but for an unexpected lineup change when Marian Hossa – tied for team scoring lead with 15 points, including seven goals – was scratched at the last moment due to an "upper body" injury suffered earlier. Quenneville had earlier announced Viktor Stalberg would return to the lineup in place of Marcus Kruger, Stalberg expected to "bring energy" to the Blackhawks.
They would need it and more, with Hossa missing and 17,765 rabid, loud Bruins fans packed into TD Garden in the hopes of a second Stanley Cup in two years.
Certainly the evening began ominously for both sides, with Hossa a late scratch for Chicago and Boston captain Zdeno Chara getting stitched up after the warm-up following a collision with teammate Milan Lucic that left the big defenceman with a small gash on his head.
The opening period began largely as expected, the two teams close checking and tentative. Boston's Jaromir Jagr, snakebitten so often these playoffs his eyes have turned yellow, missed a glorious chance to put the Bruins ahead.
The final five minutes or so of the opening frame could only be described as chaotic. With Chicago on the power play – a sad misnomer when applied to the Blackhawks – captain Jonathan Toews missed chipping the puck in off a goalmouth scramble in front of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Moments later, Bruins forward Tyler Seguin – an elite player who, like Toews, came into the game with but one goal to show for three rounds plus of playoff hockey – almost tapped his own rebound in on a shorthanded opportunity, but could not beat Chicago's Corey Crawford.
Boston's Brad Marchand – the infamous "Little Ball of Hate" – was sent in on a breakaway, only to fumble the puck harmlessly into the corner boards. Marchand furiously shattered his stick when he returned to the bench.
It was that sort of opening: stressed. Could anyone score?
Matters finally broke early in the second when, right after Crawford made a superb save on Boston sniper Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly was able to steal the puck from Chicago centre Dave Bolland, get the puck to Daniel Paille, the hero of Game 2 for Boston, and Paille's quick shot beat Crawford to the glove side.
Then came the pivotal combinations of speed and dumb penalties.
First Bolland, who had a dreadful night, hauled down Marchand as a racing Marchand tried to force his way to Rask's net on a partial break. Then, with 11 seconds remaining in Bolland's penalty, defenceman Niklas Hjalmersson hauled down Paille in an eerily similar rush.
With a five-on-three advantage, it was only a matter of moments before opportunity presented itself. Bolland was out of the box but could not make it back in time before Jagr sent a goalmouth pass across to Bergeron, who put his seventh goal of the playoffs in off the near post.
That, said Quenneville, "was the game."
The victory was Boston's. Rask had his shutout. "I've never seen a guy so calm, so confident," said Julien.
And Julien himself now had some statistics with very real meaning: a 2-0 victory, his Bruins outshooting the Hawks 35-28, and two wins, one loss in a best-of-seven test.
Now comes Game 4. And the gospel truth is that the Blackhawks had better win…or else.
Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this story gave the incorrect matchup in the headline. This online version has been corrected.