Despite the Loss, Game 4 was Hockey at its Finest

Harry How

There are bits of what happened Wednesday night in Boston that people expected.

The game lasted longer than 60 minutes. Jonathan Toews scored the type of goal a player like him needs to bust a scoring slump. Tuukka Rask made some outstanding saves. The Blackhawks ended up one goal to the good, defeating the Bruins, 6-5, to level the series at two games apiece.

The loss was a difficult one for the Bruins and their fans. The type of game that you won't stop thinking about because the pit in your stomach just won't let you.

In the end, though, the game took a series of turns and bounces that showed off the beauty of this sport. It was random. It was fun. It was exactly the type of game modern critics of the sport long for. Thinking back to the run-and-gun dynasties of the Islanders and the Oilers in the 1980s, Wednesday night looked like an old highlight reel.

It, of course, didn't look the way the Bruins wanted it to. Even if they had scored that all-important 11th goal, it wasn't a showing Claude Julien and his steel curtain system want to see too often. Julien's approach to hockey results in some pretty dour stuff from time to time even when the results are positive. 3-2 games, 2-1 games are the club's bread and butter. 6-5 games, even in victory, suggest a lack of control the Bruins just don't like.

But that's what hockey is: Uncontrollable. Random. Even volatile.

The best teams, the very best in the world, win because they fit the right players into the right situations. They fine tune matchups and breakouts and forechecks with an eye on carving out a game they can win. The Bruins do this as well as anyone. Lauded for their discipline and their toughness and their patience, the Bruins still play hockey. A game that takes place on ice, played by people carrying sticks and trying to settle a three-inch rubber disk. The sport is a game of errors. No matter how rigidly you play with a very specific set of instructions, pucks bounce and players fall and bad decisions are made.

And it's beautiful. It's the reason this game takes control of the people who love it, because they're not just fighting against their opponents. Hockey players and coaches spend every game trying to grasp the unknown as firmly as possible. Sometimes they succeed, and manage perfect 2-0 wins that really never seemed that close. Other times, goals are traded as frantically as Paul Holmgren's players until it's just not possible to score any more of them.

Wednesday night proved the latter. The Blackhawks led by six different scores until finding the game-winning goal shortly into the first overtime. For those in Black and Gold, the path didn't matter, so much as the result. Rask was right when he said a 1-0 loss and a 6-5 loss hurt just the same. Either way, the series would've wound up tied. Either way, it meant the Bruins lost Game 4 and the home-ice advantage they'd earned in the process.

But Wednesday night, the Bruins didn't just lose the fight to the Blackhawks. They lost it to the sport itself. They failed to exercise the type of power over a game that's put them in this position in the first place. The variance between their usual defensive effort and Wednesday's spectacle suggests a blip rather than a legitimate problem for the Bruins.

It's impossible, at this point, for Bruins fans to appreciate what they saw on Wednesday night. The additional day's wait between Games 4 and 5 will only make matters worse. That time, though, should be used to really think about what you saw.

For those just tuning in because it's the Stanley Cup Finals, it's a loss. For the rest of us, the people who watch this game or write about it because they love it, Wednesday was a reminder of hockey's brilliance. It was random and wild and the Bruins ended up on the wrong end of an unlikely 6-5 scoreline.

But Game 4 was perfect if only because no one on the ice or behind the bench, no matter how desperately they tried, could be.

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