BOSTON -- It seemed like a fitting way to end this back-and-forth series.
With the Boston Bruins leading 2-1 late in the third period in Game 6, the expectation throughout TD Garden was that the Stanley Cup Final would head back to Chicago for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.
Instead, what ensued Monday was one of the wildest -- possibly the wildest -- finishes in Final history.
With 87 seconds remaining in regulation and Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford sprinting to the bench for an extra attacker, right wing Patrick Kane gained the Boston zone and fired a soft shot that Boston goalie Tuukka Rask steered into the corner. After a spirited scrum along the boards, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith flipped the puck toward captain Jonathan Toews by the side of the net. The puck was on Toews' stick for barely a second before he directed it to the front of the net, where linemate Bryan Bickell buried the soft pass to tie the game and silence a raucous home crowd.
The crowd still was coming to terms with the tied score when Michael Frolik sent a centering pass that deflected all the way to the opposite half-wall, where Marcus Krueger dropped the puck to defenseman Johnny Oduya. His shot hit the post, but the puck somehow found Dave Bolland by the side of the Boston net. With Rask badly out of position, Bolland made no mistake and the Blackhawks had gone from trailing to leading in a 17-second span.
Instead of being forced to try to win their second championship in four seasons on home ice in Game 7, the Blackhawks rallied for an improbable 3-2 victory.
"You think you're going back to Chicago for Game 7," said Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "You tie it up, you think you're going in for overtime to regroup. You score 17 seconds later. It's just an unbelievable feeling. The highs and lows of this game were unbelievable."
Bickell, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 5, finished the postseason with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 23 games. His tying goal -- off a phenomenal feed from Toews -- unquestionably is the biggest of his career.
"We just got there deep and good things happen when you throw it on the net and you're in a good spot," Bickell said. "[Toews] just got it in front. I got in front and I just buried it. It felt good to get that equalizer. What a roller coaster that was to finish it off the way we did."
In the blink of an eye, the teams went from making travel plans to Chicago to contending with another potential overtime finish, which would have been the fourth of the series. Crawford went back in net and Chicago made a line change for the next faceoff.
Overtime certainly appeared in the offing, but the Blackhawks weren't done.
"They [Boston] kind of got deflated with that late goal-against to tie it up 2-2," Bickell said. "We pressed them and we kept on going."
Bolland's game-winner was his third goal in 18 postseason games, a reward for going to the net after the Blackhawks refused to take their foot off the gas after Bickell erased the 2-1 deficit.
Scored at 19:01 of the third period, Bolland's goal was the latest Stanley Cup game-winner scored in regulation time.
"The puck went back to the [defenseman] and someone shot it and it was just sitting in front. I just had to tap it in," said Bolland, who was so overcome by emotion he pulled himself from the game with 59 seconds remaining.
"I think [Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville] wanted to get me back out there, but I was too nervous after getting that goal. I just told him to keep me off."
Just like that, the destiny of an already historic Stanley Cup Final had shifted. And before the Bruins could come to terms with what had just taken place, the Blackhawks were celebrating on the ice and passing around the Stanley Cup. Chicago's players all agreed it was unlike anything they ever had seen.
"I've seen it in soccer in the Champions League," veteran forward Michal Handzus said, referencing the top club-soccer competition in Europe. "But not in hockey, especially on this big stage, in a Game 6 elimination game, being in a loud building. You score two goals in the last minute to win the Cup, it's incredible."
Throughout Chicago's roster, there was a general consensus this dream season could not have possibly ended in a more surreal fashion. This was a team, after all, that stormed out of the gate to open the 2012-13 season by earning a point in 24 straight games (21-0-3). In the end, the Blackhawks finished the way they began -- with the pedal to the metal.
"It was one of those seasons we were saying we're almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended. Nobody saw that one coming either way," Quenneville said. "But the resiliency of our team was in place all year long. It was one of those seasons, fairy-tale ending and an amazing season."
As for the Bruins, the stars seemed aligned for a team that had taken the lead on Milan Lucic's goal with 7:49 remaining in the third period. But a momentary lapse in the team's stout defensive system forced Boston to contend with how it would come back next season. It was a cruel fate for a team that matched the Blackhawks stride for stride in the Final.
"It's a tough way to lose a game, tough way to lose a series," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "On the tying goal, it was a quick play. The third goal there was a shot from the point and a deflection, I believe."
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