CHICAGO -- There's been no finger-biting, no whining, no complaints to the league. It's just been good hockey.
With the season down to its last two or three final games, any hockey fan has to love how it is ending: with a close series between teams that seem more focused on winning the chess match than any other shenanigans. If you're a Bruins fan, you should respect the Blackhawks. If you're a Blackhawks fan, you should respect the Bruins.
Any dislike for one another hasn't been overly apparent between the teams as they enter Game 5 in Chicago. There were the simultaneous Bryan Bickell/Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand/Andrew Shaw tussles at the end of Game 3, but this series has hardly been the hatefest that the 2011 finals between the B's and Canucks became in a hurry. From the moment Alexander Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron's finger in Game 1 in 2011, it was on. The Bruins hated the Canucks and the Canucks didn't know what to do about the Bruins or the way they played.
It's been night and day between that final series and this one. The first four games were split like they were in 2011, but there have been no blowouts like there were in a couple of Boston's wins against the Canucks. Among other things, Shawn Thornton says the respect level is different.
"Apples and oranges," Thornton said. "I mean, Vancouver was its own team. They were kind of… it wasn't just us. Every team that played them said they couldn't stand them with their antics that year, so it's a little bit different. You can't really compare the two of them."
In 2011, you had everyone from the Canucks' star players to their coach complaining about Tim Thomas playing too far out of the crease, and you had Roberto Luongo verbally stick his tongue out after Thomas allowed the game-winning goal in Game 5. Yet so far, the B's and Blackhawks have kept it relatively quiet. There was Brad Marchand saying Shaw scratched him "like a kitty cat" and Jonathan Toews saying the Blackhawks won't be intimidated by Zdeno Chara.
Regarding the latter, it was clearly a calculated move on the Chicago captain's part after he said what he said following the Blackhawks' 6-5 Game 4 overtime win. How can one tell? Because he's kept saying it since. Such talk sets up a rather big challenge for the Blackhawks, but Toews isn't backing down.
"I think maybe at times in the first couple games we were giving him a little bit too much respect by trying to keep the puck away from him," Toews said. "He's not a guy that we should be afraid of. We should go at him, protect the puck from him, make plays around him and through him. We use our speed."
The Blackhawks had the right to say that after they scored five goals with Chara on the ice, and it wasn't childish like the Canucks' qualms may have been. Brad Marchand, who is hardly one to choose his words carefully, didn't even take issue.
"They're welcome to say whatever they want," he said on Thursday. "We are just worried about how we have to play in the room. [Chara] steps up every night and plays his best, so we can expect that."
At first, the apparent lack of hatred seemed a bit boring entering the series. After all, what are the Stanley Cup finals without the two teams detesting each other? As it turns out, they’re pretty good.
This isn’t to say that the Bruins and Blackhawks love each other. Far from it. They get agitated with each other on the ice and they try to find ways to get under one another’s skin, but the focus this series has been on the on-ice product. That wasn’t always the case in 2011. We were talking about a number of things, including whether the other team’s goalie was losing his mind before our very eyes.
With the series being as close as its been, it’s fitting that the series will come down to two or three games, but both teams could be looking at very different scenarios. If the Bruins don’t blow that lead in Game 1, maybe they’re up 3-1 right now. If that happens and they get a bounce in overtime, maybe the series is over. If the Blackhawks get that Marian Hossa goal in Game 2, you have to think they win that game, so it could be 3-1 in their favor after four.
That’s what we have to focus on: how close it’s been, what Chara can bring to the table, whether Corey Crawford will ever make a glove save again. And it’s been a pleasure.
"You don't get to this point -- the last two teams standing -- without knowing that one another is a good team," Thornton said. "There's a certain amount of respect, but respect and sitting back and watching are two different things. We still want to be proactive and try to take charge."