(Reuters) - Hockey fans were still catching their breath on Thursday after the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins in a Game One triple-overtime Stanley Cup thriller that has already been labeled a classic.
Chicago's 4-3 comeback win will long be remembered by anyone who witnessed the pulsating four-hour drama unfold on television or inside a packed United Center.
But the Bruins will be trying hard to forget as they look forward to Game Two on Saturday and leveling the best-of-seven series.
The Blackhawks were forced to play what amounted to almost two complete games to get one victory, Andrew Shaw ending the fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Final history with his goal 12:08 of the third overtime period.
Exhausted players left the ice to a thundering ovation but some were back at the United Center on Thursday to fulfill media obligations, tired but no so weary they couldn't crack a joke.
"To tell you the truth, (I) fall asleep around 3:00. Woke up early," shrugged Blackhawks' Slovakian forward Marian Hossa. "I think my neighbor decided he (was) going to drill in the morning.
"You know, hopefully (he) is going to get his message for next time, he won't drill.
"We are lucky, we got extra day, you know, to recharge the batteries and get back on Game Two."
For the Bruins, recovering physically from the draining contest may be easier than recovering mentally after watching a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes left in regulation disappear into a gut-wrenching loss.
While admitting that losing in triple-overtime stings, Bruins coach Claude Julien was searching for some perspective after the crushing defeat.
"Last time we won the Cup, we lost the first two games to Vancouver," recalled Julien. "It never stopped us from coming back. This certainly won't.
"With a little bit of luck, we could have ended it before they did.
"Some nights you get the break going your way, some nights you don't."
For the Bruins the challenge is straightforward; refocus and stop agonizing over missed opportunities and what might have been if they had capitalized on just one of their many chances in overtime.
Just minutes before Shaw's decider, Bruins Kaspars Daugavins could have penned a very different result but with Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford sprawled across the ice the Latvian couldn't put the puck in the open net.
"There's no question that it's a tough loss," said Bruins Adam McQuaid. "At the same time, it was a game that could have gone either way.
"Take the positives from it. Today is a new day. We kind of start over and just have to get ready for Game Two."
The real winners on Wednesday were the fans, who had been left bitter and disillusioned when a nasty labor dispute very nearly resulted in no season until a last minute deal was struck to salvage a 48-game season.
Owners and players promised they would reward fans for their patience and loyalty and on Wednesday two Original Six rivals delivered a Stanley Cup Finals opener for the ages.
The NHL reported that Game One received a 4.8 household rating, which is the best metered market rating for a Stanley Cup Final Game One since 1997 but there were other signs people had been captivated by the breathless marathon.
As game went on the Twitter-verse was abuzz with everyone from the White House to the Rolling Stones drawn into the unfolding drama.
U.S. president Barack Obama, a Chicago backer, offered: "Good luck to the @NHLBlackhawks tonight - hope to welcome you back to the White House again as #StanleyCup champs. -bo" while Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger showed his colors donning a Bruins jersey and posting it on Instagram.
"Both teams wanted to win that game and no one was going to give it up easy," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. "We're obviously feeling pretty good about it."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Julian Linden)