BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins have no choice but to show up to the TD Garden on Monday night and put in their best performance of the season. If they don’t, the summer will be coming two days earlier than they hope.
While two days isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, keeping the season alive means everything right now. The Bruins rolled through the conference semifinals and conference finals, going 8-1 against New York and Pittsburgh and making everyone believe they could win it all. However, after back-to-back losses to Chicago, the Bruins now stand 60 minutes away from getting eliminated. It’s just the second time this postseason that the Bruins have faced elimination, and it took a hockey miracle to stay alive the last time.
If they hope to prevent the Blackhawks from partying on Boston ice, here are the four keys for the Bruins in Game 6.
Show Up Early
Too often this series, the Bruins have sat back in the opening minutes and have allowed Chicago to generate momentum and confidence early. Sometimes, that strategy was right for the Bruins, but not tonight.
In front of a fired-up home crowd, with stakes the highest they’ve been all season, the Bruins need to hit the ice and treat the first period like it’s the third. They need to display desperation and can’t afford to fall behind and play catch-up, because that hasn’t worked out for them the past two games.
An ideal Bruins game plan would involve a continuation of some of the physical play from Game 5 but more importantly a barrage of shots on Corey Crawford, who was hardly tested at all Saturday night. The Bruins had a golden opportunity to try to further expose Crawford for his glove-side weakness, but they instead managed to only get 25 shots on net all night. That’s just not enough to get it done, and hitting the ice at 100 mph is a good way of ensuring it won’t happen again.
Cool It On The Hits
The Bruins were outplayed in almost all aspects in Game 5, except for the physical side. The Bruins were credited with 53 hits, compared to just 22 by the Blackhawks. While a team will always want to “impose its will” and “control the physical game,” the fact of the matter is that the Bruins spent far too much energy delivering hits and not enough energy trying to score. Considering they only keep track of goals — not hits — on the scoreboard, the balance needs to be adjusted.
Consider this: In the Bruins’ last eight games, when a team has out-hit the other by at least 10, that team is 1-4. So while delivering body checks when the opportunity arises is always a sound strategy, it stands to reason that perhaps in these heated playoff matchups, teams can take themselves off their own game by going out of their way to play with too much physicality.
Rather than going out of their way to deliver thunderous checks along the boards, the Bruins need to be a lot better at protecting their net. In the past two games, the Blackhawks have made it a point to skate behind the Boston net and sending passes to a scramble of bodies in front. You saw it pay off in Game 5 with Patrick Kane’s second goal, and there were a number of close calls in Game 4 on similar plays. If the Bruins want to “impose their will,” they’d be better served doing it by moving bodies and clearing space in front of the net.
The D.E.N.N.I.S. System
The Bruins are no doubt a very good team, but without the pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg playing their best, they may not be a championship-caliber team.
It is unfair to expect Seidenberg and Chara to be perfect at all times, but the reason that expectations are so high on those two is only because of the way they’ve proven capable of playing. During the 2011 Cup run, Chara was a plus-16 and Seidenberg a plus-12, with the duo serving as the defensive backbone against the offensive firepower of the Canucks. This postseason, due to some uncharacteristic letdowns, Chara is a plus-8 and Seidenberg just a plus-2.
While Chara has been on the ice for nearly every Blackhawks goal in the past two games, it hasn’t been his fault. It’s been the play of Seidenberg that has dropped off dramatically, forcing Claude Julien to split up his top defensive pair in Game 5.
But now, Claude has no choice but to stick with the defensive system and players that got the team to the Cup Final, and it’s simply up to Seidenberg to cut the mental mistakes out of his game and simplify things in the Boston end. Perhaps against the highly talented Blackhawks, he’s trying to do too much. But Seidenberg was good enough to be a plus-5 in four games against Pittsburgh, and he’s good enough to turn it around in this series. He just doesn’t have a lot of time to do it.
“Hulk” Line Has To Get It Done
We’ve all marveled at David Krejci’s play over the past two months, as he’s elevated his game this postseason as the Bruins’ best offensive player. He’s been so good that, along with linemates Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, their initials have been combined to form the “HuLK line.” While the nickname may be lacking, it is a good indication of the potential of that line. They can hurt you with goal scoring, and they can also turn games around when Lucic is throwing his body around like a tractor-trailer.
But that line has not been regularly producing in this series. While Horton is clearly dealing with some serious shoulder pain, he’s still out there, which means the pressure is still on to perform. Krejci has been OK, with four assists in the five games thus far, but he spent the Toronto series and Pittsburgh series proving he was much more than an “OK” player. Especially if Patrice Bergeron cannot play, the Bruins desperately need Krejci to be their superstar and put the bulk of the offensive load on his shoulders.
It’s no easy task, but winning the Stanley Cup isn’t easy. It takes great players playing their best to get that chance, and if Krejci doesn’t rise to that level, it’s simply going to be difficult for the Bruins to keep their season alive.