BOSTON (CBS) — This just in: Winning a Stanley Cup is difficult.
Most of the current Bruins roster knows that firsthand, as two years ago they had to erase 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against Vancouver. They, of course, did that, forcing a Game 7 in Vancouver and winning 4-0 to earn that title. This year, it’s too early to say whether or not their season will have the same end result, but they’re unquestionably in a much better position to do it this time around.
But now, the real work begins. Nothing in the world was more important to the Bruins than winning Game 3 on Monday night. Now, it’s meaningless history, because anything short of a perfect effort Wednesday night in Game 4, and the balance of power in the series will shift right back to Chicago. While it may seem like the Bruins seized control of the series with Monday’s 2-0 win, the fact is that the Bruins have outscored the Blackhawks by just two goals over the course of nearly 13 full periods.
Now, nothing in the world is more important for the Bruins than winning Game 4, thereby inviting Lord Stanley’s Cup to the Windy City this weekend and putting a world of pressure on Chicago going forward. Here’s a look at how they can do it.
The greatest mystery of Game 3 was the impossible-to-explain appearance of the Blackhawks simply not giving an all-out effort. The Bruins likely deserve some credit for imposing their will and making it hard for Chicago, but overall, there was very little desperation on display by the Blackhawks. Once they fell behind by two goals, they looked like a team waiting to lose rather than one willing to fight to win — or at least try to win.
If this were an early round and if the Blackhawks were the clearly inferior team, it might be safe to assume they’d roll over and quit. But this is the Stanley Cup Final, and these Blackhawks were the best team the NHL had to offer all season long. They will not fade away quietly, and I expect them to come out guns a-blazing early on in Game 4.
For the Bruins, that might mean treating the first 10 minutes like a road game. If the Bruins can stick with their defensive game plan, limit Chicago opportunities, lay big hits whenever the opportunity presents itself, block shots and allow Tuukka Rask to see shots, keeping the Blackhawks off the board early may deflate their sails, allowing the Bruins to mount an attack of their own.
The Blackhawks are going to hit the ice looking to get an early goal and take the crowd out of the game. It’s up to the Bruins to withstand the surge.
The David Krejci Revival Tour
The Conn Smythe case for David Krejci has taken a hit, as the Bruins’ top-line center has been kept off the score sheet for a whopping two full games. That’s obviously no reason to get on Krejci with any sort of criticism, especially considering his right winger is playing with a reportedly very painful shoulder injury.
However, the scoring from the Daniel Paille-Chris Kelly-Tyler Seguin line, though exciting, is not a reliable, sustainable source of offense. If the Bruins are to become champions, they’re going to need their most brilliant forward to be the scoring force that he was for the first three rounds of the playoffs, when he scored nine goals and assisted on 12 more in 16 games.
Of course, even if Krejci doesn’t end up scoring, the Bruins can win a series, but the team is 6-0 this postseason when he scores a goal. That’s no coincidence, as his goals typically come as a result of Krejci dominating possession in the offensive zone and letting his wizardry do the rest. Claude Julien has spoken about the two teams’ top lines essentially canceling each other out, but if the Krejci line can elevate its play, there’s no team in hockey that can stop it.
With the way Tuukka Rask is playing, the Blackhawks are learning that in a 1-on-1, shooter-on-goalie situation, they are not going to get a puck past him. If he can see it, he’s going to stop it. Brandon Saad’s Game 1 snipe and Brandon Sutter’s Game 2 wrist shot have been the only shots that have cleanly beaten Rask in the past two rounds.
Clearly, if the Blackhawks hope to pile up a few goals, it’s going to take traffic in front to create screens or redirect shots. The problem thus far for Chicago has been either an unwillingness to pay the price that comes with planting themselves in front of the net or an inability to have the strength to stay there. Whatever it is, they’re out of options now and are going to need to do whatever it takes to make life difficult for Rask.
The Bruins are simply going to have to keep doing what they’re doing. Zdeno Chara’s schoolyard bullying of Bryan Bickell at the end of Game 3 was no accident. It was a well-executed message sent from the captain to Chicago: If you want to stand in front of the Boston net, it’s going to hurt. While Chara can’t afford to tackle everyone who dares step between the faceoff circles, he figured his team would be OK without him for the final dozen seconds of Game 3. It’s now a matter of standing up to any Chicago forward who tries to screen Rask.
Keep On Killin’
There may be no more underrated group in Boston sports than the Bruins’ penalty killers. Bruins fans don’t even fret when a penalty is called, because the PK unit has been perfect for quite some time.
The Bruins have killed every single opponent power play since Game 5 against the Rangers. The Penguins entered the conference finals with a 28.3 percent success rate on the power play, but they went 0-for-15 in the four-game series against Boston.
While the Blackhawks’ power play is notable less potent than Pittsburgh’s, the Bruins have nevertheless put in the work necessary to kill all 11 Chicago power plays this series. (To be fair, one of those 11 was only for about 11 seconds at the end of Game 3.) It’s to the point where even when Krejci heads to the penalty box with 4:05 left in a tight game, it’s really no sweat for Boston.
That can all change with one shift with a letdown, but with Blackhawks having their hands full trying to solve Tuukka Rask in 5-on-5 situations, a continued effort on the penalty kill will go a long way toward frustrating the Blackhawks.