By Allan Muir
Here are five things to look for in Game 3:
• A faster start for the Bruins: After being outshot as a team by both Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in the first period of Game 2, the Bruins know they can’t afford another late arrival Monday night. That doesn’t mean they have to get the first goal — the Bruins are 5-2 in games where they give up the early lead after coming from behind on Saturday night — but they need to establish themselves as the aggressors from the start instead of allowing Chicago to dictate the style and pace of the contest. Look for the B’s to come snarling out of the gate with malice aforethought in their hearts.
• Here comes the death blow: For all the talk about how evenly matched the two sides are, the one surprising trait both have displayed is the lack of killer instinct. The Bruins had a chance to crush Chicago firmly under their boots with a two-goal, third-period lead in Game 1, but they let the Hawks up off the mat. Chicago had a chance to bury Boston during that 19-shot first period blitzkrieg in Game 2, but allowed the Bruins to hang around long enough to tie it up with an ugly goal and drag the game into OT.
The defenses deserve some credit for keeping those games within reach, but at some point the scorers have to finish off the chances they’re creating to take some of the pressure off the back end. The Hawks were robbed of one chance to break open Game 2 when an apparent goal by Hossa was waived off, but that was midway through the first. There was still plenty of time to build up their one-goal margin and finish off the Bruins, but they failed. It ended up costing them the game.
Forget a third helping of extra hockey. This is the game where one team refuses to let their opportunity slip away.
• Time for Jagr to break through: Despite what the sycophantic prattling of some analysts would suggest, Jaromir Jagr has been lousy in these playoffs. There’s no way to mask a scoring slump of historic proportions — he’s now gone more than 50 periods and taken 51 shots without lighting the lamp — his stretches of inattentive play in his own end or his inability to go 30 seconds without sucking wind. More often than not, he looks like a player on his last legs.
Still, it’s hard to deny that he’s brought some of his best hockey late in games when other players are starting to tire. He was solid in OT of Game 1 and was one of the better players on either side as Game 2 wore on and rolled into extra time.
It’s not another gear, but better decisions that make the difference for Jagr. He seems to hold onto the puck a bit less, which means he’s not putting the brakes on his linemates’ speed, and he spends less time along the boards, which makes him tougher to defend.
There’s clearly a tortoise and the hare angle to his play that’s evident in individual games. Now that the playoffs are nearing the finish line, it might be his time, finally, to finish in a big way.
• Chicago will get something from the power play: How is it that a team can be so effective playing five-on-five, but turn every chance with the extra man into a vintage Keystone Kops routine?
Simple. They don’t get pucks to the net. Instead of deploying a couple of redwoods to plant themselves in front of Tuukka Rask, they dish the puck around the perimeter, looking for the perfect one-timer that befits their exotic skills.
So far, that approach hasn’t exactly paid off. In fact, after wasting a 53-second two-man advantage in Game 1, the Hawks allowed three blown power-play chances in the first two periods of Game 2 to suck away all of their early momentum. That has to change.
In a series this tight, Chicago has to commit to playing ugly hockey with the extra man. Look for Joel Quenneville to unleash Bryan Bickell, who has seen a total of 13 seconds of power play time in the series, with an eye on creating some crease havoc in Game 3.
• More quarrels with the officiating: The standard was set from the start of this series: pretty much anything short of performing a transhumeral amputation on an opposing player in the midst of a breakaway is unlikely to move either official to raise his whistle. Fans of both sides will recite evidence of the obvious bias being displayed against their team (at least, that’s what my mail leads me to believe), but the fact is the officials have called the games evenly. Sure, they’ve forgotten half of the infractions in the rule book and it is beyond aggravating, but as long as the standard remains consistent, no one should have any complaints.