By Allan Muir
Here is a completely subjective look at some of the key elements in Chicago’s series-tying 6-5 overtime win over Boston in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final:
Corey Crawford, Chicago: Sure, he let in one fewer than the other guy and made a couple of huge stops along the way, including a ten-bell special on a Brad Marchand one-timer just moments before Brent Seabrook scored the game winner. But honestly, does any red-clad Hawks fan feel comfortable with Crawford having to win two of the next three games after he was beaten high glove FIVE TIMES tonight? Let’s write off Johnny Boychuk’s goal that tied the contest up in the third: That was a V-2 from the high slot that no one stops unless it hits him. The other four though? The Bruins recognized and took advantage of a clear weakness. They’re not going to go easy on him the rest of the way.
His salvation? Crawford got plenty of run support tonight. If he doesn’t, the talk would have been about replacing him with Ray Emery in Game 5. D
Tuukka Rask, Boston: The way people were talking coming into Game 4, you would have thought the engraver had already been given the correct spelling for Rask’s name in order to get it right on the Conn Smythe Trophy. That’s probably not going to be a problem now, unless Rask steals two of the next three.
Still, even as his GAA ballooned, Rask wasn’t that bad. Review the tape and you’ll see five of the six goals he allowed were the result of obvious defensive breakdowns as Boston’s normally tight checking game devolved into open-ice shinny. So maybe the goals weren’t his fault but still, you know … six. He just didn’t have the magic tonight. C
Chicago: It was a lousy night for Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson. At least one of the two Swedes was on the ice for every one of Boston’s goals, and they were out as a pair on all three even-strength markers. Fortunately, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Michal Rozsival countered with a yeoman’s effort at both ends of the ice to balance the ledger. The trio was plus-eight, thanks in part to Seabrook’s OT winner and two assists from Rozsival, who understands the value of getting pucks on net from the point.
As a group, they still haven’t found a way to stop the Bruins from getting to the net, but they were much better in transition and in winning puck battles along the boards. Both developments were key to Chicago’s offensive outburst. C
Boston: This was, by far, the worst defensive performance by the Bruins since the opening round. They spent too much time chasing the puck around their own zone, and too little time staying tight to their checks. Examples? Milan Lucic had Jonathan Toews at the side of the net, then peeled away just before he scored. Patrice Bergeron failed to tie up Michal Handzus’ stick on his goal. Patrick Kane was alone in front of the net for nearly five seconds before patiently finishing off his chance with a nifty backhand.
Oh, and Zdeno Chara was on the ice for five goals against? What’s next–human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria?
The weak defensive commitment of the Bruins basically handed this game to the Hawks, and they were only too happy to take it. D
Chicago: Forget for a moment that the Hawks rang up six goals tonight, one more than they managed to put past Rask in the previous three games combined. Forget that Toews and Kane finally seized the moment and contributed their first goals of the series. Forget the thrilling, heart-clutching, firewagon pace.
The key to this game was Chicago’s ability to create some turnovers, enter the offensive zone with speed and finally show the commitment to drive the net. The Hawks bombarded Rask with 47 shots tonight, but the important number is 12. That’s how many they took from the middle of the ice, from between the dots to right in Rask’s kitchen. That’s where Toews was when he managed to deflect a point shot by Rozsival for his slump buster. That’s where Kane pounced on a rebound of a Bryan Bickell chance before depositing his backhander. That’s where Marcus Kruger coolly picked up his own bunny and lifted it high above Rask.
The Hawks proved they could establish a presence down low. That they were able to do it so routinely is why they’re heading back to Chicago with the series tied. A
Boston: As generous as the Bruins were at times in their own end, they were ruthless in the other, lighting up Crawford (almost) at will. They spread the offense over three lines, they established a consistent presence down low, and they came from behind to tie the game on four separate occasions, an effort that spoke loudly to their character. There was never a sense that this one was out of hand because of how easily they were able to get pucks to the net and the strength of their cycle, especially when Bergeron and Jaromir Jagr were on the ice. The confidence they built up in their offense from this explosion could impact the way the series plays out. A
Chicago: It’s like they’re saying over on AMC: All bad things must come to an end. Chicago’s power play, so putrid through 14 failed attempts in this series, finally cashed in on the 15th when Sharp knocked a rebound in off the doorstep to make it 5-4 midway through the third. Funny how much easier it gets to score when you try from the paint instead of along the boards, 45 feet out.
It wasn’t just the goal, though. Even when they came up empty on a couple of earlier opportunities, the Hawks managed to build a little momentum. No telling yet if this is a turning point, but it should boost their confidence.
The shortie Handzus scored early in the first might have done the same for the penalty kill if not for a couple of power-play goals from Rich Peverley and Patrice Bergeron later one. Peverley’s came off a giveaway by Brandon Saad, and Bergeron’s came off poor coverage. Both problems need to be addressed. B
Boston: The Bruins went two-for-five on the night, giving them four power-play goals in four games. That’s the sort of pace that could pay off as the series winds down. But the early shorthanded goal off of Seguin’s turnover, and the ability of the Chicago power play to generate both possession in the zone and high-end chances, takes some of the sheen off their success with the extra man. Like every other element of their defensive game, the PK needs to be significantly tighter in Chicago on Saturday. B
Joel Quenneville, Chicago: The consensus suggests that Quenneville has been outcoached by a wide margin in this series, but he narrowed the gap with his decision to reunite Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brian Bickell on the top line for Game 4. After tallying one assist between them over the first three games, the new unit combined for two goals, three assists and a plus-seven rating on the night. The Hawks don’t win without this move. Quenneville also switched off his defensive pairs, pulling Hjalmarsson and Oduya away from the David Krejci line and tasking Keith and Seabroook with shutting them down. They gave up one goal, but managed to keep them in check over the course of the game. A
Claude Julien, Boston: It served as a testament to his faith in his team’s resiliency that Julien didn’t tinker with the lines or match-ups even as the game threatened to get away from them. The patient approach almost worked out for him, too. Since he’s essentially going with three lines, it’ll be interesting to see if he does something bold like dress seven defenders for Game 5. C