By Allan Muir
Here is a completely subjective look at some of the key elements in a 3-1 Game 5 victory that brings the Blackhawks to within one win of the 2013 Stanley Cup:
Corey Crawford, Chicago: This wasn’t an A-plus game from Crawford, but it didn’t have to be. The Bruins failed to create the type of chances that would have forced him to be a difference maker, but he made all the saves he was supposed to make. Yes, the one goal he allowed to Zdeno Chara beat him high glove, but like the goal that Johnny Boychuk scored in Game 4, it was a bomb from the top of the circle. Not sure any goalie in the league makes that stop. This was a solid bounce-back effort. Give ‘im a high five. A
Tuukka Rask, Boston: Maybe Crawford didn’t need to be sensational tonight, but if Rask had been anything short of that, this game would have been a blowout. He robbed Patrick Sharp three times in the first period alone, including one scintillating side-to-side stop on a one-timer that he somehow caught under his arm, and kept the B’s close by denying Brandon Saad on a partial break early in the third, then shutting down Bryan Bickell on consecutive two-on-one chances in the dying minutes. He didn’t have a chance on either goal he surrendered, so it’s tough to fault this performance. A
Boston: No arguing the Bruins were better than in Game 4, but then again, I’ve seen pond hockey defenders put in a more conscientious effort than the Bruins did while protecting their zone in that free-for-all. There was more cohesion tonight and, for the most part, they eradicated the chaos, thanks primarily to strong efforts from Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid.
The notable absences from that list pretty much sum up what went wrong for the Bruins. Chara — who now has been on the ice for eight of the last nine Chicago goals — and Dennis Seidenberg didn’t have it tonight. Not just the effort or the intensity, but the smarts. They made the sort of mistakes that tired players make: getting to the puck a step slow, putting it into bad areas, not making the right reads. These guys are running out of gas, just like the Kings did against the Hawks in the Western Conference Final.
There wasn’t much that could be done about the first goal — as Seidenberg attempted to block a shot, it snapped his stick and sent the puck oddly careening to Patrick Kane, who banged it into the open side — but Kane’s second goal was a direct result of their soft coverage. It’s nice that the second and third pairs stepped up, but at this time of year, you need your big horses to lead the way. Chara and Seidenberg just weren’t good enough. C
Chicago: I didn’t keep a running tab of Boston’s clean zone entries tonight, but the impression I got was that I probably could have counted them on both hands. The Hawks thwarted Boston’s forwards with aggressive work in the neutral zone, closing off the passing lanes, causing turnovers with active sticks and generally frustrating them with a dense no-fly zone that bogged down whatever creativity they might have mustered. Led by Duncan Keith’s game-high 27:45, the Hawks played a game that was heavy without being overly physical, which translates into energy saved for Monday night. Outside of the one breakdown on Chara’s third-period goal, this was a near flawless effort. A+
Chicago: Sharp got the ball rolling with live legs and some terrific chances that allowed the Hawks to set the tone right from the start. They dominated in the circles, winning 58 percent of the draws, forcing the B’s to chase the puck. And when Boston tried to respond with a heavy game, the Hawks used their speed to beat them through the neutral zone and dominate possession time.
The top line of Kane (seven goals in his last seven games), Bickell and Jonathan Toews was dynamite, accounting for the first two tallies and exposing the growing immobility of Chara and Seidenberg to the point that Claude Julien had to break them up in the third. There were concerns about Toews’ health as he sat out the final stanza, but his ability to stay on the bench and then celebrate with his teammates after the win suggests it was nothing serious. Ultimately, the ability of Chicago’s forwards to dash through the neutral zone and attack Boston’s blueline with speed gave them an edge the Bruins’ D couldn’t counter. A
Boston: After saying his line “didn’t suck” in the Game 4 loss, David Krejci will be hard pressed to apply such glowing praise in the wake of this debacle. Krejci’s known to be a streaky player, and after leading the playoffs in scoring through the first three rounds, he might have stepped into the inevitable manhole. He was a dismal 2-of-13 on the draw, and seemed to have trouble deciding when to shoot and when to pass. Those slight hesitations allowed Chicago’s defenders to fill the gaps and take away his options. By the time it was over, Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic combined for just five shots (one fewer than Kane) and were on the ice for all three goals against.
As brutal as they were, the more pressing problem for the Bruins is the health of Patrice Bergeron. The leading Conn Smythe candidate removed himself midway through the second period and was eventually taken to the hospital. Since then, reports are circulating that suggest he suffered damage to his spleen, an injury that almost certainly would mean the end of his season. No way to sugarcoat that diagnosis: If he’s out, it would take a comeback more miraculous than Game 7 against Toronto for the B’s to knock off the Hawks. D
What’s to say? The officials set the standard at “prison rules” and let the boys have at it with limited fear of repercussion. As frustrating as that can be — especially for Hawks fans who saw Boychuk’s vicious head shot on Toews go uncalled — both teams got a generally even shake from the utter disregard for the rule book. The Hawks stayed out of the box, but did earn a pair of power-play opportunities in the second. They squandered them, as usual, landing just one shot on Rask as Boston’s penalty killers barely broke a sweat. Let’s give them both an INC and move on.
Joel Quenneville, Chicago: The line of Kane, Toews and Bickell has been so effective since he reunited them in Game 4 that you have to wonder if this would have been parade day in Chicago if they’d started as a unit in Game 1. So it’s a tough call: Should Quenneville be lauded for finding a solution just in time, or tarred and feathered for taking so long? As long as the Hawks win one more, it’s a moot point. Full marks for resisting whatever urge he might have felt to play Toews in the third period. He recognized the game was never really in jeopardy, and prevented the team’s most important player from injuring himself further. A
Claude Julien, Boston: Julien played one of his famous hunches, dressing Swedish rookie Carl Soderberg over Kaspars Daugavins. Turned out to be the right call. Soderberg energized the fourth line in the early going, showing off some deft hands and a knack for getting to the right places, and then picked up significant minutes in the third as he filled in on the second line for Bergeron. It was a solid debut for The Yeti.
Julien also recognized that Chara didn’t have it from the start. He lightened the captain’s workload and leaned heavily on Ference and Boychuk before finally splitting up Chara and Seidenberg in the third period to limit their exposure. If it didn’t turn the game around, at least it stanched the bleeding. There is only so much that a coach can do on a night like this, and outside of going at least five seconds with just three men on the ice during a four-on-four situation, he handled his bench well. B