Stanley Cup Final: Keys to Game 2 after modern classic
This much-anticipated first Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks may have conjured up visions of Original Six hockey for some people, but these teams that once upon a time featured the NHL's two great Bobbys -- Hull and Orr -- produced a modern day classic in Game 1.
Both coaches, Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville, would have loved to have the game-breaking talents of either Bobby on their side to shorten the marathon series opener. There's no doubt that Chicago's 4-3 victory on Andrew Shaw's ricochet goal after 112 minutes of action provides an emotional boost for the Hawks and a letdown for the B's. How they channel those emotions for Game 2 could go a long way to determining the Cup champion.
Some things to keep in mind for Saturday night's contest:
For most of regulation time, it looked as if Boston would continue its excellent play on the road, where the Bruins were 5-2 heading into Game 1. Instead, they blew a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes left in the third period, something uncharacteristic of a team that is usually pretty reliable in shutting down foes late in a match. Young B's blueliner Torey Krug passed the puck right to Shaw -- we talked about the Bruins' turnovers in our series preview -- and that started the play that Dave Bolland finished to make it 3-2, giving Chicago a reason to believe. Four minutes later, a shot by Johnny Oduya hit Andrew Ference's skate and deflected past Tuukka Rask for the equalizer. "That's the way the game goes," Julien said after the game. "Some nights you get the break going your way, some nights you don't."
True enough, but he can't be happy with his club not holding the lead.
Until they alllowed the Blackhawks to come back, the B's had played a pretty fine road game. You hear that term a lot, and what playing a "good road game" entails is doing things to keep the home crowd subdued and not doing things to get it engaged.
Playing smart and patient qualifies as a good road tactic, and Boston's structured positioning in the neutral zone is designed to prevent the Blackhawks from using their speed to charge up their offense. It worked at the outset. Chicago's defensemen repeatedly passed the puck back and forth early in the game, trying to find avenues for advancing it. That slowed them down and helped the Bruins' game plan. But as the game wore on, either the Bruins abandoned their neutral zone structure or the Blackhawks figured out how to penetrate it -- it's hard to tell for sure on TV -- and the game opened up.
Patrick Kane, especially, frequently circled way back in his own zone to rush the puck through center ice and into Boston's zone with his considerable speed, something NBC's Pierre McGuire said on TV was the result of a chat that Kane had with Hawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman. The teams started trading rushes and the pace of the game changed. It was entertaining stuff, and while Boston can play that kind of game well, it's more beneficial to Chicago and must be avoided as much as possible in Game 2.
Not taking penalties and putting the home team on the power play also qualifies as a good road tactic. Boston took three in the second period -- and flirted with more when Brad Marchand, always the agitator, kicked the skates out from under Hawks goalie Corey Crawford and pushed defenseman Duncan Keith over after a whistle. Julien recognized after the game that those penalties gave Chicago momentum it hadn't had.
Of course, if you do take penalties, killing them off dampens the crowd's mood, too, and the Bruins did a fine job of denying a 5-on-3 disadvantage when they had a 2-1 lead in the second period. They also got the game's only power play goal, on a terrific display of passing by Jaromir Jagr, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin to Patrice Bergeron. Lucic, who scored twice in the game, was in the middle of everything good for the Bruins. Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was on the ice for each of Bostons goals. He was also on for two Hawks goals and actually played a strong game, as did his defense partner Johnny Oduya. They drew the Krejci line in Quenneville's matchup, indicative that the Hawks want to use the Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook duo to help generate offense. If the Krjeci line continues to play so forcefully, you have to wonder if Coach Q will stick with that matchup.
One major reason for the elongated OT was the outstanding play of goaltenders Crawford and Rask, both of whom have to be in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy. None of the goals they allowed were stoppable shots, all coming on either excellent set-ups to an unchecked scorer who found holes in defensive coverage or off deflections. The B's one-touch passing and one-timed shots were very impressive ...
... as was the Hawks' first goal by Brandon Saad.
If Rask was exceptional in regulation, Crawford was even more stellar in overtime, probably making at least five Grade A stops on shots that could have given Boston the victory. Crawford doesn't get the accolades that Rask does. He was subpar in last year's playoffs and Hawks fans worried about him coming into the season, although the team didn't and was proved right. Rask seems more polished in his movements, but Crawford has a big frame and battles as hard as anyone, never giving up on a shot. Some of his best saves involved flailing around on the ice when it looked like he might be down and out.
With 63 saves to Crawford's 54, Rask was the busier of the two goalies and Chicago fired far more shots his way than Boston took at Crawford. Totaling up shots on goal, those that missed and those that were blocked, the Blackhawks attempted 132 on the night compared to the Bruins' 85, which is quite a startling margin. The Bruins blocked far more than the Hawks, 40 for the game (26 in regulation), which is more than the 23 that Chicago blocked for the entire 112 minutes. Boston had the more dangerous scoring chances in overtime, although the shots on goal in the extra 52 minutes were roughly even, 29-28 in favor of Boston. The difference in attempts was not at all reflective of the territorial play, which was roughly even. That could hold up as the series goes along, too, because the Hawks move the puck faster up the ice and have no qualms about shooting from anywhere, while the Bruins as a team work harder for their chances, preferring to chip and chase, forecheck, and cycle the puck to manufacture scoring attempts.
Unlike Chicago, which got goals from lesser lights -- Saad, Bolland, Oduya and Shaw -- the B's top players did the damage: one by Bergeron and a pair by Lucic. The grossly underappreciated Krejci assisted on both Lucic goals and he, too, must be in the Conn Smythe conversation. It's a credit to Boston's defense that the top Blackhawks didn't score, but also indicative of the problems that Chicago's depth poses for the Bruins.
On the other hand, while you want your best players to be your best players in the playoffs, you also need secondary scoring. Getting other Bruins on the scoresheet may be especially important from here on because Quenneville could figure out how to stop Boston's stars. He recognized how dangerous the Krejci line is and, as he's done all spring, juggled his forwards, putting Saad back together with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa (who had a great Game 1) on the Hawks' top line and playing that trio out against Krejci's line. Reuniting them helped contain the B's top threesome somewhat -- they looked unstoppable early in the game --- and it also gave the Hawks' some needed jump. Quenneville has the knack for reconfiguring his lines to fit a specific need and with all the depth he's got at his disposal up front, he can mix things and not diminish either his four-line attack or the Hawks' ability to defend.
In fact, Quenneville used Bolland on three different lines early in the game until settling on putting him at his old spot as third-line center, where he played in 2010 when Chicago won the Cup. And Bolland was, along with Hossa, probably the best Hawks forward in Game 1, especially strong in breaking up the Bruins' attack. He's a very solid two-way center and, now healthy after an injury that sidelined him late in the season and in the first round, could be significant in helping blunt Boston's attack.
The Bruins' offense will have fewer weapons if Nathan Horton's apparent shoulder injury takes him out of action for long. Krejci's winger, along with Lucic, is listed as day-to-day after leaving Game 1 with an apparent shoulder injury. Horton has been a crucial component of Boston's offense. While Tyler Seguin is a swift and talented forward who gets lots of scoring chances, he's not finishing them and, while still only 21, isn't as tough as Horton, whose absence could considerably change the character of Boston's first line. The Bruins and their fans have to hope that Seguin finds his game or Horton heals quickly, if not both.
The Blackhawks improved to 4-0 in opening games during the 2013 postseason while the Bruins are in an unfamiliar position, having dropped their first Game 1 after winning three. Teams that have won the first game of a Cup final have gone on to take series in 56 of 73 seasons (76.7 percent) since the league introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939.
A number of observers have made mention of the "Petr Klima game" -- the first contest of the 1990 Cup final between the Bruins and Oilers in which the little-used winger scored in the third OT for Edmonton. Boston really never recovered. There are some strange parallels between that B's team and this one. Just like this year, the '90 Bruins won a seven-game opening round, then a five-game second round, and swept the conference championship. Bruins president Cam Neely starred for that team. Maybe he'll have some insight that he can share with Julien to avoid a similar calamity. Too bad he can't suit up for Boston.
Nor can Bobby Orr.