The Boston Bruins took advantage of home ice, as the Stanley Cup Finals went to their hometown for the series’ middle games and the Bruins churned out an efficient 2-0 win that gave them a two games to one lead in the championship battle with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Unlike the first two games, which were fraught with missed opportunities, intrigue and storylines layered upon one another, this was pretty straightforward. While it would be a stretch to say the Bruins dominated, they maintained reasonable control of the game, got both goals in the second period and then coasted in relatively free of drama.
BOSTON SETS THE TEMPO
The Bruins defense—not goalie Tuuka Raask, but the overall team defense in front of him, played its best overall game of the Finals, and has been able to dictate tempo to Chicago’s highly skilled offense since the start of the second period of Game 2.
Chicago ended up with 28 shots on goal, and while that’s not a horrible number, the Blackhawks would vastly prefer these Finals to be played in the high 30s, a number they reached in regulation play only during Game 1. Not coincidentally it was the game the Blackhawks won, and with a late rally where the shot barrage eventually paid off.
The Blackhawks were hurt in this regard by a surprise late injury to Marian Hossa. Apparently Hossa aggravated an upper-body injury in warm-ups and his status is listed as day-to-day. It’s not that Chicago hasn’t done good things offensively—they continue to get their best players on the puck and taking shots. Jonathan Toews took five shots, one of the most active games the center has had in some time, while Patrick Kane took four. Now they need to pump up the volume and try and force the game to be played at their speed.
POWER PLAY PROBLEMS FOR CHICAGO
A more alarming element for Chicago is the failure of their penalty-kill unit. The Blackhawks had been killing off penalties better than anyone in the playoffs, but when Patrice Bergeron scored for Boston with the man advantage it marked the second straight game the Bruins scored on the power play. We should note that Boston’s power play team is not exactly renowned for its efficiency and this is an area Chicago has to clean up quickly.
The Blackhawks are also not executing on their own opportunities with the man advantage, although Boston does have a good penalty unit, and given the preponderance of offensive talent on Chicago this just seems more a mysterious funk than anything. And there’s nothing in the track record recent history that says you need to score power play goals to win a Stanley Cup. But you have to prevent the opponent from doing so.
UNLIKELY BRUIN HEROES
We’ve focused on lot on Chicago’s shortcomings, but Boston has some unexpected heroes stepping up. Daniel Paille, who scored the OT goal that won Game 2, opened the scoring last night. He was assisted by Chris Kelly, whose emotion was credited with waking up the B’s in Game 2, and whose goal turned that game around. Veteran scorer Jaromir Jagr, whose best days passed him by about ten years ago, is showing some signs of life and been aggressive on the net the last two games. Jagr assisted on Bergeron’s goal, and if the vet continues to be aggressive, the goals will come.
So is Game 4 a must-win for Chicago? I wouldn’t go that far. I know the Blackhawks don’t want to get in another 3-1 hole like they did against Detroit, but Chicago has shown they can come back and still have two home games ahead of them in Games 5 & 7. What’s more, a series in hockey has a vastly different dynamic than one in the NBA, and a team turning around a series from 2-0 or 3-1 is not nearly as unusual. In hockey, you can usually take “must-win” in its literal sense.
Game 4 is set for Wednesday night in Boston Garden. The puck drop is set for 8 PM ET and all games the rest of the way will be carried by NBC. TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis returns Thursday.