The Chicago Blackhawks moved within one win of the Stanley Cup with a 3-1 win in Game 5 over the Boston Bruins, a game that was well-played on both sides, while showcasing Chicago’s overall team versatility.
Boston played a much cleaner game than they did in the 6-5 overtime loss in Game 4. Our NHL analysis after that game noted that the Bruins were in fact lucky to be in that game, as Chicago was able to successfully impose its tempo. Boston’s team defense and puck control came back much better last night in the Windy City, the talent of the Blackhawks came shining through as they were able to grind out the win.
Patrick Kane scored the game’s first two goals, one in the first period and the other in the second, both times assisted by center Jonathan Toews. Kane was aggressive all night long, taking six shots, while fellow offensive stalwart Patrick Sharp took six shots. Chicago has done a solid job all series in getting its best players on the puck and taking shots.
But the Bruins were able to turn the general pace of the game into the kind of grind that they can so often win. Chicago got 32 shots, which is a decent number, but by midway through the first period, Boston made them work for their shots and created a flow of play where opponents often make mistakes.
Chicago didn’t, and Kane’s second goal was a particularly nifty use of the stick as a rebound flipped off of Boston goalie Tuuka Raask. The Blackhawks might prefer a game played in open ice, and at the rapid tempo of Game 4, but Chicago showed in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings that they can survive the grind if they have to. That’s why they were the best team in hockey all season long and last night was a vivid demonstration.
Boston still needs to play crisper hockey on the offensive end than they did. It’s one thing to say they won’t look pretty, but the Bruins did not do a good job in getting their best offensive players good looks at the net. Boston isn’t a team like Washington or Los Angeles, where there’s only two or three players who are genuine threats to score, so this normally doesn’t become an issue with the Bruins. But whomever you think the B’s best offensive player is, the answer is likely not Daniel Paille. And that’s who led the team in shots last night.
Injuries are going to be a key factor over the next 48 hours. Toews has an upper body injury and his status is listed as questionable for Game 6. The center isn’t the goal-scorer that Kane, Sharp or Marian Hossa are, but Toews is the best passer Chicago has. Boston saw their own center, Patrice Bergeron, leave the United Center in an ambulance last night. The team has not disclosed his injury, adopting a secrecy that makes you wonder if New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick has taken a summer job handling media relations. But Bergeron’s ability to win faceoffs is vital for Boston’s puck control game.
Game 6 goes Monday night (8 PM ET, NBC). Chicago goes for a Cup, while Boston looks to repeat their feat of 2011, which is to take on the game’s best (in that case it was Vancouver), win a Game 6 at home and then steal the Cup on the road. TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis returns on Tuesday to either congratulate a champion or look ahead to a Game 7.