The Cup is in the Building: What are Chicago’s Chances?
For the first time in 2013, a team will be playing for the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks-Bruins series returns to Boston for Game 6, and Chicago holds the 3-2 series lead. While the Blackhawks are heading into a hostile environment against a Bruins team that is sure to play its best, the Blackhawks still have all the momentum in the world after a Game 5 performance that was their best of the series.
The 6-5 overtime thriller in Game 4 helped. Before then, in Game 3, the Bruins had been true to form, turning in a 2-0 win on their return to TD Garden ice and making the Blackhawks’ vaunted offense look sloppy and uninspired. In Game 4, even though Boston got out of the first period tied 1-1, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came out to shine in the second period with goals about two minutes apart to give Chicago a 3-1 lead. With the Bruins in a two-goal hole for the first time in a long time, they were forced to open up their system to generate offense.
And generate offense the Bruins did. But so did the Hawks. It was a back-and-forth game that played right into Chicago’s hands, because they knew they were more than capable of scoring the winning goal — even if it had to come from the back end, as it did, since Brent Seabrook rocketed a shot past Tuukka Rask to tie the series at 9:51 of overtime.
Despite Chicago’s scoring abilities, it only needed two goals to win in Game 5 on Saturday night–the empty netter was just good insurance in the game’s dying seconds. Kane scored two goals, one toward the end of the first and one five minutes into the second. Both goals began with strong two-way play by Toews. The Blackhawks continued to use their speed and perseverance, however, to keep the Bruins frustrated. Rask was truly fantastic as he continued to face flurries all night, but Corey Crawford stood tall at times as well, for even one mistake on his part could have changed the game.
Yet, Crawford did make one mistake, and he could count himself lucky that it didn’t happen earlier in the evening. The play developed quickly, but Crawford definitely wants that close-range slapper from Zdeno Chara back, as he completely gave up his corner and raised his glove seemingly as an afterthought after the puck had already bounced out of the net behind him. Even great goalies have a few of those goals they want back, and no one has said yet that Crawford is great.
Still, the Blackhawks are a great team, and they responded to the goal by playing like their lives depended on it for the final 16:20 of regulation. The Bruins found it difficult to enter the zone as the clock ticked down, and when Rask finally got to the bench, it seemed like a matter of time for someone to clear the puck into the empty net. There was no one better than Dave Bolland, who only has two goals in the playoffs, but both have been timely. Easily crushing the Bruins’ hopes of a comeback in Game 5 was crucial to the next game for the Blackhawks. Saturday’s win sent a pretty loud message; it was their first regulation win of the series.
It gets harder on the road again, of course, but the Bruins played their worst defensive game of the playoffs on home ice in Game 4. Anything could happen.
The Bruins will, of course, be playing for their season.
But Patrice Bergeron is day-to-day with an unspecified ailment that caused him to leave the rink via ambulance Saturday night. Losing Bergeron would give the Bruins’ game at both ends of the ice a huge downgrade. The caveat to that, of course, is that a Johnny Boychuk hit to the head may have injured Jonathan Toews, who did not play the third period of Saturday’s game. He who was so integral to both of Kane’s goals–and who knows how to keep the centers he is matched up against at bay.
With both teams missing key pieces, the game may shift to a more defensive, wait-and-see kind of hockey, which the Bruins excel at.
Long story short: don’t be surprised if this one goes back to United Center for a seventh showdown.