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Tim O’Sullivan: Bruins’ road to Cup title just got rougher

Last modified: 6/25/2013 1:44:44 AM
Wrangling a win out of the United Center was tough enough for the Bruins during the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals. Heck, it took them four overtime periods to do it.

But after what happened in Boston in Game 4, it’s going to be even more difficult for the Bruins to win another one in Chicago, starting with tonight’s Game 5, or Wednesday’s Game 7. And given the way this series is going, it seems safe to assume a winner-take-all game will be necessary.

A Boston road win got tougher because the Blackhawks imposed their fast-paced, end-to-end style for all 69:51 of Game 4. Yes, Chicago had showed its explosiveness in the second half of the third period in Game 1 to overcome a 3-1 deficit and eventually take a 4-3 overtime win, but for most of that game the Bruins dictated with their physical, defense-first approach. Wednesday night’s

affair was played the way the Blackhawks want to play from start to finish.

Both coaches and teams dismissed this notion on Thursday. Boston’s Claude Julien sounded offended at the notion that his team couldn’t contend in a high-scoring game. “It’s almost like saying we’re not allowed to score,” the Bruins coach responded. Following that contradictory line, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said, “I don’t think there’s anything free-wheeling about our game.”

Spare us, please. Maybe the regular season was cut in half, but everyone has seen plenty enough of these two teams over the years and during these playoffs to know that the Bruins want to take away space and the Blackhawks want to create it.

And now, after doing it for a full game, Chicago knows it can find speed, ice and goals against the hard-hitting layers of Boston defense. That 6-5 Blackhawk win on Wednesday wasn’t just the highest-scoring game of the series, it was the highest-scoring game of the entire NHL playoffs.

Chicago earned the right to be confident after Game 4 in part because Joel Quenneville showed confidence in what he and the team had been doing all year before Game 4 by reuniting his top line of Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. In separating Kane and Toews before the series, Quenneville seemed to be saying his team had to change in order to cope with Boston’s defensive style. That reactionary move didn’t work, as neither Kane nor Toews scored in the first three games of the series. But both scored on Wednesday, and Kane and Bickell assisted on Brent Seabrook’s game-winner in overtime while Toews was in front of the net battling with Zdeno Chara and distracting Tuukka Rask.

The Blackhawks also chased Rask out of their heads with that six-goal outburst. The Bruins goalie hadn’t allowed a goal in 129:14, and was making it look relatively easy, before Michael Handzus scored in Game 4’s first period on a short-handed transition goal where speed and space were key.

Chicago also overcame the 6-foot-9 nightmare of Chara, who had dominated defensively in the first three games but was on the ice for five of the six goals on Wednesday. Toews felt so good about how his team played against Boston’s captain that he talked about it after the game, insisting that the Blackhawks wouldn’t be intimated by Chara and would keep beating him with their skill and speed.

Having confidence is all well and good, but it probably wasn’t the brightest move to poke Boston’s biggest bear, which is one of the reasons why the Bruins can win another game Chicago, even if it will be tougher to do the second time around. Chara and crew will likely use Toews’s comments as extra motivation to deliver a few extra checks, which is one of the things that Boston needs to do to impose its style on the next game.

Of course, the Bruins would have rather taken a win out of Game 4, but they can take away a couple of positives that will help them moving forward. They have to see that even though they didn’t play their best, even though Game 4 was played the way the Blackhawks want to play, it still took an overtime session for Chicago to pull out the win. When the Bruins created their kind of tight, defensive contest in Game 3, they owned it, controlling the game by more than the 2-0 final would suggest.

The Bruins also know that, if they have to, they can score with Chicago, and they can certainly rattle Corey Crawford. The Chicago goalie had been proving his doubters wrong this postseason, but he was proving them right on Wednesday by allowing the Bruins to come back from deficits of 1-0, 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4. Boston’s resiliency deserves plenty of the credit for those responses, and the Bruins will need that kind of bounce-back willpower tonight.

So, with all that being said, what should you expect in Game 5? More amazing hockey with an overtime period likely attached. Chicago will be energized by the home crowd and Boston will be motivated to play better than it did in Game 4, but neither team will be derailed by an early goal one way or another.

During the past two Stanley Cup finals, the team that scored first had a 13-0 record. But in this slugfest of a series, the team that scores first is 2-2. Don’t expect either team to flinch tonight, and don’t expect any break from the high-tension drama.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)


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