Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final turned into exactly what the Boston Bruins don’t want: a track meet.
Just as in Game 1, the Bruins were able to keep pace with a high-powered Chicago offense. But also as in Game 1, when the final goal was scored, it was against the Bruins and tied the series at 2-2.
“It wasn’t a Bruins’ type of game, but at the same time you have to get yourself back into it,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Our guys worked hard to score goals. (We) probably got ourselves out of what our normal game plan is. So we opened up and we scored goals, but we also gave them some goals, like the game‑winning goal.”
If the Bruins want to win Game 5 Saturday night and head back to Boston with a chance to clinch the Cup on home ice, they must force Chicago back into the slow grind type of game that helped the Bruins win Game 2 by a 2-1 score and Game 3 by a 2-0 score.
And even in a tight-checking, low-scoring game a win isn’t guaranteed for Boston. Chicago can let the dogs loose on offense, but the Blackhawks can also be a stingy defensive team and finished the regular season with the fewest goals allowed at 102. Boston was third with 109.
“We’ve had frantic paces and we’ve pushed the pace in other games, and we didn’t end up scoring goals,” said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. “I think we just want to stick with our program, and stick with what’s given us success all year long. I thought (in Game 4) we did a better job of that, for the most part. We don’t want to give up five goals, though.”
With the Stanley Cup Final now a best-of-three series, the theme to watch for going forward is “what did they learn?”
The Game 1 slugfest was two teams that did not know each other. But the Game 4 offensive fireworks had lessons to impart. The question will be, can the teams take advantage of those lessons before the opposition adjusts?
For the Bruins, the takeaway from Game 4 is that Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s glove side may be his weakness. All five Boston goals in Game 4 went in on that side of the net, though several of the Bruins admitted to just shooting and not picking spots.
Still, the area was certainly giving Crawford problems and he’s not known to have a good glove hand like some cherry-pickers in the NHL like Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Los Angeles’ (and former Manchester Monarch) Jonathan Quick. Guarding the “seven hole” space between the glove and body is one of the toughest for a goaltender and the best at doing so rely more on positioning than a quick hand, squeezing off that area with the arms glued to the body rather than trying to catch the puck.
How does Boston attack that area now and how does Crawford, who certainly was aware of it, adjust?
“Well, 99 percent of the shots are going glove side. I can’t start thinking about that, that’s when you get in trouble when you start thinking everything is going to go glove,” Crawford said. “I’m just going to play the way I’ve been playing and stick with that.”
As for how to beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, Chicago realized the key was creating traffic in front and crashing the net. If Rask sees the puck late, his ability to control rebounds is significantly diminished and one of his strengths is neutralized. The Blackhawks took advantage with several rebound and screen goals Wednesday.
“They were doing a good job of getting some traffic, but also pouncing on the rebounds and on the loose pucks,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “We’ve got to do a better job at boxing out, but also winning the one-on-one battles.”
So now, it’s two wins to hoist the Cup. One elite team will live forever, names etched in silver, and one will endure a long summer of what if.
In what has already been an entertaining and memorable series, two (and quite likely three) games remain.
“We knew it was going to a tough series, an even series. That’s what we’re having. We never said it was going to be easy,” Bergeron said. “They’re a great team out there and so are we, so we just go to go out there — it’s a best of three now — and regroup and get ready for Game 5.”
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.