NHL Playoffs 2013 – Finals Return to Boston – Stanley Cup on the Line
After Patrick Kane’s double and Corey Crawford’s stunning efforts sealed a 3-1 victory for the Chicago Blackhawks at United Centre, they head into Boston tonight carrying a 3-2 series lead and a historic shot at glory; the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup on enemy soil for the second time in four years.
Regardless of the similarities between tonight’s setting and Philadelphia in 2010, still not quite sure how that Patrick Kane OT winner found the net, the Bruins will not simply lie down and let the Hawks stride away from Beantown with the cup. They will battle for every inch of ice and hope they can repeat their heroics from two years ago, where they won Games Six and Seven to trump the Vancouver Canucks.
After Chris Hext wetted your appetites for the drama ahead, this post takes a look at the factors that will determine whether Boston can stave off Game Six elimination on home ice and ensure we get yet another dramatic instalment in this enthralling series.
The curious case of Patrice Bergeron?
The Boston Bruins’ centre left Game Five with a ‘body’ injury which has since been speculatively identified as an issue with his spleen. Although he was sent to hospital for observation on Saturday night, he travelled back with the rest of the team on Sunday and his current status is thought to be ‘day-to-day’. If Bergeron is unable to make Game Six, it will be a catastrophic blow to the Bruins because put in the simplest terms, he is arguably the most-rounded player in the entire NHL (though Jonathan Toews also makes a pretty good case) and anyone would love to have him on their roster.
Having posted 15 points in the playoffs so far, including 9 goals, it is his remarkable consistency in performance, astute defensive responsibility and unrivalled prowess in the faceoff circle that make him such a crucial player for the Bruins. He is also one of the main reasons that the Boston power-play has finally sprung to life during this series, with intelligent movement around the net and four of his goals coming whilst on the man-advantage.
Playing the rampant President Trophy winning Blackhawks will be difficult enough anyway, but having to compete without such an integral piece would be devastation. The city of Boston will hope as one that Bergeron, perhaps even a less than a hundred percent version, can skate tonight.
Unleash the Bruin within?
During Game Three, Boston exploited their heavy fore-check and utilised their ferocious pressure game in the offensive zone, but in the two losses since, they have been unable to replicate these hallmark tactics which have been at the heart of their success for so long. Whether this is due to adjustments made by Chicago, which have included holding a higher position in the neutral zone to disrupt Boston’s attempts to carry the puck into their zone and simplifying their passing game in transition, or a matter of injuries taking their toll, Boston will need to play real ‘Bruins Hockey’ to have a chance at victory in Game Six.
The first few shifts will tell us which Boston team have turned up tonight. If we see Chicago pinned in their own zone unable to get a line-change, with the desperate look of a gazelle, stricken with fear, being hunted by a vicious predator, then we’ll be in for a classic encounter and get the chance to see whether the Hawks can cope with an intensity that destroyed the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Penguins. One thing’s for sure, the Boston Bruins are a team built for dominating opponents rather than reacting to them, but can they dominate the Hawks when it really counts?
Is the puck a beach-ball for Corey Crawford?
Every time Corey Crawford spots that small disc of vulcanised rubber heading in his direction, there’s only going to be one outcome, he’s going to stop it with apparent ease. The Blackhawks’ goaltender is looking razor sharp, anticipating attackers and moving better than ever. Though Chicago fans seem to love criticising him at every opportunity, about a weak glove side, poor blocker side, tendency to give up soft goals (the list goes on), he has been outstanding when it’s mattered.
Though he has conceded most of the goals in this series on his glove side, which the Bruins have deliberately targeted, the real issue was that the forwards had too much time to pick their spot in front of goal. With Crawford building throughout the playoffs to reach his current scintillating form, Boston need to do something to make his life more uncomfortable, and that something is the bane of most goaltenders, strong net-front presence.
In a rather ironic reversal from the opening of the series, when this was a tactic the Blackhawks felt they needed to employ to cause problems for Tuukka Rask, who was in unbelievable form during the Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. Now it is Boston who need to mix things up in the crease, and with the physical presence from the likes of Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, it shouldn’t be too hard to spend more time screening Crawford from the booming shots of their active d-men.
Stop those speed demons in defence?
As predicted, the sheer skating talent the Blackhawks possess on the back-end has proved a real nuisance for Boston so far. Brent Seabrook in particular, has been free-wheeling, all action, thorn in your eye rampaging nightmare, a fact further compounded by his OT winner in the topsy turvy Game Four.
If the Bruins are to be successful tonight, they will need to quicken up their point of engagement in the offensive zone. The need for a rapid fore-check will again be vital, especially in trying to disrupt the Hawks fantastic transition game and force more turnovers in good areas of the ice.
Be the master of fate?
This may be a cliché but the Bruins simply cannot allow themselves to be beat by the occasion instead of Chicago. In epic encounters such as this, with the eyes of the hockey world fixed upon them, nerves can wreak a terrible havoc, but these will need to be quashed immediately as an early goal could set the tone.
Boston will have to produce a complete display to win, every element of their performance must be flawless to the tiniest detail, a necessity to deny a Chicago side who believe they will soon be holding Sir Stanley’s Cup aloft, I wouldn’t want to be one who says either team can’t do it.
People often say ‘I just can’t wait for it to begin’ as an exaggeration of their emotions, the magnitude of this game is such that I would never doubt another hockey fan who found themselves uttering such words. Here, classic is a supreme understatement.