Corey Crawford has a problem, or shall we say that he is about to.
You see, the young Chicago Blackhawks goalie is about to enter into a long distance relationship that most therapists will contend is not good for him – not that he’s a bad guy or a pushover, but when the object of your focus starts firing vulcanized rubber disks at you, it’s time to reassess the situation.
Dennis Seidenberg wouldn’t mind starting one, the German Hammer is all about starting abusive long distance relationships with goalies. So is Andrew Ference. Adam McQuaid has had recent success finding paydirt while Johnny Boychuck and rookie Torey Krug and are dogs that will smack on anything…
…and let’s not forget about Zdeno Chara - the big, surprisingly agile Czech with the sizzling snap shot.
Though the Boston Bruins defensemen are known as physical head-bangers, it is their combined offensive skills that set them apart from the rest of professional hockey and what makes them so dangerous from anywhere in the attacking zone – or from anywhere on the ice for that matter.
It is a familiar sight, seeing one of the Bruins’ blue liners wind up from the top of the circle and fire a rocket towards the goal, and one has to marvel at their accuracy – and if the goalie is able to turn their shots away, the offensive philosophy dictates that everyone else crashes the net, creating a scrum.
Crawford has a sensational goals against average of 1.74 and a save percentage of .935 but, as is almost always the case in sports, the stats don’t tell his entire story. Take away the beating that Chicago put on the overmatched Minnesota Wild in the first round, and Crawford has given up 2.20 goals per game and has let two or more pucks get past him in eight of their last twelve games and has a record of 8-4 in that span.
By contrast, Boston Netminder Tuukka Rask struggled in the first round against the Maple Leafs, giving up 18 goals in seven games and was hearing the chants for back up goalie Anton Khudobin, but quieted those voices by turning in an 8-1 record since – the only blemish an overtime loss in New York to the Rangers - allowing two or more goals just three times for a 1.40 goals against average.
So with goaltenders expected to get stronger and have their teams’ backs the deeper they get into the playoffs, Crawford appears to be headed in the wrong direction – which is definitely cause for concern against Boston, a team that has scored more goals in the tournament than any other.
The Blackhawks will try to offset the imbalance with some decent defensemen of their own, though they are nowhere near as deep on the blue line as the Bruins.
Duncan Keith - he of the “accidental” retaliatory high-stick to the face of Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter for which he was suspended – and Brent Seabrook are top shelf defenders on the first pairing, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya team up for the second. The third pairing of defensemen have seen their minutes decrease steadily in the playoffs, Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival contributing disappointing efforts…
…all of which has to have all four lines of the Bruins salivating.
The top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has been phenomenal, all logging double digits in points and Krejci proving himself to be a legitimate superstar with his scoring prowess and stellar two-way play – which is also the calling card for Patrice Bergeron on the second line. He and Brad Marchand have hooked up for scintillating game winners in the past two series…
…but it is the early April pickup Jaromir Jagr that the Blackhawks must be concerned with. He is a master on the forecheck and has unrivaled puck handling skills and, if history tells us anything about the 41 year old legend, he is due for a major scoring breakout.
Tyler Seguin has been invisible for Boston in the playoffs, but he anchors a deceptively dangerous third line while Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and tough guy Shawn Thornton are master disruptors on the Bruins’ energy line.
So deep are the Bruins on offense that 10 of their 12 forwards have three or more points in the post season.
Where the Bruins fall short, but not by much, is on the power play – and like the Blackhawks, Boston has struggled to get anything going with the man advantage, and the fact that Chicago had the best penalty kill in the western conference this season shouldn’t give Bruins’ fans much hope for a breakthrough. On the bright side, with Jagr seeming to be hitting his stride, that could conceivably take a turn for the better.
So, Corey Crawford has a big problem, along with the rest of his Blackhawk teammates, as the Bruins play with the style of a mean counter-puncher, absorbing their opponent’s best shot, then returning the favor with brutal defense feeding into offensive opportunities.
There’s nothing fancy about what the Bruins do. There’s no trickery, no real grace or subtlties. They win faceoffs, win battles on the boards and pepper the opposing goalie with a barrage of shots.
The Bruins are bullies and can wear a team down with brute force, and unless Chicago coach Joel Quenneville can find some way to stem the tide, his charges are going to get abused by the bigger, more physical offensive-minded Boston defensemen…
…and there should be a parade in Boston in the next couple of weeks, say within 5 or 6 games, as the Bruins dump the Blackhawks like a bad habit.
After all, isn’t that how most long distance relationships end?