Let that be a lesson to you, Boston Bruins, since it didn’t sink in the first time.
The mean counter-punchers from Beantown left themselves wide open for the knockout blow in Wednesday night’s battle of the National Hockey League’s top heavyweights, losing focus on their foes once they had them on the ropes – and the results were predictable.
…and not because they let up on them, because the effort was there all night – and to say that the Bruins let up on the Blackhawks and allowed them back into the game is an insult to both teams’ efforts in the triple overtime marathon - rather, a split second of fundamental indecision on the part of the Bruins combined with an excellent game plan on the part of the Blackhawks allowed Chicago to climb back into the game.
It’s not an excuse and it certainly doesn’t exonerate the guilty parties, it’s simply the truth.
Because let’s be honest, up and down the lineup the Bruins were – and are - the better team on the ice, as reported here, and here and even here, but not so much better than the Blackhawks as to get caught with their pants down, take a bad bounce or two, and to be able to survive.
And they should have known better, right? After what happened to them in the quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs? Boston was the clear favorite in that series, yet it took a miracle to find their way out of it with a win in Game 7 - in overtime, no less.
Why? Difficulty clearing the defensive zone and the inability to push the Leafs’ forwards out of the low slot – the exact thing that happened to the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Chicago on Wednesday night, a game that should have been over in regulation…
…but while Boston was able to correct themselves just in time to avoid being eliminated at home by the Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals, the Blackhawks countered by speeding up the pace and catching the Bruins in the midst of line changes time and again – aggressively pushing the puck into the attacking zone, resulting in more than a few odd man rushes at goaltender Tuukka Rask…
…which doesn’t always result in goals, but all it takes is one to have a significant impact on a game, the Blackhawks’ second goal for example – an incidence where all of the Bruins’ weaknesses came into play in one disastrous five second span.
In the midst of a line change, Bruins’ defenseman Torey Krug had control of the puck along the wall in the defensive zone with Chicago center Dave Bolland bearing down on him and, not wanting to push the puck up the sideboard and risk taking a too many men on the ice penalty, Krug instead attempted a stretch pass against the grain in the high slot…
…apparently not seeing forward Andrew Shaw lurking at the blue line. Shaw easily intercepted the puck, skated to the right wing to survey the 3 on 1 break that catching the Bruins in a line change created, shoulder-faked a pass to Brian Bickell in the right slot to get Rask leaning that way then slid a perfect pass to a streaking Bolland in the left slot – who had circled around and was wide open.
Bolland easily found twine, and four minutes later the Blackhawks tied the game with a shot from the high point that was headed wide of the net, but that hit the skate of Andrew Ference and deflected into the goal behind Rask.
The Bruins recovered in fine style, but the damage was done - and a full 60 minutes later Shaw let a Michal Rozsival shot deflect off his knee and into the Bruins’ net to win the game in triple overtime – something that wouldn’t have happen but for a split-second fundamental breakdown combined with a lucky bounce.
So the Blackhawks had an excellent game plan, one that took advantage of something as simple and routine as a line change, mixed with a smattering of wanton embellishment and pulled Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals out from underneath a superior Boston Bruins‘ club.
The Bruins had the Blackhawks on the ropes and, after surviving Chicago’s initial surge to start the game, was physically dominating them when the breakdown in fundamentals turned what looked like a resounding victory into a heart-wrenching triple overtime defeat.
There’s nothing that the Bruins need to do differently, just being mindful of Chicago’s speed and not taking routine line changes for granted – and certainly not trying to slip a pass through the high slot.
The Blackhawks forced the Bruins into errors in Game 1 and was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In Game 2 on Saturday night one can be sure that when the Bruins have the Blackhawks on the ropes, they shove it so far down their throats that it will take the Heimlich maneuver to get it out.