AFTER a near-flawless Game 3, the Bruins are poised to place a stranglehold on the Stanley Cup Final.
It was a supremely disciplined and structured performance Monday night that earned the B’s a 2-0 win over the Blackhawks and a 2-1 advantage in the series. Game 4 is tonight in Boston, and if the teams perform again the way they did in Game 3, the Bruins won’t just have the Blackhawks on the brink; they’ll have them over the edge and clinging by their gloved fingertips.
The Blackhawks may not face elimination just yet, but they need to play like they do. Given the way the series has turned since the first period of Game 2, the possibility of Chicago coming back from a 3-1 deficit against a Bruins team at the peak of its powers seems awfully farfetched.
"We have to play with that desperation, and just hold nothing back and figure out a way to get it done," said Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. “We don’t want to go down 3-1. So we want to do everything we can to get a win.”
The Bruins, meanwhile, are taking nothing for granted. They know that two wins is only halfway home and that Chicago came back from a 3-1 series hole against Detroit in round two.
“They’re three games away from winning the Cup, so all we’ve done is put ourselves in a better situation than we were in the previous game,” said Bruins forward Chris Kelly, suddenly a force in the Final after previously being all but invisible in this postseason. “They’re a great hockey team.”
But, clearly, the Bruins are riding a good deal of momentum into Game 4, right? Not according to coach Claude Julien.
“I'm not one to say momentum. (Game 3) is over,” Julien said. “I think the next game is just as important. We have to go into the next game the same way we did (Game 3). If you don’t win that game, does that mean the momentum goes the other way? I know it gives them home‑ice advantage again.
“I think it’s more about refocusing on the next one, knowing that the team you played against is going to be looking at what they can do better. They’re going to make adjustments. We have to do the same from our end.”
Finding flaws that need ironing out is Julien's job, but it will be tough to find much to fix after Game 3. The Bruins put together a complete effort that called on every single player to play within their system and its emphasis on defense and puck discipline.
Two of the biggest factors in the game were the Bruins’ dominance in the faceoff circle and blanket they tossed over the Blackhawks’ big guns, especially on the power play.
Boston won 40 of 56 faceoffs in the game, repeatedly preventing Chicago from setting up any kind of offense. And when the Hawks did have the puck, gaining the offensive zone became a chore as the Bruins played a smart and aggressive style.
Chicago went 0-for-5 on the power play as the Bruins denied good looks at the net, blocked shots, pounced on mishandled passes and then, when all else failed, got great goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
“I think they were just keen on us bobbling pucks here and there and not making crisp passes. They were coming at us, and we didn’t have full possession,” said Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews, otherwise silenced by the man he beat out for the Selke Trophy (presented to the player deemed the NHL’s best defensive forward), Patrice Bergeron.
In addition to scoring Boston’s second goal, Bergeron won an astounding 24 of 48 faceoffs, including eight of 10 against Toews.
“We expected it to be a tough atmosphere. We expected Boston to be flying out there, and they were,” Toews said.
The Bruins made certain to avoid a repeat of Game 1, in which they held a 3-1 advantage in third period, only to watch the lead — and eventually the game — slip away. This time, there were no damaging Boston turnovers, no fortuitously bouncing Chicago shots deflecting into the Bruins’ net. And when the Hawks went into full desperation mode in the final minute, the B’s were able to survive.
"We told ourselves when we came into the locker room (after the second period), we said, ‘We've been in this position and we gave up the two‑goal lead, so let's do it better today, keep attacking," said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, awarded the Army Ranger jacket by his teammates after blocking six shots and registering four hits.
“If you attack, it’s tough for them to score in our end. We did a good job, kept playing our style, kept putting pucks deep, except the last couple of minutes actually. They threw everything at us. They got quite a few chances. For the most part we did a decent job.”
The series will return to Chicago for Saturday's Game 5; that much is certain. But if the Bruins can turn in another effort tonight at home on par with what they did Monday night, tonight could very well be the final game at TD Garden this season.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at email@example.com.