By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It’s not what the Bruins are doing. It’s what the Blackhawks are not doing.
Joel Quenneville and his players now know first-hand what they probably picked up on videotape before the start of the series: That the Boston Bruins are a formidable team that is playing in peak form.
Boston head coach Claude Julien’s analysis of his team’s play following their 2-0 victory in Game 3 was simple and straight forward. “We are playing our best hockey of the year,” Julien said.
The Bruins do it with a stifling defense, one that punishes opponents who dare to come into the offensive zone, try to establish position and make plays in the dirty areas.
There’s something quite valuable about those dirty areas or else the Bruins wouldn’t protect it with so much fervor. But therein lies the formula for winning. It’s one that the Blackhawks played so well during the regular season and have embraced when they needed to in the postseason.
They must establish their position near Tuukka Rask in the Boston goal and between the circles. They must take the hits and return to those dirty areas with a fervor if they are going to turn the series around.
It’s hard, painful and challenging, but if they don’t do that they have to take their shots from the outside. That doesn’t work against the Bruins. Rask is too sharp in goal and the defense is too adept at blocking those shots.
At the start of the series, and even after the first game, the general thought was that the Blackhawks had the advantage in speed and skill. Those edges were on display in the first period of Game 2, but they have not been seen since then.
There is little time for Quenneville, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to sit around and wonder how this has happened. It’s about moving forward because the Blackhawks still have the opportunity to square this series Wednesday night by playing to their strength.
If they can show some fight down low and demonstrate some pushback against the Bruins, that’s when they may open up the ice and get a chance to use their skill and speed again.
If there is no open ice, the Blackhawks can’t use their stickhandling, slick passing and accurate shooting. They are going to have to pay the price, take the punishment and show more grit than they had in Game 3.
The 2-0 margin felt a lot bigger by game’s end. The only time the Blackhawks mounted any kind of a rally came in the final moments when the game was in the desperation mode. That’s when they controlled the puck in the offensive zone and gained a few opportunities in the Boston zone.
Prior to that, the Blackhawks seemed to be chasing the puck most of the night. That’s what happens when they lose 40 of 56 face-offs on the night. Patrice Bergeron won 24-of-28 face-offs for the Bruins, and that’s simply unacceptable. Bergeron destroyed Toews (8-2), Michal Handzus (8-0) and Marcus Krueger (4-1) and that helped suck the life out of the Chicago offense.
The frustration level was obvious when Bryan Bickell tried to take the fight to Zdeno Chara and Andrew Shaw did the same with Brad Marchand in the final minute. Taking on Chara is almost always going to be a losing battle, but at least it showed that Bickell is willing to do something to gain his space in front of the net.
That may have been a message to the Bruins that the fourth game is not going to be as easy to manage. Quenneville needs to make sure the rest of the team understands that they have to hold their ground against the Bruins and do it for 60 minutes.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.