By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Chicago Blackhawks have been largely frustrated through the first three games of their series with the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins are playing nasty, physical hockey and they use their large bodies to knock down the Blackhawks every time they try to set up shop in front of Tuukka Rask in the Boston goal.
As tough as it has been overall for the Blackhawks to score – they have not put a puck into the Boston net in their last 122:26 – it has been misery on the power play.
Not only have the Blackhawks failed to score in 11 attempts against the Bruins with a man advantage, they have rarely threatened the goal. It’s been difficult to even gain entry into the offensive zone. Whether it’s Duncan Keith trying to carry the puck across the Boston blue line or Brent Seabrook making a pass, the Bruins have regularly broken up the play and sent the puck skittering back down into the Blackhawks’ zone.
The other problem, of course, has been the Blackhawks’ inability to win in the face-off circle. The Bruins have been dominant in that area, taking a remarkable 40-of-56 draws in Game 2.
The Bruins have been formidable on the penalty kill. Through the first three months of the regular season, they were the best team in the NHL in that area by a wide margin. They slumped in the final month and finished fourth in penalty kill on the season and they were not stellar in that area against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, but they have gotten back to top form.
The Bruins have killed off 26 straight penalties, including 11 straight against the Blackhawks. They did not give up a power play goal to the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien noted that the Bruins’ penalty kill returned to form once they defeated the Maple Leafs in the first round and that the unit has been at its best against the Blackhawks.
“We know they’ve got some great players on that other team,” Julien told the Boston Globe. “Our penalty kill has to be at its best. It really got better as the playoffs went on.
“But we really picked it up against Pittsburgh for the same reasons, same kind of a dangerous power play. It just continues to give us some help in these games.”
The power play has been a constant source of frustration for the Blackhawks in the postseason. They have scored on 7-of-61 power play opportunities, a success rate of just 11.5 percent. The Blackhawks were not great in this area during the regular season, but their 16.7 percent success ratio was a lot better than they have showed in the postseason.
The Blackhawks are taking desperate measures to try to fix their sick power play. In their pregame practice prior to Game 4, Barry Smith was on the ice helping out Joel Quenneville and the rest of the coaching staff.
Smith is Stan Bowman’s director of player personnel. He is regularly in an office and not on the ice. But when you are trying to get back into a playoff series, the panic button gets pushed.
The big problem for the Blackhawks power play is that the Bruins’ power play has been producing. Not necessarily at the rate of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, but the Bruins have scored two power play goals in this series. The Blackhawks have to find a way to get competitive in this area, because the Bruins are too strong defensively to throw man-advantage opportunities away.
If they can’t get it done in Game 4, Quenneville and his players will be left with one desperate opportunity to get back in the series.
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.