Jim Litke: Blackhawks beating Bruins at their own game
A dozen slices of wheat bread and two plates of quartered oranges sat untouched on a table in the middle of the Boston locker room, fortifications for an overtime period that never came.
In one corner of the room, attendants piled sticks into equipment bags as fast as they could. In the other, Bruins defensemen Zdeno Chara impatiently kept climbing off a table before the trainer massaging his sore right thigh was done. The team bus was already idling in a loading dock nearby.
After a decisive 3-1 win by the Blackhawks on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins apparently couldn’t get out of town fast enough. Whether they’ll make it back to Chicago for Game 7 rests on the slim hope that they’ll be able to generate more offense than they managed in the third period, or the rest of the series for that matter.
"We had some momentum there," Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask said afterward. "We just ran out of time."
More troubling, though, the Bruins are down 3-2 and fast running out of options.
Coach Claude Julien’s plans to slow the high-flying Blackhawks and win another slugfest, the way the Bruins hemmed in and outhit the similarly offensive-minded Penguins, is in need of serious adjustment. It has been since the Blackhawks rolled out to a 3-1 lead in Game 4 three nights ago, forcing the Bruins to chase the game and leave more and more space open behind them to the opportunistic Chicago attackers.
"That’s not our game," Rask said. "We don’t want to take too many chances. We got desperate out there."
The Blackhawks’ last goal in this one was an empty-netter with 14 seconds left. They began that final period ahead 2-0, and didn’t look flustered, relying on persistent forechecking and packing in the defense, even after Chara closed the gap with a short slap shot from the left face-off circle nearly four minutes in that beat goalie Corey Crawford -- where else? -- up on the glove side.
So if all you heard was the score from this one, after watching the four previous games -- there were 18 goals combined in the two that Chicago won, but just five in Boston’s two wins -- you would have bet the Bruins won. They’re a defensive-minded bunch who don’t give up goals and score just enough. But at the moment, they can’t quite manage either trick.
Making matters worse, center Patrice Bergeron was taken to a hospital for observation after playing just 49 seconds of the middle period, and there were no updates on his condition after the game. Bergeron is tied with David Krejci for the team lead in goals with nine, but that only covers half his value. He was edged out by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for this season’s Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward, so his absence could spell double-trouble come tonight.
"I feel we had some pretty decent chances, but I believe with Bergie in the lineup, I believe we would have gotten that second goal," Krejci said. "I think we were pretty close a couple of times. It’s sad to see him go down. I don’t know how he feels right now. I don’t know if he’ll be back next game or not, but we definitely missed him in the third."
"We’ve got to do everything," Krejci added a moment later, "to get the first goal in Game 6."
That likely won’t come easily for Chicago, either, since Toews sat the entire third period on the bench after getting hammered by Chara. The Bruins have been mugging him throughout the series and the league’s unwritten rule about not discussing injuries -- anything above the waist, including a concussion, is described with the catch-all phrase "upper-body injury" -- leaves Toews’ status in question as well.
But the Hawks might be the deepest team in the NHL across the front line and coach Joel Quenneville has plenty of scorers ready to step into Toews’ slot with the first line. Andrew Shaw moved up to claim the centerman’s place alongside Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell and the offense barely lost a stride. Quenneville, in fact, seemed less worried about Chicago’s ability to attack than he did getting a Toews-caliber commitment from all of his forwards to bottle up Boston behind their own blue line.
Shaw, a rookie, doesn’t have the numbers or trophies Toews does, but it’s clear he’s already bought into the idea of following the captain’s lead. Asked whether this game had "broken" the Bruins, he shut the question down almost before it was complete.
"You can’t say that," he said. "They’re a great team. We saw what they did in the Toronto series, coming back in that last game. We know they’ll push to the end."
The Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit with 11 minutes left in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs and advanced. But Chicago is in a different class. The Blackhawks are more skilled, shift vs. shift, than anybody they’ve run into all season long, and as Rask pointed out, they punish teams that open up the ice trying to play catch-up.
There’s little Julien can do to change that balance of power, beyond coaxing even more effort from a team that’s already on the back foot -- and has been there before during the postseason.
"Right now our goal is to create a Game 7 ... It’s as simple as that. Again, there is no panic. You’re not going to push us away that easily.
"We’re a committed group," he said finally, "and we plan on bouncing back."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
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