It almost took two games’ worth to decide who would take Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. Only three minutes away from being the longest Finals game ever, Andrew Shaw provided the second deflection of a Michal Rozsival shot, and the Blackhawks had the 1-0 series lead.
Two hours before that goal, however, things looked much different. The Blackhawks were trying to claw their way back into the game as the Boston Bruins held a 3-1 lead with twelve minutes left in the game. (Or regulation, at least.) The Bruins are to blame for some of the collapse, but not all. Credit the Blackhawks for persevering and sticking to what has given them all of their success this season; the 2-1-2 forecheck.
Early in the game, the Blackhawks appeared to be the more physical team, especially on a spirited third line shift where many white jerseys were put to the ice. The defense looked undeniably tougher than in series past, perhaps thanks to their long break after dispatching the L.A. Kings. However, big hits aren’t the only thing the defense has to do to keep the puck out of the net. Positional play was spotty in the first, and the Bruins got lots of chances, and eventually buried the first goal of the series. Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of the Hawks’ best defensemen in this post season, made a terrible mistake in going for the body on David Krejci, instead of the puck which was being contested behind Corey Crawford‘s goal. Krejci then made a good spin move, and then went tic-tac-toe to Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, who scored the goal. Johnny Oduya also went behind the net on the play, and did not come out with the puck, which left a wide-open Lucic. This will have to be better if the Blackhawks want to hang on to this series lead. The Bruins are experts at short passes, and a quick release in the slot is all that they need to put the puck in the net. The Blackhawks’ defense needs to make better decisions with and without the puck, and make sure everyone is covered. The Blackhawks got out of the first without any more chinks in the armor. They looked alot better defensively after the goal, and had a few chances of their own which they didn’t convert.
The second period wasn’t exactly a dream start for the Hawks. 51 seconds into the game, Lucic potted his second goal of the game. Another setup from Krejci and another quick release gave the Bruins a 2 goal lead. The defense wasn’t to blame on this goal, it was the forwards back checking.
Lucic made a great two-way play, stifling a Blackhawks attempt to get into the offensive zone, then turning around, battling on the boards, then dishing to David Krejci who returned the favor when #17 was at the top of the circle. Patrick Kane, who lost the battle on the boards, didn’t give 100% on the back-check, and it was obvious live, and even more so on the replay. He started out slow, and by the time he realized Lucic’s opportunity and turned on the jets, it was too late. Kane needs to be more aware on that play, and realize that it was an odd-man rush for the B’s, so he could get back and equalize. More effort should be there anyway, even if he didn’t see Lucic right away, as he is more effective in the defensive zone when the Bruins have possession than out by the blue-line.
Joel Quenneville opted to save his timeout, and the Blackhawks started on the comeback trail. After a couple minutes of end-to end action, the Hawks finally got on the board when Brandon Saad ripped a setup from Marian Hossa over the shoulder of Tuuka Rask. Saad had a great shift, getting the puck all the way from the Blackhawks blue-line to the opposite corner, where Dennis Seidenberg rubbed him out on the boards. Saad was the faster one to get up, and after a good fore-check from Hossa gave the veteran the puck, he made a great pass to the slot where the rookie got his first NHL Playoff goal. Seidenberg was just getting to Saad at this point, and there was no stopping #20 from getting a good shot off. The Blackhawks had their best opportunity to get back into the game when a 5-on-3 occurred thanks to the Bruins having 5 men on the ice for the initial PK. However, the Hawks looked like they were trying to make the perfect play, and Boston killed the two penalties with relative ease. That wasn’t an acceptable powerplay from the Blackhawks. They needed to get at least one goal on that man-advantage, but they struggled to even register a shot. Quenneville needs to focus on the power-play during this three-day break before Game Two. The Bruins and Blackhawks played a mirror image of the first frame to close out the second, sans the physicality, which went away as the game wore on.
The third didn’t start any more encouraging for the Blackhawks. 6 minutes in, Patrice Bergeron ripped a Tyler Seguin pass top corner after the Blackhawks lost the puck along the boards. Corey Crawford had no chance on this shot, but the defensive zone coverage needs to be stronger along the wall. There were too many red sweaters there for the Blackhawks not to come out with the puck, and a couple of easy passes led to the goal for the Bruins. The fun would stop there for Boston however. Less than two minutes later, Dave Bolland gave the Hawks new life. This goal was possible thanks to Andrew Shaw, who knocked down a Bruins lob pass at the blue-line, then transitioned perfectly, and made no mistake on a
3-on-2 pass across the ice to Bolland, who put it in the gaping cage. Rask was not to blame on this goal, as the Bruins defense certainly has to be better at clearing the puck. After that, there wasn’t much they could do, as the Blackhawks speed took over. Shaw’s pass went inches by both Bruins sticks, and found Bolland who made no mistake. This play was all #65, and he had a marvellous game. His effort and great puck decisions need to be mirrored by the rest of the Blackhawks squad in Game Two.
The Blackhawks weren’t done there. After scoring the goal, the Blackhawks were buzzing, and the game was controlled by Chicago. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, and it looked like the Bruins were the team hanging on to the game. Still down a goal with time winding down, Johnny Oduya made a timely visit to the goal column thanks to a great bounce. It capped off a great entrance into the zone by the fourth line of Marcus Kruger, Michael Frolik, and Brandon Bollig. Bollig kept with the play and gave a great short pass to Frolik, who took it over the blue-line, and got the Hawks into the zone with possession. As he was taken into the boards, Kruger came in to assist, and he dished the biscuit back to Oduya, who took a slapper that ended up going off the left skate of Andrew Ference and in to the net. Ference was making the right play, keeping Frolik to the outside, and guarding the crease. However, good bounces have been hard to come by for the Blackhawks in these playoffs, but they finally got one, on the biggest stage. The game was all knotted up at three goals apiece, and it would stay that way until the end of regulation.
Overtime wasn’t the way the Blackhawks wanted it either, but the red jerseys scored first, and that’s all that matters now. The Bruins ended the second overtime, which looked like a 20 minute powerplay, with Zdeno Chara hitting the post with 15 seconds left. A couple inches is all that stood between the Bruins and a 1-0 series lead, but they couldn’t get it done. The Blackhawks held on, and we settled in to the third overtime, making it the longest Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Final game. The third was a bit better for the Blackhawks, and they created a few scoring opportunities off of great net drive. The finisher came just as the clock struck twelve, when Rozsival took a weak wrister from the point that snaked it’s way through all the players, hit the stick of not one, but two Blackhawks; Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw, who got the credit. The Blackhawks had the win, and the home crowd forgot about all of their fatigue as Chelsea Dagger rang out in the rafters of the United Center.
It could have been a completely different story for the Blackhawks with the way they played on Wednesday night. They did not look very good in the first, and their power-play was god awful once again. The fans were a big part of the game, breathing life into the team period after period. Secondary scoring was a big factor in the win for the Hawks, as only one core player registered a point, Marian Hossa. The top 6 played well, but all opportunities were taken away by the Bruins top pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Chara.The Blackhawks depth needed to be a big factor coming in to the game, and it did not disappoint. The Hawks certainly have the edge in this category and the Bruins are going to have a tough time combating this if the bottom 6 keep sup this great level of play.
Game Two comes on Saturday night at the United Center. The Hawks have a huge opportunity with the home crowd, and they will look to summon every joule of energy to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
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