The Boston Bruins returned home on Monday night, for the first time since shutting out the Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and although their opponents changed the result did not. Tuukka Rask pitched the third shutout in his last seven starts, to give the Bruins a crucial 2-0 Game 3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
After the Bruins and Blackhawks split a pair of overtime thrillers in Chicago, Game 3 lacked the frantic pace of the first two, but the hockey remained fierce and physical. The relatively low tempo action played directly into Boston’s hands, as they surrendered few chances to the Presidents Trophy winners.
A team that often relies on its speed, the Blackhawks are finally showing the effects of playing three straight overtime games, including Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Jonathan Toews and the Hawks struggled to enter the zone with speed, and they failed to crash the net as effectively as they did in Games 1 and 2.
After weathering a frightful storm in the first period of Game 2, the Bruins recognized that a strong forecheck, careful puck possession and a healthy dose of physicality could bog down the Hawks, and they deployed the same strategy to great effect in Game 3. Without much of the puck or their frightening transition game, Joel Quenneville‘s Chicago club was at a loss.
The scoreless first featured little action, but the Bruins seemed to be the more comfortable and composed team. Though the clubs finished the period nearly even on shots, the home team looked much more dangerous.
Just two minutes into the second, Boston’s efforts came to fruition, with Game 2 OT hero Daniel Paille snatching the lead. The trio of Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin stayed hot after scoring both Boston goals on Saturday night. Seguin, who posted an assist for the third straight game, forced a rebound with a rip from the slot, and Chris Kelly’s gritty work in the corner helped Daniel Paille find clear ice by the faceoff dot to beat Corey Crawford over the glove.
Paille’s fourth of the postseason tilted the ice for Boston, and the Bruins would go on to outshoot their visitors 15 to 8 in the middle frame. The Blackhawks did little to help themselves, taking three penalties in the period.
With Dave Bolland already in the box, Niklas Hjalmarsson tripped Daniel Paille to gift-wrap a five-on-three powerplay for the Bruins with six minutes remaining in the period. Though Claude Julien‘s crew is hardly a powerplay juggernaut, they made the most of the two-man advantage. 21 years after winning his second Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Blackhawks, Jaromir Jagr showed that he still has it with a beautiful pass that somehow spirited its way across the face of goal to a wide open Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron settled the puck and calmly flipped it off the inside of the iron and over the outstretched pad of Corey Crawford to double Boston’s lead.
In the third period, the Blackhawks were given the opportunity to comeback with a pair of powerplay tries, but they squandered their chances. Without Marian Hossa, who was a surprise game-time scratch with a mysterious upper-body injury, the Blackhawks failed to end a long drought with the man-advantage. Going 0-for-5 on the evening with just four chances, the Blackhawks powerplay did more harm than good, surrendering a series of breakaways instead of troubling Tuukka Rask.
Rask stopped 28 pucks to pad his stellar postseason stats. The clear Conn Smythe frontrunner was perfect on Monday night, but he enjoyed his easiest game of the series. After two tense affairs, Rask looked confident and poised as he hardly offered any hope to the frustrated Hawks.
Chicago’s off-night can be blamed in large part on a total failure in the faceoff circle. Despite being captained by faceoff-wizard Jonathan Toews, the Hawks lost 40 of 56 draws, giving the Bruins a huge possession advantage. In addition to scoring his seventh goal of the playoffs, Patrice Bergeron won 86% of his drops, halting the Blackhawks offense before it could even get started.
Late in the third, Chicago tried to make it interesting, but could get no closer than a Brian Bickell shot off the post in the final minute. Tensions flared as the Bruins cruised to a win, leading to a brawl in the final minutes, but in the first game of the series to require just 60 minutes the Bruins were clearly deserving winners.
After stealing one on the road, the Bruins look very cozy in the TD Garden, and they will have a chance to put a stranglehold on the series in Wednesday night’s Game 4. Despite the relatively lopsided Boston win, it would be a mistake to count out the Blackhawks.
Joel Quenneville’s experienced squad has everything necessary to bounce back with the necessary fire and hustle to even things up on Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see whether or not Marian Hossa will return, as the offensively struggling Blackhawks could certainly use him as they try to crack Tuukka Rask. If he returns, the Blackhawks could be reenergized as they seek to reestablish home-ice advantage with a win in Boston.