Stanley Cup Finals: Previewing Game 4 in Boston

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
un 17 2013 Chicago IL USA Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask 40 dives for the puck wide of the net during the second period in game three of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden Bruce BennettPool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Boston Bruins have the opportunity to put themselves on the brink of their seventh title, by earning their fourth 3-1 series lead of the postseason. Of course, they were able to close out their three previous series from that position, although they needed seven games and a miracle to finish off the Maple Leafs in round one.

If the Blackhawks fail to pick up a much needed road win, they will find themselves in a familiar place. A few weeks ago, the top-seeded Blackhawks fell into a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings. Despite the odds, the Hawks battled back to win in 7, so the next team to hoist hockey’s holy grail will certainly not be decided tonight. Nonetheless, another letdown by Joel Quenneville‘s club would mean that the Cup would attend Game 5 in Chicago, and no team wants to endure the heartbreak of watching an opponent parade the trophy around its arena.

A Blackhawks win, conversely, would even the series and return home-ice advantage to the Presidents Trophy winners, so Game 4 will likely be a turning point in the series.

The big question as Game 4 approaches regards the health of Hawks winger Marian Hossa. The Slovakian star was a last minute scratch for Game 3, and he was sorely missed.The prototype player for Chicago’s breakneck transition game, Hossa’s ability to possess the puck and drive to the net caused severe problems for the Bruins in Games 1 and 2.

With Ben Smith stepping in for Hossa, the Blackhawks seemed to completely lose their edge. After using their lightning-quick skating to rattle the Bruins in Chicago, the Hawks were forced to play the Bruins slow, physical game, and as a result they were shutout in a one-sided 2-0 contest. According to ESPN, Hossa is expected to return tonight, but it remains to be seen if the Blackhawks are rushing him back out of necessity. If he is less than his usual self, he likely won’t help much.

Even if Hossa is back at full strength, the Blackhawks will be hard-pressed to beat Tuukka Rask. The Bruins goalie has allowed just two goals in his last four starts at TD Garden and the 26-year old is well on his way to becoming a Boston legend. The emerging star sports a spectacular 1.64 goals-against average in the playoffs. Facing the league’s two best offenses in his last seven starts, he has stopped 97.3 percent of the shots he has faced.

In four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he kept Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla off the scoresheet. Through three Stanley Cup Finals games he has held Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp to a grand total of just two points. Of course, Rask has enjoyed tremendous support from the likes of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, If Rask and company can continue to shutdown Chicago’s top two lines, it seems unlikely that the Hawks depth can turn the tide of the series.

One reason that the Blackhawks have had so much trouble beating Rask is that they have hardly had the puck. The Bruins completely controlled possession in Game 3 thanks primarily to their dominance in the faceoff circle. The Bruins won 40 of the 56 draws in Game 3, with Patrice Bergeron winning 24 of his 28 tries.

The 2012 Frank J. Selke Trophy winner has been far superior in the series to this year’s recipient, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. Toews, usually known as a faceoff master and point-per game scorer, won only 42.1 percent of his drops in Game 3 and he has yet to register a point in the series. It’s now or never for the 2010 Conn Smythe winner, who must will his team to a turn around.

The window is closing for the Blackhawks as slumping Bruins wingers Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin come to life. Though the two talented forwards have yet to score in the series they have combined for four assists, including two in Game 3. Seguin has been especially strong in the series with points in all three games, thanks in large part to new linemate Daniel Paille, who netted the game-winner in both Boston victories.

Playing their best hockey of the year, the Bruins are a tough beast to kill, but somewhere deep down the team that earned a point in 24 straight games still represents the city of Chicago. The speed and skill are there for Joel Quenneville, it’s just a matter of playing with confidence and aggression, both physically and offensively. Perhaps it might take just one first period goal for Chicago to start an explosion, but if that goal doesn’t come Hawks goalie Corey Crawford may only be able to hold out for so long.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');