The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have not failed in the expectation that the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals would be a clash of titans. The first four games have featured three overtime games (one triple overtime), two games with seven or more goals, two games with five goals combined, big hits, touch-passing plays and everything a hockey fan of any level could want.
It was good to see Marian Hossa back for Chicago, even if he is half the player he can be while nursing an apparent groin injury. It was even better to see Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane create some offence in game four, giving this hockey fan some hope that this series will go seven games.
Each team has now taken a game at home and a game on the road, but have done so in very different ways. Let’s take a look at how each team got their wins and what that tells us about what might happen in games five, six and hopefully seven.
Boston Bruins’ Wins
For different portions of this series, each team has taken its turn dominating. In Game Two, the Blackhawks dominated the Bruins in the first period by any offensive measurement you want: out-shot Boston 19-4 and out-chanced 13-2. Despite this, Chicago only managed a 1-0 lead, certainly not a good enough result considering the circumstances.
Something hockey players (and people in most team sports) talk about is “weathering the storm.” This is when the road team is faced with a relentless barrage from the home team, for any number of factors, early in the game. If the road team can escape this storm relatively unscathed, as Boston did, your chances improve to win the game due to the natural flow of hockey games when two close teams play each other.
Boston would control the rest of the game, out-shooting Chicago 24-15 and out-chancing them 14-6. Boston scored two very Bruins goals, first off of a rush and net drive to tie the game then winning the game off a turnover at Chicago’s blue line. Two quick passes later after the turnover, it was game over.
What this game established was a trend on the part of the Bruins that started in game one, as we will see. There were several instances where the Bruins tried to go glove-side on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford – Jaromir Jagr alone got robbed in the first period by Crawford’s glove then rang one off the crossbar in overtime – and it will become a focal point of this series.
I catch some flack once in a while for my faith in Corsi and Fenwick as predictive tools. The nature of hockey (scoring chances vs. non-scoring chances) means that having the shot-attempt advantage doesn’t guarantee victory, not by any stretch.
If we were to look at the CorsiFor for both teams in Game Three, Chicago had the advantage 45-37. But at no point in this game was it ever really threatening that Chicago might score some goals and perhaps force another overtime game. This is because despite the Corsi advantage, Boston out-chanced Chicago by a nearly 2:1 margin, with the final totals favoring the Bruins 21-11. In no period did Chicago out-chance the Bruins.
Chicago was missing Marian Hossa, who took the warm-up but didn’t play the game. This loss cannot be over-stated; you don’t easily replace one of your Corsi leaders who is also one of your relied-upon penalty killers.
If you exclude the first period from game two, the Bruins out-chanced the Blackhawks 35-13 in their two wins. They were generating offense, but more importantly, they were limiting what Chicago could do. Even if they did break through, they still had to get past Tuukka Rask, which is no easy feat.
Chicago Blackhawks’ Wins
The first game of the Stanley Cup Finals was a tale of two games; Chicago could have walked away with a win in regulation even though Boston coughed up the lead, Boston probably deserved to win in overtime even though they didn’t. Such is the nature of hockey.
Typically, when “weathering the storm,” it’s the road team hanging on because of the energy of the home team. This wasn’t the case in game one. Boston held a shot advantage in the first period, they had more scoring chances (limiting Chicago to just two in the first 20 minutes) and as a result of all this, they had a 1-0 lead after the first and scored early in the second to make it 2-0.
There were two take-aways that I got from this game:
- For Chicago to win, they would need to pressure Boston’s zone exits. Too often, Boston was leaving the zone clean which was leading to scoring opportunities or a relief of pressure at the very least. Chicago got their first two goals off of forcing turnovers on the boards in Boston’s zone. The Bruins don’t have the greatest puck-movers on the point, so if you can get pressure on them, it would get Boston scrambling to transition.
- The Bruins began to establish the trend of going glove-side on Corey Crawford. All three Boston goals were mid-high glove side.
We would see these observations play out in Chicago’s next win.
In a hockey smorgasbord of goal-scoring, Chicago took last night’s game 6-5 in overtime.
We can look at the CorsiFor, which Chicago won again 57-46. We can look at the scoring chances, which slightly favored the Hawks 19-18 (and the overtime winner was not a scoring chance). We can look at the shots on goal, which favored the Hawks again 47-33. We can look at all this information and determine that the team who won the game, deserved to win the game, which they did.
Instead, I want to take a look at Boston, more specifically how they scored their five goals:
- Glove-side shot.
- Glove-side rebound.
- Glove-side in close off the top of the net (in a weird goal).
- Glove-side one-timer.
- Glove-side slapshot.
In Boston’s two losses to Chicago this series, the Bruins have scored eight goals and all eight have come to Crawford’s glove-side. I don’t mean dribblers on the ice that missed his pad. All eight goals were shots of one nature or the other that beat his glove.
Full marks to Chicago’s skaters in this game, they did what they needed to do to score on Rask; most of their goals were off of rebounds or turnovers. You’re not going to beat a goalie of this quality with wrist-shots from the tops of the circles, you need to create traffic, get rebounds and try to create chances in the transition game.
But what Boston is doing to Crawford is unbelievable. Sometimes you see a few goals, or a majority of goals go to a certain spot as part of a team’s plans, but eight goals in two games and all eight to the glove-side? It’s unheard of for me.
In my Finals preview, I essentially put this series on Corey Crawford. If he didn’t implode, Chicago would win. If he did, the Bruins would win. What I did expect was for Boston to exploit Crawford at some point. What I did not expect was for Boston to exploit Crawford yet lose both games in which they did so.
This makes me think there’s a weird psychological factor at play here for the Bruins. When they focus on defense, we see what happens; they can give up shots, but scoring chances are very few and far-between for Chicago. When they start scoring goals, it might actually be detrimental for them. It’s a weird thought-process, but it’s almost as if the mentality for the Bruins is “if we start to score goals, our defense is so good we will win.” Which is true, but you have to actually play good defense, you can’t become porous as they have in their losses.
Whatever the outcome, we are in for a treat in the final three games of this hopefully seven game series. I have a lot more faith in Rask than Crawford but at this point it’s anyone’s guess.