June 21, 2013

For Bruins, Game 4 was a deviation from the norm

By Andrew Merritt

The Blackhawks' Michael Frolik sends a puck past the reach of the Bruins' Zdeno Chara to set up Marcus Kruger's goal in the second period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday, June 19. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

BOSTON – “Un-Bruin-like” was the word Sports Hub play-by-play man Dave Goucher used to describe Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Six goals allowed, including one on a power play; eye-popping defensive breakdowns; heck, even the Bruins’ own offensive explosion, after averaging the 13th best goal-per-game average (2.65) in the NHL during the regular season, was a sign of a game unlike almost any other in these playoffs. Un-Bruin-like, indeed.

That’s the bad news. It’s also the good news. Game 4, at least right now, appears to be an outlier. It’s the first time this postseason that the Bruins didn’t have a lead at any point in a game since Game 5 against Toronto, a 2-1 loss. It’s the first time the Bruins have lost a Stanley Cup Final game at TD Garden, after taking all three against Vancouver in 2011.

The reality of Game 4 is that the Blackhawks played like a team that couldn’t afford to lose, and the Bruins played like a team that could. The hardworking shorthanded goal by Michal Handzus to open the game was an example of both of those aspects, coming off poor puck management by Tyler Seguin but also a fine play by Brandon Saad, whose harassment of Seguin during a penalty kill was evidence of the desperation with which Chicago played – because it didn’t have much other choice.

Asked whether it seemed the Blackhawks were bringing a little extra to Game 4, staring down the possibility of a 3-1 deficit as the series shifts back to Chicago, Bruin defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, “Well they had to. It’s the finals. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be here.”

The fact that the Blackhawks scored shorthanded was itself a bad omen. The Bruins’ power play was much maligned (and deservedly so) during the regular season, when it had just a 14.8 percent success rate. The 18.5 percent rate in the postseason might not break any records, but it represents an improvement in the overall quality of the power play units. Even when they haven’t scored, the Bruins have generated momentum off of their postseason power plays, and have rarely been in danger of allowing a shorthanded goal – Game 5 against Toronto, in fact, was also the only other time they’ve done that.

It was also, quietly, probably the worst playoff performance by Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara in Boston sweaters. Chara frequently had trouble handling the puck in his own zone. The Marcus Kruger goal that gave Chicago a 4-2 lead (later erased single-handedly by Patrice Bergeron) with 4:28 to go in the second came on a 2-on-1 precipitated by a very ill-advised Seidenberg pinch, the stalwart German trying to get to Dave Bolland in the Chicago end but only succeeding in leaving ample room for Kruger and Michael Frolik to lay siege to Chara and goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Seidenberg also later lost Patrick Sharp, allowing the University of Vermont alum to slip next to Rask’s hip and bang home a power play goal.

“I guess both teams weren’t really sharp mentally,” Seidenberg said. “It always comes back to that. If you’re not positioned right all over the ice breakdowns happen, odd-man rushes happen, and then that’s what happens. At the end of the day there’s a lot of goals being scored.”

The Blackhawks didn’t just stumble into the win, either. Coach Joel Quenneville rearranged his lines yet again, this time putting stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on a line with Bryan Bickell, and it paid off with both Toews and Kane scoring their first goals of the series (and Toews’ first in nearly a month).

But it was a weird game.

“That was one of the weirdest games I have played and it is in the Stanley Cup Finals,” Blackhawk defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It shouldn’t really be like that … 11 goals in one game. I am just glad that we won this game. I am just really happy that we got away here with a win.”

Although Brent Seabrook’s slap shot ended Game 4 with a thud for the Bruins, the 6-5 result doesn’t tell the whole story. In particular, it obscures the effort they put together over the final 30-or-so minutes of play, when they erased first the 4-2 deficit and then answered Sharp’s go-ahead goal with Boychuk’s blast to tie it at 5 with 7:46 to go.

And from that, the Bruins may even be able to draw momentum despite losing the game.

“We did play well,” Boychuk said. “We did battle back, and it was a two-goal deficit and we found a way to come back, but we probably shouldn’t have been in that situation anyways.”

Given recent history, it seems unlikely the Bruins will find themselves in that situation again.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com