Just like in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks will face a Game 5 situation against a formidable and physically imposing opponent on Saturday night when they battle the Boston Bruins at the United Center.
In the aforementioned Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, the situation was slightly different. The series was tied 2-2 just like the 2013 incarnation, but the Hawks were coming off of back to back losses, including a penalty filled Game 4 that saw the Hawks give the Flyers six power play opportunities. The Hawks managed to kill off five of them, but ceding control over the tempo of the game to Philadelphia was a mistake that had cost the Hawks dearly in a 5-3 loss.
Obviously, the lessons of the past can’t be too deeply examined, especially considering that this roster only has a handful of players from the bunch that won that Cup in 2010. The broader concept of playing a disciplined game, however, is one that the Hawks will need to bring into Game 5 against the Bruins.
Throughout this series, the Hawks have been testing their penalty killing unit too much, and in Game 4, the consequences of that indiscipline were made painfully obvious. The Hawks, despite scoring a shorthanded goal thanks to the quick hands of Brandon Saad and the surprising north-south speed of Michal Handzus, gave up two power play goals of their own, and left goaltender Corey Crawford hung out to dry with several lazy plays on the defensive side of things as a whole.
If Chicago wants to win Game 5, they are not only going to have to do a better job of staying even-keeled on the power play (it seemed as though they were being a bit over-aggressive on the penalty kill after seeing the results of that Saad-induced turnover on the first kill of the game), but they are also going to have to settle for clearing the puck from the zone instead of trying to get fancy and move it up ice to generate offense.
In the discipline vein, the Hawks are also going to need to make sure that they are utilizing offensive zone pinches by their blue liners properly. In Game 4, the Hawks did a good job of varying up their pressures by sending a defenseman in from the blue line, and with great results.
The execution of that strategy allowed the Hawks space at the line because of the Bruins’ collapsing defense, and the result was three goals scored as a direct result of shots from blue liners. Michal Rozsival had two shots from the point that were potted by Blackhawks forwards (one on a deflection, and one on a rebound), and Brent Seabrook scored the game winning tally on a great sequence that saw him keep the puck in the zone on a clearing attempt, and then he fired a shot through traffic that evaded Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The other reason the Hawks need to make sure to keep varying up their offensive looks is because the Bruins have obviously shown a penchant for adjusting to perceived weaknesses. Boston coach Claude Julien kept taking advantage of Joel Quenneville’s lackadaisical adjustments to various matchups in the first two games of the series in Chicago, and the Bruins shooters also showed hockey IQ when they kept firing at Crawford’s glove side in Game 4.
Finally, the Hawks need to maintain the kind of netfront pressure that they showed at so many intervals on Wednesday night in Game 4. They peppered Rask with shots from all over the place, but it was only when guys like Toews and Bryan Bickell were getting to the front of the net that they were able to rattle the Bruins goaltender.
The team speed that the Hawks possess, especially on the third line with Viktor Stalberg and Brandon Saad on the wings, is a great tool to use against Boston, but Rask isn’t going to give up soft goals often, so the more physically demanding style of goal scoring that the Hawks execute, especially on the road, is the way to go.