How are the Bruins beating the Blackhawks? Kind of the same way they beat the Penguins: by taking Chicago’s top offensive players out of the equation.
Maybe it goes a bit unnoticed because the Blackhawks have scored 2 1/2 times as many goals the Penguins did in the conference finals, but the Bruins have limited Chicago’s offensive difference-makers big-time, so much that Jonathan Toews, like many others, still is looking for his first point of the series.
“Tonight I thought we made it rather easy on him as far as traffic and finding and seeing pucks,” Joel Quenneville said after Tuukka Rask’s latest shutout, a 2-0 Game 3 win.
That wasn’t just a “tonight” thing, though.
The Bruins -- most notably Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg -- limited the Blackhawks' scoring chances. They've kept them to the perimeter, where they might as well be engraving Rask’s name on the Conn Smythe Trophy. Given how technically sound Rask is, you can't beat him if you aren't getting clean looks.
“I mean, they had shots, but most of them came from the outside,” said Rask, who picked up his third shutout in seven games Monday. “We eliminated a lot of those rebound opportunities. I think that's something what every team likes to do, and we succeeded today.”
Through three games in the Eastern Conference finals, the Penguins had one goal from their top two lines: a Chris Kunitz tally in Game 3. Through three games, the Blackhawks have gotten two goals from their top six -- none from anyone named Kane or Toews -- with Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp the only two to get a puck past Rask while playing on a top line. Their power play is 0-for-11.
The Bruins’ top scorers haven’t blown the doors off like they did in the Penguins series, but the top six and power play have a combined four goals to Chicago’s two. With the last two games, all the Bruins have had to do is break even in those areas (one goal allowed by Chicago’s second line in Game 2 and a power-play goal scored in Game 3) and then let the battle of the bottom six be the difference-maker.
And that’s not something the Bruins could have banked on. Earlier in the postseason, it was about hoping the Bruins’ third line could break even -- basically not allow any goals, since they obviously wouldn’t score -- and then let David Krejci and company handle the rest. With the emergence of the Paille-Kelly-Seguin line, the Bruins’ top forwards can stand to not score for the sake of keeping the other guys off the board.
On Monday, the third-line play was a glaring difference between the teams. Kelly’s line dominated Dave Bolland’s line, scoring and drawing a pair of penalties from Bolland. Going back to Game 1, when the Blackhawks got three of their goals with a bottom-six line out there, it’s clear that the game can be decided by the lesser names. It certainly isn’t being decided by Chicago’s big names.
“When you look at I guess the matchups, it just kind of seems to even itself out -- their top lines, our top lines,” Claude Julien said after Game 3. “Our top lines haven't scored that much five-on-five either. It's the Kelly line that gives us that goal five-on-five. Right now it just seems that both teams are very aware of the other team's top players. [We’re] playing a chess match right now.”
Like the Penguins did, the Blackhawks have made adjustments to put themselves in a better position to break through the Chara-Seidenberg wall and actually find out what kind of goalie Rask is when he’s really tested. Dan Bylsma moved Jarome Iginla out of his top six. Quinneville, partially due to Marian Hossa’s injury, has mixed and matched as well. He even reunited Kane and Toews for a bit in third period Monday, but both Bylsma and Quenneville have had the same results: not much offense.
For example, remember when Bryan Bickell was a major story this postseason? The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder had eight goals -- one shy of his regular-season total -- and five assists for 13 points entering the Stanley Cup finals, which was one shy of the team lead. He was playing on the Blackhawks’ top line and had everyone talking about how much money he was going to make in free agency.
Now? He’s a fourth-liner. His 11:43 of ice time was one of his lowest total of the playoffs, and the only time he was noticeable was when he was getting into it late with Chara.
But that’s what the Bruins are able to do. For all we know, Bickell was mad at Chara because he screwed up his payday by making him a non-factor in this series.
The idea of shutting down Crosby, Malkin, Letang and friends is a lot shinier than keeping the Blackhawks offense quiet, but if the B’s keep up what they’ve done against Chicago’s top scorers, they could be days away from the shiniest prize of all.