The Chicago Blackhawks are headed home for Saturday’s Game 5 all tied up with the Boston Bruins. The city is back to believing, the momentum has turned and it’s now a three game series with the Hawks holding home ice advantage.
Chicago persevered to their second win in these finals by making appropriate changes, executing their game and forcing Boston to play at a faster pace, but also did so by overcoming a newly exposed, possibly major weakness on the back end.
Crow’s leaky left side
By all accounts, Chicago dominated the play in game four. They won races for pucks, played up to Boston physically, generated many more scoring chances than their opponent and exploded for six goals. Scoring five goals in regulation in the playoffs should result in a win. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks Corey Crawford had his worst game at the worst possible time. Crawford still has to be the leader for the Conn Smythe trophy on the Chicago side, but his performance in Game 4 was not in line with the “rise to the occasion” approach that the skaters in front of him showed.
Crawford showed the shakiness early in his first goal given up, freezing on a 65-foot snap shot from Rich Peverley at the end of a Boston power play. It looked like he was expecting a pass, but still he seized up and stood still as the shot fluttered over his glove. Crow bounced back to keep his team in it and then was given two goal leads twice, only to see them reduced by rebound and fluke goals.
Then the leaky glove was back in play.
Patrice Bergeron tied the game at four early in the third period on a one timer that Crow saw all the way and just could not get glove to puck in time. Again, the Hawks responded and took the lead later in the period, but just under a minute later the Bruins would again go to the well on Crawford’s glove side. Johnny Boychuk’s 60-foot slapper eluded the Chicago goalie’s glove like the few before, unscreened and seen the whole way.
Barry Petchesky of Deadspin wrote on Crawford’s growing problem, noting that eight of the 12 Boston goals in the series have beaten Crawford’s glove and ten of the 12 have gone through his left side. This is a major problem. This will also help to determine exactly what Corey Crawford is going forward. He’s been amazing all season and playoffs long, but still there has been doubt among the masses. The way he responds will either assert him as a true #1 elite netminder, Cup winner and contender for the top job in net for Canada at the Olympics next winter OR as the guy who can put it mostly together but just not quite all the way.
This is the type of thing that defines a player’s career. Corey Crawford’s glove might well determine the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion. Here’s hoping he rights what’s wrong in two days.
Shuffle ’em up
Joel Quenneville has never been shy about shuffling his lines, so it was more than expected that he’d do so prior to game four. His decision to reunite Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews on the top line with Bryan Bickell paid big dividends as the trio combined for two goals, five points and a plus-7 rating on the night. Patrick Sharp added to the top-six tallies and that combined with the continued success of the supporting cast generated six goals, one more than the Hawks had scored in the previous three games combined.
The new line combinations seem to balance out the matchups very well, not allowing Claude Julien and the Bruins to double an individual on either of the top lines like in game three. The return of Marian Hossa was an obvious plus, but his pairing with Michal Handzus and Sharp made for an imposing second line matchup with the smaller Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Look for Quenneville to ride these combinations in game five, especially with the last change at home. He’ll be able to exploit the matchups like those on a regular basis which could produce big returns on offensive zone draws.
4-on-5 > 5-on-5 > 5-on-4?
The special teams finally showed up as well, with Sharp scoring on the power play to give the Hawks their first man-advantage goal of the series. Michal Handzus scored short handed on a beautifully executed two-on-one with Brendan Saad that victimized towering Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara. The production from the special team units was precisely what Chicago lacked in the first three contests and set them apart from Boston in game four. The Blackhawks still took too many penalties of their own, going a man down five times and seeing two Bruin goals as a result.
Chicago needs to play a much more disciplined brand of hockey the rest of the way to avoid giving Boston extra opportunities. The Bruins have scored four times on 14 power plays thus far to the Hawks one in 15 chances. Winning the power play battle from here on is the easiest way to tip the scales in Chicago’s favor in a short series. To do that they need to continue to get the Bruins moving around on the penalty kill, making the extra pass or two and swarming the net on shots. Kane, Toews, Kruger and Sharp all scored on rebounds or deflections in game four.
Keep that up and they’ll keep the goals flowing. Chicago’s going to need plenty.
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