Could Tyler Seguin step in for Nathan Horton on the first line?
Many Boston workers came in to work on Thursday morning weary and worried after the Bruins' heartbreaking triple-overtime Game 1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Though the Bruins initially seemed to pick up where they left off in their demolition of the Penguins, the Blackhawks showed a gritty resilience that appeared to catch Boston off guard.
As gut-wrenching a defeat as it was, the Bruins do have an extra day off to catch their breath and regroup to try to steal Game 2. Though they rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the Canucks two years ago, coming back against a tougher and more well-rounded Chicago team would be a daunting task.
Here are three factors to watch as the Bruins try to knot up the series Saturday night:
Dictating the Pace of Play
If there's one resounding takeaway the Bruins players should have, it's that these Blackhawks are not the Penguins.
When the Bruins took a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the game was eerily reminiscent of the Eastern Conference Final in which Boston spooked Pittsburgh into trying to play physical and took the skilled forwards out of their comfort zone. As Eddie Olczyk pointed out on the broadcast, Niklas Hjalmarsson went for the hit instead of playing the puck on Milan Lucic's first goal.
However, the Blackhawks took the initiative for pretty much the rest of regulation, using their speed and accurate stretch passing to fly through the neutral zone and keep the Bruins pinned in their own zone. Perhaps more disheartening was how much they outworked the Bruins, who have mostly done a great job of keeping their foot on the pedal this postseason. Brandon Saad scored Chicago's first goal of the game due to diligent forechecking from Marian Hossa:
Though the faceoffs were almost dead even (the Blackhawks had a 59-58 edge), the Bruins were generally on their heels after the first period, unable to sustain possession and pressure. They almost seemed content to play prevent hockey and try to hold on—a style reminiscent of their inconsistent regular season.
The Bruins picked up their intensity in the 52 minutes of overtime, but they cannot afford to wait that long in Game 2.
Contingency Plan for Nathan Horton
Claude Julien is playing coy and calling the right winger "day-to-day," although Darren Dreger of TSN reports the outlook may be more bleak:
Tough nailing down injury specifics during the playoffs. I'm hearing Nathan Horton's injury is not that bad, but he's doubtful for gm 2.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 13, 2013
If Horton cannot go, it goes without saying he will be sorely missed. The Bruins' first line of Lucic-Krejci-Horton has combined for an astounding 21 goals and 57 points.
When Aaron Rome knocked Horton out of the 2011 final, Rich Peverley went up to the first line to replace him. But per NHL Line Combinations, the Lucic-Krejci-Peverley trio played together in just two percent of the Bruins' regular-season shifts.
Besides, with Gregory Campbell's injury, Peverley has been necessary to replace Chris Kelly as the third-line center. Carl Soderberg is the only inactive player who could step in at center, but he has just six career NHL games under his belt and seems ill-suited to step into this intense, high-stakes series.
The most likely scenario involves Tyler Seguin stepping in to fill Horton's void. Julien has utilized the Lucic-Krejci-Seguin trio before for a short-term scoring boost, but the line actually had a net-negative scoring differential last year. If Seguin's experience on the third line has taught him more responsible defensive technique, then perhaps it can work.
For what it's worth, James Murphy of ESPN Boston speculated that Seguin may be reunited with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand while Jaromir Jagr replaces Horton on the first line.
If Horton misses Game 2, I wouldn't be surprised to see 19 back with 37 and 63 and 68 with 46 and 17.— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) June 13, 2013
During the Penguins series, a reporter asked David Krejci if he saw himself in the same class as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Krejci quickly diffused the idea but repeatedly emphasized how the Bruins play as a team. After sweeping Pittsburgh, he reiterated the point, per WEEI:
We don’t have the superstars on this team. We don’t have the best player in the world. But we might have the best team in the world, ... We play as a team.
In the playoffs you need everyone to step up at one point, ... Tuukka [Rask] has been doing it, defensemen have been doing it, and forwards have been doing it. If you want to go far in the playoffs you need more than just one or two lines to score goals.
That last point is even more resounding after what happened in Game 1. For a team that prides itself on rolling four lines, 14 of the team's past 15 goals have been scored by someone on the top two lines. No bottom-six forward has scored since Gregory Campbell's Game 5 series winner over the Rangers.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks' bottom-six forwards combined for three goals and four assists in Game 1 alone, in addition to defenseman Johnny Oduya's game-tying third-period goal. Joel Quenneville was able to roll his fourth line consistently, as they were the line on the ice for Oduya's goal.
No one is asking the likes of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly to turn into Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. But those forwards have to at least have some sustained pressure in the offensive zone. The two are a combined minus-15 in the postseason thus far, and that just won't cut it against a team like Chicago.
The Bruins are an incredibly mentally tough team that will surely come back with a strong effort on Saturday. It would be a bit of a surprise if the Blackhawks made this a short series. But in order to put themselves back on the championship track, the Bruins must win Game 2.
*Unless stated otherwise, all stats were taken from NHL.com