Perhaps never more than in the young phases of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final has the puck represented the momentum. With their fall-from-ahead, 4-3 overtime loss in the series opener, the Boston Bruins made it known that they must actively hunt it rather than let it come to them.
Otherwise, too much chasing and too much de facto goaltending could drain them more than any other factor.
By the 12:14 mark of the third period in Wednesday night’s Game 1, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference had already blocked six Chicago Blackhawks shot attempts. In addition, he had taken five hits from a Chicago skater.
At the time in question, an unsuspecting Ference was trying to position himself as part of a fortress for goaltender Tuukka Rask. But as he looked in one direction, Blackhawks blueliner Johnny Oduya’s low-flying slapper from another direction deflected off his skate and trickled home.
Had Ference’s head been on more of a swivel, his skate might have been in a better position to be a nonfactor or at least direct Oduya’s shot the other way. That might have been a more plausible scenario had his workload been a little less grueling beforehand.
Regardless, that goal drew a 3-3 knot and effectively forced overtime, which ultimately spilled to a sixth stanza and a grand total of 112:08 of hockey action. By night’s end, Ference was second among all participating skaters with eight blocks.
The only player with more blocks to his credit was Dennis Seidenberg, a fellow Boston defender who let nine Blackhawks bids bank off his body. With 48 minutes and 36 seconds of ice time, he was also the only Bruin to surpass Ference (45:19) under that heading.
Seidenberg’s workload only stopped at 48:36 because he was on the ice for Chicago’s overtime clincher. As it happens, he took a hit from Bryan Bickell two seconds before Andrew Shaw’s deflection went home and was unable to do anything to inhibit the deciding play as it unfolded.
With their fateful shifts on the equalizer and the decider, and their otherwise valiant accumulations of defensive data, Ference and Seidenberg served to epitomize Boston’s bend and eventual breakage at the hands of a relentless Chicago strike force.
Beneath a relatively close 63-54 Blackhawks advantage in terms of shots on goal was a much more disproportionate 132 attempted shots by Chicago versus 85 by the Bruins. Boston combined to block 40 of the opponent’s attempts while the Hawks only got in the way of 23 at the other end.
The Bruins held 1-0 and 2-1 leads at the first and second intermission, respectively. But they owed a part of that to Rask’s praetorian guards blocking nine Blackhawk bids in the opening frame and another 12 within the middle regulation stanza.
With that, Chicago had pelted Boston skaters with 21 shots in a matter of 40 minutes. That matched a postseason high in any 60-minute affair by any preceding Blackhawks adversary in 2013.
Those blocked shots lessened in frequency afterward, but Chicago’s shots on goal and shots in the goal simultaneously ticked upward. After testing Rask 24 times before the second intermission, the Hawks thrust 15 third-period shots on net, including two unanswered goals to delete a 3-1 deficit.
With their skaters sacrificing themselves for another 14 blocks in overtime, the Bruins brought their new runaway total in the playoffs to 296. Behind them on that leaderboard are the Penguins (258), Rangers (249) and Blackhawks (240).
Take those totals and calculate them on a basis per 60 minutes played, and Boston has blocked an average of 15.5 opposing attempts per night in the 2013 tournament. The Blackhawks have blocked 12.2 per game.
In Game 1, which nearly stretched to the equivalent of two contests, the Bruins chalked up a 60-minute average of 21.4, a stark spike from their overall playoff average. Chicago was impelled to block 12.3, almost identical to its overall playoff average.
Translation: Boston players have brooked more bruises than any other playoff team as it is, and that accumulation will inevitably increase to a degree. They cannot outright curtail the need to make more sacrifices in the next three-to-six games, but they can do more to minimize it and will need to do so to ensure a competitive series.
Naturally, more puck possession is the topmost way to go, and it may be more probable than meets the eye.
Patrice Bergeron was practically the sole reason the faceoff differential was neck-and-neck between the two teams in Game 1. He claimed 27 out of his 41 draws while the rest of the Bruins went 31-for-73, giving them a cumulative 58-56 edge that could have been higher.
Chris Kelly, in particular, could stand to restore one of his few 2013 playoff boons in a hurry. He is still sixth among qualified leaders in this tournament with a 56.1 percent success rate despite going an abysmal 7-for-22 on Wednesday.
If Kelly, and even David Krejci, can improve at the dot and if everyone does more to reward the pivots, Boston will have a chance to balance the ice shavings and backchecker bruises between the zones.
Anything less than that and, all valiance aside, their net could end up riper for denting than desired in crunch time.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com