Chicago Blackhawks' Power Play Woes Magnified in 2013 Stanley Cup Final

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Chicago Blackhawks' Power Play Woes Magnified in 2013 Stanley Cup Final
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The Chicago Blackhawks' power play boasts some of the NHL's most talented and creative players, but it's a unit that has struggled mightily in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.

Chicago scored only one goal in its 2-1 overtime loss on Saturday in Game 2, which has resulted in the first two-game split in a Cup final since 2004.

If the Blackhawks were able to score on any of their three power-play opportunities in Game 2 (just two shots on goal in six minutes of power-play time), it's likely that they would be traveling to Boston with a commanding 2-0 series lead.

In fact, the best scoring chance of all three Chicago power plays on Saturday was a short-handed breakaway opportunity for Bruins forward Brad Marchand, whose shot hit the post before he crashed into the net.

Of course, several teams have won the Stanley Cup with an ineffective power play, including the Los Angeles Kings last year (12.8 power-play percentage) and the Bruins in 2011 (11.4 percent).

With that said, the most effective way to beat a Bruins team that leads the playoffs with a plus/minus rating of 1.1 and a 1.60 GAA at even strength is to capitalize on power play situations.

Through two games of the Cup final, the Blackhawks are 0-for-6 on the power play, and if you go back to the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago has failed to score on its last 15 opportunities with the man advantage.

When the Blackhawks score a goal on the power play they are 6-0 in this year's playoffs, compared to 7-6 when the team fails with the man advantage. Through 19 games, Chicago is converting on only 12.3 percent of its power plays (7-of-57).

"I don't know if it's the power plays that are struggling or the penalty killing has been more effective or efficient," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville on Thursday. "I think special teams are always critical. I think they can make the difference."      

"Our power play in the last series and last night hasn't shown the production that it's needed or is going to be necessary going forward. We're still going to have to rely on it at some point to ignite us. That's what we're talking about."

One of the main issues on the Blackhawks power play is a lack of aggressiveness. This team is passing way too much and needs to stop looking for the perfect opportunity.

There's no reason to get cute on the power play with so many precise passes when there are players of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp's caliber on the ice. All four of these forwards are capable of scoring goals and bring a high level of playmaking skill to the ice during power-play situations.

Looking for the perfect setup is a recipe for disaster against a Bruins penalty kill that does a great job of breaking up passes with active sticks and good positioning. Chicago has to put more pucks on net and look for rebounds in front of Rask.

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On the Blackhawks' 5-on-3 power play in Game 1, they were too hesitant with the puck and failed to tally a single shot on goal despite spending most of this opportunity in the attacking zone.

"We easily could have gotten the momentum going our way a little bit with a big goal, five-on-three there," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews after the series opener.     

"We had the puck in good areas. It just seemed to bounce off our stick, go out of the zone. We had to regroup...We  know we got to be better there. We expect them to be aggressive. You know, they're a  solid defensive team. They're going to be the same when they're short a guy."

The Blackhawks also need more movement on the power play because they are making it too easy for Boston to clog up the shooting lanes and block shots or force the players at the point to make another pass.

Chicago needs to be better on faceoffs to create sustained attacking zone pressure on the power play. The Bruins are the best short-handed faceoff team in the playoffs with a 66.1 percent success rate. It's going to be difficult for the Blackhawks to fix their power play if they struggle to win faceoffs and possess the puck.

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Another focus for the Blackhawks on the power play needs to be getting more traffic in front of Rask. Boston's goaltender was able to clearly see the puck on all three of Chicago's power plays in Game 2, which helped him prevent the Blackhawks from earning a crucial 2-0 lead. Quenneville needs to get Bickell or Hossa at the top of Rask's crease and make it difficult for him to locate the puck when his team is killing penalties.

The Bruins allowed just two even-strength goals and none on the power play to the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins offense with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang during a sweep of the conference finals, and their penalty-killing unit has remained perfect in the Cup final.

Boston is able to rely on elite shut-down defensemen Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and former Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron whenever they find themselves short handed, and with all of that defensive talent on the ice, it's not a huge surprise that the Bruins have killed off 21 straight penalties.

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With Rask playing at an elite level in the playoffs, the Blackhawks aren't likely to score a lot goals against the Bruins during 5-on-5 play. This is why it's vitally important for Chicago to capitalize on its power play chances and gain some momentum and confidence with a few goals.

If the Blackhawks are forced to win this series by outplaying the Bruins at even strength because of power-play struggles, Chicago's chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup won't be good.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.

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