2013 Stanley Cup Final: Biggest Early Takeaways from Bruins vs. Blackhawks
The daylight hours are long. The temperatures are warm and muggy. As the summer solstice looms, the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs enter their seventh week and wind toward their conclusion.
Three games into the final round, the Boston Bruins lead the Chicago Blackhawks two games to one in a close series that has featured overtime winners and some great goaltending. Considering those two factors, you can imagine the serious weight each goal carries.
Now that these teams have become acquainted, here's a look at some early takeaways from the Stanley Cup Final so far.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
A War of Attrition
Thanks to two overtime games in Chicago to start the series, the 'Hawks and Bruins had completed over 185 minutes of hockey—more than three full games' worth—before they even flew to Boston.
With each team's physical style of play, it was inevitable that we'd see injuries in the final. Nathan Horton left Game 1 during overtime with an apparent shoulder problem, but he has returned to the Boston lineup.
So far, the most dangerous part of the series has been the Game 3 warm-up. Zdeno Chara collided with teammate Milan Lucic and cut his head, but he got stitched up before game time and led the Bruins defense in ice time as usual (25 minutes, 47 seconds).
Marian Hossa was not so lucky. Though reports indicate nothing happened before the game, head coach Joel Quenneville scratched the Blackhawks sniper from the lineup after warm-ups. Chicago was shut out in Game 3, and Hossa is now listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, according to Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago.
Hossa is tied for the 'Hawks scoring lead with 15 points in 19 games and has one assist so far against Boston. With offense at a premium in this series, he will be missed if he's unable to suit up for Game 4.
Depth Is Everything
Hands up at home—who had Andrew Shaw and Daniel Paille in their game-winning-goal pool?
Didn't think so.
The Bruins and Blackhawks are both so defensively strong, they can neutralize their opponents' top lines. If scoring doesn't come from elsewhere, it may not come at all.
Shaw was in the right place at the right time to be the triple-overtime hero for the Blackhawks in Game 1, while Boston's new line combination of Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin has collaborated to grab Paille back-to-back winning goals in Games 2 and 3.
Jonathan Toews and Jaromir Jagr may be struggling to score, but both Chicago and Boston are getting important offensive contributions throughout their lineups.
Get a Load of These Goaltenders!
Boston and Chicago each boast strong rosters of skaters, but neither team would be where it is right now without the lights-out play of its netminder.
It's amazing to think that Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have both risen to dominant form in the wake of their teams' recent Stanley Cup wins in 2011 and 2010, when Tim Thomas and Antti Niemi guarded the cages.
Rask and Crawford now sit one-two in the 2013 playoff goaltending stats. Rask's goals-against average has dropped to 1.64 with a save percentage of .946, while Crawford is right behind at 1.74 and .936, respectively.
With these two misers patrolling the creases, expect to see more soccer-style final scores as this series continues.
Big-Game Bergeron Keeps Them Coming
In the first three rounds of the playoffs, Chicago gave up just three power-play goals. In the first three games against Boston, the Bruins have already scored twice with the man advantage.
In Game 3, Patrice Bergeron's snipe off a seeing-eye pass from Jaromir Jagr put Boston up 2-0 as the 'Hawks finished killing a dangerous five-on-three in the late stages of the second period. Once the Bruins had the two-goal lead, they had little trouble keeping the 'Hawks out of the dirty areas and limiting quality scoring chances for the rest of the game.
Bergeron is fourth on the Bruins in scoring, but he leads the team with three power-play goals and has two game-winners. He's also one of the best two-way centers in the game, finishing just 10 points behind Jonathan Toews in the 2013 Selke Trophy balloting.
So far in this series, Bergeron is winning that battle, especially in the faceoff circle. In Game 3, Toews was the best of the 'Hawks on the draw, going 8-of-19 for a 42 percent success rate. Bergeron, however, was a stunning 24-of-28 for an unheard-of 86 percent. Head-to-head on Monday night, Bergeron went 8-of-10 against Toews.
Of course, Bergeron also kills penalties for the Bruins. So far, they're a perfect 11-of-11 in the series when short-handed.
Small Plays Can Have Big Consequences
With a 2-0 win on Monday creating a 2-1 series lead, the Bruins looks like they're starting to dominate the Stanley Cup Final. But a small moment can make a huge impact on the momentum of a playoff series.
Think back to Game 2 in Chicago. The 'Hawks started the game with guns blazing, outshooting Boston 19-4 in the first period and taking a 1-0 lead on a Patrick Sharp goal. Just 70 seconds later, Marian Hossa was denied by a quick whistle as he pushed the puck and the pad of a sprawling Tuukka Rask across the goal line.
A 2-0 lead for the 'Hawks at that juncture could have spelled curtains for the Bruins in Game 2.
To a lesser extent, a turning point came in the third period of Game 3. With about nine minutes to go, it appeared that Patrice Bergeron had been whistled for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. The officials were conferring as the television broadcast went to a commercial break. When we returned, the zebras had agreed that Patrick Kane had, in fact, deflected the puck. No penalty.
Without the benefit of video replay, the officials have erred on these calls in other playoff series. Whether Bergeron deserved the penalty or not, Chicago lost out on a late chance to get back in the game with one of Boston's best killers in the box.
Hockey is a fast game with a small margin for error. One more small moment could be big enough to turn the tide back in Chicago's favor during Game 4 on Wednesday.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter for lots more NHL news: