We have seen the first significant momentum shift in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, with the Boston Bruins giving a complete 60-minute effort to take a 2-1 series lead following a convincing 2-0 victory in Game 3 Monday night.
Momentum is a difficult thing to capture and hold to in the postseason, where one goal, big hit or clutch save can alter the balance of a series.
Through three games, the Bruins have prevented the Blackhawks from seizing control of the series by excelling at the crucial, if not glamorous, aspects of the game—faceoffs, puck battles, special teams and blocking shots. Game 3 was a culmination of the Bruins' success in these areas.
The most distinct advantage the Bruins had Monday night was in the faceoff—an area they dominated during the regular season and have excelled at in the postseason with a league-best 56.1 percent success rate.
It's incredibly difficult to control the tempo of play and establish a rhythm offensively when a team is struggling in the faceoff dot. Winning draws has become a major problem for Chicago, which lost the faceoff battle, 40-16, Monday night (the most lopsided margin of the team's playoff run).
Blackhawks centers Michal Handzus, Dave Bolland and Marcus Kruger combined for a 3-22 record on faceoffs in Game 3. As for the Bruins, veteran centers Patrice Bergeron (24-4) and Chris Kelly (8-3) helped their team maintain puck possession and prevent the Blackhawks from using their speed and skill to generate scoring chances.
"Definitely something that we take a lot of pride in and we talk about a lot," said Bergeron of the team's faceoff success. "We have some really good centermen, so it’s not just about the four centers, it’s about everyone on the ice chipping in and helping to get those battles."
After three games, Boston now holds a 137-105 advantage in the category, which is something Chicago must turn around to pressure Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask more consistently.
"You can talk about (faceoffs) and our power play. Those were basically the differentials in the game," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.
Speaking of the Blackhawks power play, this is another area that needs to improve for Chicago to have a chance. The Bruins lead the playoffs in plus/minus per 60 minutes at even strength (1.1), which helps show how important it is for the Blackhawks to capitalize on their power-play chances.
Chicago was 0-of-5 with the man advantage in Game 3, extending the team's power-play drought to 0-of-11 in the series.
"They box you out. They got big bodies. They blocked shots," said Quenneville when assessing Boston's penalty-killing strengths. "I think we had some chances to get some pucks through the net, we didn't. Our entries weren't great. That's something you want to look at."
Special teams will be a key factor for the remainder of the Cup final, and it's an area Boston has taken advantage of so far.
"I thought our special teams was huge tonight," said Bruins forward Tyler Seguin. "I think they have a lot of firepower up front especially, and our PK did a tremendous job tonight."
Another key to watch out for in Game 5 is the battle between the last two Frank J. Selke Trophy winners: Jonathan Toews versus Bergeron.
Toews has been completely shut down by his former Team Canada teammate (zero points through three games), who made a bit of history in Game 3, per Vin Masi of ESPN Stats & Info and Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN Boston:
"He's really patient and he's really good at reading the play. He always knows where everybody is," said Rask when asked about Bergeron's defensive performance.
"He knows when the guys are behind him and when they're in front of him. You know, he just makes the right reads all the time. Then when there's time to lay down or block a shot, he does that. He does a great job standing on his feet, too, and taking care of those passing lanes. He's got to be one of the best in the league for doing that."
Toews is his team's catalyst with his scoring, defense and leadership, but he's been virtually invisible of late. It's certainly possible he's playing with an injury, but there's no excuse for a player of his caliber to have one goal scored in 20 playoff games.
Winning the Stanley Cup requires teams to do all of the "little things" consistently. Right now, you have to give the edge in effort to the Bruins, who have usually been first to loose pucks, stronger in the dirty areas and along the boards, and better in the faceoff dot.
"We got to make sure that every play is critical, every shift is important, value being out there and doing the right thing," Quenneville said. "Managing the puck is kind of what we're talking about on those situations."
The Blackhawks have received great goaltending from Corey Crawford in the series. The Game 3 score would have been far more lopsided if not for Crawford's work in net. Crawford has a .940 save percentage in the Cup final, but his teammates are letting him down and not creating enough high-quality scoring chances against the stingy Boston defense.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they are running out of time to correct their mistakes and turn the tide. A Game 4 loss Wednesday, of course, would force Chicago to win three consecutive games against a confident Bruins squad that is firing on all cylinders.
"Throughout a whole season, it's not easy to have that full commitment. But I think when you get to this stage, players start feeling it," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "They go above and beyond. That's what you're seeing from our team right now."
The Bruins are two wins away from winning a second Stanley Cup title in three years, but if there's one thing this team has learned this postseason, it's the importance of capitalizing and putting teams away when the opportunity strikes.
"You definitely get that extra tingle knowing you’re two games away, but you got to stay calm," said Seguin. "We’re going to enjoy this for the night. We know where we stand, but we know Chicago is going to come out much better next game."
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand.
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