Stanley Cup Final 2013: Critical Keys to Game 4

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2013

Stanley Cup Final 2013: Critical Keys to Game 4

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    The Chicago Blackhawks are in a critical position as they head into Game 4. They have to win to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

    If the Blackhawks are going to tie the series, they will have to improve their fight and battle level.

    The Bruins have given up one goal in their last three home playoff games. The combination of Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron means opportunities are going to be limited for the visitors.

    The Bruins played well in winning Games 2 and 3, but if they lose Game 4, they lose the home-ice advantage they gained with a win in Chicago.

Break the Shutout Streak

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    The Blackhawks enter Game 4 with a bit of an albatross around their necks. The Bruins defense has choked off their formidable attack and they can't get a puck by Tuukka Rask.

    Chicago opened the scoring in Game 2 when Patrick Sharp fired a wrister into the back of the net at the 11:22 mark of the first period. It has not scored a goal since then.

    The Hawks have not scored a goal in their last 122:26 of ice time, and they need to get back on the scoreboard quickly to give their confidence level a much-needed boost. There is an air of impenetrability about the Bruins right now and the Blackhawks need to get their offense going to show they can compete in the series.

    If all else fails, maybe Bryan Bickell's superstitious sushi meal will turn things around for the Hawks.

Get Hossa Back in the Lineup

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    Marian Hossa's absence from the Blackhawks lineup in Game 3 was shocking news.

    The reasons for his absence remain a mystery. Officially, head coach Joel Quenneville said Hossa missed the game because of an "upper-body injury."

    However, there was no talk of any injury prior to the game, and Hossa participated in the first part of the team's warm-ups. After he took one slap shot, he skated off the ice and was replaced by Ben Smith, who did not even dress before the game.

    In his Tuesday media session, Quenneville said Hossa was probable to play in Game 4. He needs to get back into the lineup if the Blackhawks are going to have a solid opportunity to get a road win. The Blackhawks have four big-time offensive threats in Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.

    Hossa did not participate in the Blackhawks' pregame practice on Wednesday, but that should not be taken as an indication that he will not play.

Bruins' Power-Play Production

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    The Boston Bruins will never be known as a team that can throw the puck around with ease on the power play. They have struggled with this going back to their Stanley Cup run in 2011.

    However, they are light years ahead of the Blackhawks in that area. While the Blackhawks have failed to score on the power play in 11 Stanley Cup Final chances, the Bruins scored power-play goals in Games 1 and 3. Patrice Bergeron victimized Corey Crawford on both occasions.

    The Bruins have threatened the Blackhawks with excellent puck movement and decent creativity on most man-advantage opportunities, even when they have not scored.

    Ironically, Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin have been two of the big keys on the power play. Jagr has not scored a goal in the postseason, but his play on the half-wall and passing ability have increased Boston's potency on the man advantage. Seguin has scored one goal these playoffs, but he leads the Bruins in shots on goal and is always ready to fire from his spot on the off wing.

Throw Screens in Front of Rask

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    When a goaltender like Tuukka Rask (1.64 goals-against average, .946 save percentage, three shutouts)  is playing with so much confidence, it's difficult to beat him when he can see the shots coming his way.

    No matter how quick Patrick Kane's wrist shot is or how hard Duncan Keith can fire his slap shot, Rask is not going to have difficulty if he can see the shot coming. That's why the Blackhawks have to put bodies in front of him. They must obscure his vision so he can't see what's coming.

    This is largely a function of hard work and winning battles. The Blackhawks have to make sure they put a player like Bryan Bickell in front of Rask so he can screen the Bruins goalie. It won't be easy, and Bickell is likely to get hammered by Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk or Adam McQuaid, but it's essential if the Blackhawks want to create some consistent offense.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane

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    We have already talked about the Blackhawks' scoring drought. Head coach Joel Quenneville must make adjustments to his lineup to get his team back on the scoreboard if it is going to tie the series.

    They have not scored the equivalent of more than two regulation games. Quenneville needs to put his top three offensive players in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane together, at least on occasion, to mount a serious assault on the Bruins goal.

    They need to create scoring opportunities, and Sharp and Kane are the Hawks' best shooters. Toews has struggled to score and has been pressing, but he is an excellent playmaker and he will sell out to make plays in front of the net.

Faceoff Domination

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    One of the most shocking statistics to emerge from the Bruins' Game 3 victory over the Blackhawks was their 40-16 domination in the faceoff circle.

    The Bruins are the best faceoff team in the league and Patrice Bergeron is their best faceoff man, but that kind of performance was off the charts. Bergeron won 24 of 28 faceoff attempts, taking eight of 10 against Jonathan Toews and eight of eight against Michal Handzus.

    As NHL coaches will always point out, winning a faceoff is not simply a matter of which player is faster on the draw. The forwards and defensemen often play a huge role in determining who wins the faceoff and who gains possession.

    The Blackhawks must work harder to keep the Bruins from abusing them in the faceoff circle in Game 4.

Control the Neutral Zone

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    If either team is going to create consistent scoring opportunities, they must control the neutral zone.

    This vital area between the two blue lines is often overlooked by casual fans, but it is critical when it comes to entering the offensive zone with speed and authority.

    Through the first three games, the Bruins forwards and defensemen have regularly clogged this area and blunted the Blackhawks' normally formidable offense.

    Boston has found a way to get through the neutral zone, and it has been more consistent with its offense than the Blackhawks.

    The Blackhawks have challenged the Bruins in their own zone and have slowed them down to a degree, but Boston has used the diagonal pass to get through the neutral zone better than Chicago.