The Boston Bruins seem to have everything going their way in this year's Stanley Cup Final. In Game 3 on Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks looked outmatched as they failed to sustain any offensive pressure while Boston controlled the puck throughout the game.
The two teams will meet again tonight in Boston, where the Bruins have won their last seven playoff games.
But Boston has more than just home ice advantage working for them. The Bruins have done the little things well, like keeping Patrick Kane in check and winning the battle in the faceoff circle. If these trends continue, the Bruins will be skating with the Stanley Cup again in 2013.
Patrick Kane's Disappearance
Throughout the regular season, captain Patrick Kane was Chicago's heart and soul. He recorded 23 goals and 32 assists in 47 games.
Kane, however, has been nearly invisible so far in the Stanley Cup Final, recording just a single assist in three games.
As former coach and analyst Ed Olczyk explained to ESPN's Scott Burnside:
"That's the biggest thing for me when this team is playing [well]: They play inside the dots. They're not getting there a lot and they're not getting a lot of second-, third-chance opportunities."
For Chicago to even the series tonight, Kane and the Blackhawks offense are going to have to find ways to get the puck deep in the zone and create scoring chances, something they were unable to do in Game 3.
It all starts with creating space for Patrick Kane.
Boston's Tuukka Rask has been a wall throughout the playoffs, recording a 1.64 GAA while blocking 95 percent of the shots directed at him.
Rask's shutout in Game 3 was overshadowed by his team's performance.
As Sports Illustrated's Brian Cazeneuve wrote,
"The Bruins have clogged the neutral zone, limited Chicago's stretch-passing game, and so thoroughly muffled the Hawks that goaltender Tuukka Rask's 28-save effort almost seemed like an afterthought."
Boston's stifling defense has certainly helped, keeping the Blackhawks from establishing themselves deep in the offensive zone, but Rask was able to answer the bell all 28 times he was called upon in Game 3.
On the other end of the ice, Corey Crawford has been solid, but the Bruins have found a weakness high on the glove side. According to ESPN's NHL Shot Tracker, all seven of the goals ceded by Crawford have been high, five of them coming on the glove side.
It will be hard for the Blackhawks to adjust on defense. If the defensemen cheat to Crawford's glove side, they risk opening space on the left wing, giving increased scoring opportunities for players like Milan Lucic and Daniel Paille.
Who Will Win Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final?
With the Stanley Cup on the line, the battle to control the puck off the draw is critical. In Game 3, the battle for puck possession was clearly won by the Bruins, and it started in the faceoff circle.
Boston won 40 of 56 faceoffs in Game 3, better than 70 percent for the night. More importantly, the Bruins were 17 of 23 in the defensive end, preventing countless scoring chances just by winning their draws.
"When a team like the Blackhawks relies largely on a puck-possession game, face-offs become critical, especially when it’s struggling to generate offense," noted Sarah Kwak of Sports Illustrated.
The Bruins' dominance in the circle begins and ends with Patrice Bergeron, who was nearly unbeatable on Monday night, winning 24 of 28 draws, including going a perfect 8-for-8 against Michal Handzus.
With home-ice advantage comes last change, allowing Bruins coach Claude Julien to continue to exploit this matchup tonight at TD Garden.
Winning the faceoff battle is the first step to winning the game. If Boston can keep control of the puck off the draw once again tonight, the Blackhawks offense will have a hard time generating scoring chances and the Bruins will leave home with a 3-1 advantage.