Failing to put away an opponent in a playoff series when given the opportunity often comes back to haunt a team, and if the Boston Bruins lose the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, losing Game 4 in overtime will likely be remembered as the point where it all fell apart.
Going into Wednesday's matchup in Boston, the Bruins had a chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a victory going into Saturday's Game 5 in Chicago.
But the Bruins were never able to hold a lead or capitalize on their chances to win the game, and they ultimately lost 6-5 when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook blasted a shot from the point that found the back of the net, nine minutes and 51 seconds into the extra period.
Most surprisingly for the Bruins, it was their normally reliable, responsible and excellent defense that let them down on Wednesday.
"Every game is different," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. "Sometimes you feel more comfortable than the other nights, and today they had a lot of—we had a lot of breakdowns and they got two-on-ones, breakaway, stuff like that. It’s just a battle out there. Sometimes you just feel more comfortable than the others."
Boston was uncharacteristically awful in its own end in Game 4, committing way too many turnovers, not winning 50-50 puck battles in the dirty areas, failing to clear rebounds, pinching when the safe play was to keep position, and taking dumb penalties.
The result was a playoff-high six goals allowed, equaling the total that the Bruins gave up in their previous six games dating back to Game 3 of the conference finals.
"I just think we weren't very sharp in our decision-making," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien postgame. "Where we talked about having layers, our D’s were pinching, our forwards were not really covering up, weren't totally committed to that part of the game.
"That's when you saw two-on-ones. Sometimes caught a little bit low. We were through the neutral zone, weren't very aggressive. There was a lot of our game tonight that was just average, and average isn't good enough at this stage of the season."
Average would be putting it nicely. Boston was downright horrendous at certain times on Wednesday from a defensive standpoint.
For example, the first goal of the game happened as a result of a lost puck battle in the attacking zone and a failure to back-check fast enough on the ensuing two-on-one breakaway. The result was a shorthanded goal for Michal Handzus.
On Chicago's second goal, Milan Lucic pressured Jonathan Toews from the blue line to behind the goal line but left him when the puck went to the point, allowing the Blackhawks captain to score on a rebound because he was all alone in front of the net.
The Blackhawks' third goal was scored on a rebound by Patrick Kane, who was able to skate from a few feet inside the blue line all the way to the net because three Bruins players were to the right of Rask and not paying attention.
There were also breakdowns and mistakes defensively on Chicago's next two goals, but I think you get the picture by now. The Bruins cannot win games against a highly skilled team like the Blackhawks without responsible and consistent defense.
"Everything together—it was mental, it was positional," said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg when describing the team's defensive mistakes. "We always talk about layers, right? We just didn’t have those tonight. That’s why things like that happen."
Shutdown defenseman Zdeno Chara was a minus-three and on the ice for five of the Blackhawks' six goals. Last year's Frank J. Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron was a minus-two. It's rare that these two defensive stalwarts are on the ice for so many goals, but it also illustrates how poorly the Bruins defended in Game 4, even when their best players were on the ice.
In the two games the Blackhawks have won in this Cup final, they have scored 10 total goals. In losses, they have put only one puck past Rask. Boston isn't built to win a high-scoring game in which it has to find the back of the net four, five or even six times against a great team like the Blackhawks. Boston simply doesn't have the offensive firepower to trade goals with Chicago.
Playing catch-up hockey and being forced to open themselves up offensively to erase a deficit isn't going to result in much success for the Bruins. They had to overcome deficits of 1-0, 2-1, 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4 just to force overtime in Game 4.
Luckily for the B's, most of the mistakes made in Game 4 are correctable because they involved positioning, effort, intelligence and a lack of toughness.
The Bruins certainly have the character and resiliency to bounce back from this defeat. They won Game 2 in overtime after losing in triple overtime to start the series, and many of their players were also a part of the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team that won a championship after being deadlocked at two games apiece following Game 4.
This is a veteran and experienced Boston team that understands how hard it must work to win Game 5 on the road and earn an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1970.
"We knew it was going to a tough series, an even series," said Bergeron. "That’s what we’re having. We never said it was going to be easy."
"They’re a great team out there and so are we, so we just got to go out there—like you said, it’s a best-of-three now—and regroup and get ready for Game 5."
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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