Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane's offense was dormant in the first three games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. But it woke up in Game 4 with the Chicago Blackhawks needing a win at TD Garden to prevent the Boston Bruins from taking a 3-1 series lead.
These two superstars led an offensive explosion in Game 4, in which the Blackhawks became the first team in the playoffs to score more than four goals in a game against the Bruins. Chicago's victory also ended Boston's seven-game home winning streak.
"I think Kane and I have played together over so many years now, and I think whenever we get the chance to get back together, we complement each other because we play very different games," Toews said after Game 4. "But we do a lot of good little things out there to help each other out."
Toews and Kane combined for three points (two goals, one assist) in the 6-5 win. Their renewed confidence after failing to find the back of the net in the previous three games presents another challenge for Boston's defense, one that was surprisingly awful in its own end on Wednesday night.
These two players drive the Blackhawks offense for a few different reasons. Toews is a playmaker with an all-around skill set that includes goal-scoring ability, great hands, good vision and superb passing skills. He's also willing to fight for pucks in the dirty areas to gain possession and sustain offensive zone pressure.
Kane is one of the most creative players in the NHL with his incredible speed, accurate wrist shot and playmaking skills. Very few players in the world have the offensive talent that Kane brings to the ice each shift.
If the Bruins continue to fall asleep defensively in their own zone, fail to clear rebounds and do a poor job of back-checking, Toews and Kane will maintain their offensive success from Game 4.
When these two forwards are allowed the time and space they need to create scoring chances, the Blackhawks offense is incredibly difficult to stop. This was the case in Game 4, and as the chart below shows, a good performance from Kane and/or Toews usually results in a Blackhawks win.
|Toews w/1+ PTS||7-0|
|Kane w/1+ PTS||8-4|
Who will win Game 5?
With the Chicago power play showing signs of life, giving the team momentum and actually scoring a goal in Game 4, Boston won't be able to be as aggressive during even-strength play as it was earlier in the series.
Prior to Wednesday, the Bruins were able to play a very physical game against the Blackhawks in the Cup final because even if they took penalties, there was no reason to panic. This was because their penalty kill was able to completely shut down the Blackhawks' ineffective power play.
Boston began the series with 14 successful penalty kills in a row, but that streak ended on Chicago's final opportunity with the man advantage in Game 4 when Patrick Sharp scored on a rebound.
Even though he didn't score on the power play, Toews did a good job keeping possession of the puck and battling in front of the net to screen Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. His work at the top of the crease played a part in Sharp being able to tap the puck into a wide open net.
Toews and Kane contributing to the power play and making the Blackhawks dangerous with the man advantage will prevent the Bruins from playing an overly physical game. As a result, the flow of play will speed up with fast-paced end-to-end action at even strength. This tempo favors Chicago because it has a decisive speed and skill advantage over the Boston defensemen.
If the remainder of the series is played at the Blackhawks' pace, then the Bruins will be in trouble.
They don't have the offensive firepower or scoring depth to compete with Chicago in wide-open games that allow skilled players such as Kane and Toews to have the room with the puck needed to create offense consistently. Trading chances and having to defend lots of odd-man rushes is a recipe for disaster from the Bruins' perspective.
When Toews and Kane are playing well offensively, they are able to help the Blackhawks control the pace of the game and prevent physical opponents from clamping down and taking away time and space.
How will the Bruins prevent the Blackhawks offense from scoring at will in Game 5? Bruins forward Brad Marchand shared his thoughts on Thursday:
"I think we let them have too much speed," Marchand said. "They skated way too much through the neutral zone. We didn’t get on our forecheck enough and create turnovers, so we definitely have to get back to that."
The Bruins must do a better job of backchecking in the neutral zone and not allowing the Blackhawks to enter the attacking zone so easily. The Blackhawks entered the Boston zone with speed in Game 4, which allowed them to get below the goal line quickly and support the forecheck. Toews played a key role in this strategy with his ability to win physical battles and possess the puck.
But the biggest concern for the Bruins is that Toews, Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks offense have figured out how to beat Boston's defense, specifically Zdeno Chara.
"You can't give [Chara] too much respect and want to compensate the way you play as a line considering the fact he's out there against you guys," Toews said.
"I mean, there's certain ways you can expose him. I think the dump-ins that we made tonight were going to his side. We made sure we were outnumbering him everywhere we went, taking away his stick first thing. ... We can outwork him, and we did that tonight, and we want to continue that."
Boston has no chance of winning the Stanley Cup unless it prevents Chicago's top players, most notably Toews and Kane, from making a significant impact offensively.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, this challenge has become even more difficult with the Blackhawks seizing control of the series and building some confidence after finally breaking through Boston's defense with a six-goal performance in Game 4.
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.