We're only a game past the midpoint of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, but the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have already embarked on a series that will go down in history.
Four games. Three overtime contests. Five overtime periods.
Those are the lofty expectations Chicago and Boston have to live up to over the remainder of this series, which essentially boils down to a best-of-three clash.
Each game has brought forth new storylines, different stylistic changes and the panicked worry from fans of the losing side. At any point, it feels like this series could break open for the Bruins or Blackhawks—or it could just go down as arguably the greatest finals ever.
With the NBA out of the way and baseball working through its midseason slog of games, hockey is taking center stage. The names Patrick Kane, Patrice Bergeron, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask will be deciding the most important event currently on the sports calendar—the battle for Lord Stanley.
And the great thing heading into Saturday night's Game 5 action is there is no telling which side will pull it out. Chicago's Game 4 victory brought home-ice advantage back to the feet of the Western Conference champs, but that's played little-to-no factor, thus far, in this back-and-forth thrill ride.
With so much on the line, there's no telling the show the United Center will be in for. The first two contests that took place both went to overtime, including Game 1's all-time great contest. Could fans be in store for another late drive home through the Chicago streets? Who knows—and that's what's so fantastic about this series.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about Game 5.
When: Saturday, June 22, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: United Center, Chicago
Series: Tied at 2-2
What's Going on with Corey Crawford?
Heading into this series, arguably Chicago's biggest advantage was the man in net. Crawford had pulverized his way through the lockout-shortened regular season, finishing with a 19-5-5 record to go along with his 1.94 goals against average and 92.6 percent rate on save chances.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews understandably got more credit during the regular season, but it was Crawford's steady hand that kept the Blackhawks as the league leader in goals against.
For much of the first three rounds of the playoffs, Crawford was again dominant. He gave up more than three goals just once (Game 2 vs. Detroit), as Chicago battled through the Western Conference, truly only finding major difficulties against the veteran Red Wings.
His save percentage stayed mostly consistent with the regular season, and Crawford looked to have an advantage against Boston's up-and-down attack.
Not so fast, folks. The Bruins have tagged Crawford for multiple goals in each game of the final, thus far, including Game 4's five-goal pelting. While the 28-year-old netminer came away with a victory on Wednesday night, one thing became clear: Boston has figured him out.
Crawford has struggled mightily when the Bruins send shots to his high-glove side. According to Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago, Crawford has saved only 14 of 23 shots sent to his high glove, a dreadful 71.9 percent conversion rate. He's also flailed when handling the high-stick side, but Boston has especially pelted Crawford's glove, and the goalie is yet to adjust.
Perhaps, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports put it best:
Luckily, Crawford got lucky in Game 4. The Blackhawks relentlessly attacked Tuukka Rask for 47 shots and six goals, playing with the type of aggressiveness necessary when your goaltender couldn't stop a softball from flying above his glove side.
That goal rate obviously isn't sustainable. And while Crawford's allowance rate will probably see a regression to the mean over the rest of this series, history shows it takes only one hitch to start shaking a goaltender's confidence.
Be on the lookout for how Crawford handles those shots on Saturday. Everyone knows they're coming. But Crawford's ability to pick himself back up could be the key to the series.
Can the Bruins Clean Up Their Sloppy Play?
There's a very good reason Crawford is getting far more criticism than Rask, the losing goalie, heading into Game 5. Part of that, of course, is that Rask has morphed into an octopus in this series. The six goals he allowed in Game 4 were only one fewer than he had allowed in the Bruins' last seven games combined, a streak that saw him suffocate the Pittsburgh Penguins' attack.
Throughout the postseason, it had been Rask and Nathan Horton spearheading Boston's run. So for Rask to have one bad game in the midst of a sea full of brilliant performances, the folks wearing black and gold can at least put their pitchforks away for one disappointment.
It's also noteworthy that many of Chicago's scoring opportunities rested at the feet of a terrible defensive outing. The Bruins turned the puck over in the defensive zone, struggled at making clearings and allowed Chicago to get in excellent scoring position. Rask faced a never-ending sea of bodies clouding his vision, and his crease constantly had players in Blackhawks sweaters mucking up his timing.
For his part, Rask failed to secure some easy rebounds. And there's never any excuse for giving up six goals in a final matchup. In an interview with The Boston Herald's Mark Daniels, Rask noted that everyone was at fault for Game 4's disappointment.
“They got a lot of traffic and they got those rebounds, too. I try to control everything but sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” Rask said. “I think everybody just has to be better.”
There are effort-related adjustments the Bruins should be able to make before Saturday night. But finding ways to keep Chicago out of the crease will be the key for Rask recapturing his playoff magic. That's far easier said than done against a team with Chicago's offensive firepower.
Perhaps, the only concrete takeaway from these three games is to expect the unexpected. Plenty of pundits saw this as a close, hotly contested series coming in. No one saw this coming. The Bruins and Blackhawks are three games away—should they go all seven—from giving fans one of the greatest finishes to a season ever.
For those who sat frustrated through the lockout, that means more than anyone knows.
As for Game 5, there could be any number of results. Games 2 and 3 were defensive battles where two goals made the difference, while Games 1 and 4 left folks wondering what was wrong with each defense. There's no telling how the styles will adjust, and that's what's been so intriguing about this matchup.
What we do know is that improvements inside the net and on defense will decide this contest. Neither team was happy with its effort on Wednesday night, and with two days off to prepare, you can bet shotmaking was the least of anyone's worries.
Boston, even being on the road, feels like its problems are more fixable. The Bruins' defensive mistakes are correctable, ones that need only a bit of requisite effort and a few minutes on the white board to pound them out. Zdeno Chara was on the ice for five of Chicago's six goals. If that's not an anomaly, I'm not sure what is.
Meanwhile, Crawford's problems with his glove hand are reaching epidemic levels. There's no telling whether he'll be able to fix them or if it will become a mental tick to the point he submarines Chicago's entire run. Or, he could over-correct and wind up leaving his stick side open. When the overarching problem comes in net, the return to form becomes as much mental as physical.
If it feels like we're grasping at straws here, that's because we are. These teams are so unbelievably close that any minuscule difference is enough to push one team as "more likely" to win than not.
Prediction: Bruins 3, Blackhawks 2
2013 Stanley Cup Final Schedule
|Game||Date||Time||Home Team||Away Team||Watch|
|5||June 22 ||8 p.m. ET||Chicago Blackhawks||Boston Bruins||NBC|
|6||June 24 ||8 p.m. ET||Boston Bruins||Chicago Blackhawks||NBC|
|7*||June 26 ||8 p.m. ET||Chicago Blackhawks||Boston Bruins||NBC|
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