Chicago Blackhawks Win Stanley Cup: How They Shut Down Boston Bruins' Offense
In the final two, they allowed three.
While it's the Blackhawks offense that will surely grab all the headlines, Chicago's defensive stiffening was the true turning point that led to their three playoff-closing victories.
What did 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville change after allowing five goals in the chaotic Game 4 that made such a difference in their own end?
Through the series' first four matches, the Bruins' toughness and physicality had, to an extent, intimidated the 'Hawks into giving them too much offensive space. The Blackhawks were backing off Boston's skill forwards like Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin and meekly covering the shot lanes of bombers like Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk.
Then, suddenly, Chicago's mentality changed.
And its defensive positioning—and hence, success—changed with it.
|One||4-3 Win (3OT)||24||23|
|Two||1-2 Loss (OT)||17||16|
|Four||6-5 Win (OT)||4||14|
What They Were Doing Wrong
Notice, in the below graphic, how much space Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya gave Bruins point-man Johnny Boychuk to tee up a shot in this Game 4 play. (Boychuk's drive eventually sizzled past Corey Crawford's glove and into the goal.)
Similarly, observe the alarmingly wide berth Chicago rearguard Niklas Hjalmarsson gave Bruins star Patrice Bergeron in this power-play situation:
And, again, how uselessly far away Hjalmarsson is positioned from Zdeno Chara in this Game 4 instance:
Both plays led to goals shortly after, and both accentuated the failures of Chicago's lack of aggressive positioning and puck pursuit in the series' first four games.
How They Fixed It
In Game 5, the Blackhawks changed their strategy and, as a result, greatly increased the percentage of Boston shots that were either blocked or forced to miss the net.
Oduya, apparently learning from his mistake in the previous game, takes an aggressive and effective angle on puck-carrier Brad Marchand, deflecting his shot attempt all the way out of the zone:
In the conclusive Game 6, Chicago built off of its strategy modification and added a second, increasingly useful level.
Here, Jonathan Toews corners Bergeron in a corner and allows Marian Hossa to read the coming drop pass to Chara. Hossa is able to tie up Chara immediately and force the puck easily out of his defensive zone.
Toews and Hossa, along with teammates like Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell, will surely get a great deal of attention in the days after their incredible Cup win.
That attention will be largely for their offensive contributions rather than their defensive. After all, the goals light the lamps.
However, it was the intelligent and adaptive play of those 'Hawks in their own zone that truly changed the course of this matchup as the series moved along.
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