Allan Maki shares his opinion on the previous night’s NHL action and looks at the early news of the day Monday through Friday during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Imagine what it must be like for the Chicago Blackhawks. They get the puck, go on the attack and suddenly the rink is as wide as two parking stalls. There’s no room. Most everything they shoot hits a Boston stick, a Bruins’ shin guard, a skate, a body. It’s like trying to throw a football through a keyhole. It doesn’t work.
Watch: Bruins 2, Blackhawks 0
And because of that, the ‘Hawks can’t score enough goals, can’t do anything on the power play, can’t beat Boston and now find themselves down 2-1 in the Stanley Cup final.
That was the story Monday night at Boston’s TD Center. Whenever the ‘Hawks had the puck in the Boston zone, the Bruins got in the way. It was a deflection here, a knockdown there. If the New England Patriots had defended this well they’d have won at least two more Super Bowls.
Here were the hard numbers in the Bruins’ 2-0 decision: Chicago finished with 28 shots on goal, precious few of them on second attempts or rebounds; Boston blocked 17 shots, more than double what the ‘Hawks managed.
It’s becoming a pattern as this Cup Final progresses. The ‘Hawks get the puck and right away the Bruins all look like Zdeno Chara, even when they’re a man short. It happened in Game 2 and, in Game 3, Chicago had enough power play opportunities to inflict some damage but failed to suitably harass Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask. How was that possible?
“I think we try to stay compact in our zone,” defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said of his team’s ability to thwart opposing shooters and kill off 26 consecutive penalties this postseason, a streak the ‘Hawks will likely add to.
Of course, Game 3 got a tad easier for Boston as soon as the official rosters were issued. Forward Marian Hossa had been bothered by an injury of some description (call it an upper body, it’s the best we can do) and left the ice before the pregame warm-up was done. While the ‘Hawks insisted later they knew Hossa might not play, it meant Ben Smith was rushed into uniform – he didn’t participate in the warm-up – and it meant coach Joel Quenneville had to mix and match his lines from start to finish. It didn’t work in the least. The ‘Hawks tried to pass and shoot; Boston played its clog-the-drain brand of hockey and everything seemed so futile.
“It's a low-chance game. It's a low-chance series,” Quenneville lamented. “It's hard to get A-plus chances. You have to manufacture the kind of ugly goals, tip screens, deflections. The frequency of having high-quality chances in this series at both ends has not been there.
“Our power play tonight was definitely not good,” he added.
But the Bruins were better than good; they were frustratingly effective. The scored two second-period goals (one on the power play from the Conn Smythe Trophy-contending Patrice Bergeron) and they used their speed to pressure, defend and annoy the lagging ‘Hawks.
No wonder Boston coach Claude Julien was willing to admit, “We're playing the best hockey of the season right now. That's what you've got to do to give yourself a chance to win a Stanley Cup.”
The Bruins are giving themselves that hope by giving Chicago little to work with and nothing to build on. The ‘Hawks go to shoot and it’s like trying to change your pants in a phone booth. It’s just too cramped.
Unless Chicago finds a way to spread out that compact Bruins’ defensive play, this series will shift from low chance to no chance. In truth, it may have already done that.
Questionable in Seattle
The NHL has long viewed Seattle as a geographical hot spot. Great city, ideal location, with a natural rivalry with Vancouver and its Canucks.
The problems, though, out-weigh the advantages, at least as things sit now.
Start with ownership. Ray Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza are on the radar screen for a hockey team. They made a pitch to buy the New York Mets, with Bartoszek ended up buying a piece of the Yankees. Are they for real or do they belong on the list of potential Phoenix Coyotes’ owners gone bad?
Then there’s the arena. There isn’t one, not the kind that’s needed. The city of Seattle has a deal worked out for a new arena with investor Chris Hansen providing the Emerald City gets an NBA team. If that happens, the NBA team becomes the prime tenant. For the record, the NBA is interested in returning to Seattle but there’s nothing definitive on the horizon.
Finally, there’s the market itself. Seattle would be one of the smallest – if not the smallest – U.S. city to have an NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL franchise and the wonder is whether it could support all four. The NFL Seahawks rule the roost and averaged 67,900 fans in 2012. This season, the baseball Mariners are averaging crowds of 20,758. Again, add two more pro teams seeking season-ticket commitments and corporate sponsors and, as one Seattle sports insider put it, “There’s just not enough to go around. You could say that right now with just the football and baseball teams here.”
What all this NHL-in-Seattle talk has done is underline just how appealing Quebec City and Southern Ontario are, which is good. Sure, there are issues to overcome in both those places, but the game would reign supreme. The advantages, too.
After Monday’s pre-game skate saw Hossa sidelined and Boston’s Chara collide with Milan Lucic and suffer a head cut, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman tweeted it as “the most dangerous warm-up ever.”
This brought a quick retort from Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers. “I disagree,” wrote Hall.
In January 2012, Hall fell in a warm-up in Columbus and had his face skate-slashed by teammate Corey Potter. The cut required 30 stitches to close and left Hall looking like a cross between Frankenstein and Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“Touche,” replied Friedman.