Bruins: Brandon Saad

Hawks' depth players make the difference

June, 13, 2013

CHICAGO -- Pretty sure if you would have told the Boston Bruins before Wednesday night’s marathon Stanley Cup opener that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa would combine for just one assist, they would have drawn up a big W in their minds.

Ah, little did they know what Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Michael Frolik and Brandon Saad had in store for them, the five supporting cast members combining for three goals and four assists as Chicago’s bottom-six forwards did most of the damage on this night.

"The checking guys ... those guys have been great for us all year and all playoffs," star blueliner Duncan Keith, still catching his breath, said after the triple-overtime 4-3 thriller.

So much has been written over the past few weeks about the deep, four-line Bruins, and that’s certainly accurate. It’s what has helped Boston get this far, being able to roll four lines with confidence and get contributions from varied sources.

What perhaps had not received as much national attention is a team in Chicago with just as much depth, and the Game 1 heroics of third-liners Bolland and Shaw, in particular, hammered home that point.

You’re not guaranteed a win against the Blackhawks, even if you shut down their top-six magic men.

"You always have your star players, but during the playoffs, it comes down to your depth and often to the players on the third and fourth lines," said Bolland, who for my money played his finest game of the playoffs Wednesday night.

Consider what transpired: The Bruins go up 3-1 on a beauty of a power-play goal by Patrice Bergeron 6:09 into the third period.

Game over, right?

Not so fast.

Bolland ripped a one-timer past Tuukka Rask less than two minutes later to cut the lead to 3-2, Shaw with the setup as well as the interception of the puck at the Bruins’ blue line moments prior.

The tying goal courtesy of John Oduya's point shot (off Andrew Ference's skate) was created thanks to a forecheck by fourth-liners Frolik and Kruger, their work in recovering the puck in the Bruins' zone and getting it back to the point the reason we had a tie game at 12:14 of the third period.

Finally, about two hours later in triple overtime, Michal Rozsival’s point shot was first tipped by Bolland and then bounced off Shaw for the winner at 12:08, capping a memorable night for the lesser-name players on Chicago’s juggernaut squad.

In other words, it felt like the kind of win the Bruins usually pull off.

"It was a grinding game out there," said Sharp. "It seemed like the third and fourth lines were creating stuff out there and contributing some big goals, none bigger than the one by Shawsy. I think it went off his pants or shin pads, but who cares at this point. We’ll take it."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville kept rolling his four lines in overtime, having no fear of putting out the fourth unit of Brandon Bollig-Kruger-Frolik, even if it was against one of Boston’s top two lines.

"All year long, they gave our team ... you're comfortable with them against any line in a defensive-line faceoff, matchups, very responsible," said Quenneville. "They had a lot of energy shifts. Seems like they would always start in our end, end in the other team's end. They haven't been together in a while, but it was like they played all year together today."

Credit Quenneville, who played a hunch in putting Bollig into the lineup instead of Viktor Stalberg, which pushed Bolland from the fourth line to the third line as a ripple effect. Both third and fourth lines had an impact. It’s the kind of result from a lineup decision a coach dreams of.

Particularly effective was the game’s first star, Shaw, who seemed to be everywhere on this night, tying for the team lead with nine hits while picking up two points (one goal, one assist).

"He's a competitor," said Quenneville. "He does things game in, game out. The bigger the stage, the bigger the challenge, he rises to the occasion. He knows where the front of the net is. Doesn't have to be pretty. He's a warrior. He's one of those guys that you appreciate he's on your side, and he's relentless."

Bruins coach Claude Julien is one of the most prepared bench bosses in the NHL, so it makes sense that he would be the last guy surprised by what Chicago’s supporting cast could do.

But one thing I’ve found over the years covering this game is that no matter how many meetings and video sessions you have with your team, the players hear what they want to hear. They have to live it before it really sinks in.

Now the Bruins players know full well that it’s going to take more than shutting down the big boys of Chicago to win the Stanley Cup.

Bruins face Blackhawks in Cup finals

June, 9, 2013

The Chicago Blackhawks beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five games with a 4-3 double-overtime win to clinch the Western Conference and advance to the 2013 Stanley Cup finals, in which they will face the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins will once again likely be underdogs against the Blackhawks in the finals. While the Bruins proved the naysayers wrong against a similarly high-powered offense in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Blackhawks bring a more balanced game to the table. The Hawks are loaded with offensive skill, but they also have a great blue line. They carry many of the same traits as the Bruins, and that's why this promises to be one of the best series in recent memory as well as the first Original Six finals since 1979.

Here are three things the Bruins and their fans should expect from the team that had the best start in NHL history this season by earning a point in 24 straight games:

1. The Hawks can light you up and shut you down: The Blackhawks finished tops in goals against in the regular season and second in goals for. They've got skilled forwards like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and emerging power forward Bryan Bickell, who is tied with Sharp for second in playoff goals with eight, trailing only Bruins center David Krejci, who has nine. But much like the Bruins, these forwards start their offense with defense. Similarly to Bruins center and reigning Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron, Hossa leads the way as the best two-way player on the roster. But the slight difference between the Bruins and the Blackhawks is that while the Bruins defense has become one of the better puck-moving groups in the playoffs, the Hawks defense has been doing that all season and is the best when it comes to transition. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith lead the transition game, but Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are right behind them in turning defense into offense while at the same time limiting chances in their own end. That's why Corey Crawford's 1.74 goals-against average is actually slightly better than Tuukka Rask's 1.75.

2. The Hawks bring finesse, grit and frustrating tactics: As witnessed in the first period of Saturday's Game 5, when they struck for two goals in 2:17, the Hawks can strike fast and furiously and possess plenty of skill and finesse. But they can also be physical. In addition to Bickell's prowess, they also have other bangers like Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland and bring a hard-hitting game every night. The Hawks have their own version of Brad Marchand in the pesky Andrew Shaw, who will be doing his best to agitate the Bruins' best players. It will be very interesting to see how Milan Lucic handles Shaw. The sometimes hot-tempered Lucic was successful in the way he dealt with Matt Cooke in the Eastern Conference finals by maintaining his physical presence but not crossing the line, and that will be key with Shaw.

3. Expect a chess match: The Blackhawks are well coached by Jack Adams Award candidate Joel Quenneville, who has a system in place that his players buy into and execute on the ice. Similarly to Bruins coach Claude Julien, Quenneville seems to have a pulse on his team and can adapt game to game, period to period and shift to shift, as evidenced by the way he handled his players' ice time in the overtime sessions in Game 5. Like Julien, Quenneville doesn't allow star power to take over in the dressing room and holds everyone equally accountable. Both of these teams play hard and play together. This series should be a classic.