SCOTT BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, here we are, headed back to Chicago for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals with nothing decided beyond the fact this is a whale of a series we've got going. But with the series tied 2-2 and reduced to a best-of-three affair, the focus becomes even greater, the pressure to deliver more intense. We saw some of the Blackhawks' big guns step forward in Game 4, but Game 5 looms large and there are lots of guys looking to rebound or step into the breach and to push their teams to within one win of a Cup.
I can’t wait to see how Corey Crawford rebounds after his worst game of the postseason allowed the Bruins to sneak back into a game the Blackhawks looked to have well in hand with leads of 3-1 and 4-2. And it's no secret that the Bruins believe they have found Crawford’s weak spot by targeting him to his glove side. Boston's Tyler Seguin joked Thursday that maybe the Bruins would switch it up in Game 5 by going blocker side, and Brad Marchand joked he thought the book on Crawford was 5-hole. But look for Boston to continue to try to get pucks up high on Crawford, and he must prove the five-spot he gave the Bruins in Game 4 was merely a blip on the radar, and not the opening of the proverbial floodgates.
PIERRE LEBRUN: There's no question that lost in Chicago’s impressive performance as a team Wednesday night was the first real stinker of the playoffs by Crawford, and was it ever a stinker. But it’s interesting to read the body language of his teammates after the game when asked about their goalie. Forget the cliches you would expect from teammates protecting their netminder. I mean, it’s not like you’re ever going to get a guy to admit he’s worried about his goalie.
You and I have covered this league for a long time, and I read a lot into the body language of the Hawks players while answering those questions about Crawford. They weren't just saying it, they were meaning it. I don’t think anybody on that team is concerned about Crawford, and while I believe Boston does have the edge in goal in this series, I do think Crawford has shown enough poise and confidence that he’s going to get back to his norm in Game 5.
BURNSIDE: Agreed, Pierre. Crawford has shown too much in pressure situations this spring to imagine he’ll melt down in the next few days. Similarly, I would expect Boston captain Zdeno Chara to bounce back after a pretty ordinary performance in Game 4. He was minus-3 and on the ice for five of the six Chicago goals. That’s not typical Chara, although coach Claude Julien pointed out that being on the ice for a goal against doesn't necessarily imply a player made mistakes.
That said, it was interesting to hear Hawks captain Jonathan Toews -- who was reunited with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell in Game 4 and played a lot of minutes against Chara -- suggest the big defender is vulnerable and can be exploited. That's an interesting challenge being thrown down, and I am sure Chara will be better in Game 5. He’ll have to be, especially assuming Chicago coach Joel Quenneville will keep that Kane/Toews/Bickell line intact and have them unafraid of facing down the Bruins' captain. Who else are you looking to for big things in Game 5?
LEBRUN: I love the response of Boston's Chris Kelly on Thursday when he was told of Toews' comments and asked if he was OK with a best-on-best challenge, meaning Chara versus the Hawks’ top line for the rest of the series.
"I love our chances," said Kelly. "If they’re challenging Z, that’s a good thing. It’s really all I can say. Z has been this franchise’s best player since he got here."
I think what Toews is really saying, though, is that his team will not be intimidated by the physically superior Bruins. And you could see that on the ice Wednesday night. Boston tried to get into the faces of Chicago's top players after whistles, but Toews, Kane and Patrick Sharp gave it right back. The game within the game, if you will.
One guy I’d like to see more from is Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, a player I had as my top Conn Smythe candidate for the Hawks before the Cup finals began. I feel like he’s been ordinary so far in the finals, but I have a feeling that’s about to change. And it has to for Chicago to win the Cup.
BURNSIDE: Game 4 definitely wasn't a great night for Canadian Olympic hopefuls Keith and Crawford with Canadian executive director Steve Yzerman in the stands. But how about a couple of dark-horse guys for Game 5?
We've seen lots of unheralded players step forward since the final started, but how about Boston defenseman Torey Krug? The rookie has had more downs than ups in this final series but has remained incredibly poised. He’s also got a cannon shot for a little guy, and Claude Julien continues to use him on a power-play unit that has been much more dynamic than the one the Blackhawks have put out.
I thought Rich Peverley was terrific in Game 4 after being a nonfactor the first three games, and on the Blackhawks' side I think Brandon Saad is finally hitting his stride in time to perhaps play a pivotal role in tipping the scales.
LEBRUN: I'll put my money down on Boston's Jaromir Jagr scoring his first goal of the playoffs on Saturday night. Jagr’s been knocking at the door, and made a great play on Bergeron’s second goal in Game 4.
As for Chicago, I think Bickell will make his first real statement of the Cup finals on Saturday night after nearly single-handedly destroying the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals. The big man has been mostly quiet in this series, but now that he's on a line with Kane and Toews, I've got a feeling he has a goal (or two) in him for Saturday.
Now that we've sorted that out, let’s get on that plane bound for Chicago now. They’re calling our flight to board!