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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Updated: June 20, 4:09 AM ET
Bruins burned by Blackhawks' sizzle

By Jackie MacMullan
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Everything the Boston Bruins knew to be true ... suddenly wasn't.

The streak of killing penalties that would have made DiMaggio proud was snapped.

The impenetrable goaltender who hadn't let one past him in the TD Garden for a stunning 193 minutes, 16 seconds finally gave up a goal -- then another, and another, and another and another and another.

Rask
After the Blackhawks snapped Tuukka Rask's shutout streak, the goals kept piling up, culminating in Brent Seabrook's overtime winner.

The redoubtable defense that had proven to be so physical, so stout, so intimidating, was -- just like that -- surprisingly ordinary.

You remember the layers, right? It was the terminology the Boston Bruins used to explain why they had been able to thwart one of the quickest and most dangerous offenses in hockey. It meant the players covered for one another by backchecking, by clogging the neutral zone, by taking away the open ice that the Chicago Blackhawks love to exploit.

The layers were stripped away in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night.

That's because the Blackhawks played like a team on the brink, and managed to do something they hadn't since this series started: Get behind that vaunted Boston defense to pepper goalie Tuukka Rask with shots, convert on rebounds, and insert themselves back into these Stanley Cup finals by displaying bursts of lightning speed that should make any Bruins fan shudder.

When this dizzying, wildly entertaining, rockin' and rollin' Game 4 was finally completed, the Blackhawks had emerged 6-5 overtime winners and had knotted the series 2-2, leaving the Bruins to explain how they allowed Chicago to dictate tempo and pace in their building.

"There was a lot of our game tonight that was just average," declared Bruins coach Claude Julien, "and average isn't good enough at this stage of the season."

Asked to assess what cost his team this win -- and what would have been a commanding, perhaps even insurmountable 3-1 series lead -- defenseman Dennis Seidenberg didn't pull any punches.

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"It was mental," he said. "It was positional. We always talk about layers, right?

"We didn't have those tonight."

Truth be told, the Bruins lost this game a handful of times. They trailed 1-0 in the first period when they were outshot 7-0 to start the game. They trailed 3-1 and 4-2. They had no business forcing overtime, but they did, in part because Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who had been excellent to this point, re-enforced Boston's strategy that the way to beat him is up high, glove side.

All five of the Bruins' goals were targeted precisely in that direction.

Much was made of Julien's "hunch" to string together Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin after the first period of Game 2, especially when that line produced back-to-back game-winning goals.

Wednesday night, it was Chicago coach Joel Quenneville's turn to move his chess piece, reuniting the struggling trio of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. The line produced goals from Toews and Kane, prompting Quenneville to deadpan, "I'm sure they're excited about returning together. Maybe it looks like I didn't know what I was doing."

Au contraire, monsieur Quenneville.

The Bruins have already vowed to put this game behind them as they jet to Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday, and that is a sound strategy. For one thing, dwelling on their mistakes would be too time-consuming, because they happened in bulk, some more glaring than others.

Johnny Boychuk
Johnny Boychuk's goal to force overtime was one of the few positives for Boston's defensemen.

"I just thought we weren't very sharp in our decision-making," said Julien.

Exhibit A came in the form of No. 17 in your program, who had submitted a quintessential Milan Lucic outing with some crushing hits and a key goal.

But, at the midway point of the third period, Lucic inexplicably coughed up the puck right in front of his own net, leaving Kane with a golden opportunity to score. David Krejci did the only thing he could do -- he impeded Kane with his stick, and hauled him down.

Krejci might have been whistled for the penalty, but it was Lucic who was truly on the hook. With Jaromir Jagr already in the box for high sticking, the Blackhawks wound up with a two-man advantage for 22 seconds. It took them a little longer than that to capitalize, but capitalize they did, with Patrick Sharp poking in Chicago's first power-play goal of the finals, snapping 29 consecutive futile power-play attempts by a Bruins playoff opponent.

The Bruins took all of 56 seconds to retaliate on a booming Johnny Boychuk slapper, his sixth goal of the postseason. Who knew Johnny Be Good would have more goals than Jagr and Seguin combined in the playoffs? Strange things happen when the "second season" rolls around.

Boychuk and the boys will kick themselves for the sloppy play, the uncharacteristic turnovers, the mental lapses, but they will build on uncanny resiliency.

"We found a way to come back, but we probably shouldn't have been in that situation anyways," Boychuk noted.

Exactly. For the Blackhawks, it's a game to remember, a return to their strength, a statement that they aren't going anywhere. For the Bruins, it's a game to forget, to clean up and wash away.

"It's too late in the season and too late in the playoffs to start criticizing your team," Julien said. "You look at what you did well. It's a 2-2 series. I don't think anybody that is a fan of hockey is disappointed right now."

So what should we make of Game 4? It was a roller coaster, a house of mirrors, a myriad of hits and misses and mistakes and special plays.

The Bruins could have seized control of their destiny on Wednesday night, but they didn't.

That's because a dangerous -- and rejuvenated -- Chicago Blackhawks team wouldn't let them.