BOSTON – No team in the West scored more goals in the regular season than the Chicago Blackhawks. But like the highest scoring team out East found out quite recently, the Boston Bruins can squeeze the life out of just about any offensive attack.
A round of 28 mostly harmless shots made their way to Tuukka Rask
on Monday evening, each and every one turned aside as the Bruins took control of the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-0 victory in Game 3 at TD Garden.
Absent Marian Hossa
, their leading scorer in the playoffs, the Blackhawks have now failed to elude Rask and the Bruins for a string of over 120 minutes, Boston snuffing out Chicago's high-powered attack since the opening frame of Game 2 at the Madhouse on Saturday night.
“We're in the Stanley Cup Final against a team that deserves to be here, that is here because of the way they play defensively and check away from the puck,” said Patrick Sharp
, who scored the last Blackhawks goal and leads the team with nine markers in the postseason. “It's tough to score out there. We've got to find a way – we know what's on the line.”
It was the third shutout of the postseason for Rask, who owns a eye-popping .946 save percentage, but on this night the 26-year-old was not exactly tested to the most trying degree.
Chicago did little to make his life much of a nightmare.
“Tonight I thought we made it rather easy on him,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville declared afterward, noting the lack of havoc in the immediate vicinity of the Bruins netminder. “It's hard to get A-plus chances. You've got to manufacture the ugly kind of goals; tips, screens, deflections and the second chances.”
Like for instance, the game-tying goal from Johnny Oduya
in Game 1, a point blast that wiggled in off the skate of Andrew Ference
with bodies in front. Or the overtime winner that same night from Andrew Shaw
, a puck that was redirected twice just to beat Rask. Or the marker from Sharp in Game 2, a rebound with flurries of traffic and the Bruins netminder in turmoil.
“We always talk about getting to the inside a little bit more, getting two guys screening him and guys going to the net,” said captain Jonathan Toews
, who has just one goal in the postseason and has yet to register a point in this series. “We just didn't find those loose pucks. We've got to find a way to do it.”
Hurting matters further is the increasing instability of the power-play, which came up dry in three opportunities on Monday and has yet to score in 13 chances so far this series.
Often the unit, which finished 19th overall in the regular season, has looked simply lost. In one such instance in the first frame, with Shawn Thornton
whistled off for roughing, the Blackhawks had just a single shot, the two best opportunities actually coming for the Bruins, Rich Peverley
and Brad Marchand
both instigating partial breaks on Rask. “It was ugly at times,” said Sharp of the man advantage, “but there was also times where we had some scoring opportunities. We'll work to be better.”
The hunt for offence was made worse without the services of Hossa, who leads Chicago with 15 points in the postseason. The 34-year-old was scratched following the pre-game warm-up with a mysterious upper-body injury, replaced on this night by Ben Smith
, who scored three goals in seven playoff games for the Blackhawks in the 2011 postseason.
Forced to juggle his line combinations with Hossa out, Quenneville flanked Michael Frolik
and Marcus Kruger
with Toews, stuck Brandon Saad
and Patrick Kane
alongside Michal Handzus
, while shifting Smith onto a unit with Sharp and Dave Bolland
. Scratched in the opening two games of the series, Viktor Stalberg
made his debut on a trio that included Andrew Shaw
and the suddenly quiet Bryan Bickell
Generally pleased with his team's efforts in a scoreless first, Quenneville saw it unravel in the second, the Bruins scoring twice on goals from Daniel Paille
– his second in as many games – and Patrice Bergeron
Searching for a spark in that flailing middle frame, Quenneville would eventually plug Toews onto a unit with Sharp and Stalberg, Kane, who has just one point in this series, joining Saad and Shaw.
The results remained the same.
“You're not going to get a ton,” said Quenneville of the minimal scoring chances. “It's a tight game. Scoring is going to be challenging. But we've got to be ready to play that kind of game….It's not like we're thinking that we just want to go outrace them and look to exchange high-quality scoring chances off the rush because that feeds right into what they want to do. We've got to be ready to play a patient game and make sure we capitalize when we do get opportunities and hopefully we get the power-play rolling.”
Chicago endured a similar struggle to the present conundrum in a second round standoff with Detroit, managing just two goals combined in a string of three losses. They would rally with three straight wins themselves, finding their game with 10 goals in the process.
“As soon as we get one that confidence is going to come,” Toews opined, noting a few too many shots directly at the glove of Rask, “[then] we can just make plays, we can let things flow a little bit more out there.”
Boston, though, has a maddening recent history of squeezing the life from attacks like the Blackhawks. The Bruins held the Penguins, who scored more than any team in the league, to just two goals in the Eastern Conference Final, snuffing out the likes of Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
to shocking avail.
“There's enough going on big picture that I don't think anyone is squeezing the stick or worrying about numbers or stats,” Sharp concluded, when questioned on the subject. “It's about winning the game right now.&rdquo