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Siegel: Hawks look to break Bruins' grip in Game 4

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Jonas Siegel
6/19/2013 12:44:02 AM
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BOSTON - Questioned on whether the Blackhawks could escape the clenches of the Bruins, from which the equally potent Penguins were unable to break free, Dave Bolland responded with a sly grin and definitive response.

"We'll do it," he said, before repeating the phrase. "We'll do it. It's an easy answer right."

Not much has come easy for Chicago in recent days. After outlasting Boston in a triple OT thriller, the Hawks - save for a dominant opening frame in Game 2 - have been squeezed into submission by their stingy Bruin counterparts, who have allowed just 17 goals in the past 12 games, an incredible run of defensive prowess.

Engulfed in a slide of 120-plus minutes without scoring, the Blackhawks now trail the series 2-1 with Game 4 on deck at TD Garden on Wednesday evening.

"I know it's ugly sometimes out there and people can look from the outside and say that the series is lopsided or whatever," Patrick Sharp opined on Tuesday afternoon, "[but] we win Game 4 we're in great shape and that's our focus right now."

Generating some pop to a typically potent attack will be the starting point, helped immeasurably by the likely return of Marian Hossa, who missed Game 3 with a mysterious upper-body injury.

Sharp's goal midway through the first frame of Game 2 was the last Chicago managed, this from a team that led the West in scoring by a pretty sizeable margin (Anaheim was second with 15 fewer goals). Tested with similar circumstance in the second round against Detroit, during which they combined for two goals in three straight losses, the Blackhawks managed to rally with a trio of victories, sniping 10 in the process.

"We found a way to get ourselves back into it and that's what we're looking for," head coach Joel Quenneville said, looking for the split in Boston before heading back to Chicago for Game 5.

"We stuck to our game-plan," added Bolland of the process for a comeback against the Red Wings. "We threw pucks at the net, we got bodies to the net and we did things to crowd [Jimmy] Howard."

More of the same against the locked in Tuukka Rask is on the agenda. The 26-year-old Bruins keeper owns a .946 save percentage so far in the postseason, a mark that no goaltender - with at least 10 starts - has bested in the past 15 seasons (Jonathan Quick in 2012 and Patrick Lalime in 2002 equaled the mark).

Quenneville suggested a rougher and more consistent line to the Boston crease by those without the puck, anything to create a disturbance in front of Rask. "That's where we've got to be looking to travel and get there," Quenneville said. "And make sure that he doesn't see the puck. Conveniently, we put a lot of pucks right in his mitt; I think we've got to make sure that [we get] better puck placement as well."

"They do a good job of protecting their net," added Sharp, "so it's tough to do that. When we can't get inside their goaltender makes those saves."

Additionally, the Hawks must, according to Bolland, pick their spots for rushes of speed and skill. "They sort of wait for us to make those mistakes and they pounce on them," he said of Boston's stealth neutral zone.

Despite the Bruins widening advantage overall, the battle at even-strength is actually equal through three games - each team has scored five - but while the Bruins have scored a pair on the man advantage, the Blackhawks have come up consistently empty - 0 for 11 - their often shambled attempts stunting any chance at momentum. In Game 3 for example, Chicago had two power-plays in an otherwise scoreless first frame and failed to muster much on either. Boston meanwhile, sniped its second of the series from Patrice Bergeron to seal a second straight victory.

"They cashed in on their power-play and our power-play slowed us down a little bit," said Quenneville, noting his team's struggles in the faceoff circle, which included six losses on seven draws with the man advantage.

More pop and finish from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews would also aid in the cause. Kane and Toews finished 1-2 in scoring for the Blackhawks during the regular season, but have combined for just a point so far in this series, Toews grinding through a 10-game goal drought.

The Chicago captain has been blanketed with the Zdeno Chara treatment throughout, also matched up against the top line of the postseason, the hard to handle trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. "I know he wants to score," Sharp said of Toews, "but he takes a lot of draws, he plays well defensively, he plays heavy minutes for us. I'm not too concerned with [Jonathan], he's a pro, he's knows what he's doing out there."

With Hossa sidelined, Toews began Game 3 alongside Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik before joining Sharp and Viktor Stalberg as the game wore on. The 25-year-old finished with five shots, including one fairly decent chance on a power-play in the first, totaling nearly 19 minutes.

Separated so far in the Cup Final, Toews and Kane, who has tallied a single assist against the Bruins, have flashed brilliance together in the past, most recently in the series-clincher against Los Angeles during which they combined for a pair of goals including the overtime winner from Kane.

Likely opting for balance throughout the lineup with Chara on the prowl against Toews, Quenneville has kept the duo apart, thus leaving Kane free from the 6-foot-9 mountain that is the Boston captain. But perhaps with his offence stunted in the past two games, Quenneville will turn back to the pair (or opt to reunite Toews and Hossa) though he declined to reveal his plans ahead of Game 4.

Ultimately, Chicago will have to find the means to accomplish what Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins could not do and that is to break the grip of an iron-clad defence. Boston has found its swagger again, looking to snatch a second Cup in three years.

"We have to win [Wednesday] night," concluded Quenneville. "We come up with a good result and we're right where we want to be."

Dave Bolland (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
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