CHICAGO – Patrick Kane measures in at 5-foot-11 and a compact 181 pounds, considerably smaller than the 6-foot-9, 255-pound goliath, Zdeno Chara. And yet, there was Kane, one among many Hawks on this night, pestering the Bruins' captain, poking and prodding at him, showing little fear of his might or power.
"The word 'scared'," said Patrick Sharp, describing the 24-year-old, "he's not scared of anybody. He'll play as hard as he can and he's definitely got a willingness to get dirty out there."
Kane buried two more goals in partnership with Jonathan Toews on Saturday night, propelling the Hawks to a gutsy 3-1 win in Game 5 and the brink of their second Cup in four years.
Floundering without a goal and just a single point between them in the opening three games of the series, Kane and Toews have since combined for four goals and seven points, Chicago swiping Games 4 and 5 to snatch control of the Final, now with a 3-2 advantage as the series shifts back to Boston for Game 6.
Toews sat out the third period on Saturday with a mysterious injury.
Most striking in their success against the Bruins has been the increased persistence and vigour opposite Chara. The pair are not the least bit intimidated in their willingness to attack the former Norris Trophy winner. Those feisty efforts have appeared increasingly frustrating for Chara, who has been on the ice for the past eight Chicago goals.
Speed, elusiveness and that aforementioned fearlessness have driven the improvement. Slipping by Chara and into the right corner of the Boston zone in the opening frame, Kane flung a puck through the crease and off the wall to Johnny Oduya on the left point. Kane then tucked a backhand behind Tuukka Rask on Oduya's rebound, a goal eerily familiar to one Toews scored three nights earlier.
Later in the second, after consecutive Bryan Bickell attempts were turned aside, Kane pounced on yet another rebound, dipping behind the net and out of the sights of Chara before re-emerging with a second backhand (on a trickling puck) to give Chicago a cushion they would ultimately require.
"He's very good at kind of finding those quiet areas and sliding into the right spot," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "That's why he's a good player and scores a lot of goals."
"They're pretty sneaky," added Boston defender Johnny Boychuk, who would replace Dennis Seidenberg alongside Chara in the third. Kane described his goals as "right spot at the right time", an explanation his teammate Sharp would not accept. "If you score a bunch of them all the time then it's not an accident," said Sharp, noting the required timing and willingness to crash the net for such rewards.
Stifled in the early going opposite the Bruins, Toews and Kane (and Bickell to a lesser extent) have made a devastating impression the past two outings, not only eviscerating Chara but winning their battle with the once unstoppable David Krejci trio.
Six years of experience together, including a Cup in 2010, has forged an intuitive bond between the two. "We're different style players," Kane explained, "but I think we complement each other very well."
"[Kane is] one of those guys that always wants the puck and creates space for his linemates and is able to see things that most players can't see," Sharp noted of Kane, who led the Hawks with 55 points in the regular season. "And Johnny's a guy that thrives below the top of the circles, in the corners battling, getting to the net, and creating space for the other guy." Plastered by Boychuk as he cut across the middle late in the second frame, Toews would not play a single shift in the final period, though he would remain on the bench. Chicago is hopeful that its leader will be okay to play next game. The Hawks captain finished with a pair of assists in 13 minutes of action, and also won nine of 12 draws. Questioned on his struggles opposite Kane and Toews the past two games, Chara's eyes widened in exasperation before a brief and ultimately dry response. "I'm not here to talk about myself," he said. "It just happened that they've been scoring some goals."