CHICAGO – So much for all the talk about the impenetrable goalies, and forget about those lane-clogging defensemen. It was all about the offense in Game 4, and the hangover could extend into the final three games of the deadlocked Stanley Cup finals.
Chicago’s 6-5 overtime victory at Boston on Wednesday night was the highest-scoring game in this year’s NHL playoffs. There were breakaways, rebounds, long slap shots and tips. Eleven goals in all, coming from all over the ice.
It all raises questions about how the remainder of this compelling series will look.
“I guess a series like this can take some unexpected turns sometimes, and you saw that last night,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I’m not going to make any predictions for what happens in the next game, but obviously there’s a lot of things we want to carry into this game, Game 5, here.”
The biggest variable could be the recovery of goalies Tuukka Rask of the Bruins and Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks, who have a couple days to find their game again before the series resumes in Chicago on Saturday night.
Rask and Crawford had been the best two goalies in the playoffs before each of them stumbled under heavy pressure in Game 4. Rask gave up too many prime rebound opportunities, and Crawford was beaten repeatedly on his glove side.
“Every goal is stoppable, but I don’t think there was any weak one, so to speak,” said Rask, who was coming off a 2-0 shutout and had allowed just eight goals in the previous eight playoff games. “Mistakes piled up and I wasn’t able to bail our guys out. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.”
Crawford was great in each of the first two finals games in Chicago. He had 51 saves in the three-overtime series opener, keeping the Blackhawks in the game long enough for Andrew Shaw to score the winning goal in a 4-3 victory.
Crawford had 33 stops when the series shifted to Boston for Game 3, but Chicago was unable to get anything going against Rask. And then came more of the glove-side problems on Wednesday night that the Bruins have exploited all series long.
“A couple tough breaks last night, especially when we had the lead at 3-1 or 4-2, Boston is going to open up a little bit,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Thursday. “I think for us that we can play better defensively, maybe get in some shooting lanes and block some of those shots.”
Chicago held leads of 1-0, 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4, but Boston rallied each time. The glove-side issue is a tricky little one for Coach Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks, who know that’s where the Bruins are trying to go, but don’t want Crawford to focus so much on that area that it gets into his head.
“We’re very comfortable with Corey,” Quenneville said, dismissing the idea of inserting backup Ray Emery. “Corey has been rock solid all year for us, and when he’s got the ball, he’s been outstanding, and he’s the biggest reason why we’re here today.”
Rask was working on a shutout streak of 129 minutes, 14 seconds when Michal Handzus had a beautiful sliding score in the first period Wednesday night off a nice pass from Brandon Saad on a fast break.
It was a sign of things to come for the Bruins, who had sustained trouble with the Blackhawks’ speed for the first time in the series.
Marcus Kruger completed a 2-on-1 break in the second period with his third goal of the playoffs. Kruger and Michael Frolik got down the ice so quickly that there was time for Kruger to poke home his own rebound after Rask stopped his first attempt.
“I thought we gave them a lot of space,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said. “It doesn’t mean they don’t have a pace to their game, but it means we gave them too many options. And the neutral zone for me, not just on the forecheck but even our neutral zone on the counter wasn’t very good.”
Zdeno Chara, Boston’s 6-foot-9 defenseman, was back during the rush by Kruger and Frolik but was unable to break it up. The 2009 Norris Trophy winner was on the ice for five of Chicago’s six goals, with the Blackhawks using their speed to make life difficult on the captain of the Bruins.
“I think he was OK,” Julien said. “There’s no doubt they went after him and he was OK, because our whole team was OK. I don’t think anybody on our team can stand up today and say I thought I had a great game, and that’s why we’re sitting here today tied 2-all.”
The move by Quenneville to put Toews and Kane back together on a line with Bryan Bickell also played a role in the rough night for Chara and Rask. Toews had a tip-in for his first goal since May 25 against Detroit, snapping a 10-game drought. Kane had a nifty rebound score for his first goal of the series.
The productive night for that line — Bickell had two assists and was credited with six hits — could lead to some adjustments for Boston in the pivotal Game 5.
“I think you want to learn from every game, regardless of if you win or lose,” said Bruins center Chris Kelly, who failed to convert a prime scoring opportunity on Wednesday night. “Like winning, you want to put the game behind you. It’s in the past, there’s nothing you can do about it. Look to the next one.”