Well, what a way to start the Stanley Cup Final. Everyone was predicting this to be an epic series that would likely go at least 6 games, possibly 7, and it looks like everyone could be right. It took 3 overtime periods to decide the winner of Game 1, and in the end the Blackhawks came out on top by a final score of 4-3. After watching just one game of this series, we now have a much better feel as to how these two teams match up.
One game doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how the Bruins and Blackhawks compare to each other, but considering the uncertainty of this subject prior to Game 1, we now know a lot more than we did. Here’s what I took away from Game 1:
- Boston’s top line is incredibly good.
- Chicago’s speed is already giving Boston problems.
- The Blackhawks have more quality depth.
- Both goalies are on top of their game.
- Special teams has already been, and will be, very important.
- Turnovers could determine the winner of this series.
Milan Lucic was a force in Game 1. He scored Boston’s first 2 goals, and threatened a number of times to get a third. That line of Lucic, Bergeron, and Horton has a lot more offensive talent than they get credit for. However, Nathan Horton left the game in overtime last night after an apparent shoulder injury and did not return. His status as of today (Thursday) is day-to-day according to Claude Julien. Boston cannot afford to lose Horton for more than a game in this series. While they lost him from Game 3 on in the Cup Final 2 years ago and still won the thing, they do not have the same depth as they did then to effectively replace him. Back in 2011, they had the option of bumping Michael Ryder up in the lineup, Rich Peverley, or dressing Tyler Seguin (he was a rookie and a frequent scratch in the lineup then). Now, their depth is not like it used to be, and losing Horton for more than a game is a big loss.
The speed of the Blackhawks was talked about a lot heading into this series. Many, myself included, thought that this was Chicago’s biggest advantage over Boston and that it could be what puts the Hawks over the top in this series. After Game 1, it looks like we were right. The speed of the Blackhawks in the neutral zone after getting a takeaway was giving Boston fits in Game 1, and their speed coming out of their own end and up the ice provided problems for the Bruins as well. Also, and maybe most importantly, the speed of the Blackhawks on the back-check killed Boston’s odd-man rushes up the ice. I can’t begin to come up with the exact number of odd-man breaks that the Bruins had last night, but none of them resulted in well executed shots on goal. Whether it was a two one one for Boston, a three on two, or a breakaway, the Blackhawks always had someone coming back on defense to breakup or disrupt Boston’s chance with great back-checking. The speed of guys like Leddy, Keith, Oduya, Hossa, Saad, Toews, and even Hjalmarsson was very evident last night on the defensive end and gave Boston’s offense a lot of problems.
Depth is always a key factor in winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks and Bruins have prided themselves on their depth throughout the season, but last night proved that Chicago has more of it. Boston’s “depth” players of Peverley, Kelly, Thornton, etc. did not do a whole lot offensively last night. Quite frankly, they haven’t done a whole lot the whole postseason. As for Chicago, they got 3 goals from their third line last night. Bolland and Saad both scored their first goals of the postseason, and Andrew Shaw got his fifth with the game-winner. That third line was probably the best line for the Hawks in Game 1, which is exactly what they’ll need moving forward. I’m not saying that those guys need to be the best line every night, but when you’re top lines are being held scoreless, you need your bottom two lines to step up and score. That’s how the Blackhawks have been so successful all season long. The fourth line was real good too I thought. Bollig, who was inserted into the lineup for the first time since round 1, was very good. He had 9 hits in just 14 minutes of playing time and was smart when he had the puck. Kruger was 54% at the dot and was again big on the PK in overtime. Frolik had a bit of an off night, but still was effective on a couple of shifts in which the fourth line put sustained offensive pressure on the Bruins. Game 1 proved to me that the Blackhawks have the better depth in this series, which is very important.
Both goalies were good last night, but Corey Crawford was outstanding. He made a countless number of game-saving saves in the third period and all 3 overtimes. I have more confidence in him right now than I ever have. Tuukka Rask played well, but didn’t have to make nearly as many huge saves as Crawford. All the hype about Tuukka Rask leading into this series went out the door last night if you ask me. The guy is good, but he’s not God like many people made him sound.
Special teams played a big factor in Game 1. The Blackhawks had an extended 5 on 3 in the second period and only managed to get one shot on goal. That is unacceptable. They were 0-3 on the power play in total. Boston, meanwhile, got a power play early in the third to give themselves a 2-goal lead. They were 1-3 on the night with the man advantage, and 0-2 in overtime. I said it before the series that one power play goal could be the difference as to who wins the Cup and who doesn’t. Last night, I was proven wrong as Boston got what looked to be a game-clinching PP goal. They went on to surrender their 2-goal lead in the third and obviously lost in triple OT. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill did give up that big goal in the third, but they then stepped up and went 2-2 in the overtime periods to keep the game at a tie. Call it a wash in Game 1 between Boston’s specialty teams and Chicago’s if you want, but they are going to continue playing a big part in this series.
Turnovers are already playing a big part between these two teams. Look no further than Torey Krug’s giveaway at his own blue line that led to Dave Bolland’s goal in the third. Tuukka Rask called it a “horrible turnover” after the game and said that those plays cannot happen. He’s right. The Blackhawks turned the puck over as well last night, but none of them directly resulted in a goal for Boston. They can’t expect that trend to continue.
A couple areas that people thought Boston would kill Chicago were hits and faceoffs. The hit totals last night actually favored the Blackhawks. They outhit the Bruins 61-59 and proved that they can be a physical team. Faceoffs, which most people thought Boston would dominate, were 58-56 for the Bruins. Yes, they won more than they lost, but only by 2. That is an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks is they can keep that up.
Shot totals were relatively close as the Blackhawks outshot Boston 63-54. However, the Blackhawks directed a total of 132 shots towards Tuukka Rask, while Boston directed 85 at Crawford. That is a very disturbing stat if you are a Bruins fan or player. Chicago dominated in offensive zone play and demonstrated their ability to get shots off at will, regardless of Boston’s defense. Another startling stat for Boston is the fact that the Jonathan Toews line for the Blackhawks directed over 40 shots toward the net during 5 on 5 play, while Boston’s top line only had about 15. Yes, 2 of those 15 were goals by Lucic, but you could make the case that Chicago’s top line can and could shut down Boston’s over the course of this series.
Anyone who didn’t watch the NHL on a regular basis before watching Game 1 probably thought Zdeno Chara was the best defenseman in NHL history with all the hype he was getting. Yes, he is very good, but he isn’t going to single-handedly shut down the Blackhawks’ offense! The hype he has been getting since Boston won the Eastern Conference is sickening and way too much. He was alright last night, but not great like so many were saying he would be.
There are two ways of looking at Game 1. For Boston, you could say that they played a pretty good game and hung with the Hawks on Chicago’s home ice, but lost in triple overtime. In other words, the Bruins were one bounce away from winning that game. From the Chicago perspective, you can say that you played a not so good first half of the game, and even most of the three overtimes, but you still won. You withstood Boston’s game, which was a good one for the most part, and battled back from a 2-goal, third period deficit to win the game in a third overtime period.
As the series progresses, I’m sure there will be more and more to talk about. But for now, these are the telling stories from Game 1. History has proven that the winner of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup goes on to win the series over 70% of the time. Take that as you would like, but it’s a telling stat. Game 2 will be a big one.