Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final was weird.
After watching these two clubs go head-to-head for three games, I think most of us thought we had this series figured out. Goals would continue to be tough to generate, both because space was an issue, what with Games 1-3 looking like they were being played in a one-bedroom apartment, and because the goaltenders were on top of their games.
But then Game 4 happened, and suddenly the Final was turned on its head. 11 goals, seriously? Who saw that coming?
The best thing about Game 4 -- apart from how exciting and random it was -- is that it gives us the opportunity to establish some truly unexpected keys to Game 5. Here are three for each club:
Slow it down
Who'd have thought we'd be talking about Boston's need to clamp down on this series, especially after they did quite well for themselves in this regard in the seven games leading up to it? Games 2 and 3, not to mention Games 1-4 versus the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, were vintage Boston. Game 5 was vintage Boston too, but in the other sense: it was like something out of the mid-1980s. Suddenly their defensive posture is a concern.
When the Blackhawks scored the overtime winner in Game 4, it didn't come as much of a surprise, largely because that entire game had played more to their strengths than Boston's. The Bruins don't want to get into a track-meet with the Blackhawks. They want to get into a game of mistakes, a game where chances are hard to come by and generally borne of defensive lapses. That's where they'll have the upper hand.
The Bruins have won the faceoff battle in all four games of this series, but in Game 3, they won it decisively. They won 40 of 56 draws, good for a 71% win rate. In the other three games, they won 51%, 54%, and 51% of the draws, respectively.
It's no surprise, then, that the game where they controlled the puck off almost every draw is the lone game that didn't need extra time to decide a winner. Game 5 will go a lot better for them if they can win the faceoff battle more than just mathematically.
Don't let Corey Crawford get his groove back
To be fair, Corey Crawford's glove hand is nowhere near as bad as people are saying. Are we really supposed to believe that the Bruins just magically discovered that he's genuinely bad at a fundamental element of goaltending, and no one has ever noticed until now?
Hogwash. He's fine. Sure, all five goals beat him glove side, but the dude only has two sides. We're not talking extreme improbability here.
Still, he hasn't looked at his best for a few games now, and while the glove hand thing is seriously overplayed, that's the sort of crack analysis you leave yourself vulnerable to when you allow enough goals for people to begin noting patterns.
Crawford has been excellent in these playoffs, but after his second consecutive off-night, it's safe to say he hasn't been excellent in this Final. Keeping him off his game is a top for Boston. Crawford knows what they're saying about him; I'd keep going Gunner Stahl fancy just to mess with his head.
Keep attacking Zdeno Chara
In Game 4, the Blackhawks did something few teams do: they went right at Zdeno Chara. That's like flying your snowspeeder directly at an Imperial AT-AT Walker when everybody knows the best way to bring one down, as demonstrated at the Battle of Hoth, is by going around it. That's typically how most clubs deal with Chara too.
But Jonathan Toews boasted after Game 4 that the Blackhawks attacked Chara directly and aggressively, and it paid off: Chara was on the ice for five of Chicago's six goals. Now, Chara's basically always on the ice, so this stat isn't quite as damning as it sounds, but still. The plan is more of that.
The Bruins think it's a stupid idea. From CSNNE:
"Honestly, I don't know where they would get that scouting report from," said Milan Lucic during off-day availability at the team hotel in Chicago. “[Chara] definitely doesn't mind the physical play at all. Once again, I don't know where they would get that scouting report from."
Lucic’s reaction was pretty consistent with the other Bruins players two days after their Game 4 defeat on home ice. There was some curiosity as to whether it was more a strategy to distract Chara and the Bruins from their normally stifling defensive game, and was some kind of tactic to get under their skin with the three most important games of the season on tap.
Talking about it may have been something of a mind game, but it worked once. Patrick Sharp suggested it might have been a fluke, but let the hockey gods sort that out. Try it again.
In Game 4, the Blackhawks flipped the script on the previous three games and produced offence on special teams. Since when do they do that?
Chicago scored twice during a man advantage. The first time it was during one of Boston's, as Michal Handzus scored the night's first goal shorthanded. The second time, it was, incredibly, on their own powerplay, when Sharp gave Chicago the lead midway through the third.
Both goals put Chicago ahead and forced Boston to open up in pursuit of a tie game. That's how Chicago wants the remainder of this series to be played; more offensive production on special teams increases the likelihood of that happening.
Don't let Tuukka Rask get his groove back
Rask was the difference-maker in Games 2 and 3, earning first star honours from us here at The Daddy and vaulting to the top of the pile of Conn Smythe candidates. But in Game 4, the scouting report changed from "don't get frustrated by Rask's brilliance" to "shoot at Rask". In one game, the Boston backstop surrendered as many goals as he had in the previous five games combined.
Now, suddenly, Chicago's job shifts from knocking him off his game to keeping him from finding it again. He cannot, under any circumstances, get his groove back in Game 5, especially not with the series returning to Boston for Game 6.
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