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This Stanley Cup Final has been crazy. So much drama, so much overtime, and so little difference between wins and losses. Because this is the Final, and there's so much time between games, that lends itself to a lot of lazy navel-gazing which in turn lends itself to some rather inane analysis. Not that it's not easy to buy into.
Take, for example, the trope that Corey Crawford has a weak glove hand, and that the Bruins have somehow discovered it and thus targeted it throughout the series. This was brought up continually throughout Wednesday's Game 4, as all five of the goals he conceded beat him high to the glove side, and oh the laughs we shared. "Doesn't he know he's supposed to catch the puck?" the hockey world snickered collectively in a million-car pileup to see who could craft the best Michael Jackson glove joke before someone overdosed on glee and dropped dead before the overtime started.
Dan Paille's two goals in Games 2 and 3 were both to Crawford's glove side, as were all three in Game 1. Wow, why are they starting the guy, right? It got to the point where even Doc Emrick was making derisive comments in his own way, noting that when the occasional saved shot to that side which was gloved and held, Crawford seemed to do it with no problem at all, as though it were a novelty. Certainly, this has not been a good series for the Chicago netminder, who earned a share of the Jennings this year, but this is another tired extension of the same, "The book on this guy is to shoot high," gimmick media members trot out to sound like they have any idea about a goaltender's weaknesses.
The book on every goalie is to shoot high, and the book on Crawford has always been to shoot to his glove side. This analysis of Chicago's 2010-11 and '11-12 seasons shows that about a quarter of all goals scored against the Blackhawks over those two seasons were high to the glove side, while another 23 percent or so were low blocker, and about one in five went five-hole. Crawford, you'll note, has been the No. 1 goaltender for Chicago in each of those campaigns. This isn't National Treasure. Claude Julien didn't find some centuries-old code about it scrawled on the other side of a ceiling tile from George Washington's first military headquarters in Cambridge. Even Crawford acknowledges that this is a problem. Not that it would be easy to get a breakdown of how each of the Bruins' 150 shots so far in this series has been targeted, but his stated "99 percent" doesn't seem like it's all that far off. Even still, he's stopped 138 of those 150 (.920 save percentage), so I don't think it's necessarily all that detrimental.
Certainly no one was saying the same kind of stuff about Tuukka Rask, who bled goals himself all night, because no one could ascribe a rhyme or reason to it. If Marc-Andre Fleury gave up six on 47 everyone would have taken to the streets in either celebration or outrage and he would have been written off as a fragile goaltender. He wasn't, for some reason.
The fact of the matter is that, yes, the Bruins are having an absurd, almost unsustainable amount of success going to Crawford's glove side, but it's probably for no particular reason.
Speaking of which, the same can be said of all the head-scratching that has taken place in this series about the lack of production for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, in particular. That Joel Quenneville wasn't putting them together as a means of juicing a sputtering offense (until Game 4) was a legitimate criticism, but at the same time, it's not like they were playing anything resembling poorly even without optimal linemates. Headed into Wednesday, both were strong drivers of puck possession, Toews perhaps moreso than anyone in the entire series, but that didn't stop the world from wondering aloud if their collective "slump" would end if they were put back together.
It could be argued — pretty effectively, in fact — that the slump was non-existent, and that both players had simply been unlucky. Toews had taken 63 shots in 20 playoff games, and scored just once (a 1.6 shooting percentage), Kane was much better off with his six on 75 (8 percent) but still not considered good enough. The issue seemed to be that Claude Julien was effectively deploying Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron against them separately. With the two of them together for about 17:35 of even-strength ice time, they really only saw Chara for most of that time, and Bergeron was only out there for less than half of it. The only goals for which both those defensive wizards were out on the ice were the first and last ones, scored by… well, not Toews and Kane, but rather Michal Handzus and Brent Seabrook. Chara was out there for Toews' alleged breakthrough goal, for which he is now being hailed being back on the right side of things, as if he were ever off it.
No one, meanwhile, was looking for reasons the vaunted Bruins defense suddenly broke like a dam without a Dutch boy standing watch. They were "shaky." Just one of those funny old things, I guess. But with that, it suddenly became time to dial everything back that had been said about them since they allowed just one goal across the middle two games of what is still a series that only recently reached middle age. Not mentioned was that Rask and Co. allowed a combined 10 goals in about that many periods of play in Games 1 and 4 combined. Nor that all but Patrick Sharp's power play goal (effectively a 5-on-3) were scored either in transition or within 10 seconds of the Blackhawks gaining the attacking zone. It was almost like the world forgot how to beat the Bruins — which Toronto unlocked and both New York and Pittsburgh wholly failed to exploit — and Chicago fell into the same trap for, again, seemingly no particular reason.
Where are the thought pieces that speed through the neutral zone is how to rip open the Bruins' defense at the seams? There really just aren't any. The Bruins are "typically rock solid," except when they aren't, and these six goals were unquestionably accepted as being the result of "mental… positional" mistakes and not a glaring Achilles heel waiting for some enterprising Paris to put a lethal arrow into it. Shoe on the other foot, though, one imagines it would be a different story.
This was a game, and indeed a series, ripe for the picking as far the Bruins were concerned. Every time their opponent scored, they were able to answer within just a few minutes or so. The biggest lead the Blackhawks built, on the back of the Toews and Kane and Kruger goals in the second period, evaporated within seven minutes. For all the talk about the Big Bad Bruins with their moutainous defense, they've scored precisely one more goal than the offensive juggernaut Blackhawks, and it hasn't been because they've been overly physical, no matter what you read. The Bruins go back to Chicago tied in the series instead of kings-in-waiting on their way to a coronation because Chris Kelly missed the wide-openest net of his career, and because they couldn't stop Chicago from scoring goals into all parts of the net instead of just the glove side, and because luck they'd enjoyed earlier on finally and rather suddenly turned in Chicago's favor.
But that's not really a straight-line talking point. You can't see all the way through it and out the other side. Hockey is complicated, especially at this stage, and especially when teams are this good at everything. Sometimes things go sideways for players or groups of players or even a whole team, and sometimes those things do it for games at a time. You can't count on Toews not-scoring forever. You can't count on Corey Crawford giving up five goals to his immediate left every night. You can't count on a team as talented as Chicago not figuring out that Boston can't stop the transition. These aren't hard and fast rules. They change all the time.
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