What We Learned: How Stanley Cup Final turned entirely on one coaching decision

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.


Following Boston's suffocating Game 3 performance and the way in which the Chicago Blackhawks looked bereft of answers for what the underdogs were presenting defensively, it appeared for all the world that this series was over.

Those in the ravening hordes who called for Joel Quenneville to do what he did to turn around the Detroit series were once again massing at the gates and screaming, "Put Toews and Kane together!"

Finally, they were satiated when the Game 4 line sheets came out.

They weren't wrong, either. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together had, after all, helped to break whatever anti-offense spell the Wings and their flimflam defensive corps pieced together in building their now-infamous 3-1 lead; they played very few minutes together at even strength in Games 1 through 3, but when Game 4 started going badly, Quenneville put them out at the same time and got something out of it. They spent the rest of that series pummeling the Wings in possession if not points themselves (a combined 1-3-4 in three games, all of them wins, all pretty convincing).

The way in which they pushed around the Red Wings was apparently forgotten in the Conference Finals against Los Angeles, largely because that kind of firepower wasn't all that necessary early on. It wasn't until Chicago lost Game 3 that the bright idea to put two of the 15 or so best players on the planet together dawned on Quenneville once again, and the Blackhawks suddenly went out and scored a lot of goals, driven by four from Kane alone. Almost as if by magic.

That the coach then went back to the "keep them apart" well to start the Cup Final was perhaps predictable because he had done it before, but it also didn't seem to be particularly well-advised. Neither Kane nor Toews factored into the scoring, and in fact seemed completely confused as to how both the Zdeno Chara/Dennis Seidenberg pairing and Patrice Bergeron line were shuttering them, even as they drove possession.

After pulling out the opener on the thinnest margins, Games 2 and 3 didn't go well for Chicago by most measures either. So it was that facing another game at TD Garden, where Boston had been largely invincible in these playoffs, once again called for drastic action. Quenneville was being thoroughly out-coached by Claude Julien, but only because he couldn't figure out that, or at least why, Bergeron was killing Kane in particular. Putting together the two best offensive talents in the series, then, seemed a pretty good solution for only having scored five goals in about 12 periods of hockey.

Nine goals in 129:51 later, and the people who called for the two to be put together are now looking rather prescient. Toews has three points, Kane four. A series that seemed so hopeless about a week ago now appears almost ludicrously winnable. But this isn't the decision that turned the series around. Anyone could have made it. Quenneville, in fact, should have made it after Game 2 and saved himself and his team the indignity of being dominated the next time out. The series might already be over.

Instead, the coaching call that altered the shape of the entire series and backed the Bruins to the precipice of being eliminated on home ice was Julien's.

Where before he could count on Chara/Seidenberg to hold Toews off the scoresheet, and Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr to do the same for Kane — effectively giving the Blackhawks only about one-third or so of a game, even a little less, in which to score their goals with third- and fourth-line players — that option went away when Quenneville changed things up.

His answer? Hope like hell Chara and Seidenberg would be enough to stop them with a minimal-defense line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic in front of them.

The world now sees the folly of that decision. Nine goals allowed, Chara on the ice for eight of them, much to the derision of media folks who should really know better but obviously and predictably do not. What they don't say is that Bergeron has played far more against Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, and Marian Hossa in the last two games (about 12:30 at even strength) than Toews and Kane and Bryan Bickell (roughly 8:00, almost all of which was in Game 4, when Boston had last change), and the reason why isn't easily explained.

Without Bergeron to corral them into the middle of the ice where Chara and Seidenberg can grind them into dust, Toews and Kane have run riot together.

The obvious argument in Julien's defense is that Bergeron was injured relatively early into Game 5, with only 6:06 total TOI to his credit before being pulled and later taken to the hospital. But the Bruins were bleeding goals even as they scored five of their own one game earlier, and Julien never really adjusted.

Maybe the Penguins series, in which Dan Bylsma kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin largely separate even as the team struggled for goals, convinced Julien that Krejci and Co. was good enough to play defense against the best in the world.

They're not. This is borne out by the last two results.

Speculation on Bergeron's ability to participate in Game 6 is rampant, and likely will be right up to the point when the teams come out for warm-ups. Until that time, it's going to be smoke and mirrors on the issue from Boston, and understandably so. Lots of people, Boston media included, have noted that if he can't go, the Bruins are cooked. The fact of the matter, though, is they might be even if he does, because he hasn't been used properly, and hoping David Krejci is going to out-possess Jonathan Toews is a fool's errand.

Bergeron and Toews are both elite two-way centers. Two best on the planet, truth be told. If Julien wants to win Game 6, and Bergeron is healthy, he has to fight fire with fire.

Clearly, the best players in the series have to be answered with their counterparts. If not, it wouldn't be any kind of shock to see a new champion crowned tonight.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: It's late June and you know what that means: The Ducks are gonna trade Bobby Ryan to Philly for no reason. Why would a team with one of the worst D corps in the league trade their best defenseman for a scoring winger? Because!

Boston Bruins: Man, it turns out that their being up 3-2 in the series really proves the Chicago Blackhawks are a formidable opponent for the Bruins. What a litmus test. Way to hang in there, Blackhawks, against a team you have pushed around in each of the last two games.

Buffalo Sabres: Should Buffalo trade Drew Stafford for Ales Hemsky? Stafford's coming off two straight seasons of shooting well below his career percentage and had a terrible PDO, so no.

Calgary Flames: Forward Ben Hanowski was one of about 100,000 people evacuated from his home in Calgary and a total stranger gave him a ride to safety because he didn't have a car of his own. Go here to donate to the Red Cross' Alberta Floods Fund.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes might be willing to move down at the draft if the guy they want at No. 5 is taken in the top four. Jay Feaster, we're lookin' at you here.

Chicago Blackhawks: Apple Genius Bars across Chicago were swarmed Sunday morning by thousands of journalists who had to highlight the words "glove side" in their Game 5 stories and hit "Delete" so hard their computers exploded. Corey Crawford was excellent.

Colorado Avalanche: Because they're not taking Seth Jones, the Avs are taking Nathan MacKinnon. Just FYI.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Now seems like the best time to remind you all that Jarmo Kekalainen, the new Jackets GM, is considered one of the best drafters in the league. Don't be shocked by it next weekend, is all I'm saying.

Dallas Stars: It's impossible to discount the fact that the Lindy Ruff hiring was purely for the purposes of additional Buffalo schadenfreude, especially because it doesn't seem like a particularly good hockey decision.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Big companies like General Motors will largely be footing the $284.5 million of public funds to cover the Wings' new $650 million arena district. No one will be footing the funding for the city's school system, because the city's disadvantaged kids aren't millionaire professional athletes or the team's billionaire owner.

Edmonton Oilers: All the Oilers need to do to improve their power play is learn a thing or two from Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, like "Be two of the best hockey players ever."

Florida Panthers: Stephen Weiss, a UFA on July, could be targeted by the Maple Leafs if Tyler Bozak doesn't re-sign in Toronto. "If." Hahaha. Gee whiz. Good stuff this weekend, Nonis.

Los Angeles Kings: Darryl Sutter says a surgical robot is the reason he was able to recover so quickly from double hernia surgery. It also got that alien fetus that later turned into a giant octopus creature out of him.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild "has expressed interest in" Marc-Andre Fleury, presumably because they got a taste of losing badly in the playoffs this year and want to go back for seconds.

Montreal Canadiens: Marc Bergevin doesn't want to make any big free agent acquisitions this summer because "history shows that free agency isn't the best tool." And also because he needs to save a ton of money to pay through the nose for that Norris-winning defenseman he should have had locked up for another four seasons before this winter.

Nashville Predators: The Preds gave out 1,904 comped tickets per game last season, almost triple the number seen in each of the previous two years. For one game against San Jose in mid-February, which was announced as a sellout, they gave away nearly 4,400.

New Jersey Devils

: The Devils have no plans to use any of their compliance buyouts at this time but that doesn't mean they won't. The window could open as soon as Wednesday night.

New York Islanders: Go give blood at Nassau Coliseum on June 30 and you'll get two tickets to an Islanders game and a free burrito. Hell, I might make the trip.

New York Rangers: An exclusive Q&A with Alain Vigneault, and we are now taking bets on the first thing brought up by the interviewer, Steve Serby. The power play, you guess? Rick Nash, you conjecture? Henrik Lundqvist's discontentedness, you believe? Fixing a frosty relationship between team and media, you suppose? No, it was none of those things. Of course it was 1994.

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson was not invited to the Swedish Olympic evaluation camp. I guess that kind of makes sense.

Philadelphia Flyers: Here is a shocking and controversial opinion column on how the Flyers should buy out Ilya Bryzgalov.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 318 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. Meanwhile, July 2 (a week from tomorrow) is the latest "key date" in this ongoing saga, as the Glendale City Council is going to hold a public vote on whether to approve a new proposal or something and I don't know who even cares about this any more like I mean seriously what's even the point just forget it already.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Ray Shero says the Pens are preparing a contract offer for Kris Letang and don't plan to trade James Neal. You probably would have guessed both of those things.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks seem unlikely to bring backup Tomas Greiss back to play behind Antti Niemi and will instead turn to former college standout Alex Stalock, who's been toiling away in the minors (with just three NHL appearances) since 2009.

St. Louis Blues: David Backes loves animal welfare and is an American hero. What a guy.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts and their AHL captain, Mike Angelidis, appear somewhat close to a deal that might give the 27-year-old a chance to crack the NHL roster this year. Leadership and all that.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Do you think Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis know James Reimer is really good or do you think maybe they spent a little too much time during the Boston series reading about how he's "vulnerable" or whatever? Anyway, this is a nonsense trade that only marginally improves their backup goaltending and it's stupid.

Vancouver Canucks: Canucks fans might want to wear ponchos to the games next season because the tears that will surely flow down from the press box about this Tortorella decision ensure that every seat will be in the Splash Zone.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals should not sign Danny Briere, writes a reasonable person.

Winnipeg Jets: Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian were on hand at a Winnipeg Goldeyes doubleheader to throw out the first pitch and damn if Trouba didn't zip a strike right in there. Is there anything he can't do? Of course not. He's American.

Play of the Weekend

Hey look another Blackhawks goal in transition. Who saw this coming? Oh right, it was everyone.

Gold Star Award

Patrick Kane is really starting to bring the heat here now that he's not getting a face full of Patrice Bergeron every shift.

Minus of the Weekend

People are loving the fact that Zdeno Chara was out there for eight of the last nine Chicago goals but hoo boy Dennis Seidenberg has been real bad these last two games and no one seems to care all that much. Benefit of not-being 6-foot-9, I guess.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
Judging by the handle of user "MikeSens" I can only surmise he is a Senators fan but this proposal goes opposites of that.


1st overall
1st in 2014

Well then.


I'll take the standard room. One key, one shampoo, and no conditioner.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.