BOSTON -- Hockey is stupid.
The Chicago Blackhawks utterly dominated Game 2 back at United Center on Saturday night, at times making it seem like they were playing the Providence Bruins, not the ones from Boston. They ran into a red-hot Tuukka Rask, and eventually, the Bruins got a few bounces and tied up the game at a time when they should've been run out of the building. From there, they turned up the temperature a bit before Daniel Paille won it in overtime.
The Blackhawks lost their home-ice advantage and hopped on a flight to Logan tied 1-1 in the Stanley Cup Final. They should've been up 2-0, and that's a statement you probably agree with even if you sound like this guy.
Hockey is great.
That's the TD Garden crowd in front of which the Bruins stepped on the ice Monday night in Game 3, somehow shockingly even in the series with the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final despite a pitiful showing for most of both Games 1 and 2. From the second the puck dropped, the extra jump the B's had was evident, and it was clear that the amped-up crowd had a whole lot to do with it. It wouldn't have been the same if Boston had trailed 0-2 coming into the night.
The crowd collectively sucked the air out of TD Garden with each Blackhawks shot on goal, exhaling in applause only when Rask gloved it or sticked it aside with ease. They would do this 28 different times throughout the evening, and would not once blow that air back into Boston with the stench of disappointment.
Jonathan Toews said that as early as Monday morning, they knew Marian Hossa probably wasn't going to suit up for the game. As it turns out, he did suit up ... and then swiftly skated to the bench minutes into pregame warmups. No idea what's wrong with him, but it was pretty clear Chicago could've used him.
Hossa's absence from the lineup made Claude Julien's job as B's coach a million times easier, even if he said he never changed his game plan for one player. It's pretty simple: Split up defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, match one against Toews' line and one against Patrick Kane's line, and boom. That's torment for Joel Quenneville and the 'Hawks. Without Hossa, they immediately lose the depth edge. One player can have that impact, and at this stage of the season, could literally cost a team the Stanley Cup.
Hockey is unfair.
Hockey is fair.
Hossa's loss was huge, and it cost Chicago its ability to utterly dominate at even strength like they had through most of the first two games. But it wasn't the reason they lost.
"When you look at the matchups, it just kind of seems to even itself out," said Julien. "Their top lines, our top lines. Our top lines haven't scored that much five‑on‑five either. It's the [third] line that gives us that goal five‑on‑five. Right now, it just seems that both teams are very aware of the other team's top players. Playing a chess match right now."
Daniel Paille is on Julien's fourth line, and his goal turned out to be the game-winner in Game 3. Brad Marchand can flub a breakaway in the first period and Jonathan Toews can miss on a few prime scoring chances, but that's all canceled out. It's been third and fourth line guys who have made the difference so far in every game of this Stanley Cup Final. Winning the chess match.
At even strength, the Bruins play like they're killing a penalty. They're in your face, and if you don't watch out, Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara will certainly make sure you do next time. When they have to kill a penalty, they just play like they're playing 5-on-5. Sure, the formation changes and the icepeople get fewer, and I guess even the objective changes a bit too. But the mentality does not.
"It's our back check," coach Claude Julien said of the similarities between their even strength game and their shorthanded game. "Our guys are understanding one thing: [Chicago] is a team, when it attacks, it attacks with four, never three. They've got such great skaters back there on the fence that if we don't do what we're doing right now, we don't stand a chance. Our guys, like I've said, they've committed to that. They realize how important it is to come back. We're trying to support each other that way and trying to keep it as tight as possible."
This is why the Bruins are so successful at completely controlling the Blackhawks' star power on the PK in the Final, and it's why they had the league's fourth-best penalty kill during the regular season.
It's a formula that's worked all season long for them, because hockey goes according to plan.
Hockey never goes according to plan.
Chicago hasn't been able to slice and dice Boston's PK units, and all season long, the league's best team has been one of its mediocre power play threats. With Toews and Kane and Hossa and Patrick Sharp among others, you'd expect Pittsburgh-like power from Chicago when they're a man up. Instead, stuff like this has become commonplace:
Joel Quenneville's team still probably deserves a better outlook as we head into Game 4 on Wednesday, given their body of work so far in the Cup Final. They squeaked out a triple-overtime win despite dominating play through more than half of Game 1, and Boston's win in Game 2 was more Chicago running up against bad luck and solid goaltending than anything else.
And as poorly as the ‘Hawks looked for stretches on Monday, they still did play better than the big zero on the scoreboard indicated.
At even strength, the game was actually pretty equal, especially in the first and third periods. If you want to look at the big picture, they aren't far off from a series lead or even a series sweep. They're a miss here and an impossible Jaromir Jagr pass there away from sitting on top of the hockey world.
"Certainly I liked our first," said Quenneville. "Didn't mind our third. Lost a lot of momentum on their first goal. Five‑on‑three situation was something, that was the game. We got to make sure that every play is critical, every shift is important, value being out there and doing the right thing. Managing the puck is kind of what we're talking about on those situations."
"We didn't create on our power play," said Toews. "As soon as we get one, that confidence is going to come and we can just make plays. We can let things flow a little bit more out there, and I think they were just keen on us bobbling pucks here and there, and not making crisp passes. They were coming at us and we didn't have full possession.
"We've got a day to think about it and regroup. We know we've got to be better in the next one, and find ways to score, get that confidence in our game back. And I don't think we're discouraged or frustrated at all. Haven't said that."
Hockey was stupid and unfair and completely against the plan for the Blackhawks in Games 2 and 3, but it won't take much of a change for it to become fair again, and great again, and for everything to go according to plan in Game 4.