BOSTON -- There's a big secret about exciting playoff hockey: It doesn't happen because it's perfect.
In fact, Game 4 was probably the most imperfect game of the Final so far. Both the Bruins and Blackhawks were sloppy in transition and careless with the puck, from Zdeno Chara down to Kaspars Daugavins, from Duncan Keith to Brandon Saad.
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final was the most exciting game I've watched all playoffs long, but it was far from perfect. Luckily for us, these things are not mutually exclusive.
Sure, crisp passes and twine-seeking blasts from the point happened on Wednesday night at TD Garden, but those things don't happen at that insane of a pace without help. When Saad picked up speed through the neutral zone and blew past Chara before dishing a perfect feed over to Michal Handzus on Chicago's opening goal, it's because he pounced on a Bruins turnover at the far blue line and the B's captain didn't anticipate his speed properly.
Game 4 was far, far from perfect. Both teams made more than their fair share of mistakes, and the Blackhawks ultimately evened the series at two games apiece because they made fewer of those mistakes. Let's take a closer look at the three big reasons Chicago was able to squeak out the win and guarantee a Game 6.
The reunion of Kane, Toews and Bickell
"I like that line," said Quenneville, predictably, after the game. "Big picture getting reunited, they seem to have some chemistry. Scoring certainly helps. But, you know, it's got a little bit of difference. Everybody on that line brings something different to the party. Bicks off the rush can shoot. Kaner has possession. Johnny gets through. It's a nice combination and it was nice to see them back and productive, too."
Toews scored just his second goal of the postseason in Game 4, and Kane quickly followed up with his seventh goal of the playoffs to give the Hawks a big 3-1 lead in the second period. One of the biggest storylines of the series heading into the evening had been Toews' overall lack of offense, nevermind that -- much like Jaromir Jagr on the Bruins side of the ice -- Toews was clearly generating chances and opening up prime opportunities for his teammates despite not actually scoring himself.
"I think it makes a world of difference for you when you finally see one go in," said Toews. "The last couple days [Brent] Seabrook has been coming up to me, asking me what I'm thinking about. I have to give him the right answer. I'm thinking about scoring a goal. He's been trying to help me out, make me think a little bit better, have those positive thoughts."
It was more than just Toews getting the monkey off his back, though. In the first three games of the Final, both the Bruins' and the Hawks' top six forwards had largely canceled each other out in terms of production. Most of the offense came from the special teams or depth forwards -- for example, Daniel Paille scoring the lone even strength goal in Game 3 -- but in Game 4, Chicago was able to build a lead on the backs of its top line.
Kane, Toews and Bickell went head to head against Chara and Dennis Seidenberg all night long, and they came out on top in that battle. As the cliche goes, Chicago's best players were their best players for the first time in the series.
Quenneville bests Julien
On the road, it's not exactly easy to get the matchups you want. But as much as Claude Julien was able to get Chara and Seidenberg -- his top defensive pairing -- out against that potent Chicago top line, Joel Quenneville seemed to one-up the Bruins' coach more than a few times.
Look at the first goal. Toews, Kane and Bickell hopped the boards just before a long outlet pass from Michal Rozsival. That pass caught the Bruins on their change, and instead of having both Chara and Seidenberg out for the ensuing shift in the defensive zone, Johnny Boychuk was caught in a bad matchup.
Which defenseman did Toews sneak up behind at the post? Johnny Boychuk.
That's just one example, but look at the 'Hawks second goal: the Toews-Kane line against Boston's third line, another less-than-ideal matchup. When Julien got his way, he had David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic defending that unit. When Coach Q got his way, the puck found the back of the net.
Playing the game at their tempo
"It wasn't a Bruins’ type of game," said Julien after the loss.
If you've watched Boston at all this season -- or, really, at any point since the 2011 season when they won the Cup -- you know exactly what the coach is talking about. The Blackhawks like to play a speedier, more up-tempo style. The Bruins like to ... well, they like to do this:
They like to play a physical, more bottled-up style, and from the very start in Game 4, they never took control of the game. It's not that they don't have the talent to win a game that's defined by speed, but it's certainly not the way they'd prefer to win. It's not the type of game that won them the Eastern Conference crown. They aren't run and gun.
"We probably got ourselves out of what our normal game plan is," continued Julien. "So we opened up and we scored goals. But we also gave them some goals, like the game-winning goal. Too many times where they had an opportunity to tee it up. We'd come back in our own end and make the big circle. When you make the big circles, you open up the middle of the ice. Just things that don't characterize our team."
Things that do characterize the Blackhawks.
"I think that we played Chicago hockey today with good pace and puck control," said Niklas Hjalmarsson. "I think that we had most of the game."
"We talked about using our speed, attacking, trying to play on the inside and get to the net, and it resulted in a bunch of goals," said Patrick Sharp. "We’ll see how things play out the rest of the way."
In the Stanley Cup Final, it's rare that a team completely dominates a game. It's rare that everything goes perfectly according to plan. Corey Crawford's glove hand could be a lot better in Game 5, the power play could always improve and the 'Hawks could stand to keep Patrice Bergeron out of dangerous scoring areas a bit more. The Bruins need to slow down the pace, win the matchup battle and give Tuukka Rask a bit more help in front of the net.
One team will win two more games this season, but for entertainment's sake, in possibly the best Cup Final we've seen in years, let's hope that neither team figures out how to play the perfect game.