The Blackhawks know they aren’t the NHL’s most physical team — both coach Joel Quenneville and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson acknowledged the fact on Sunday. Whether or not that played a role in the Bruins’ comeback win in Game 2 is harder to determine, but Quenneville said it’s a possibility.
“It’s hard to gauge,” Quenneville said. “I know you look at the hit sheet game to game, and I think we’re always on the underside of it by whatever number or margin. You’ve got certain guys that are more physical than others. I think we’ve got to be harder to play against than we were last night.”
The recorded number of hits the Bruins had compared to the Blackhawks isn’t particularly significant, given that hits can be measured differently in every venue. But as the Bruins worked their way back from a flat first period, outmuscling their opponents for loose pucks and seeing their hardest hitters — like Milan Lucic , who saw more time on the ice than any Bruins forward except David Krejci  — play their hard-nosed style helped them even out the game.
The Blackhawks have faced teams known for their physicality before in this postseason, most notably the Kings. Quenneville said they’ve responded to the Bruins’ big hits much the same way they did to Los Angeles’.
“As long as we’re not deterred in where we have to travel to be successful, is something we’ll talk about,” Quenneville said. “L.A. is a physical team. Boston, they’re a big team. At the same time, we can’t get distracted knowing if we get out-hit, it makes a difference. Our guys have to travel, whether it’s to the net or first to pucks, we’ve got to be there.”
Defenseman Duncan Keith agreed, saying he thought the problems came when the Blackhawks were outworked in puck battles.
“I think we want to be physical, but also more than anything we want to be hard to play against,” Keith said. “That’s being hard in the puck areas, trying to win on those one-on-one puck battles, races for the puck. Boston’s got a physical team. We’ve played physical teams in Los Angeles, as well. I think for us it’s about being strong one-on-one with the puck, trying to be tough to get the puck.”
That physical pressure made it increasingly harder for Chicago to get through the neutral zone as the game wore on, shifting possession and momentum decisively to the Bruins’ favor by overtime.
“Might have played a part in us getting slowed down in the middle of the ice,” Quenneville said. “The neutral zone, the way they check, defend, they’re very patient in that area. Trying to make plays in there only plays into their favor. Let’s make sure there’s a purpose when we do go through the middle of the ice.”
Hjalmarsson said he personally didn’t feel adverse effects from the Bruins’ physical play, although he allowed that the Hawks aren’t generally known for their punishing hits.
“I mean, I’m used to getting hit back there quite a lot,” Hjalmarsson said. “I know how to take a hit or two. I think for the most case, [we] might not be the most physical D corps in the league, but we’re trying to move the puck quick. Sometimes you have to take a good hit to deliver a pass. They have some guys that are playing physical. Just try to keep your head up, not to get hit too hard.”