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Blackhawks’ top line breaks down Bruins defense at crucial moments

06.25.13 at 2:18 am ET
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With less than two minutes remaining in Game 6 and the Bruins protecting a 2-1 lead, the time had come for both Boston and Chicago to do what they’d been known for this postseason: For the former, play airtight defense. For the latter, cut to the net and find a way to make something happen on offense.

In the end, it was the unstoppable force of Chicago’s scorers that budged the once-immovable Bruins defense, scoring a goal against each of the Bruins’ top two defensive pairs in the game’s final 90 seconds to secure the Stanley Cup victory.

Patrick Kane lifted the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP, earning it with nine goals and 10 assists (second only to David Krejci in points). But it was his whole line, with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, that exploited the crack they saw in the B’s defensive zone coverage as regulation slipped away.

After Kane took a shot from the left faceoff dot, Toews grabbed the puck when it came out of a scrum low in the Bruins’ zone and found Bickell in front of the net. Zdeno Chara was between Toews and Bickell, but couldn’t react fast enough to pick off the pass or tie up Bickell. He was still turning to face Bickell as the winger fired over Tuukka Rask to tie the game with 1:16 remaining.

Much was made of Toews’ low point totals throughout the playoffs, but his puck possession numbers in the postseason were impressive. His on-ice Corsi number, which measures the number of shots the Hawks generated compared to their opponents when he was on the ice, was 28.15 per 60 minutes, best in the playoffs, entering Game 6.

Whenever Joel Quenneville played Toews with Kane and Bickell — in Detroit and Los Angeles, as well as in Boston — the results came for the line, if not always for the captain. In the Finals, once the line was reunited in Game 4, it combined for six goals in three games.

“He had a monster game,” Quenneville said of Toews, whose health had been in question after Game 5. “He was fine. He looked ready to go at the end of the last game, and I thought he looked very good yesterday and was ready to go last night and today. The bigger the game, the bigger the setting, you know what you’re going to get from Jonathan Toews. He just knows how to play hockey. Whether he’s productive or not, absorbs a lot of big minutes from their match-up guys and he never gets outscored. His production sometimes gets criticized.  The one thing is he plays the way you want a hockey player to play, and our captain, as well.”

Chara and Dennis Seidenberg had been a huge part of the Bruins holding the Penguins, a deeper offensive team even than the Blackhawks, to just two goals in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals. But they were both on the ice for both of Chicago’s first line’s goals in Game 6 (on the first one, Chara got too aggressive in the offensive zone, leaving Seidenberg to get beaten 2-on-1 by Toews).

Plus-minus doesn’t tell the whole story, but Chara and Seidenberg each posting a minus-five in the series indicates a serious drop-off in their level of play from the Pittsburgh series.

The other crucial element of the Bruins’ team defense, Patrice Bergeron, was nowhere near 100 percent in Game 6. Bergeron said after the game that he was playing through a broken rib, torn cartilage and other ailments that would confine most humans to their beds. With Bergeron hurting and rarely skating against the Toews line anyway, Chicago’s top line seemed to overwhelm Chara and Seidenberg.

It didn’t happen right away — the Hawks attempted just eight shots in the first period, none of which likely made Rask sweat. But they got nine shots through to Rask in the second and 16 in the third. And with the Bruins reeling after Bickell’s goal, Dave Bolland snuck past Johnny Boychuk to the edge of the crease, slapping home a rebound before Boychuk and Andrew Ference registered his presence.

It’s hard to pin an ending like this one to any neat, linear storyline – Bolland, true to his nickname, “The Rat,” darted to the net seemingly out of nowhere to bite the Bruins when they least expected it. His goal took the wheel of a series that was hurtling toward a Game 7 and jerked it sharply to the left, giving the Blackhawks their second Cup win in four years instead.

But Bolland’s strike wouldn’t have been possible if not for Toews, Kane and Bickell doing to the Bruins what they’d done to the Red Wings and Kings before them. Bolland gave credit to the top line, and to his captain in particular, after the game.

“Toews is always the same,” Bolland said. “He’s the same guy as always, he’s the same player who never backs down, through injury or not, he battles to the end. He’s the best captain in the league.”

Read More: Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
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