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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.”

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Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane bury pucks at last as Hawks score six 06.20.13 at 1:31 am ET
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Of the Blackhawks’ seven highest scorers this postseason, just one — Patrick Sharp — had a goal in the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals. That changed significantly on Wednesday in Game 4, when the Hawks battered Tuukka Rask with 47 shots and two of the ones that went in came, finally, from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Possibly the most notable name on the scoresheet Wednesday was Toews, who hadn’t put the puck in the net since May 25 against Detroit in the conference semifinals. Toews gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead in the second period when he tipped a Michal Rozsival shot past Rask, breaking a 10-game drought.

“The last couple of days, [Brent] Seabrook has been coming up to me, asking me what I’m thinking about. You know, I have to give him the right answer,” Toews said, cracking a smile. “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. You work hard, eventually you’re going to find a way.”

Toews was reunited with Kane and Bryan Bickell, with whom he’s had success this spring, in Game 4 after starting Game 3 between Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. In addition to Toews’ goal, Kane put away a backhander in the second period and set up Seabrook’s overtime game-winner, and Bickell assisted on both Kane’s and Seabrook’s goals. The three of them combined for 11 shots.

“I like that line,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of the trio. “Big picture, getting reunited, they seem to have some chemistry. Scoring certainly helps. But, you know, got a little bit of difference – everybody in that line brings something different to the party. [Bickell] off the rush can shoot. Kaner has possession. Jonny gets through. It’s a nice combination. So it was nice to see them back and productive, too.”

Having Marian Hossa, who was tied for the team lead in playoff points entering Game 4, back in the lineup didn’t hurt. With Toews, Kane and Bickell back together, Hossa skated with Michal Handzus and Sharp, giving the Hawks two lines with a significant scoring punch. Handzus and Sharp each chipped in a goal, and Sharp had a game-high eight shots.

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Inept Chicago power play better for Bruins than Blackhawks in Game 3 06.18.13 at 2:18 am ET
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Twice in the third period of Game 3 on Monday, the Blackhawks got to send some of the game’s most talented scorers out on the power play in a game the Bruins led by just two goals. And twice in that period – just like the three previous times in the first two periods – they came up empty-handed.

In five power-play opportunities on Monday, the Hawks managed just four shots and gave up at least that many shorthanded chances to the Bruins. They’ve been woeful on the power play this postseason, converting just 11.3 percent of the time, and running into a strong Bruins penalty kill certainly hasn’t helped them settle in with the man advantage.

“They box you out,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the Bruins. “They’ve got big bodies. They blocked shots. I think we had some chances to get some pucks through the net. We didn’t. Our entries weren’t great. That’s something you want to look at.”

Entering the zone was indeed a problem for Chicago, although they also struggled at times to hold the puck in at the blue line once they had gained the zone. Several times on their first two power plays of the game, a defenseman lost the puck at the point (granted, the subpar condition of the ice might have had something to do with that) and had to waste valuable seconds chasing it down.

Slumping on the power play is one thing, but giving up three prime shorthanded chances within two minutes is another problem entirely. With Shawn Thornton in the box late in the first period, the Bruins took advantage of the Hawks’ sloppy puck control, requiring Corey Crawford to bail his teammates out again and again.

First, Rich Peverley chased down a puck in Chicago’s defensive zone and came within inches of stuffing it past Crawford on a second-chance attempt. Then Daniel Paille forced Crawford to come out near the right face-off dot to knock a loose puck away from him, in the absence of any Chicago defenders.

Finally, Brad Marchand broke free of the Chicago defense, bolted through center ice and was only foiled at the last second when the puck slid off his stick too early in front of the net (possibly another product of the bad ice).

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Marian Hossa’s late scratch shakes up Blackhawks’ offense 06.18.13 at 12:52 am ET
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In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, Marian Hossa was one of the most visible Blackhawks on the ice as they dominated the Bruins early on. Before Game 3, he disappeared from the lineup at the last minute with what was later classified as an upper-body injury.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he knew earlier in the day that Hossa was likely to miss the game, even though he wasn’t announced as a scratch until after pregame warmups. However, Quennevile emphasized that the problem didn’t arise in warmups, despite some initial reports to the contrary. He didn’t expand on when the injury might have occurred.

“We’ll say day-to-day,” Quenneville said of Hossa’s status. “We’re hopeful he’ll be ready for the next game. It was a game-time decision after the warm-up there. That’s when we made the call, after warm-up.”

Hossa’s absence, and Ben Smith‘s insertion in his place, led to some shakeups in Chicago’s lines. Jonathan Toews started out skating between Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik, and while he led the team with five shots, he didn’t get the kind of offensive support from his linemates that he’s used to getting with Hossa.

Meanwhile, Smith, who had played just one regular-season game and no playoff games for the Blackhawks this year, jumped into a bottom-six role. Quenneville continued shuffling the lines throughout the night, but no combination seemed to click.

As Tuukka Rask continued to stymie the Hawks’ celebrated offense, it could certainly be argued that they missed Hossa, who is tied for the team lead in points in the playoffs and ranks third on the team with 65 shots.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he didn’t know Hossa would be out any earlier than anyone else outside the Hawks’ organization, but that it didn’t affect his outlook on the game.

“Just found out when I received the game sheet,” Julien said. “I was as surprised as anybody else. But to be honest with you, there wasn’t any changes in our game. As I mentioned the other day when I was asked about another player, we don’t make our game plan based on an individual. I can definitely tell you they lost a pretty important player on their roster, but that doesn’t mean we change our game. I think it’s important we stick with what we believe in.”

Read More: Chicago Blackhawks, Marian Hossa,
Bruins’ physical play helped lift them back into Game 2 06.16.13 at 8:47 pm ET
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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.

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Claude Julien on Tyler Seguin: ‘As long as he’s growing and getting better, I’m going to keep supporting him’ 06.16.13 at 3:05 pm ET
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Given the speed and skill that allow him to take over a hockey game at his best, it’s easy to forget that Tyler Seguin is still younger than most college seniors. While Seguin hasn’t often played the game he’s capable of in these playoffs, Bruins coach Claude Julien, impressed with his young forward’s effort in Game 2 on Saturday, reminded reporters of Seguin’s relative inexperience on Sunday.

“He’s only a 21-year-old kid – this is his third year,” Julien said. “Sometimes patience doesn’t mean just for one year. Patience means a little more than a year. As long as he’s growing and getting better, I’m going to keep supporting him.”

Despite receiving a rogue fourth-place vote for the Selke trophy as the league’s best defensive forward this year, defense has not been a hallmark of Seguin’s game through the first three years of his career. In Game 2, though, he made a few plays of which Patrice Bergeron might have been proud, forcing turnovers and breaking up Blackhawks plays.

More notably, Seguin was alert enough to take advantage of a failed breakout pass in overtime on Sunday, setting Daniel Paille up with all kinds of space to score the game-winner. Seguin was skating with Paille and Chris Kelly, a line that accounted for both of the Bruins’ Game 2 goals, making perhaps his biggest contribution of the postseason in a bottom-six role.

“Yeah, very easy to play with,” Seguin said of Paille. “I think we’€™ve both got some good speed and we use each other. Obviously, I think [Kelly] is a very responsible centerman – definitely does the extra work. I think us three as a line worked out well.”

True, one game won’t change the perception that Seguin doesn’t quite meet his potential in the playoffs. This year, he has one goal and five assists through 18 games. That’s in line with his numbers from 2011, when he saw limited time: three goals and four assists through 13 games.

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Andy Brickley on M&M: Tuukka Rask was a better goalie than Henrik Lundqvist this year 05.08.13 at 2:15 pm ET
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NESN’s Andy Brickley talked with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday about the Bruins’ top two lines, his thoughts on Tuukka Rask being passed over for a Vezina nomination, and what he’s seen from the Leafs’ top scoring threats so far.

Brickley said he was surprised and disappointed that Rask wasn’t nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie (Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Niemi and Sergei Bobrovsky are the nominees). He said he thought Lundqvist only edged Rask because the Bruins were a stronger defensive team than the Rangers, making Rask’s achievements look less impressive to some.

“Why don’t you compare defensive systems to defensive systems and not have that be part of it — just have the eyeball test and say, who were the top three goalies in the league this year?” Brickley said. “And I would not put Lundqvist ahead of Rask even if the numbers were that similar. Rask was a better goalie than Lundqvist this year.”

With Game 3 in Toronto under the Bruins’ belts and Game 4 coming up tonight, Brickley said he’s been impressed by the Leafs’ home atmosphere.

“It reminded me a lot of what Montreal can bring in the postseason, but this one had a different feel because they hadn’t had a playoff game in eight or nine years,” he said. “It was almost as if it had a similar atmosphere to the finals in 2011 in Vancouver. That’s how much they wanted something special to happen in Game 3. But the Bruins would not allow it to happen — they played a real smart game, something they didn’t do in Game 2.”

Part of the Bruins’ success has been the performance of David Krejci‘s line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Brickley said it’s no surprise to see Krejci play well in the postseason, but that his linemates’ improved play has helped him stand out as well.

“He was dealing with a couple of guys that were underperforming on his line, basically,” Brickley said. “Now he has Milan Lucic on top of his game, doing the things that he does best. Nathan Horton was still trying to find his way, he wasn’t making any plays, he was mishandling the puck, and now he’s doing what he does best, and that’s score goals. David Krejci’s history and resume suggested that he would be a really good player in the postseason and now he has these two weapons with him playing up to their capabilities.”

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