Bruins physicality taking toll on Blackhawks

Bruins physicality taking toll on Blackhawks
June 17, 2013, 12:30 am
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BOSTON – The Chicago Blackhawks seemed to know before the Stanley Cup Finals started that getting into a battle of physical strength and intimidation with the Boston Bruins was a bad idea.

It was certainly far away from the game that the Blackhawks had been playing to great effect during their run in the Western Conference.

Bryan Bickell has been an impressively rugged player for the Blackhawks during their Cup run, and he’d clearly be considered as such blessed with a 6-foot-4, 233-pound power forward frame. But even Bickell seemed to shy away from potentially attempting to stand toe-to-toe with a Bruins team that's long been considered the biggest, strongest and meanest team in the NHL.

“From what our team game is, we’re not really a physical team. We have more of a speed game,” said Bickell. “I think we’ve been outhit in every [playoff] series. We need to just stick with our strength. If it’s going to be physical then we’ll be physical, but we need to stick with what got us here.”

Well, it got physical in Game 2 with the Bruins taking a 2-1 overtime win and out-hitting the Blackhawks by a 50-34 margin in the process.

Some of the disparity in hits was due to Boston chasing the puck in a one-sided first period, of course.

But Milan Lucic also turned into a human Scud missile slamming down a game-high 10 hits against a victimized group of Chicago players. He took every opportunity to take a run at Chicago defensemen chasing after the puck, and rattle the boards with the kind of hit that sticks in a player's memory.

Physical B's players like Johnny Boychuk and Daniel Paille committed to stepping up and laying big licks on Blackhawks players in the neutral zone.

Paille authored a big hit on Bickell in the middle portion of the game as he was coming out of his own zone with the puck, and the red-hot Chicago power forward was invisible for the rest of the game.

That pounding, relentless physical treatment seemed to do the trick as it slowed the Blackhawks down considerably over the course of the game, and it turned defensemen like Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook into mistake-prone skaters in their own end. Keith and Hjalmarsson combined for six giveaways in Game 2, and Chicago appeared to start hearing footsteps that slowed down their transition game as the contest wore on.

It’s all part of the game plan for the Black and Gold to grind down fast, skilled teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks, or the Canucks in year’s past, and it appears to be working just a couple of games into the series.

“The sense of desperation came into our game,” said Milan Lucic. “We were desperate on pucks, and trying to hunt pucks and win puck battles before after the first period. Being physical is a big part of our game, and when things aren’t going your way you try to get yourself into it any way that you can.

“For me, that’s what I was trying to do: just get physical and get in on the fore-check. It seemed like things started to happen for us after that. We talked before the series about how important a factor the fore-check was going to be, and we need to keep that up.”

It’s already having an impact as Chicago defensemen are peeling potential battles with Lucic in the corner for pucks. The Blackhawks players must have watched video and saw Lucic terrorize Carl Gunnarson, Anton Stralman and Brooks Orpik in the previous three rounds, and are experiencing something very similar just a couple of games into the series.

Lucic leads the NHL with 82 registered hits during this spring’s playoffs, and it looks like it’s beginning to have the desired long term effect on the Blackhawks.