BOSTON -- The Bruins have done a marvelous job over the last few weeks of tightening up defensively against some of the NHL’s best offenses. Most of Boston’s postseason games since the first round were played on the Bruins' terms of pace and style, and the B’s did well to execute their defensive game plan once they’d sufficiently slowed down speedier, skilled opponents.
Boston’s team defense -- headlined by Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron -- led the way through the first three rounds, allowing only 1.9 goals per game. It was especially effective against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the Bruins swept the Eastern Conference Finals in four games while allowing a measly two goals.
But against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, Boston's best defensive players faltered badly. Chicago exposed some Bruins defensive shortcomings in its 6-5 overtime victory in Game 4 that tied the series at 2-2.
The Grade ‘A’ scoring chances surrendered by the B's were too numerous to mention in the Blackhawks' 47-shot barrage, and some of Boston's defensive stalwarts were most at fault. Chara was on the ice for five of the six goals allowed, and Chara, Seidenberg and Bergeron combined for a minus-7 in the overtime loss. Chara and Seidenberg -- who made perhaps the most egregious individual error, getting caught deep in the offensive zone when attempting to pinch, leading to a 2-on-1 Chicago break and a Markus Kruger goal -- had their worst game since they were paired together during the first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens two years ago.
“I don't think we played our best game tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “[There were] a lot of different reasons. I think our decision-making wasn't very good at times. I didn't think we were moving the puck as well as we had been in the past. It was certainly a tough outing for us tonight.
“[The Blackhawks] came out hard, and played extremely well. Somehow, again, they had the better of us for the first half of the game until we got ourselves going here a little bit. Those are [the kind of] things that happen in the Final where you don't feel like you played well enough to win. That's what happened tonight.”
For the Bruins, it started with a botched power-play possession where Tyler Seguin was simply overpowered as he attempted to settle the puck. He coughed it up, Chicago raced down and recorded a short-handed goal for a 1-0 lead, and the tone for the night was set.
"Where [normally] we have [defensive] layers [to prevent offensive chances, in Game 4] our D’s were pinching, our forwards were not really covering up, [we] weren't totally committed to [the defensive] part of the game," said Julien. "That's when you saw two-on-ones . . .
"There was a lot of our game tonight that was just average, and average isn't good enough at this stage of the season."
"Average" is being kind.
“It’s pretty frustrating," said Seidenberg. "It was pretty sloppy of a game all around. There were too many breakdowns on our side.
"But if there’s one positive we can take out of this game, it's that we kept going and kept scoring. That was a good point."
That they did. Despite a discouraging defensive performance in a game that could have put them one win away from their second championship in three years, the B's never gave up, rallied from three deficits to force overtime, and still could have won.
"[Give] the guys credit," said Julien. "We battled back and gave ourselves a chance to win, even though it wasn't our best game. Sometimes you got to do that. We tried to do that tonight. But at the end, you know, it didn't happen."
So now it's time to regroup and try to get back to the defensive effort that served them so well through most of the postseason.
"We know we have to be better," said Julien, "and we know we can be better."