CHICAGO -- The series isn’t over yet. Remember, this is a Bruins team that’s already stared down their playoff mortality this spring.
The veteran B’s have already proven they have plenty of tricks left up their sleeve during this year’s Stanley Cup playoff journey, and they should be filled with controlled desperation standing two wins away from capturing another Cup.
One thing should be abundantly clear after Chicago’s gritty, grinding, grimy 3-1 win over the Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at the United Center: The Blackhawks are a formidable hockey team that has the right stuff to win a Cup.
There are very few soft players -- or soft plays for that matter -- in this series, and the ice was no place for any of them on Wednesday night.
Some of the lesser teams the Bruins dusted in this year’s playoffs would have already thrown in the towel at the slightest hint of adversity, but it would appear that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Co. are truly battled-tested when it comes to grinding through the NHL postseason.
The Bruins fit into that category as well, but things haven’t broken correctly for them as of yet.
The Black and Gold have to feel like they’re backed up against a wall facing a Blackhawks team that’s swarmed them with speed, forced them into crucial gaffes on the ice, and exposed their best defensive players as a step behind. Chicago has been humbling hockey teams all year long since starting the 2013 season with a 21-0-3 record, and banished the Detroit Red Wings in the second round after falling behind by a 3-1 margin in the best-of-seven series.
Boston has been in the same position as well, given that they were down 3-2 to the Vancouver Canucks in the Finals two years ago, and ripped off a pair of wins to give the organization a memorable Game 7 victory. But first they must get back into the winning ways, and that means getting the best out of the Blackhawks in a tightly contested hockey series.
“They got the first goal and then the second one, and it’s tough to play a team like [the Blackhawks] when they’re up a couple of goals, especially in their building,” said David Krejci. “We didn’t get it. They got the win. Now we have Game 6 in Boston, and we have to play like there’s no tomorrow.”
With both teams having no recent history with each other, it took some time for hatred to develop on the ice between the two Original Six hockey clubs. But there didn’t seem to be any lack of animosity on the ice during a nasty Game 5 battle that saw both Patrice Bergeron (undisclosed) and Toews (upper body injury) get knocked out of the game.
Guys were getting cleaned while trying to carry pucks to the net, or getting cross-checked in the face after getting on the wrong side of their opponent. There was plenty for Brendan Shanahan and his Department of Player Safety group to review from the Game 5 video, and it spoke to the intense physical battles going down all over the ice.
Once again, credit the Blackhawks for being able to hang around in such a nasty playoff game, showing plenty of physical and mental toughness for what some consider a finesse hockey team.
Instead of proving their toughness in foolish, fake ways like the Pittsburgh Penguins attempted in the Conference Finals, the Blackhawks are paying the price for digging in defensively and getting a constant net-front presence in front of Tuukka Rask.
Kane is the most talented natural scorer on either of the Stanley Cup finalists, but the Hawks winger scored both his goals by heading straight to the front of the net searching for loose pucks.
There are some talented young B’s players that would do well to pay attention to Kane’s willingness to pay the price for his offense. He has seven goals in his last seven games to show for his efforts.
“They have had two good games in a row, and the way the goals were scored, they were scored close around the net,” said Claude Julien. “Kane scored three goals in the last two games, and he's very good at kind of finding those quiet areas and sliding into the right spot.
“That's why he's a good player and scores a lot of goals. We just maybe have to have a little bit more awareness around our net because both goals were scored the same way.”
Boston more than doubled Chicago’s hits during the game while posting 53 body checks, and hard hitters like Milan Lucic and Johnny Boychuk made their presence felt all over the ice. The Bruins played a punishing style and open ice was much more difficult to come by in Game 5 than it was during the offensive extravaganza that was Game 4.
For the second straight game, Chicago’s best players were more effective than Boston’s best players and that’s why the Blackhawks stand just a single win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. Kane potted a pair of goals in the first two periods, and the Kane/Toews/Bryan Bickell line set the tone for the game by skating circles around Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
The Bruins finally got untracked in the third period once Julien had split up Chara and Seidenberg, stabilizing a scrambling defense by pairing Chara and Boychuk together.
By then though it was too late. When the game ended, the results for some of Boston's best defensive players were ugly: Chara was on ice for all three goals against; Seidenberg was the main culprit for both of the goals against that left him as a minus-2 in defeat; and the David Krejci line was a minus forward line for the first time in five Stanley Cup Final games.
Chicago was the better team for a majority of the Game 5 defeat, and undoubtedly deserved to win the game and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s the Finals. It’s a battle,” said Johnny Boychuk. “You want to work as hard as you can and battle as hard as you can. That’s the way it should be.”
By now, the Bruins have worked up a healthy amount of respect for Chicago’s best players in a draining battle for the Cup, and they know that if they want to control the series, they'll have to act swiftly and decisively in Game 6 at TD Garden on Monday.