Haggerty: Bruins need to dial back frantic pace

Haggerty: Bruins need to dial back frantic pace
June 21, 2013, 11:30 am
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BOSTON – One thing that was abundantly clear entering the Stanley Cup Finals was that the Bruins didn’t want to engage in a track meet against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Still, that’s exactly what they got in Game 4 with a goal-scoring bonanza that registered as the highest-scoring Cup Finals game in four years.

The teams totalled 11 goals in an overtime game that doubled as sexy advertising for an exciting NHL product, and the Bruins saw home winning streaks and a record-breaking Tuukka Rask shutout streaks go by the wayside in the process. It was aberrational to be sure watching the Bruins surrender as many goals in game playoff game as they had in the previous five contests.

We won’t see Zdeno Chara standing, or crawling as the case may be, on the ice for five goals-against in one game or Patrice Bergeron saddled with a minus-2 rating anytime soon. In that respect, the defeat should act as a cautionary tale for the Black and Gold and a reminder about the bitter taste of losing.

If they don’t back-check with full commitment and work together as a five-man unit on the ice, then the Blackhawks will push the pace to fast-break levels and destroy Boston’s defensive layers.

Chicago found gaping holes in a slow, standstill Boston defense while ripping close to 50 shots on net. That is not the style or pace the Bruins want to engage in, and they got a full reminder of that in losing Game 4 in admittedly entertaining fashion, and once again losing their very temporary home-ice advantage in the series.

The series is tied at 2 as it shifts back to the United Center in Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday night. Game 6 is Monday in Boston.

“We let them have too much speed. They skated way too freely through the neutral zone, and we didn’t get in on the fore-check to create turnovers enough. We need to get back to that,” said Brad Marchand. “We knew they were going to throw everything at us, and they were going to come out hard. We did a good job of hanging with them, but we definitely didn’t play our best. I don’t think they were playing their best either.

“We’re sticking right with them. They’re playing great hockey. They are very close games and exciting games, and I’d expect even better out of both of us in the next game.”

What’s interesting is that the Bruins nearly won Game 4 even though the game’s tone wasn’t truly to their liking. It speaks to how truly difficult it is to beat the Black and Gold: they can beat teams when the game turns into an alley fight, they can beat teams when it turns into a low-scoring game or a goaltender’s duel and they can win their share of games when it escalates into run-and-gun hockey as well.

The Bruins can play any of those styles, even if they feel most comfortable in a low-scoring game where both teams are playing heavy while fighting for every bit of space on the ice.

“I think if both teams play their best, you're going to have exciting games. I think you saw [close and low-scoring affairs] in some of the games so far in this series,” said Claude Julien. “I'm not going to sit here and complain about the high scoring. My point is on our game and the mistakes that we made, the decision-making wasn't very good last night. That's not just on goals against; it was a lot of it in the neutral zone.  

"I thought we gave them a lot of space. It doesn't mean they don't have a pace to their game, but it means we gave them too many options. Our neutral zone on the counter wasn't very good. So our counterattack wasn't as good as it could have been or should have been.

“People misconstrue Bruins hockey as being rough and tumble, and not much else," Julien said. "Our game is more getting our transition game going in a better direction.  A lot of times [in Game 4] we just were standing still, and we weren't moving. That's part of what we were talking about, the pace of the game. When we received passes we were standing still, either stopped because we didn't move it up quick enough and we weren't pushing players to the areas where they either had to really dump it in. They were able to come right through it and get a real good attack going. That's what I mean by Bruins hockey, or our game.”

The fact the Bruins were only a Chris Kelly empty net shot away from winning in regulation despite playing into Chicago’s frenetic pace is encouraging. Still, it probably shouldn’t be surprising given that Boston’s offense (3.10 goals per game) has been better than Chicago (2.76 goals per game) in the playoffs. The skill of Boston’s players is one of the most underrated aspects of their team.

But that’s where the discipline needs to come in for the Black and Gold. They know they can play fast-break hockey with the Blackhawks, and probably even beat them a fair share of times while doing it. But it’s almost a “beat fire with fire” philosophy from the Bruins, where they know they need to hit Chicago back with speed, relentless attack and the hustling back-check that had previously bogged down players like Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews in the series.

“We just have to play our game. That’s when we’re at our best and give ourselves an opportunity to win: when we play fast and we play quick to get pucks deep and limit their speed,” said Marchand. “No game is going to be perfect or pretty. But we found a way to keep ourselves in it.”

Here is what might become daunting for the Blackhawks, as they continue to fight with a Bruins team that keeps coming at them: Chicago has needed overtime in each of their victories against Boston, and just barely defeated them in a game completely tailored to their style of play and roster of players.

Boston had average-to-subpar performances from Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron among many others, and that won’t happen too many more times in the final three games.

The Blackhawks still couldn’t put the Bruins away in regulation, even though they had the turbo button firmly pressed down for all 60 minutes against a Bruins team that didn’t have their legs.

Boston will work diligently to lessen the pace and take the sting out of the Blackhawks attack. It’s no understatement to say that the fate of the Stanley Cup rests on that with it now a best-of-three series for the NHL’s best teams.