Five keys for Bruins to survive elimination

Sunday, 06.23.2013 / 6:31 PM
Shawn P. Roarke  - Senior Managing Editor

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins can't win the Stanley Cup in Game 6 at TD Garden.

But with a win Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), the home team can deny the Chicago Blackhawks the pleasure of celebrating a Stanley Cup victory on enemy ice for the second time in four years. In doing so, the Bruins also would force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday at United Center, providing Boston with the opportunity to clinch a second Cup in three seasons with back-to-back elimination-game wins.

However, none of that happens unless the Bruins find a way to stop their current slide at two games.

It's a tall order against the League's best regular-season team. It becomes even more onerous if two-way center Patrice Bergeron can't play. Bergeron suffered a "body" injury in the second period of Game 5 and did not return. He was taken to the hospital during the game Saturday for observation, but returned to the team hotel and flew to Boston on Sunday with the team. He is considered "day-to-day," according to Boston coach Claude Julien.

Regardless if Bergeron plays or not, the Bruins believe they can extend this series to a do-or-die Game 7, which can be their only goal right now.

"We all know what we have to do now," forward Nathan Horton said. "We can't lose and we have to come to play."

Actually, it isn't quite that simple. Boston needs to have a plan on how to shut down a Chicago team that has gone 15-7 this postseason, including a more recent run of 8-3.

Here is one five-point plan that, if followed, could deliver another unforgettable Game 7 in the rich annals of the Stanley Cup Final.

1. Start fast

The Bruins have not started well during any of the Stanley Cup Final games so far. They survived it during the first three games of the series, but it has cost them dearly in the past two. At this point, Boston's game can't be about survival. It has to be about perfection -- and it has to start at the opening drop of the puck. From that point forward, the Bruins need to dictate the pace and establish a physical superiority.

"We looked a little nervous [in Game 5], and I'm saying that because there was a couple of easy passes that slipped off sticks and everything else, and yet we were hoping to get a better start," Julien said. "That wasn't necessarily a start we wanted, and we keep saying we need better starts. But [Game 5] the first maybe three, four shifts were like that, and sometimes those things can set the tone. So we definitely need to be a little bit better [in Game 6] in that regard."

2. Crash the net

Throughout the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boston's opponents spent much of the series talking about how they needed to get to the front of the Boston net to get their offense going. Usually the series was over before the opponent stopped talking about a desire to establish a beachhead on the perimeter of the crease of Tuukka Rask.

Now, though, it's the Bruins forwards that are issuing that lament, arguing that if they can just put some traffic in front of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, all will be right with the world. Boston does have the ability to do it, too. It has a fleet of big forwards that can post up the Chicago defenders and make life difficult for Crawford.

But it is not about knowing that it can be done in theory. It is about proving it can be done on the ice.

"We need to get the puck to the net whenever we can and get as many shots as we can," said Horton, who should be among the leaders of the net-crashing sorties. "There's not a lot of room out there, so you just want to get to the net, get the rebounds, fight for the puck and win some battles. That's the most important thing."

3. Pressure the Chicago defense

Perhaps the biggest difference between Chicago and the other teams Boston has played in this playoff run is the skill set that exists throughout the Blackhawks' six defenders. Chicago is more skilled in transition than any other set of defensemen Boston has encountered.

"They definitely have a lot of [team] speed, but their [defensemen] are really good at moving the puck up and they are able to find that speed," Boston forward Brad Marchand said. "That's the biggest difference -- their [defensemen] are very skilled and very good at making that first pass, so they are able to hit their guys with speed and find those lanes."

So given time, Chicago's defense is able to cue up the transition game and put the Boston defense under duress too often, especially when the top line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell has been on the ice for the past few games.

Boston has to disrupt that rhythm.

"The biggest thing is we just have to try to get up tight on their [defensemen] and try to force them to make a play when they are not ready and when guys aren't in position. And if we can do that, maybe we'll turn some pucks over," Marchand said.

4. Play Bruins hockey

Boston has been chasing the game for the past six periods of hockey and, not surprisingly, have not looked good doing so.

The Bruins are not made to react. They are designed to impose their will and make the other team chase, to react. See Game 3 for a perfect illustration of what Boston looks like when it is playing the game the right way.

But that team has been non-existent the past two games because Boston has had to open itself up and deviate from its defense-first philosophy. Once that happens, Boston loses much of its structure and finds the opportunities to counter-attack effectively much harder to generate.

"We all need to be better in order to get ourselves back into this series here," Julien said. "We feel confident that we can. You go through bumps along the way and you fight through it. Just have to look at the other team -- they have guys that haven't produced and they started producing. If we can do the same thing, then we're going to get ourselves back into it."

5. Embrace the challenge

Sure the Bruins are hard against it, trailing 3-2 against the Presidents' Trophy winner. Simply, there is no margin for error left. Boston must win two straight games for the second time in this series.

The Bruins know all of this, but they also know it can be done. And that is empirical knowledge, not theoretical knowledge -- Boston was in the same exact hole against Vancouver heading into Game 6 of the 2011 Final. They won that game to stay alive and then won Game 7 on the road to become champions.

The core of that team remains on this roster, so the institutional knowledge is strong in the Boston dressing room. That knowledge is a comfort, but can't become a crutch. Boston must remember the work that went into beating the Canucks in back-to-back elimination games and be willing to duplicate those efforts between now and Wednesday.

"You always have life until it is over,” said Rask, who served as the backup to Tim Thomas on the 2011 team. "This is a new season. We obviously know what we did in the past, but it is not going to help us [in Game 6] on the ice. We still have to go out there and make it happen."

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