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Between the Dots: No panic in Blackhawks

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Ben Smith was a surprise insert into the lineup Monday night (Photo by Getty Images).

BOSTON—After Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night, Tuukka Rask told all about an unofficial head count he had performed. During that first period at the United Center, he said it surely seemed as though the home team had more bodies on the ice than the Boston Bruins. Being their goalie, he should be a fairly reliable judge of traffic flow.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, not since then have they appeared to have more bodies on the ice. Even when they are skating with a man advantage, they do not appear to have more bodies on the ice. Since their opening salvo that evening—a 19-4 bulge in shots and a goal by Patrick Sharp—the Blackhawks have neither scored nor won.

That’s a lot of hockey, folks. More than six periods, counting overtime and Monday night’s 2-0 setback at TD Garden. The Blackhawks thus dropped their fourth consecutive Game 3 in this playoff journey. Obviously, that trend has not damaged their chances of a championship too seriously, because they are still chasing it. In fact, the vanquished captain might be feeling better than people back home.

“We aren’t going to panic and we aren’t worried,” insisted Jonathan Toews. He forecast immediate remedies by Game 4 Wednesday night, even if Marian Hossa cannot return from an injury that resulted in his being scratched after the warmup Monday night. Toews indicated that Hossa’s problem, whatever it is, did not come as a complete surprise to teammates.

But Ben Smith, a member of the Black Aces, was not told to don his No. 28 white sweater until late. A Connecticut lad who had played numerous games in this building as a Boston College Eagle, Smith had a leisurely afternoon lunch with mother Marguerita while dad stayed at work, a couple hours away.

“She went back home,” said Smith. “If they’d have known I was going to be in the lineup... but that’s what we do. The guys who are extras stay ready just in case.”

Hossa’s absence in part precipitated comprehensive alterations of forward combinations by Joel Quenneville, who began the evening with Toews centering for Marcus Kruger and his fellow penalty killing specialist, Michael Frolik, against the David Krejci line. Whatever Coach Q and his Blackhawks did, however, the Bruins did better. Rask stopped 28 shots, was selected second star, and got help from a post late, but he did not suffer from overwork on a warm spring night.

The Blackhawks fired a number of pucks into him or his glove, a symptom of what occurred for 60 minutes. The Bruins pressure throughout three zones, not least significantly the neutral zone. They are dangerous without the puck, too, and when they aren’t blocking shots, they’re cutting off lanes and angles.

In small print, you will note that the Blackhawks again failed to produce on power plays and that they were swamped on faceoffs, 40-16. But the big picture is this: the Bruins, who could have been in a world of hurt had the Blackhawks put them away Saturday night, are halfway to a Stanley Cup and gaining steam.

Daniel Paille, who beat them in that Game 2, scored Monday night off an assist by Chris Kelly. Coach Claude Julien, who can also tinker, saw something he liked about those two toward season’s end, and they looked quite complementary again Monday night. Paille’s marker, early in the second period, was at even strength, although the rink did feel like it was tilting slightly toward Corey Crawford’s cage.

As the period moved along, the Blackhawks took penalties out of abject desperation. Dave Bolland cross-checked Kelly into Crawford at the 12-minute mark. As he prepared to rejoin play, Niklas Hjalmarsson tripped Paille into Crawford. Just as Bolland was paroled, three Bruins set up in front of Crawford, parallel to the goal line. Jaromir Jagr passed from the right, past Milan Lucic (and Brent Seabrook) to Patrice Bergeron. He had Crawford at his mercy and did not miss. The Bruins led, 2-0, and were finally being rewarded for creating more chances—a theme that existed pretty much from the first puck drop. The Blackhawks expected a handful and the Blackhawks got a handful.

“We’ve been in worse places,” continued Toews in the tiny visitors’ locker room. “We did a lot of good things. We know we have to do better.”

Specifically, Toews cited a need to penetrate the Bruins’ blanket and create screens so Rask doesn’t act as though he’s playing catch with shooters. But these things take time, and space, and the Bruins take kindly to providing neither.

At the end, Bryan Bickell (11:43 ice time) tangled with Zdeno Chara, which is like taming an octopus, and Andrew Shaw fought Brad Marchand. Penalties will not carry over to Game 4 Wednesday night, but grudges might.

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