BOSTON — The Bruins picked a pretty bad night to have a very un-Bruins-like performance. The B’s were “average” at best in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, which means it’s now a best-of-three series for the Stanley Cup.
Boston dropped a 6-5 overtime heartbreaker on Wednesday night at TD Garden in a game that was very out of character for the usually defensive-minded Bruins. The Chicago Blackhawks, facing the potential of heading home down 3-1, got up off the canvas and punched back. Those blows appeared to catch the B’s exposed early on, and that proved to be too much when it was all said and done.
The Bruins get credit for bouncing back, but it was the early hole they fell into that set the wheels in motion for a disappointing night. After a relatively tame first period that saw the teams head to the first intermission tied 1-1, Chicago came out firing to open the middle period. The Hawks potted two goals in the first 8:41 of the second, which put the B’s in a pretty precarious position.
Facing a two-goal deficit for the first time since Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins had to change their style of play. Thanks to the glove hand of Corey Crawford, they were eventually able to fight back and tie the game. But in the process, the Bruins were forced to sacrifice some defensive values to sell out for offense. Against a team with a high-powered offense like Chicago’s, that’s asking for trouble — like in the form of a 6-5 barn-burning overtime loss.
“They’re a good offensive team,” Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “When you give them goals and they get the lead, you obviously have to start opening up too and creating some offense. That’s what happened.”
In a way, it was a tale of two games — before two-goal deficit and after two-goal deficit. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the only real positive change in the way they played was offensive production. Before falling down by a pair, the Bruins were back to the sloppy play that they showed earlier in the series, particularly in parts of Game 1 and the first period of Game 2. Chicago dominated the early puck-possession battle, and that put them in position to take the lead. Those issues, un-Bruins-like by nature, were a far cry from what they showed in a dominating Game 3 loss.
“I don’t think we played our best game tonight for a lot of different reasons,” head coach Claude Julien assessed after the game. “I thought our decision-making wasn’t very good at times. I didn’t think we were moving the puck as well as we were in the past, so it was a certainly a tough outing for us tonight.
“They came out hard, they played extremely well and somehow had the better of us for the first half of the game until we got ourselves going a little bit. Those are things that happen in the finals where you feel you didn’t play well enough to win, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Julien did all he could to rein in his team by calling a timeout after new linemates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both broke out with goals in the second to make it 3-1. He attempted to rally the troops, and it appeared to help the players regain focus.
Boston eventually fought back and, despite trailing three times (including twice by two goals), the Bruins were able to push the game to overtime. That type of thing eventually catches up to you, especially as it breeds poor (and in this case, uncharacteristic) defensive habits.
“We talk about having layers. Our forwards weren’t really covering up or totally committed to that part of the game, where you saw the two-on-ones,” Julien said. “You saw it in our decision-making with the D-men pinching where maybe you got three guys maybe caught a little bit low. Through the neutral zone we weren’t very aggressive. There was a lot about our game tonight that was just average, and average just isn’t good enough at this stage of the season.”
The Bruins will have to be much better Saturday night when the series resumes with Game 5 in Chicago. Because of Boston’s missed opportunity Wednesday night, the B’s won’t be playing for the Cup. Even more concerning, they have breathed life into the Hawks.
The Bruins will have to make sure that Game 4 serves as a reminder that “average” has never been good enough to win a Stanley Cup.