Each game in this year's finals has been unique, but a recurring theme in all five games has been the Hawks being the better club in terms of even strength play. The only time when the Bruins outchanced Chicago was Game Three and even in that game they lost the possession-battle. This didn't always translate to wins because the Bruins have gotten superior goaltending and had a pretty big advantage in the special teams game, but the Hawks have had the advantage overall when the terms are even. Boston isn't getting outplayed so much that they've been getting dominated, but they now find themselves on the brink of elimination. Rask's play and Chicago's bad special teams might be enough for the B's to overcome this deficit, but it's tough to overlook the advantage Chicago has at even strength. It's how they've been such a good team all year and was the main reason why they won Game 5.
The Bruins had a strong start and there were sections where they controlled play, but the Blackhawks had a pretty sizable advantage overall. They really took over the game in the second period by suffocating the Bruins offense in the neutral zone. In turn, this created a good amount of sustained zone time and transition chances for the Blackhawks. The biggest one being Patrick Kane's second goal where the Hawks effortlessly moved the puck into the Bruins zone and scored on an easy rebound chance to take a 2-0 lead. The Bruins barely had the puck for that period and the Hawks were able to establish a pretty big territorial advantage. Chicago's disadvantage on special teams didn't matter because there were only two total power plays and the Bruins didn't have any of them.
A big reason for Boston's struggles was Patrice Bergeron leaving the game in the second period. Next to Chara, Bergeron is the most important skater the Bruins have. He is their top matchup guy, an amazing play-driver, a good face-off taker and one of their leading scorers. The Bruins may have good center depth, but they don't have anyone who can replace him, so they were going to struggle the rest of the game regardless, and this is exactly what happened. Jonathan Toews not playing a shift in the third period sort of evened the playing field because he is to Chicago what Bergeron is to the Bruins, but aside from a rough 10 minutes, the Hawks were able to get by fine without him. The Hawks are weaker at center than the Bruins, but the amount of top-end players they have can help them cover up a big injury at times.
Chicago has a clear advantage now, but it will be interesting to see what happens if Bergeron & Toews can not play. Their absence is obviously going to change the landscape for both teams given how important these two players are. The playoffs are always a war of attrition with the deeper teams being the ones who survive, but I have a hard time remembering when both teams in the Stanley Cup Final lost a key player in the same game. We'll have to see how things shake out from here.
Stanley Cup Final Game 5
The Bruins were able to get some sustained pressure in the early stages of the third period but after the 15 minute mark, they generated only one total scoring chance. Considering they were playing from behind and pressing more than Chicago, this says a lot about the Hawks defensive performance. They've done a great job of putting away teams late in games this post-season and last night's game was another example of that.
Blackhawks Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell & Patrick Kane +5
Worst EV Forwards: Michal Handzus, Patrick Sharp & Marian Hossa
Best EV Defenseman: Johnny Oduya +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Nick Leddy -2
I have a tough time believing that Toews' benching was related to his play because his line was phenomenal last night. They were responsible for most of Chicago's offense at even strength and just tore up Boston's defense. Although, getting to play against Krejci instead of Bergeron probably helped a lot. Not that Krejci is bad player, but the Hawks first line has been able to beat him cleanly numerous times this series and that trend continued last night.
After Toews was benched, Quenneville replaced him with Marcus Kruger on the first line. The Bruins took advantage of this by getting four unanswered scoring chances and a goal. After that, Andrew Shaw took Kruger's place and the Hawks never looked back after that. For as talented as Chicago's forward depth is, their centers outside of Toews aren't particularly great and they might have trouble with matchups if they have to go a whole game without him. Sharp & Kane have played center before, though so they could use one of them instead but my point still stands.
Matchups have been a big role in this series and the performance of Johnny Oduya is an example of that. In the two road games, the Hawks were outchanced 12-13 at even strength when he was on the ice while outchancing Boston 25-14 at home. Oduya is a good defenseman, but he isn't the best fit for a shutdown role, which the Bruins can force him into while playing at home. On the road, however, Quenneville can use him in more favorable situations and he has thrived in it. Although, Oduya did spend a decent amount of time against the Krejci line last night, so he isn't being completely protected either. He and Niklas Hjalmarsson were fantastic last night and the latter has really been a treat to watch this series. He is playing big minutes and doing a lot more than just holding his own against them.
Bruins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jaromir Jagr +3
Worst EV Forward: Rich Peverley -6
Best EV Defensemen: Zdeno Chara & Johnny Boychuk EVEN
Worst EV Defenseman: Torey Krug -4
Carl Soderberg took Patrice Bergeron's spot on the second line and his performance was, in a word, uneventful. He had a few good shifts in the first period but he wasn't very noticeable after he took over for Bergeron. That isn't a terrible thing because he didn't get destroyed at even strength but he also didn't do much to make an impact, which you kind of need to do when playing in the top-six. This line in particular wasn't a problem for the Bruins, though. The main issue was their first line getting lit up defensively and their third line having their worst game of the series.
With Bergeron out, Krejci had to take over Bergeron's role and he definitely struggled. This line played well in the third period, but htey were also no the ice for a lot of the defensive damage in the second period. The third line was also very poor at keeping play out of their own end and they hardly made any noise offensively either. I was thinking that one of Seguin, Kelly or Peverley could take over for Bergeron on the second line since they can play center and have top-six experience but it's doubtful that any of them won over Julien with their performance last night. Although, Julien doesn't seem to have a problem with giving Andrew Ference a ton of minutes even though he has been a black hole for the entire series.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
I was thinking that Oduya's success on home-ice was related to matchups, but he actually did a phenomenal job against Krejci's line and out-performed Hjalmarsson by quite a bit. Toews' line also had no issues playing against Chara, so that speaks well about Chicago's ability to play on the road and makes them a slight favorite for Game 6. However, there is a chance that Toews may not play in Game 6 and if that happens, Chicago will have to turn to Bolland, Shaw, Kruger or Handzus to center that line and things could get dicey if that's the case. You can see that both Bickell & Kane struggled to control scoring chances against Boston's top players after Toews left the game and it could have been a lot worse if Kruger stayed on that line. The loss of Bergeron could off-set this, but Krejci's line is still very good and Julien may not have an issue playing them in a power-vs.-power situation, especially if Toews doesn't play.
|1||CHI||2:44||Kane – GOAL||19||88||29||4||27||50||46||18||17||33||44||40||5v5|
|2||CHI||14:47||Kane – GOAL||19||88||29||27||32||50||46||18||17||33||44||40||5v5|
|3||BOS||16:20||Chara – GOAL||16||88||29||8||32||50||46||18||17||33||55||40||5v5|