Chara and Crosby

Cup finals questions: Can Chicago break through Boston’s ‘layers’?

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The defensive system the Bruins used to reduce the Pittsburgh Penguins to two goals in four games isn’t complicated, according to Boston head coach Claude Julien.

What it takes to be successful is a complete team effort.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that we have layers,” said Julien. “Our guys are committed to come back and just making sure that there’s layer after layer that make it hard for them to get to our net.”

Of course, it helps that the Bruins have the following key players in their “layers”:

—- Patrice Bergeron, one of the best defensive forwards in the game.

—- Zdeno Chara, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game.

—- Tuukka Rask, entering the Stanley Cup finals with a .943 save percentage in the playoffs.

And that’s the challenge that awaits the Chicago Blackhawks — a team, it should be noted, that just defeated a pretty good defensive side in the Los Angeles Kings.

“We’ve seen some of [Boston’s] games, especially the last series there,” Chicago d-man Duncan Keith said. “Sweeping Pittsburgh, I think, says it all right there with the amount of firepower Pittsburgh had, what they were able to do to a team like that.”

Prior to the Western Conference finals, ‘Hawks forward Marian Hossa said the key to winning would be to use their plethora of speed and skill.

“They play a physical game,” said Hossa. “We play a quick game, and we know how we can beat them. We just have to use our quickness.”

The same should hold true versus Boston.

Arguably Chicago’s quickest and most creative player, forward Patrick Kane, struggled at times versus Los Angeles, but he broke out in a big way during Saturday’s clinching victory, potting a hat trick that included the overtime winner.

“Yeah, he stepped up,” said ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “He took on the responsibility of leading the team. Proven he’s a top player in the game, he made special plays over the two games. [It’s] nice to see him finish it off in a real positive way for us.”

Quenneville will have his work cut out, too. Can he draw up a better game plan than Dan Bylsma did for the Penguins?

Perhaps Quenneville can glean something from watching tape of Boston’s first-round series versus Toronto in which the Maple Leafs used their speed to score 18 goals in seven games.

Also worth mentioning: five of Toronto’s 18 goals came on the power play, an area of Chicago’s game that will almost certainly need to improve if the Blackhawks are to hoist the Cup.

Against the Kings, the ‘Hawks scored just once on 14 man-advantage tries and still managed to advance; however, that was against a banged-up group that had struggled to score all postseason.

The Bruins, for all everyone is talking about their defense, have averaged an impressive 3.12 goals per game in the playoffs.

 

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.