BOSTON — Brent Seabrook kept coming up to Jonathan Toews. He kept asking what he was thinking about. Toews is known as Captain Serious, as a one-mood man, and something was on his mind. Toews told Seabrook: “I’m thinking about scoring a goal.” Toews told reporters he was thinking about it “every waking moment.”
Toews had scored 23 goals in 47 regular-season games. The Chicago Blackhawks had ranked second in the NHL in offense. Yet here they were in the Stanley Cup Final, and Toews had only one goal in 20 playoff games, and the ’Hawks had gone more than 120 minutes without a goal. Their power play was as brutal as ever. They were being shut down by Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins’ defensive machine.
“No excuse,” Toews said. “Got to find a way.”
They found it Wednesday night. They skated and scored so much that they were able to overcome porous goaltending in a wild 6-5 victory that tied the series, 2-2.
Toews scored. Patrick Kane scored. Patrick Sharp scored. So did Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger and finally Seabrook, wiring the winner from the point 9:51 into overtime. The ’Hawks scored shorthanded, at even strength and – gasp – even on the power play. They took leads of 1-0, 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4 – and blew all of them. But they didn’t buckle.
“I know Joel probably had a high heart rate the whole game there, wasn’t too happy with some of the chances we were giving up,” said Sharp, referring to his boss, Joel Quenneville. “But at the end of the day, I’m sure he’s proud of the way we competed and battled.”
[Watch: Chicago's Brent Seabrook scores in OT to beat Boston in Game 4]
Consider this: Before the Bruins faced the Blackhawks, they played the only team that had been better offensively in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They allowed them only two goals in four games in the Eastern Conference final. So they had allowed only seven goals in seven games to the two most potent teams in the league. Chara, the 6-foot-9 Norris Trophy winner on defense, had been on the ice for only one.
The Bruins allowed six goals in one game Wednesday night. Chara was on the ice for five.
In Game 3, the Blackhawks lost star Marian Hossa to an upper-body injury after warm-ups. Quenneville kept his best players on separate lines, looking for balance, worrying about matchups. The Blackhawks generated next to nothing as the Bruins played their layered, suffocating system, and Chicago lost 2-0.
“Maybe it looks like I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Quenneville with a laugh.
In Game 4, Hossa battled through injury to play with Sharp. Quenneville reunited Toews and Kane. The Blackhawks stopped worrying so much about Chara, Bergeron and the Bruins, and they started focusing on being themselves again. They fought harder on faceoffs and won more of them. They moved their feet and moved the puck, and they generated more speed and scoring chances. Instead of settling for outside shots, they got inside and fought for rebounds. Lo and behold, they brought the giant down to size. The Bruins’ layers came apart like a biscuit.
“Credit to Chara,” Toews said. “He’s one of their key players. He’s a great player. We know his No. 1 advantage is his size, reach and strength. I think at the same time you can’t give him too much respect and want to [compromise] the way you play as a line considering the fact he’s out there against you guys.
“I mean, there’s certain ways you can expose him. I think the dump-ins that we made tonight were going to his side. We made sure we were outnumbering him everywhere we went, taking away his stick first thing. We just try not to be intimidated by his size. You have to get to the net, find a way inside, not be, like I said, intimidated by that. We can outwork him, and we did that.”
The only problem was, as the pucks poured past Tuukka Rask, who gave up six goals for only the second time ever, they poured into the Chicago net, too. Corey Crawford looked like the goaltender who gave up too many softies in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes last year and not the one who entered the game with a 1.73 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
Crawford was being painted as disrespected. He was being touted as a candidate for the Canadian Olympic team in 2014. But with Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman in town for the NHL general managers’ meetings, Crawford forgot to bring his glove.
[Video: See all 11 goals scored by Blackhawks, Bruins in Game 4]
One of the Bruins’ goals was an incredible fluke – the puck bouncing off the glass, off the top of the net and into the crease for a gimme. But at least three were clean shots that zipped right past Crawford’s glove, and on at least two, Crawford hardly reacted. Though the ’Hawks outshot the Bruins by a 47-33 margin, the scoreboard didn’t reflect it.
“It was a battle to …”
Crawford chuckled. Sort of.
“You know, to say the least.”
But the boys bailed him out, and instead of hiding afterward, instead of being sensitive about the Bruins’ strategy, he was able to keep his sense of humor.
Asked if the Bruins were picking on his glove, Crawford said: “Well, 99 percent of the shots were going glove side. I don’t know what you would say. But I can’t start thinking about that. That’s when you really get in trouble, I think, when you start thinking everything’s going to go glove. I’m just going to play the way I’ve been playing and just stick with that.”
That’s what both teams need to do. In four games, we have seen three go to overtime. We have seen low-scoring grind and high-scoring action. We have seen each team assert its style, and we have seen each team look nothing like itself. We have seen each team take a series lead and lose it. No one knows what’s next, except for this: The Stanley Cup Final is going long.
“It was fun to see the puck go in as often as it did tonight,” Toews said. “We know we can be better defensively. But we’ll use that confidence and try our best to pounce on them in Game 6 here – Game 5, sorry.”
Captain Serious laughed. He can laugh now. And think about something else.
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