Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks takes the puck from the corner in front of Tyler Seguin #19 and Chris Kelly #23 of the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at United Center on June 22, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photograph by: Harry How/Getty Images, Postmedia News
BOSTON — On the morning of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Johnny Boychuk was asked why this series had not entered the thorns and brambles and heavy branches, the truly nasty stuff.
The Boston Bruins have been synonymous with series where flames ignited the moment the puck was dropped — hello, Vancouver — but this playoff run had been almost hatred-free, up to and including the first four games of the final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Boychuk, in his genial high-school-quarterback way, shrugged.
“I don’t know,” Boychuk said. “I can’t tell you. I know we try to be physical and you don’t want to go out there and necessarily do anything bad. If somebody goes and does something, I don’t know, stupid, then everyone wants to retaliate … if somebody gets hurt. It’s not as if someone’s trying to go out and hurt someone. It just happens as part of the game.”
Then, of course, Boychuk went out and threw what could have been the most contentious hit of the 2013 final when he demolished Chicago captain Jonathan Toews late in the second period. Toews was cutting through the middle to the net and Boychuk steamed in from his left, raising his forearms and hitting Toews in the shoulder and earhole almost simultaneously. It wasn’t attempted murder, but it was a headshot and it could have been very, very bad.
Maybe it wasn’t. Toews, who has a concussion history, did not play the third period despite asking to be given one shift, just one.
The league, in its infinite capacity for rationale, did not deem the hit suspendable. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he was optimistic Toews would play Game 6 on Monday, where Chicago could win the Stanley Cup.
It does not appear to be the kind of thing that sparks tribal warfare, if Boston even had time for such things.
“There wasn’t a penalty on the play and it was one of those hits in a tight area in front of the net,” said Quenneville, asked for an opinion. “You can be vulnerable in that area (to) a big hit. The first part of contact you could talk about, but I’m not going to go there.”
“(I see it) the same as the league,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I think they said it was clean, wasn’t it? Then I agree with them. I’m not going to hide from that. If it wasn’t a clean hit, I’d have been a guy that supported those kind of things that we need to get out of the game. But it was a clean hit.”
Whatever it was, it was also a solid indication of what it takes to score at this time of year and how the Blackhawks have turned this series into a test of grace — or something — under pressure from Boston.
The Bruins are the more physical team in this series and the Blackhawks are the team with faster defencemen and a more relentless puck possession game. They are relying on their offensive players to find the places where the freight trains don’t pass by. Patrick Kane‘s two goals in Game 5 were both cases of finding a shady spot, out of the way, right where he needed to be. His artist’s hands did the rest.
“I think when you look at the goals Kane has scored, you’ve got to give him credit. He’s done a good job of getting into those quiet areas and sliding into those pockets and the puck keeps coming to him. And that’s what good players do,” Julien said. “They find areas to go to where pucks come to them.
“He’s one of those guys and Sidney Crosby does it well, too, goes from one side, goes behind the net and comes out to the other side and kind of loses (defenders).”
But Crosby never found the right places against Boston and there aren’t always quiet places to be found. And that’s when a guy like Toews — who has been matched up against Zdeno Chara in this series, who has tried to push him around — was cutting to the net, through the train yard, unafraid. And that’s why Boychuk smashed him high and hard and it wasn’t even a penalty, because there is not another league in the world that likes to make the game harder for its superstars than the NHL.
The playoffs aren’t about Patrick Kane scoring beautiful goals so much as they are about him scoring clever ones, in the shade.
“There’s not a lot of room out there. You get pucks back to the point and you go to the net. That’s pretty much the room that you have out there,” said Bruins forward Nathan Horton, whose line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic has become a dulled buzzsaw of late.
“But we’ve got to make our own room, play the way we want to play and play the way we can.”
“Yeah, it’s very tough,” added Boston’s Brad Marchand. “They’re very good defensively. They’ve got a lot of speed and they come back very hard. They don’t really give up many odd-man rushes, so everything you get is kind of from down low. So, we’ve got to make sure we play that way, we play down low and try to get to the net.”
“The guys like (Lucic) and (Horton), they’re big and strong and try to hold guys off. Guys like me, we just try to use our speed and agility down there and try to create a little bit of room for yourself.”
But when asked if it was a freight yard, Marchand shook his head and talked again about Chicago’s speed.
Chicago is creating room. Chicago is finding room. Chicago has been that little bit better the last two games, sprinting to leads in Games 4 and 5.
They are avoiding the smash-mouth muck that Boston revels in and will likely avoid any retaliatory bloodshed in Game 6, if only because Toews may play and a Stanley Cup is on the line.
The Blackhawks want to play whistle to whistle, to avoid the whistle of the trains, and to find the right quiet places so they can scream their lungs out, at the end.
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