BOSTON -- Flip the switch. On. Off. From a certain perspective, Game 3 was an extension of the last 36 minutes of Wednesday's Game 2: the once-surging Blackhawks drained of energy and the Bruins recharged, and now a series that had seemed tilted toward Chicago has simply been turned upside-down.
After Boston's surgical 2-0 home ice victory on Monday, the Blackhawks can only grasp at solutions to their utter power outage and the failure of their usually strong special teams. "We're simply not producing now," said Hawks' defenseman Duncan Keith, whose team now trails, 2-1. "It's part of what they're doing, sure. They're physical and sound, but a lot of the things we did so well at the start of the last game haven't been there, and you see the results."
The results are daunting for the Hawks, who were never shut out during the regular season as they captured the Presidents' Trophy. Now, including the extra session in Game 2, they've been blanked for more than six straight periods. On Monday, every inch of ice seemed to have a Boston stick or body in the way. The Hawks couldn't find a path of least resistance, because there wasn't one.
Give the Bruins credit for that. At their best, they maintain a commitment to team defense that seems to have no holes. "It's hard to get A-plus chances," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "You have to manufacture the second, kind of ugly goals, tip screens, deflections. If they give up the rush, they're not going to give up much, even though we had a couple of looks in the third. The frequency of having high-quality chances in this series at both ends has not been there."
The Bruins have clogged the neutral zone, limited Chicago's stretch-passing game, and so thoroughly muffled the Hawks that goaltender Tuukka Rask's 28-save effort almost seemed like an afterthought. "The guys gave me an easy night," Rask said. "They were strong in so many parts of the game and they limited a lot of chances to the outside."
Rask has now allowed one goal or less in each of Boston's last eight wins. On this night, though, the Blackhawks' offense took a hit when their leading playoff scorer, Marian Hossa, was scratched after warm-ups. Reportedly he'd been hit by a puck. Quenneville said after the game that Hossa was day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Hossa's replacement, Ben Smith, played reasonably well in his postseason debut after not seeing game action since April 27, and Quenneville tried to find a spark by shuffling lines -- Jonathan Toews started with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, and later skated with Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg -- but Chicago still couldn't generate any offense.
Reduce the game, in a nutshell, to two power-play sequences, one for each team. This was, after all, a contest between two clubs that were sputtering with a man advantage and forceful when shorthanded. Both of those scales tipped in Boston's favor in two stretches of time.
After Boston's Shawn Thornton took a silly roughing penalty with six minutes left in the first period, Chicago spent the better part of two minutes playing catch-up with the Bruins' penalty killers. Even shorthanded, Boston got the better of the opportunities. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had to stop three. He denied Rich Peverley as the Bruins forward tried to swing wide on the left side, won a race with Paille to a loose puck, and lucked out when Brad Marchand failed to get off a shot as the puck rolled off his stick on a breakaway.
The Bruins were so thoroughly dominant that they owned the territorial advantage even without the man advantage. The Hawks, on the other hand, were in a heap of trouble. For the night, they managed one shot in more than eight minutes of power play time. "We make sure we do the job taking care of the house," said Boston's Chris Kelly. "When we do that, the rest of the game gets easier for us."
It was hard for Bruins coach Claude Julien to say what he liked most about his team's shutdown of Chicago. "I think it's the energy in the game, the effort," he said. "You see our guys, like I said, they're back-checking, having layers, so when somebody makes a mistake, you have somebody covering up. We're blocking a lot of shots. The commitment is totally there."
Paille scored the game's first goal at 2:13 o the second period, which Boston also dominated while outshooting Chicago, 15-8. Included in that stretch were a pair of penalties to Chicago's Dave Bolland and Niklas Hjalmarsson that left the Hawks two men short for 10 seconds. Shortly after Bolland came out of the box, Boston extended its lead to 2-0 as Jaromir Jagr sent a pass from the right corner into the left side of the goalmouth, where Patrice Bergeron converted at the 14: 05 mark.
"I think we took a few too many penalties and didn't convert on our power play," said Toews. "As soon as we get one, that confidence is going to come and we can just make plays."
But that assumes that the Blackhawks will find ways to do the things they haven't been able to do, except for their third-period comeback in the first game. Boston is such a solid team, with a backchecking encyclopedia to draw from and players who buy into its details; the Hawks will almost have to outplay the Bruins with their special teams. Granted, the labsence of Hossa, who sees time on Chicago's power play and No. 2 penalty-killing unit hamstrung the Hawks. But when the Bruins are converting against Chicago's PK, the series suddenly appears to be on tilt.