BOSTON -- For a postseason that has had everything from comebacks to stonewall goaltending to ample overtime play, Chicago's see-saw 6-5 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night gave us our first look at a track meet on ice. After the two teams had combined for 12 goals in roughly 12 periods through the first three games, they cranked out 11 in one wild ride that ended with defenseman Brent Seabrook's game-winner at the 9:51 mark of overtime.
This third contest to require extra time in the series was nothing like the first two. Tuukka Rask, Boston's seemingly unbreakable goaltender, strutted into the game with a 1.64 goals-against average and .946 save percentage and coughed up six goals, something he had done once in 49 regular-season and playoff games. Zdeno Chara, Boston's towering defenseman, was reduced to a -3 game, just his second such stinker all year.
"It was certainly a tough outing for us tonight," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose usually stingy and disciplined club was uncharacteristically loose in all three zones. Instead of tight, secure clearing plays that got the puck into the neutral zone through safe parts of the ice, the Bruins forced rushes and failed to protect themselves from counterattacks after turnovers and breakouts. While Rask wasn't his usual self, Boston surrendered 47 shots and forced him to make several big saves, including two on breakaways by Patrick Sharp.
"It was a pretty crazy hockey game," said 'Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, whose matador glove hand kept Boston in the game all night. "Back and forth, it was good of us to stick with it, no matter how many times we lost the lead."
In some respects, it felt like Game 2, when the Blackhawks outshot the Bruins 23-6 to start the match before eventually relinquishing their momentum. This time, Chicago recorded the game's first seven shots on goal, holding Boston without its first until more than seven minutes had expired. By that time, the Blackhawks had a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Michal Handzus, Chicago's first tally in the series in 129 minutes. From that point, Chicago never trailed.
Boston made eight attempts to enter the Chicago zone on two power plays without ever having sustained possession, but finally broke through and tied the game on a man-advantage tally by Rich Peverley at 14:43. "It seemed that we were always a step behind, making mistakes we don't normally make," Peverley said."That just wasn't us."
In the second period, the ride really began.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville reaped rewards for his decision to reunite star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both of whom scored 2:08 apart to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead. The duo, who have played together off-and-on during the year, were on a line with gritty forward Bryan Bickell and combined for a five-point, +7 night, as the return of Marian Hossa from injury had little impact on the outcome.
"We look at production," Quenneville said. "Sometimes maybe we're looking to ignite. One line can get going. We don't really care who scores goals if they can get on the board. ... In Game 3, we were disappointed with our offense, so we went to the well. I'm sure they're excited about returning together. Maybe it looks like I didn't know what I was doing."
Give the Bruins credit for refusing to fold. During that wide open second period that saw a total of five goals scored, Milan Lucic made it 3-2 by deflecting a shot by Zdeno Chara past Crawford at 14:43. After Chicago's Marcus Kruger restored the Hawks' two-goal lead only 49 seconds later, Patrice Bergeron countered with his first goal of the night less than two minutes later to bring Boston back within one. Boston would ultimately rally to tie the game three times, with Bergeron's second goal, at 2:05 of the third period, evening the contest at 4-4.
The Bruins hadn't allowed a power-play goal since the second round, but Patrick Sharp ended that streak at 31 kills with a third-period strike at the 11:19 mark. That lasted as the go-ahead goal for all of 55 seconds. The final tie came when Johnny Boychuk drove a shot past Crawford with 7:46 to play in regulation. But in overtime, the Bruins' failure to clear their zone cost them when the Blackhawks got the puck to Seabrook, whose slap shot from the right point ended the game.
"We weren't very sharp in our decision making," Julien said. "We talked about having layers, but our defensemen were pinching, our forwards were not really covering up. There was a lot of our game tonight that was just average, and average just isn't good enough at this stage of the season."
"It was a pretty sloppy game all around," said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "There were too many breakdowns on our side ... Both teams weren't really sharp mentally. If you're not positioned right all over the ice, breakdowns happen, odd-man rushes happen, and at the end of the day, there are a lot of goals being scored."
Although the 'Hawks have to be encouraged by the revival of their offense, don't expect them to employ the same frenetic formula by choice in Game 5 on Saturday.
"We've had frantic paces and pushed the pace in other games and we didn't end up scoring goals," said 'Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith. "I think we just want to stick with our program and with what's given us success all year long. We don't want to give up five goals."
For the Bruins, the loss was with a badly missed opportunity to grab control of the series.
"We battled back many times, didn't make it easy on ourselves," Rask said. "Not our best night."