By Allan Muir
Here is a completely subjective look at some of the key elements in Chicago's Stanley Cup-clinching 3-2 Game 6 win over the Boston Bruins:
Corey Crawford, Chicago: If there was one box left unchecked on Crawford's record during these playoffs, it was that he'd yet to steal a game like all the great keepers had. We can't say that anymore. Tonight, he was Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito wrapped up in one glorious goaltending package during a first-period assault that saw him singlehandedly repel the black and gold hordes. While his teammates struggled to match Boston's intensity, Crawford battled to track the puck through a forest of bodies out front and consistently controlled his rebounds, limiting the second and third chances that haunted him at times during this postseason. Those early frustrations seemed to eat away at Boston's confidence, leading them to over-pass or get a little too cute with their shots as the game progressed.
In the end, it was just 23 saves, but he made most of them with the game on the line. His teammates couldn't have asked for more. A+
Tuukka Rask, Boston: This might not have been Rask's worst performance of the playoffs, but it was a lousy time for him to look like the second coming of former Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert. Rask gave the ‘Hawks a reason to believe when he allowed a very stoppable shot from Jonathan Toews to slip through his legs early in the second, then was caught scrambling on both of Chicago's late-game backbreakers. After backstopping the team with such confidence through the postseason, Rask played like a guy who was afraid to lose in those frantic final minutes. With Boston's season on the line, he had to give the Bruins something more. D
Chicago: The ‘Hawks looked like pebbles in a fast-moving stream in the first, motionless as Boston's attackers swept furiously past them, but Chicago's embattled blueliners survived that rocky start and limited the B's to just 13 shots the rest of the way.
They already knew the key to shutting the Bruins down -- get their legs moving, bog down Boston’s transition game in the neutral zone and keep the lanes clogged up -- but it took the Blackhawks until early in the second to implement that plan. There still were a couple of breakdowns late -- the miscue by Duncan Keith on Milan Lucic's go-ahead goal in the third marred an otherwise solid effort by the veteran -- but the ability of this unit to bounce back put Chicago on the path to victory. B-
Boston: Zdeno Chara made two goal-saving plays in this game, swiping gimmes off the sticks of Patrick Kane and Dave Bolland with his enormous reach, but all that people will remember about Chara's game will be the poorly executed pinch that led to Toews' goal and the pass that went through Chara's legs on the way to Bryan Bickell's tying marker. Chara may have been hurt -- he handled the puck miserably in this series and never truly uncorked one of his howitzer shots -- but that doesn't matter. Boston's captain was at the center of too many soft plays that ultimately cost his team.
He wasn't alone, of course. Boston's team defense was at fault on both of Chicago's game-turning goals in the dying minutes. Too much scrambling, too much chasing, too many blown coverages. The mistakes that led to Bickell's goal were bad, but the panicked lack of focus on Bolland's winner was exactly the sort of blundering that Boston capitalized on against the Leafs in the Bruins' dramatic Game 7 comeback. Inexcusable. Only Boston's strong transition work in the first period keeps this from being an F. D
Chicago: There's going to be a lot of ink spilled over the next day or so testifying to Toews' heroics on this night, and I don't have the space here to properly honor his efforts. Suffice to say, he was a revelation for a guy coming off a game in which he had his bell rung, forcing him to sit out the third period. Toews played the part of fearless leader tonight, scoring a key goal, setting up the tying tally and setting the tone for his teammates by driving the net with reckless abandon at every opportunity.
Patrick Sharp had another eventful night, firing six shots on net to boost his series-high total to 35. Andrew Shaw -- who took a puck to the face and still played on -- was a fly in Boston's ointment, and Bickell and Bolland came through with some finish in the clutch. Other than that, though, this was a soft effort from a group with too many guys -- Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in particular -- disengaged from the play for much of the game.
Ultimately though, these 'Hawks came up with one more goal than the Bruins. What else matters? B
Boston: Everyone remembers that scene from The Empire Strikes Back, right? "Do, or do not," Yoda tells Luke Skywalker. "There is no try."
So if someone points out that Jaromir Jagr put on a clinic in puck protection or that Brad Marchand was the consummate pest or that Tyler Seguin was Boston's best forward in Game 6, you can agree that sounds great and all, but that in the end those three Bruins combines to score exactly as many Stanley Cup Final goals as you or I. And in the end, goals still decide the difference between winners and losers in this sport.
Those three weren't alone in coming up small. David Krejci played like he got a free pizza every time he passed instead of shot. Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron had nothing left to give after debilitating injuries wiped away their effectiveness. And any team whose checking line is consistently its most effective offensive unit is pretty much killing time until the handshake line anyway.
Full marks to Lucic, who scored what looked to be the game winner with eight minutes left in the third and went seven-of-nine on the draw, including three-for-three against Toews. In the end, though, this is a team that created chances but couldn't finish enough of them when it mattered. No one will remember that the Bruins tried. Only that they failed. D
Chicago: Sure, the 'Hawks blew a couple of late power-play chances of their own, but they learned to live without a power play. The PK was their umbrella and it kept them dry throughout the playoffs. They bent a few times, especially on Boston's first chance when they gave up the zone and struggled to regain control, but they never broke. Those four kills kept the 'Hawks close enough to make their last-minute heroics possible. A
Boston: The Bruins were given three consecutive power-play opportunities with the score at 1-0, and a fourth immediately after Chicago had tied it up, each one of them a two-minute gift offering a chance to tilt the balance of the game in their favor. The result: no goals and an obvious drain on their momentum. No reason to sugarcoat it: The Bruins’ lack of finish with the extra man cost them this game. F
Joel Quenneville, Chicago: He kept his cards on the table after winning Game 5 and let 'em ride. Smart man. A
Claude Julien, Boston: Jagr's fluctuating availability forced Julien to start swapping parts early on, but his experiments in forced chemistry never quite paid off. He made good by giving extra ice to the obviously effective third line, but later removed its engine, Seguin, and bumped him to the second line, which didn't do much for either unit. It was a bad call, but it's tough to hang this one on Julien. C Get SI's Blackhawks championship package here!