There’s an entire summer ahead for reflection on how the Chicago dominated the NHL as a whole this year and still found a way to win the Stanley Cup in surprising fashion, so today we’ll focus on Game 6 specifically, and how the Blackhawks snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and defeat was like “The hell man? I was gonna eat that.”
I’ll get to the fluffier stuff at the bottom, but first, the hockey thoughts.
1. Top-end talent
The Boston Bruins have ample amounts of talent, there’s not really much point denying that. You don’t do what they’ve done over the past few years without it. But there’s also no denying that they are, and have always been, light on elite offensive talent. That doesn’t make them any less of a great team – they’ve always prided themselves on succeeding as a true “team” – but there were times in last night’s contest, particularly in the first, when the Bruins dominated the play but couldn’t quiiite seem to make That Play.
In particular, I thought they had trouble making “spring your teammate” break-in passes. There were a number of occasions when the B’s had a guy who’d beat his check back to the Hawks net to be in all alone, and the guy with the puck couldn’t find a way to get it to him. Good D, yes, but at some point you have to find a way to get that puck across. You only get so many opportunities.
2. It’s Tyler’s time
This relates to the above point somewhat, but the expectation has been that At Some Point, Tyler Seguin would be an elite offensive NHL talent. There’s no denying that he’s a noticeably talented player. He’s bought in to the Bruins system, accepted a role as a two-way forward (tough to argue with success I suppose), and found himself helping whichever line he was on…all without actually putting the biscuit in the basket.
Here’s the thing: that happy fun time of growth has to be over for him. Taylor Hall, his fellow stud from the 2010 draft and inevitable lifelong comparable finished the season 9th in NHL scoring with 50 points in 45 games (Seguin had 32 in 48).
Does Seguin have that kind of high-end output in him? It’s time to find out. I thought he was one of the Bruins’ best forwards last night if not the best. Next year he should be playing on the top line line and PP and given the chance to be that piece they need.
(Oh, by the way: I wrote here, point nine, about Tyler Seguin and his sticks in Game 1. I think I figured it out: he cuts them too long. One inch less and he’d be able to better gather a handle on the puck and quite wasting opportunities by fumbling the damn thing.)
3. Fear and Respect
I have a lot of both for Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews. Some people, from birth, have a singular focus. They’re going to be the best hockey player they feasibly can, they are going to lead, and gosh darnit, they’re going to win a Stanley Cup. This is Toews to a T, and while obviously admirable, I can’t help but feel a little concerned for his brain situation.
Last night his coach Joel Quenneville admitted he’d “had his bell rung” in Game 5, which is the most adorable euphemism for “had his brain bruised” ever. He didn’t play the third, and he shouldn’t have played the next game.
THAT SAID…I played sports for long enough to know how often I put my health on the line when I shouldn’t have, and we’re talking Game 6 of the Cup Final with the chance to actually hoist the thing, and you’re the captain. If there’s any way you can play, you do. Who cares if the next month or two is spent in a dark room (you might, person at home, but I assure you it’s worth it to him). Athlete to athlete, much respect for suiting up and playing what his coach called a “monster game.”
But human-to-human, there’s still the fear thing…knowing what we know, and watching him play last night…it just felt gross at times. He took solid, hard shots on a minimum of three occasions, possibly more, and I winced for him every time. I wonder if having two Cups under his belt will encourage him to be more cautious in the future. We certainly don’t need more Marc Savard-like situations.
How ridiculously good was Corey Crawford last night? As you’ve likely heard many times, the shots attempts in the first period were 32-8 for Boston last night. I believe Jim Corsi would recognize that as one seriously busy period for a goaltender.
But for all the questions people, including myself, have had about the guy, he looked utterly confident and composed, and has hopefully now earned himself a pass from general questions marks in the future. I know he has from me.
5. Lack of rhythm
Coming off the first period Tuukka Rask only had to deal with a half-dozen shots. Then there was an intermission. Then there was a Bruins powerplay.
It’s not a new theory about overtime hockey that the team that dominates ends up losing. One goalie sees a bevy of shots, stays active, stays in the game, then…boom, one chance the other way, a goal, game over.
I thought something similar happened to Rask on the Toews’ goal, and I thought that the B’s pressing so much in the third to finally get the go-ahead goal left him in the same position in the final minutes. He hadn’t really been subjected to many flurries, so when they finally came, it was tough for him.
6. Nobody is invincible
We often marvel at feats of athletic endurance, from marathon runners to our own sport, where holy hell, did you see how long Duncan Keith played last night? The only person who played more minutes than Keith in playoffs was Zdeno Chara, who is likely the best shut-down defenseman in the NHL, and he happens to have offensive upside. He’s an amazing player.
But, as has been widely reported, he was on the ice for 9 of the last 10 Blackhawks goals scored, and at times looked like he was using rollerblades instead of metal-edged skates.
During a Game 6 intermission Elliotte Friedman talked a bit on CBC about Chara’s declining ice time over the course of playoffs, which tells us a story: the Bruins knew. Chara is 36 years old and wasn’t asked to just play big minutes, he was asked to play them against Crosby and Kessel and Nash and Toews and all the rest of the stars. His skating seemed to vastly deteriorate by the middle of the round four. He didn’t have the energy to play as angry, or to even keep himself up after receiving big hits.
Chara deserves all the credit in the world for helping the B’s get to the Final, but he had been through too much along the journey to actually drop the ring into fires of Mount Doom.
7. Uncle on the PP 1-T
Kelly Hrudey spent a few sentences last night discussing the Bruins’ commitment to the powerplay one-timer, which is a relatively successful play, but goddamn, if you lean on it too much it renders it useless. I can think of one play where Brad Marchand got the puck below the goal line and took it hard to the crease for Boston. The rest of the time it was just D-men drifting out wide and scraping the ceiling for the World’s Least Surprising Slapshot.
If you’re going to take that shot, the d-men should move the puck back and forth a couple times quick, and stay within the face-off dots so they’re not shooting fade-aways from left field, if you’ll permit me to mix the sh*t out of my metaphors. But they also need to mix in some low plays and looks through the middle, otherwise you saw what happens – harmless shots that barely threaten the net.
8. Kane Smythe Trophy
I can handle the Patrick Kane Conn Smythe win given that there was no clear cut favourite, and he played his best when the games mattered most. When Toews was on lockdown heading toward lifting the Cup, Kane scored seven times in the final eight games to help the Hawks over the hump. My only question is…
What the hell are you supposed to do with that thing once given it? I don’t mean down the road, I mean like, immediately after you take it. I saw him receive the trophy from Bettman and skate away, buuut, then what? It looks like one awfully cumbersome object, and he skates back to the team who’s all preoccupied with something else (like having won the Cup) and he’s just like… “Welp, I guess I’ll just hold onto this.”
I’m sure someone takes it for him or something, it was just kinda funny. Just Kane holding a trophy as big as him, giving people chin up “what up” head nods.
9. Speaking of celebrations
Would there be a single member of the media upset if the League or teams or players or whatever said “Hey, it’s going to be harder to get your pictures, the guys are going to skate around with the trophy as a team like the golden olden days?” I know it’s not that simple. There are wires and cameras and families and people have different agendas during their finest hour, it’s just a bit of a shame to me watching a player get the Stanley Cup, then skate it out into oblivion by himself and yell “woo-ee” or whatever.
I know it’s not practical. I just miss the team laps.
Oh, and I should also mention: much love to Bruins fans last night.
I found them extremely respectful, as much as you can be after losing the Cup at home in such shocking manner. They booed Bettman as the hockey world expected of them, they gave the Bruins a “Let’s Go Bruins” end-of-game chant, and treated the Blackhawks well. Good show all around.
And how did we get there…
10. What a finish
In my line of work, more hockey is a good thing. I wanted Game 7, so I was rooting for Boston. When Lucic scored with under eight minutes to go in the game, I figured at worst, they’d get their shot in OT. At best, they’d can an empty-netter. And then…that.
That, by the way, was amazing. Two goals in the final 76 seconds, that came 17 seconds apart, one with the goalie pulled. I can’t imagine being on the Bruins bench, not playing those shifts, and watching Game 7 ripped from you when it was entirely out of your control. But somebody has to win, and somebody has to lose, and last night provided both sides with the extreme versions of both related emotions.
For a lockout shortened season, 2013 offered some awfully good hockey. That was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?