Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were split up to face Zdeno Chara, but will be put back together after Chicago fell behind 2-1 in the series. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
BOSTON – The Chicago Blackhawks will have a new look for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night and, boy, do they ever need it.
For starters, Marian Hossa is expected to be back in the lineup after missing Game 3 because of a neck injury. The importance of having Hossa back for the Blackhawks cannot be understated. He is one of the best two-way wingers in the game and has all kinds of big-game experience. And with the Boston Bruins ramping up their physical play and punishing the Blackhawks at every turn, Chicago can use all the size in its lineup it can get.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged having Hossa back in the lineup is a huge boost for his team.
“Whether it’s neutral zone, offensive zone, all zones, his awareness with the puck and puck protection is as good as there is in the game,” Quenneville said. “I think defensively he is responsible as well. He sees plays, makes plays in tight areas, knows how to come up with pucks.”
The other noteworthy change saw a line of Jonathan Toews between Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane reunited during the morning skate. All three players have been largely ineffective so far during the Stanley Cup final. In Game 3, Toews skated mostly with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. Kane has just one assist in the series and Bickell has not produced at the pace that made him a legitimate candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy since being taken off the line with Toews and Kane.
It may smack of desperation, but the Blackhawks have to do something to get their offense going, even if it means having their best players on the ice facing the likes of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. It will mean their best players will have to fight through those obstacles to get scoring chances. It’s not as though it can’t be done, but Chara in particular has been a dominating force so far in the final.
“I don’t know if we’re giving him attention, respect or whatever,” Quenneville said of Chara. “Certainly he’s playing meaningful minutes. He’s going to be out there against top guys. It’s not like we’re keeping guys off the ice. I think the guys out there against him, they like to play their game. But certainly it’s a challenge getting through him to the net, whether it’s him or everybody. That’s the area we got to get better at.”
Whatever the case, Chicago’s offensive thrust appears to have dried up. The Blackhawks have not had effective entries into the offensive zone and are often starting the play without the puck because they’re losing so many faceoffs. They also need some production from their back end and will need the tandem of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to get more involved offensively. Since scoring in the third overtime of Game 1, the Blackhawks have fired 62 shots on goal and scored just once.
The Bruins, on the other hand, have gotten just enough offense to win the past two games. It’s not as though they are shooting the lights out of the series either, with just four goals in the past two games. But when you’re playing this well defensively and your goaltender is as sharp as Tuukka Rask has been, sometimes that’s all you need.
“This is a 2-1 series,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Game 1 could have gone either way, Game 2 could have gone either way. Can say the same thing about Game 3. It’s about making your breaks, taking advantage of them when you have them.”
• The referees for Game 4 are Wes McCauley and Dan O’Halloran.
• In their past four Stanley Cup final games at the TD Garden, dating back to the 2011 final against the Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents 19-3.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.