Brent Seabrook's goal 9:51 into overtime lifted the Blackhawks to the win in Game 4. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
BOSTON – Imagine for a moment that you’re Jonathan Toews. For the past 24 hours all you’ve been hearing about is how you haven’t been scoring and how Zdeno Chara is taking over the Stanley Cup final. Zdeno Chara this, Zdeno Chara that. Hockey’s tallest freestanding structure needs to be knocked down a few pegs, you’re probably thinking.
It was clearly time for Toews and his teammates to skate right into the belly of the beast and because they did, they co-authored an all-time classic of a game and tied the Stanley Cup final going into Game 5. Just as importantly, they found a couple of chinks in Chara’s 6-foot-9, 255-pound armor and gave him a nice, big minus-3 to think about on the plane ride home.
Chara moves extremely well for a 6-foot-9 guy, but he’s still a 6-foot-9 guy. He can be beaten with speed and skill. And as Toews proved time and again in the Blackhawks thrilling 6-5 overtime win, Chara can’t be everywhere at once, even with his wingspan.
But what was even more impressive is that the Hawks not only overcame the Chara factor, they actually went right at the big man and tested him repeatedly. And for the first time in three games, the Blackhawks played their game, not allowing it to be dictated by the Bruins. Reunited on a line with Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane, Toews & Co., were a three-man wrecking crew, with Toews scoring a goal, Kane a goal and an assist and Bickell two assists. All told, Chara was on the ice for five of the six Chicago goals, three at even strength, one on the power play and one shorthanded.
“There are certain ways you can expose him,” Toews said of Chara, “and the dump-ins we made were going to his side and we made sure we were outnumbering him everywhere we went and taking away his stick. We just tried not to be intimidated by his size. We can outwork him and we did that tonight and we want to continue to do that.”
So, now, where does this series go from here? Game 4 was one of the most entertaining games these eyes have seen in years and a large reason for that is because it was so chaotic, much of it was taken out of the hands of the chess-playing coaches. The pace was frenetic, the play was physical and there were lots of mistakes made by both teams. Will Game 5 return to the 2-1 defense-first battles we saw in Games 2 and 3 or has this series taken on another complexion? As long as the Bruins continue to drill the puck over Corey Crawford’s catching hand, you’d have to think they’re going to get their share of goals. And there’s no adjusting on that.
“Well, 99 percent of the shots are going glove side,” said Crawford, who seems to have caught onto the Bruins game plan, but is powerless to stop it. “I can’t start thinking about that. That’s when you get into trouble when you start thinking everything is going to go glove. I’m just going to play the way I’ve been playing and stick with that.”
A day after the National Basketball Association turned in a classic Game 6 in its championship final, the NHL would not be outdone. And with Game 4 nationally televised in the United States on NBC, the league could not have asked for a better backdrop to expose the game to casual hockey fans. It’s games like this one that make hockey the best game in the world. We all know that already, but it’s nice to be able to show it off to others who might not be as enlightened about the beauty of this game as hockey fans are.
“It’s a lot more fun that we came out with the win, but it was entertaining hockey,” said Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who scored a goal. “It was a lot of fun to be part of. There was some trash-talking going on between the two teams, there were some scrums, big hits, a lot of clean hockey, a lot of good playoff hockey. It’s easy to say that when we win, but it’s been a great series from the beginning.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee the rest of the series will be like Game 4. In fact, you can bet Bruins coach Claude Julien and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will be poring over the tapes of this one and filling their notebooks with things to yell at their players. That’s because Julien and Quenneville are not fans. They’re coaches and these kinds of games give coaches a lot of sleepless nights.
“I don’t think we played our best game tonight,” Julien said. “It was certainly a tough outing for us.”
It certainly wasn’t an oil painting for either team, but in playing some pretty ugly hockey from a coach’s standpoint, the Blackhawks and Bruins produced a thing of beauty. We can only hope there’s more where that came from.
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