Philadelphia, PA – The Boston Bruins needed a stellar performance from their goaltender to take Game 2, but a complete team effort on Monday was what gave the B's their first lead of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Granted, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was superb once again in his team's 2-0 victory in Game 3, posting his third shutout of the playoffs with a 28-save showing. Still, this one was all about Boston skaters, unlike Saturday's Game 2 victory, when Rask helped steal a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins.
Whether it's been Rask or the guys in front of him doing the heavy lifting, the important thing is the Bruins head into Game 4 with a 2-1 lead in this series. Even better, the way they've been able to build that edge must have allowed at least a small amount of doubt to creep into the Chicago locker room.
After Game 2, which saw the Blackhawks dominate in puck possession, there was a strong chance the Bruins would put forth a better effort in their first home game of the series. What we saw was Boston frustrate the Blackhawks every bit as bad as it did heavily-favored Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals. That's obviously a scary development for Chicago, considering how the Bruins systematically strangled the life out of the Penguins in the previous round.
Like the Penguins, Chicago is stacked with talent all over its roster but the B's clearly are not intimidated by what the opposition looks like on paper. Boston coach Claude Julien has his players buying into a system that is paying dividends and in Game 3 the game plan made the Blackhawks look downright inept.
"I think these last two teams -- Chicago and Pittsburgh -- are very alike as far as respecting the offense," Julien said after Game 3. "They've got a lot of depth. They've got a lot of guys that can score from the first line to the fourth line. I thought we had that same approach against Pittsburgh."
Not having star forward Marian Hossa, who was a late scratch for Game 3 due to an upper-body injury, hurt the Blackhawks, but it would be a stretch to think he could've prevented what happened to Chicago on Monday.
After all, Hossa, a winger, would have been powerless to stop Boston's absolute domination on faceoffs. Speaking of powerless, it's also going to take more than Hossa's return to fix Chicago's issues with the man advantage. After an 0-for-5 performance on the power play in Game 3, the Hawks are scoreless in 11 chances with the extra man in this series and the unit seemed barely capable of getting a shot on goal on Monday night.
Clearly, Boston, which has killed off 27 straight penalties, deserves a great deal of credit for shutting down Chicago's power play, but there is also a self-inflicted nature to the Blackhawks' struggles. Either way, whether the Blackhawks' struggles on the man advantage are about them playing poorly or Boston's execution, head coach Joel Quenneville has a difficult task in trying to solve Chicago's scoring issues on the fly.
Still, Quenneville has a better chance of solving the mystery of his team's power-play struggles than trying to figure out how best to deal with the bad ice in Boston. The playing surface at TD Garden looked a mess (although Rask used a more colorful word to describe it in NBC's post-game interview) and slow ice is something that clearly favors the bigger, and slower, Bruins.
And it's not just Hossa's health, a struggling power play and bad ice the Blackhawks are contending with anymore. After losing Game 3 of a tied series, NHL history is now against Chicago as well.
Since the NHL adopted a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals format in 1939, teams winning Game 3 after splitting the first two tilts have gone on to claim the Cup 21 out of 25 times. The last time a team lost Game 3 in this situation and went on to win the Cup Finals was in 2004, when Tampa Bay outlasted Calgary in seven games.
Prior to Monday, the Blackhawks had the luxury of believing their Game 2 loss was about running into a hot goaltender. After getting dominated in Game 3, however, that line of thinking has run its course.
Chicago entered this series believing it's combination of skill and speed would be enough to catch Boston flat-footed, but that hasn't been the case.
Hossa or not, the Blackhawks need to play with more grit and desperation in Saturday's Game 4. Otherwise, just like the Penguins, the Bruins will leave Chicago with nothing to hold onto but disappointment and a bunch of unanswered questions.