CHICAGO -- There are no secrets between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. The team that wears the red home sweaters wants to skate and push the pace; the one in the black and gold jerseys wants to keep them from doing so.
The Blackhawks were able to open the game against the more patient Bruins for spurts in Games 1 and 2, but rarely in Game 3. Then Game 4 happened -- a wild, free-wheeling, back-and-forth battle that Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook won midway through the first overtime on the 11th goal of the night.
Now the Final is tied at two victories apiece, reducing the best-of-7 series to a best-of-3 that resumes with Game 5 on Saturday night at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The focus for the Bruins is sure to be limiting the chances for the Blackhawks, who will want to keep the pedal to the metal as they did on Wednesday night.
Just how did Chicago find so many glorious scoring opportunities against the usually stingy Boston defense? The Blackhawks were better in each zone, and improvements in all three areas of the ice helped them find ways around and through the Bruins.
Teams preach the same things when they are struggling to score goals, and the Blackhawks were no different before Game 4. "Get to the net" was a common refrain. Everyone wants to do it, and every defense wants to prevent it.
The Bruins are big and mean and don't like to let opposing players near goalie Tuukka Rask. When the Blackhawks' top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell was able to get to the net and score twice in just over two minutes during the second period, the entire complexion of the game changed.
Chicago wants to take advantage of its speed and quickness, and while the Blackhawks might not be able to match brawn with the Bruins, both of those goals were examples of how speed combined with will can get the job done.
On his goal, Toews outskated Milan Lucic to get the puck towards the net, then swung into position to tip home a point shot by Michael Rozsival. Bickell was too quick for Dennis Seidenberg to reach the first rebound on Chicago's third goal, and Kane chased down a third chance to score and make it a 3-1 lead.
When Seabrook wound up for the game-winner in overtime, Toews was parked at the edge of the crease -- and he successfully kept Boston captain Zdeno Chara away from the path of the puck so he couldn't potentially block it.
"For the most part there's just those little battles, whether it's with Chara or their other defensemen," Toews said. All our forwards were really keen on winning them [Wednesday night]. We made a point of it in our locker room. We scored a couple goals off of that.
"We were just around the net. We were getting inside and found the rebounds. Ugly goals, we don't care. We'll find a way. It's something we need to keep doing."
For a team that wants to move the puck and skate like the Blackhawks do, this is more often than not the key area of the ice. Once the puck is in the offensive zone, there is less space to create and Boston's big bodies can snuff out possessions along the walls.
Chicago found its way through the neutral zone with significantly more ease in Game 4 than it did in Game 3. Chara knocked down a long outlet on Toews' goal, but the Chicago captain beat Lucic to the puck in the neutral zone and carried it in with speed.
This is one area where the Bruins will rightfully take blame for not being sharp enough. Shortly after Kane's goal made it 3-1, Marian Hossa had a great opportunity because a Seidenberg pass went through the skates of Boston forward Rich Peverley for a turnover in the neutral zone.
There were simple breakdowns that didn't lead to goals. Bickell put a shot off the far post about 6 1/2 minutes into the third period because Kane was allowed to gather speed in his own end, skate through the middle of the ice and find him alone coming down the left wing.
"The mistakes that we made -- the decision-making wasn't very good last night, and that's not just on goals against," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "It was a lot of it, even in the neutral zone. I thought we gave them a lot of space. It doesn't mean they don't have a pace to their game, but it means we gave them too many options."
While just about every NHL team will take advantage of neutral-zone turnovers and find transition opportunities from them, the Blackhawks were lethal against the Bruins while generating transition from their own end in Game 4.
Chicago scored a pair of goals on 2-on-1s, and both came from quick defense-to-offense moves -- rookie Brandon Saad took the puck from Tyler Seguin on one, and Dave Bolland banked a short pass off the boards to spring Marcus Kruger and Michal Frolik on the other.
These types of plays aren't possible if the forwards aren't committed to helping out on defense. If they don't track back far enough, Boston's forecheckers will eat up potential outlet plays.
Kane's goal started because he, Toews and Bickell were in perfect position to break out of their own end before the play in the Boston zone ever started. Sharp had a great chance to make it 4-1 because Andrew Shaw was able to chip the puck past a Bruins defenseman in the Chicago zone to start a 2-on-1 for Sharp and Michal Handzus.
"It was something that we wanted to try and establish early, was playing as a group, playing as a five-man unit on the ice, tight together, close, moving with speed, moving the puck well," Seabrook said. "Our forwards were doing a great job of back checking last night. They were unbelievable. They really got the game going for all of us.
"We were just trying to play and play our game and play with speed. Things did open up a little bit, but I thought we did a good job of opening up and coming back for support, supporting the D. We were able to hit the forwards with speed. Our forwards are unbelievable at skating through neutral zone with speed, making little passes, give-and-goes and things like that, and I thought they created a lot for themselves."
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