Puck possession, matchups among Game 2 questions
CHICAGO -- The teams have had two days to rest, and now the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are ready for an encore to their scintillating start to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Chicago prevailed in Game 1 at United Center, but more than 112 minutes were necessary. The Bruins took a two-goal lead, then the Blackhawks dominated the rest of regulation at even strength.
Boston had more of the best chances in the extra time, but a point shot hit Chicago forward Dave Bolland’s stick and then Andrew Shaw’s leg before finding the back of the net to set off a delirious celebration at The Madhouse on Madison.
It was a contest that won’t soon be forgotten. What happens in the second chapter for these two clubs? Here are five key questions to be answered Saturday night in Game 2:
1. Can Boston possess the puck more?
The Blackhawks shot the puck 132 times in Game 1. That is a staggering figure, and the disparity -- 47 more than the Bruins -- was representative of how Chicago was able to dominate possession of the puck after the first period.
Boston found great chances early and in the overtimes, but many were off the rush. The Bruins are a puck-possession team, but they found themselves playing a lot of defense against the Blackhawks, just like the Los Angeles Kings did in the previous round.
The Bruins are very good at it, and are comfortable absorbing pressure before hitting back on the counterattack -- just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins -- but they also need to spend more time in the offensive zone. They could use that time to exact a physical toll on some Blackhawks defensemen who have played two very long hockey games in the previous seven days.
2. Who has a leg (or pair of legs) up after Game 1?
The two teams nearly played a doubleheader Wednesday night, though the “nightcap” had fewer commercial breaks. Both teams have played two very long games in recent days -- Chicago essentially played three-and-a-half games in five days, from Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to Game 1 of this series; Boston had two overtimes in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Will players on either side be sluggish? The extra day off was certain to help, but trying to recover from playing 40-plus minutes seems like a particularly tough challenge. It is possible the team with more players who feel fresh and are skating like they are will have a decided advantage in Game 2.
3. Will Tyler Seguin finally break through?
The Bruins wing has the fourth-most shots on goal in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 62, including eight in Game 1 against the Blackhawks. The problem for Sequin and the Bruins is only one of them has gone in, in Game 4 of the second round. He has four assists, including one in the past five contests.
With Nathan Horton available, Seguin will likely be back on the third line. With Horton out, Seguin finished Game 1 on the top line and was one of Boston’s most dangerous players. Seguin’s playoff resume includes some notable pop-up performances -- he went scoreless for five games before getting the overtime winner and an assist in Game 6 of a first-round loss last season, and there were two series-turning efforts against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
The Bruins could use another one of those types of efforts.
4. Will Joel Quenneville look for different matchups?
The Bruins have two great forward lines, among the best in the NHL at even strength. Opposing coaches have had problems trying to decide which one to match their top defense pairing against for the past three seasons.
That said, Boston’s top line has been the most productive on any team in the 2013 playoffs, and that trio had its way with Chicago’s second pairing, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, early in Game 1. It also created a lot in the overtimes, and that was after Seguin replaced Horton. Does Chicago’s coach stick with his plan from Game 1 -- Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook against Patrice Bergeron’s line -- or does Quenneville put them out against playoff scoring leader David Krejci’s crew?
5. Will history repeat itself?
Boston coach Claude Julien pointed to this group of Bruins rallying from a 2-0 series deficit twice en route to the Stanley Cup in 2011, but one of the games in those sequences didn’t last nearly five hours. The history of three-overtime or longer playoff games definitely favors the team that won the marathon, and even more so if that club wins the next game.
Will the Blackhawks take control of the series, or will the Bruins find a spirited comeback victory to even the proceedings? History says this is pretty much a must-win for Boston. Let’s just say history would favor the Bruins a lot less if they return home for Game 3 empty-handed.