BOSTON – For much of the Stanley Cup final, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins played hockey on the edge. One-goal games, a handful of overtimes and the notion that one mistake, one play, can and did make the difference.
Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference called it the “razor-thin line between success and defeat.” Ultimately the Blackhawks came out on the winning side, capturing their second Cup in four years after Monday's dramatic 3-2 victory in Game 6.
And while the margin for error was small, there were several large reasons why Chicago beat Boston in six games. The Blackhawks found the right recipe when coach Joel Quenneville reunited Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Bruins and defenceman Zdeno Chara got worn down and goaltender Corey Crawford bounced back.
Quenneville showed a willingness, almost an eagerness, to change up his lines from series to series. In spreading out his offensive weapons early in the final, he lost some of the Toews and Kane magic that helped his team get past the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final.
In Game 4, Toews, Kane and Bryan Bickell were back together, and the Blackhawks rolled along.
“Just seemed to be a little chemistry there,” Quenneville said. “They get excited about that togetherness, and they seem to read off each other. Everybody brings a little bit something different to the party.”
It didn't help the Bruins that Chicago found a way to neutralize Chara, an imposing player who has the ability to almost single-handedly control a game or a series.
“I don't think there was one thing said where we really wanted to attack him or go at him or try to hit him or anything like that,” Kane said. “I think we just got back to playing the way we have and the way we know how to, especially with our team's speed, and just trying to play that way against maybe a bigger, physical Boston team.”
Speed killed the Bruins against the Blackhawks like it almost did in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boston coach Claude Julien playfully took exception to the suggestion that his team was slower, but it was actually more an indication of how fast Chicago was playing by comparison.
By the end of the series, the Bruins couldn't physically keep up, even though Julien said before Game 6 that he didn't believe his team “hit a wall” because of injuries. They definitely came in the wrong places.
Top-line right-winger Nathan Horton was dealing with a suspected shoulder problem that forced him out of Game 1 and made him a non-factor the rest of the way. Centre Patrice Bergeron, Boston's most consistent player in the series, left Game 5 with an undisclosed injury, and it made a difference in almost every facet of the game.
The Blackhawks took over in the faceoff circle and exploited the alterations the Bruins had to make with Bergeron not 100 per cent. Ference said the team composition “changes, for sure” without Bergeron.
“It's a challenge. It doesn't matter who's in the lineup,” Ference said. “Playing against a good team in the finals, it's a challenge no matter what the situations are, whether you're up or down. You treat it the same way, prepare for it the same way.”
But the Bruins without a healthy Bergeron were ill-equipped to match the Blackhawks, who were also banged-up with an injury to second-line right-winger Marian Hossa.
By the end of the series, Crawford's glove hand was healthy enough to seal another championship. Boston's Tuukka Rask went into the Cup final as a Conn Smythe front-runner, and it's possible he leads his team to a title in the not too distant future, but Crawford outduelled him.
Crawford gave up five goals in the Blackhawks' Game 4 overtime victory, then just three in the final two. In doing so, he erased any doubt about his ability to be a Cup-winning goalie.
“We don't have any questions about him,” left-winger Patrick Sharp said. “He's been great for us from start to finish.”