Bruins get physical, able to cash in checks for win over Blackhawks
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com June 16, 2013 6:44PM
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Updated: June 17, 2013 12:24PM
BOSTON — Earlier this season, when chided a bit for being dead last in the league in hits among everyday players, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane smiled and said, “It’s tough to hit when you have the puck the whole game.”
That quip encapsulates the Hawks’ philosophy — a well-timed body check is great, but it’s far better to be the hunted than the hunter. Control the puck, control the game.
So it was easy to write off the massive hit disparity in the first period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Yes, the Bruins outhit the Hawks 21-8. So what? The Hawks had a whopping 30-5 edge in shot attempts, 19-4 on goal.
But for a team such as the Bruins — built not as much on speed and skill, but on physical play and aggressive forechecking — the hits matter. The hits linger. The hits are of a higher quality, with a greater force, and have a cumulative effect. And by the time the third period and overtime rolled around on Saturday night, the Bruins were cashing in those checks from the first and second periods — Hawks players rolling away from hits, coughing up pucks, hearing footsteps.
“Well, I figured we had to do something, because we weren’t doing much in that first period,” Bruins center Chris Kelly said. “We want to finish our hits when they’re there, try to wear teams down. We didn’t really have the puck a whole lot; there were lots of times to hit. Maybe it was a bit one-sided that way.”
The Bruins finished with a 50-34 edge in hits, with 34 of them coming in the first period and a half. Top-line winger and offensive zone wrecking ball Milan Lucic had 10 alone. The Hawks downplayed it — “I know how to take a hit or two,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said — but they appeared to feel the effects in the third period and overtime. The concern now is, will the cumulative effect of all those hits snowball as the series wears on?
“We expect them to be a physical team,” Patrick Sharp said. “They’ve got some big, mobile guys that finish their checks and it has to be expected.”
Beyond the physical effects of the physical play, there’s a mental factor, too. All teams, even the more skill-oriented Hawks, feed off big hits. The Bruins largely sleepwalked through the first period, but a few big hits early in the second seemed to wake them up.
“They definitely came out with a lot of speed in the first period and we wanted to somehow change that,” Bruins winger and Game 2 hero Daniel Paille said. “Playing physical is a part of our game where we’ve been successful. That’s been huge for us. We started to pick up the pace after that.”
There’s an easy — in theory, at least — way to combat physical play, and the Hawks are built to do it, with their puck-moving defensemen and speedy forwards. Team speed usually overcomes team strength. The Kings are the only team in the playoffs that hit more often than the Bruins, and the Hawks had little trouble getting around and through them in the corners and in the neutral zone.
But the Bruins’ physical play comes with better structure, and better positioning. They’re aggressive but not irresponsible, finishing checks but not in a reckless manner. Like the Hawks, the Bruins consider themselves a puck-possession team — they just take possession with force, not finesse.
And as the Hawks are learning, it takes its toll.
“We’ve got to be harder to play against than we were [in Game 2],” coach Joel Quenneville said. “[Making sure] we’re not deterred in where we have to travel to be successful is something we have to talk about.”