CHICAGO — The Blackhawks dismissed the Kings in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. But four wins in five games over Los Angeles wasn’t good enough to convince Joel Quenneville to roll out the same lineup against the Bruins.
The Chicago coach, in search of more balance, broke up his top offensive duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for Game 1 Wednesday night. Quenneville sent out a first line of Toews between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. The second line featured Kane on the right wing alongside Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus.
During the game, Quenneville settled on a top line of Brandon Saad with Toews and Hossa.
“I think all year long, the thought process has been Kaner and Toews, but on two different lines,” Quenneville said. “There’s been some mixing along the way. All year long, we didn’t change much of the lines. In the last three rounds, there’s probably been some adjustments in that area. Kaner and Johnny seemed to click in the last four periods against LA. At the same time, they’ve been apart almost all year.”
Had Toews and Kane remained together with Bickell, it’s a good bet they would have drawn Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. By splitting Toews and Kane, Chicago hoped to free one of the forwards from skating against Boston’s shutdown defensive duo.
The Bruins were likely to match Chara and Seidenberg against Sharp, Toews, and Hossa. Hossa is a bigger, stronger forward comparable to Rick Nash. The Bruins projected to roll out their first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton against the Toews unit as well.
“We just have to react to it in a way with whoever is on the ice,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Chicago breaking up Toews and Kane. Whoever is on the ice has to be aware of the other team’s players on the ice. In our system, everybody knows our game without the puck is important.”
The second defensive pairing of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk expected to play against Chicago’s second line. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Jaromir Jagr also projected to see shifts against Bickell, Handzus, and Kane.
“At this point, every line is good,” Ference said. “Every line has danger in it. Every line can do damage. It’s not just highly skilled players that are hard to defend. It’s hard-working guys, guys who forecheck, everything like that. At this point, everyone’s doing it.”
The third Chicago line saw Dave Bolland centering Saad and Andrew Shaw. Brandon Bollig, a healthy scratch for the last 14 games, was the left wing on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. Former University of Vermont forward ViktorStalberg was a healthy scratch.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 223-pound Bollig gave the Blackhawks a heavier presence against Boston’s fourth line.
Good handle on it
One of Tuukka Rask’s signature moves has been to leave his crease to play the puck, push it into the trapezoid behind the net, then dish it to his defensemen.
For some goalies, it is a risky move. With one misstep, a goalie can be called for delay of game if he handles the puck in the corners.
Rask pulls off the maneuver with a yawn.
“He’s getting a little more experienced and calmer back there,” said Seidenberg. “He talks a little bit more to us as well. He’s getting better all around and more calm back there.”
Rask wasn’t a confident puck handler when he entered the league. But with consistent game and practice repetitions, along with instruction from goaltending coach Bob Essensa, Rask has turned a liability into an asset.
Because of Rask’s improved stickhandling touch, it’s not imperative for the defensemen to retrieve every puck. Rask can initiate the breakout by settling loose pucks and shuttling them to teammates. Rask can also steer his defensemen the right way because he sees the forecheck approaching.
“He sees the play coming at him,” Seidenberg said. “We’ve got to go back and turn to play it sometimes. He lets us know what we have.”
Hall of Famer Phil Esposito played for both the Bruins and Blackhawks, but he won’t be cheering for either club. “You want to know the truth, this series doesn’t mean [expletive] to me,” Esposito told the Toronto Sun. “I have no feeling for these teams. There’s nothing emotional about it. They both got rid of me, traded me. So, screw them.” . . . Julien noted Chicago’s mobility and speed on defense. Only Michal Rozsival is not considered a sharp puck-moving defenseman. “When you look at their back end, they have a lot of Kristopher Letangs, let’s put it that way, who can carry the puck up the ice and support the attack,” said the Bruins coach, referring to Pittsburgh’s ace puck mover . . . The Bruins lost Game 1 of the 2011 Final against Vancouver. Julien recalled his players showing nerves on the morning of the game. “I think our guys were focused, but also loose in a way that you can tell that most of them have been through this before,” Julien said of Wednesday’s morning skate. “I know for a fact that a few years ago, there was some nervousness in our group.” . . . Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Wade Redden, Aaron Johnson, Carl Soderberg, Jay Pandolfo, and JordanCaron were the healthy scratches.