Tyler Seguin’s Game 4 started well. At 5:18 of the first period, he forced Johnny Oduya to take an interference penalty.
Because of Seguin’s speed, the Bruins went on their first power play of the night. They could have grabbed a 1-0 lead with a goal and dumped the Blackhawks in an early ditch.
Instead, it was the other way around.
On the power play, Seguin tried to hold the left point. He knew Brandon Saad was challenging, but Seguin wasn’t strong enough on the puck. Saad picked the puck off Seguin’s blade and scurried away. At the other end, Michal Handzus scored the game’s first goal. The Blackhawks never trailed.
“I knew the guy was there,” Seguin said. “But I still almost got surprised by him. I’ve been very good at being hard on my stick. But he stripped me there. I couldn’t catch up with the play. It was just one that I’d like to have back.”
The misplay didn’t help the Bruins launch the start they wanted. Handzus’s shorthanded goal gave the Blackhawks early energy. The Bruins chased the game until overtime, when Brent Seabrook whistled a slap shot past Tuukka Rask.
It was the third time in four games the Blackhawks displayed more pep and efficiency at the start than the Bruins. The Bruins were better early only in Game 3, when they claimed a 2-0 win.
“If there’s one thing in this series so far, they’ve definitely had the better starts,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “That’s an area where we keep talking about having a better start. They’ve had the advantage on us in that department. We’re working on hopefully having some better starts. There’s a maximum of three games left. Hopefully, we get better starts in those games.”
Seguin couldn’t recover from Saad’s strip. Seguin had just one shot in 15:18 of ice time. He lost some of his shifts on the third line to Rich Peverley.
“I’m still working hard, but with that first power-play goal I gave up, I really got hard on myself there,” Seguin said. “You want to improve, but then they popped a couple more. You’ve just got to face the music and respond.”
Seguin had company. In retrospect, Julien noted that none of his players could say he submitted a great performance, especially in the neutral zone, an area critical to the Bruins’ success.
It is in center ice where the Bruins force the most mistakes when they’re on their game. The first forechecker steers the opposing puck carrier into the teeth of the defense. When a pass skitters away or an exchange goes sour, the Bruins are prompt to pounce on the puck. Once they gain control, they initiate their transition game with numbers.
In Game 4, the Bruins weren’t sharp in the neutral zone. They didn’t force enough turnovers. The Blackhawks had clean, speedy entries through center ice into the offensive zone. The backtracking Bruins had to chase the puck. It is not their preferred approach.
“I thought we gave them a lot of space,” Julien said. “It doesn’t mean they don’t have pace to their game. But it means we gave them too many options. The neutral zone for me, not just on the forecheck but on the counter, wasn’t very good. Our counterattack wasn’t as good as it could have been or should have been in regards to that.”
Chicago’s best line was its top unit of Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane. It was the line that closed out Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals.
For the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was wary of pairing Toews and Kane. The Blackhawks were worried that Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg would neutralize the top-heavy lineup.
But the first line responded with its most dominant performance in Game 4. Toews and Kane scored their first goals of the series. Bickell was a heavy net-front presence.
Seidenberg was on the ice for four of Chicago’s six goals. In the second period, Seidenberg blocked a Michael Rozsival shot. But Seidenberg couldn’t sweep away the rebound. Moments later, Kane scored to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.
Later in the second, Seidenberg pinched up the ice and failed to seal off the attack. The Blackhawks had a two-on-one rush against Chara, and Marcus Kruger buried his second attempt.
Seidenberg was on the ice for Patrick Sharp’s third-period power-play goal. In overtime, Rask leaned to his left to peek around a Seidenberg screen. An instant later, Seabrook ripped his shot blocker side. Had Rask not been leaning left, he might have been positioned to stop the shot.
“The goal that we gave up, a lot of times guys were just not being in the right place where they should have been,” Julien said. “Instead of stopping in our positions, we did a lot of curling [Wednesday] night, which is usually a sign of our team struggling.”
If the Bruins fix their sputtering starts, tighten up the neutral zone, and improve their defensive-zone positioning, they should be in good shape for Game 5. Despite the 6-5 overtime setback in Game 4, the Bruins rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits. They scored two power-play goals. They targeted Corey Crawford’s withering glove, which promises to be a bull’s-eye in Game 6.
Crawford waved at all five goals.
“A few goals were on the glove side there,” Brad Marchand said. “But there was a ton of really nice opportunities we had there that he saved on the glove side as well. Just lucky shots.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.