Despite early summer temperatures in the 90s Monday in Boston, the ultimate wintertime sport will be played in the "Cradle of Liberty." Game 6 of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, with Chicago up three games to two, will be played at 8 p.m. Monday night at the TD Garden in Boston.
The two "Original 6" franchises have put on one of the most entertaining and enthralling Stanley Cup Finals in recent years. The Bruins and Blackhawks split the first two games in Chicago before splitting the next pair in Boston. Game 4 was akin to Mrs. O'Leary's cow starting the Great Chicago Fire for all the goals, 11 in total, that were deposited in both nets last Thursday night (Tip of the cap to NBC's Mike Emrick, who referred to the action as "fire wagon hockey").
Game 5 Saturday night in Chicago saw the Blackhawks use their team speed to create numerous scoring chances against the Bruins. Forward Patrick Kane, who had been relatively quiet earlier in the series, came alive with two goals, one in the first and one in the second period, to take control of the contest.
Despite a 2-0 deficit early in the third period, Boston finally got its offensive game in gear. Defenseman Zdeno Chara, who also hadn't made much noise offensively for the B's, finally blasted a slapshot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford to close the gap.
However, Crawford and the Blackhawks did not permit the Bruins to get any closer and won, 3-1, and now stand one win away from capturing the Stanley Cup, the trophy bestowed on the NHL championship team.
Two significant players, one for each club, were knocked out of Game 5 due to injury. Chicago captain and center Jonathan Toews who absorbed a heavy check in the second period of Game 5. But he has told USAToday.com that he's fit enough to play in Game 6.
The other, Boston center Patrice Bergeron, who also left the game in the second period with an undisclosed injury, is a big reason the Bruins are even in the Stanley Cup Final. Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Monday his assistant captain will suit up and skate just prior to the game.
"I'm feeling confident he will play," Julien told reporters.
At this stage of the season, both teams have players nursing various degrees of injury. The keys for both teams Monday night remain as they have throughout the series.
For Chicago, they need to continue using their team speed to create offensive pressure on the Bruins defense and goalie Tuukka Rask. Short, quick passes between hard-skating teammates have produced multiple scoring chances. Being one win away from a title, Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp knows they can't let up against Boston.
"It's a heck of an opportunity we have [Monday] night," Sharp told reporters Sunday. "You've got to look at the team we're playing against. They've been in much worse situations than this and they've been able to rally back and fight for their lives."
On the Bruins side, their forwards will need to be very involved in defending against the Blackhawks attack and moving the puck the other way.
"Well, it takes an extreme amount of awareness of everybody on the ice," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference remarked to NHL.com. "Our defensive game relies on a five-man unit picking up their assignments and just being ultra-aware of positioning and where the threats are."
Once in Chicago's end, Boston skaters need to keep shooting the puck towards Crawford's catching glove side. Nine of Boston's 13 goals scored in the Finals have beaten the Blackhawk goalie in that spot.
The Bruins have eight victories out of 11 games at home during these 2013 NHL playoffs. They'll need to continue that kind of effort if they want to reach Game 7 Wednesday night back in Chicago. Two years ago, Boston was down, three games to two, to the Vancouver Canucks before winning the final two games to capture the team's first Stanley Cup in 39 years.