The pass from Jaromir Jagr was perfect: straight through the heart of the crease, sending the puck just high enough to float over the tangled sticks of Milan Lucic and Brent Seabrook like some tiny hovercraft. It was so fleet and precise that when it arrived on the waiting stick of Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins center had a luxurious instant to collect his thoughts.
Had Bergeron taken any longer, Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who was lunging over to the right post, may have gotten a piece of the puck and made a remarkable save. But Bergeron took precisely the amount of time available and wristed the puck to give the Boston Bruins a 2-0 lead late in the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
It was a lead that would remain unchanged for the rest of the game, and when the final buzzer sounded — after a mini fracas in the closing seconds left Zdeno Chara roaring like a bear and the TD Garden ice littered with gloves and sticks — Tuukka Rask had his third shutout in the last seven games, the Bruins had a 2-1 series lead, and the Blackhawks had plenty of questions to answer.
Such as: What happened to Marian Hossa, who was on the ice pregame, then scratched at the very last minute? The chatter was that he’d been injured during warm-ups,1 but after the game, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said that “nothing happened during warm-up.” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews added that the team had been prepared all day to have to play without Hossa, who is tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with 15 points and has been one of the team’s most effective players in this series. But then why was his replacement, 24-year-old Ben Smith, so “shocked” to be told to suit up? (Also odd: Smith’s mother drove in to have lunch with him in Boston, then went back home rather than stay for the game.) The Blackhawks looked discombobulated without Hossa in the lineup, shuffling lines and struggling to sustain any pressure, particularly on Rask.
Chara was another casualty of the pregame skate, losing an edge and sliding into Milan Lucic and requiring stitches above his eye as a result. “Most dangerous warmup ever,” tweeted CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, which prompted the Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall, whose whole damn head was sliced open last season in a scary warm-ups incident, to write back, “I disagree.”
“We’re grown men,” defenseman Duncan Keith said after the game, when asked about missing Hossa. “We’re not going to worry about that. If he can’t go, he can’t go.”
Hossa’s absence, though, brought on more questions. What was the rationale for some of Chicago’s jumbled lineup decisions, one in particular: Toews took the opening faceoff with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger on his wings and remained with them for the better part of two periods — not exactly a combination the Blackhawks had gone to over the course of their record-setting, Presidents’ Cup–winning regular season. Frolik and Kruger are typically fourth-liners. Of the 658:50 minutes of cumulative five-on-five ice time Toews saw prior to the playoffs, only 77:07 of that time was spent with Frolik, while he and Kruger shared the ice for less than eight minutes. Quenneville said he “didn’t mind our start” and added that he thought the lines gave the team “balance,” but The Score’s Justin Bourne surmised that the unlikely trio was probably an attempt to keep Chara isolated from the rest of the Blackhawks talent — a flawed strategy.
Finally, speaking of flawed strategies: There persisted the big, fat blinking question mark that is the Blackhawks power play. It was bad enough that the Blackhawks went oh-fer with the man advantage Monday night — they’ve now failed to score on their last 20 chances, dating back to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against L.A. — but to make matters worse, the most memorable play during their five chances Monday night was a first-period shorthanded breakaway by Brad Marchand. (He ultimately lost the puck, then smashed his stick on the bench in frustration, nearly taking out NBC’s Pierre McGuire.)
“Our power play tonight was definitely not good,” Quenneville said.
It was insult to injury, then, when Jagr and Bergeron coolly teamed up to give the Bruins a goal on one of their five-on-four chances. It was a bit like watching a person struggling with all their might to pull a door open — yanking, tugging, putting one foot up on the wall next to it for leverage, yelling “I think it must be locked!” — and then seeing someone else glide by and right on through the door with a nice, gentle push.
“It was right on my tape,” said Bergeron (who in addition to scoring the goal also won 24 of 28 faceoffs, another area in which the Bruins demolished the Blackhawks on Monday) of Jagr’s pass. “Those little details go unnoticed, but not by us.”
Jaromir Jagr during this Stanley Cup final has reminded me of Martin Brodeur last year, which is to say: You’ll be standing in a jam-packed locker room after a game, your head wedged between two heavy TV cameras2 and your arm noodled in among all the other arms holding tape recorders in order to capture a few hard-to-hear seconds of someone talking about the importance of getting off to a quick start, and you’ll hear peals of hearty laughter from the other corner of the room, and you’ll think Oh, shit, I’m missing him.
The other day, some guy on a stepladder behind me actually rested the lens of his camera on the top of my head.
Jagr may not hold court with the easygoing frequency that Brodeur did — he’s a bit moodier — but when he does decide to sit and chat for a bit, there’s something great every time. A frequent topic is his age. He was asked whether he saw Bergeron there on the far side before he crossed the puck through the crease, and he laughed. “I’m not that fast anymore, but I can still see,” he said, “and the hands are soft — they’re still there. Give me some credit!” To a question about how he controls his emotions, he responded, “How old are you? How old? See, when you hit 30, then 40, you got to be cooled down at some point. That’s the age. No highs, no lows.”
He’s avoided some of the lows with the help of his Bruins teammates and coaching staff. The 41-year-old forward hasn’t scored a goal since April 21, despite taking 56 shots in the interim 21 games; he was unfairly slammed by Mike Milbury during Game 2 for his lack of contributions. And yet he logged 16:38 of ice time in Game 3, the most unlikely of which came with the Bruins holding on to their 2-0 lead Monday night at the end of the game. It’s not really the sort of shift that you’d envision when thinking about the typically offensively oriented Jagr, but with Chicago pulling Crawford for an extra skater, Boston coach Claude Julien may have had a plan.
“He probably wanted me to score in the empty net, I guess,” said Jagr, his distinct playoff facial hair tinged with silver like the muzzle of an aging black lab. “He wants me to get the monkey off my back, and I told him, ‘I love the monkey, man!'”3
Jagr hadn’t seemed to love the monkey earlier in these playoffs; he told the Czech press that he wouldn’t speak with them until he scored a goal. After contributing an assist in Saturday night’s Game 2, though, he relented.
Jagr said that Julien and the Bruins have “tried to make me important or happy even if I don’t score,” and that it’s “the first time I felt that way in my hockey career.” His remarks were echoed by Daniel Paille, the somewhat unlikely hero who scored the game-winning goals on both Saturday and Monday nights.
“Especially over the last year, [Julien] has been putting a lot of confidence in myself and a couple other guys,” Paille said. “With the coach that has the confidence in you, you feel like you want to do something for it. You want to deserve it. We know we’ve been able to do that these last couple of games and we need to continue that.”
Old Man Jagr’s wizened seen-it-all remarks were a fitting bookend to the day, in many ways a completion of hockey’s circle of life. That’s because on Monday morning, four of the people squeezed into the Bruins locker room following their morning skate — and I mean squeezed; this is a photo of media waiting to get in — were Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Darnell Nurse,4 who are expected to go high in the first round of June 30’s NHL draft. It’s a longtime NHL tradition to bring a few top prospects to Game 3 of the final, and the four milled around, looking like the teenagers that they are — raw-bodied, mildly pimpled, probably a bit overwhelmed by the whole scene but super at hiding it, really just a bunch of “good kids.”
Fun fact about Darnell Nurse: He’s Donovan McNabb’s nephew. (By marriage, but still!)
Tyler Seguin came over and warmly introduced himself. “I was just here a couple years ago,” he said, sounding like a knowing veteran at the age of 21. Dougie Hamilton — who played with Drouin and MacKinnon on Canada’s World Junior team this year — came over and said hello, too. It was a funny scene: A little later, the four guys stood in a TD Garden hallway and asked someone to take a picture of them on Jones’s cell phone (a photo sesh that was captured by about three TV cameras and assorted other media); they then huddled around to check out the result (and ostensibly to select the best Instagram filter). Millennials, man.
Other people came by to say hello and make small talk: Blackhawks luminary Scotty Bowman (“So, you guys are all friends now?”), Chicago defenseman Keith (“We’ll be battling against you guys in a couple months, eh?”), and Bruins coach Julien, who told the guys to make sure they got some rest in the afternoon, because after playing two overtime games to start the final, “we might be here another six periods” in Game 3.
It didn’t turn out that way, though those guys were all young enough that they would have been fine losing sleep. As Jagr had remarked Saturday night after Game 2, overtime hockey gets harder and harder to handle as you get older. And he wasn’t talking about the guys on the ice.
“I bet it’s great and exciting for the fans who are watching the hockey games,” he said of the series, which has certainly so far lived up to the hype. “If you have a bad heart, you might not watch the game because you might get a heart attack. For young people, it’s pretty exciting to watch. Old people, don’t watch it! You might die just watching.”