Hawks scrambling for answers after Game 3

BOSTON -- The preamble to this year’s Stanley Cup finals was about two contrasting styles: the heavy, punishing Boston Bruins versus the speedy Chicago Blackhawks.

Both teams have loads of skill, but there’s no denying how differently they play the game.

And so the question was whether the Blackhawks’ more aesthetically pleasing brand of hockey would be able to overcome what is clearly the recipe of success in the NHL in the past few years (Boston in 2011, L.A. in 2012), Boston’s disciplined, grinding, physical two-way hockey that is rolling into high gear through three games of the Cup finals.

The score was only 2-0 Monday night in Game 3 at a rocking TD Garden, but the ice was way more tilted than that, with the Bruins owning the puck, forcing turnovers and looking like a team that has created a bit of separation in what otherwise had been such a close series in Chicago in the opening two games.

Don’t fool yourself, this was a no-doubt Bruins victory Monday night.

It might not have been the 8-1 drubbing Boston dropped on Vancouver when the series shifted here in 2011 for Game 3, but there was that similar feeling at TD Garden, the feeling that the visiting team was hanging on all night.

It certainly didn’t help that the Hawks were without star winger Marian Hossa, who took warm-up but then surprised everyone when he was pulled out before game time with an upper-body injury.

"It’s something we were prepared for all day that he might not play," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It happens sometimes: You’re missing one of your best players, and you’ve got to find a way to play without him. We always say it’s an opportunity for the guys to step up. The guys that got more ice time tonight played well. We’ve just got to find a way to win."

Nobody in the Blackhawks' dressing room was using Hossa’s absence as an excuse, but the reality is that, especially when it comes to road games, Chicago desperately missed the Slovak star’s ability to protect the puck and force offensive chances with the strength he has going to the net.

"We were prepared," Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp said of playing without Hossa. "We have a good, deep team in here. It’s tough when you lose a top guy like that, but we have plenty of guys to fill in. We’re not going to worry about it."

Was it really just a game ago that the Hawks blitzed the Bruins in the opening period of Game 2 with a speed game that left Boston dazed and confused -- and outshot 19-4?

Since then, none of that.

"I thought our third period tonight was pretty strong," Sharp said. "We started getting back to our speed and attack game. We had plenty of chances. They protect their net well. They scored a power-play goal, and we didn’t."

Oy, the power play. Just when you think the Hawks have hit the bottom of the barrel with a power play that doesn’t seem to have a clue, Monday night provides more wreckage.

Chicago went 0-for-5 and rarely looked dangerous, and the Hawks looked confused on zone entries and, once in the Bruins’ zone, were too stationary.

Roughing penalties to Bruins wingers Kaspars Daugavins and later Shawn Thornton, both in the opening period, provided Chicago the golden opportunity to open the scoring, a first goal that would have done so much for the visitors' confidence while also taking the crowd out of the game for a bit.

Instead, the fans got even louder as the Bruins got the best scoring chances on those Hawks power plays, as deflating a feeling as can be for Chicago.

You don’t need to score a lot of power-play goals to win a Cup, as I documented last week. But you do need to score the odd goal and create at least some chances on your man advantage when you don’t score. None of that is happening for the Hawks right now.

Sharp was asked whether he could put his finger on the power-play issues.

"If I could, we’d probably be scoring," Sharp said. "We didn’t score, but we had a few chances. We’re in the Stanley Cup finals. We’re not going to hang our heads about it. We’re going to continue to work and find a way to make it productive."

And it just so happens that Patrice Bergeron’s power-play goal 14:05 into the second period was the dagger, capping a 2-0 win that now pushes Chicago into a must win Wednesday night to avoid a 3-1 deficit.

For that W to happen, Chicago’s big boys have to step up. Toews worked his butt off Monday night and created a number of decent chances, but the bottom line is that he remains without a goal in the series. He needs to find the score sheet. Patrick Kane was nearly invisible, unable (unwilling?) to break through Boston’s physical coverage to create space for himself. Sharp had his moments but looked frustrated at other times. Bryan Bickell, who rocked the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals, has gone completely silent in the Cup series.

The Hawks are a dangerous team when they have the puck. Losing a whopping 71 percent of the faceoffs to Boston on Monday night is one way to make sure you never start a shift with the puck.

"You can talk about that and our power play," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about his team’s 29 percent faceoff success. "Those were basically the differentials in the game."

We’ll find out a lot about these Blackhawks in Game 4. Just like we did about the Canucks two years ago, with Vancouver responding to an 8-1 loss with a listless 4-0 defeat in Game 4.

Chicago’s season is essentially on the line Wednesday.

Will that speed game and swagger return?

"The series isn’t over, but we have to be better for Game 4," Sharp said. "I don’t doubt the character of our team. We’ll bounce back and be better."

Coming back from a 3-1 series deficit versus Detroit in the second round hardened the Hawks. Now they have to tap into that experience.

"We’ve been through some tough situations," star blueliner Duncan Keith said. "But we know we have to have our best game of the year next game."