Bruins-Blackhawks: 2013 Stanley Cup Finals Preview
The Boston Bruins are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three seasons. They are currently preparing to face an excellent Chicago Blackhawks team that has fought their way to their second finals appearance in four seasons. Both of these teams had to overcome significant adversity to get where they are right now. The Bruins were famously down by three goals in game 7 against Toronto before mounting one of the biggest playoff comebacks in NHL history. The Hawks were down by three games against the rival Detroit Red Wings before storming back to take the series.
The point here is that both of these teams have had to come together as a team to overcome the obstacles in their way to get back to the Finals. This Chicago team will not roll over like the Penguins and Rangers did. This team is going to battle Boston over every single inch of ice in what is sure to be the most excited Cup Finals in years.
The Bruins have gotten some ridiculously excellent play from their top line. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton are all playing at the top of their game, and they are a big reason why the B’s are where they are right now. Krejci leads all NHL scorers in the postseason with 9 goals, 12 assists, and a +14 in 16 games. Nathan Horton has been elite so far this postseason, which is big for a guy who many believed to be gone at the end of the season. Now it seems like Horty will become a big priority for the Bruins after Tuukka Rask is signed. He has 7 goals, 10 assists, and a +21 in 16 games. Lucic may not be dominating the score sheet, but he is making a significant impact on the ice. He has a team leading 68 hits, 3 goals, 10 assists, and a +13 in 16 games.
The Patrice Bergeron has also gotten it going since the end of the Toronto series. Bergeron leads all NHL forward in the postseason with a .61 face-off percentage. He has also scored some incredibly clutch goals for Boston as seen in game 7 against the Leafs. He also scored a massive goal against the Penguins in double overtime of game 3. Bergy has 5 goals, 6 assists, and a +4 in 16 games. Brad Marchand has been solid this postseason, and it appears as if he has finally found that fine line between pest and contributor. He has 4 goals, 9 assists, and a +7. Jaromir Jagr was also big for the Bruins against the Pens as 3 of his 7 assists came in that series. He has no goals (not for a lack of trying), 7 assists, and a +1.
Losing Gregory Campbell will certainly hurt the Bruins, but it also provides an excellent opportunity for someone else to step up. Guys like Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, and Tyler Seguin have all had massively disappointing postseasons. Hopefully one of them can step up and fill in the void Soupy has left.
The Blackhawks have an excellent forward core as well led by some of the most talented players in the NHL. Hawks’ captain Jonathan Toews is arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and he is my pick for the Selke this season. He has struggled a bit in the scoring department with 1 goal, 8 assists, and a +4 in 17 games. Patrick Kane was also performing below expectations in the postseason after having an MVP caliber regular season. However, he dominated in the series against the Kings, and scored a hat trick in game 5 to win the West for the Hawks. He has 6 goals, 8 assists, and a +4 in 17 games.
Chicago also has Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, rookie Andrew Shaw, and a surprising Bryan Bickell. Hossa has been a force for the Hawks this season. He is an excellent back checker with a high-end offensive game. His offensive totals may have dropped a bit as he has aged, but he has still had a good postseason with 7 goals, 7 assists, and a +8 in 17 games. Patrick Sharp leads the team in scoring with 8 goals, 6 assists, and a +4. Andrew Shaw has been playing a role similar to Brad Marchand in in the Bruins 2011 Cup run. Shaw is an agitator who also has a penchant for some clutch goals. He has 4 goals, 3 assists, and an even +/- rating. Bryan Bickell has been the story of the postseason for the Blackhawks. He has come out of nowhere to provide a legitimate goal scoring threat after being moved up with Toews and Kane. He has 8 goals, 5 assists, and a +6.
Zdeno Chara has been an absolute monster in the playoffs or Boston thus far. He is leading the league in time on ice per game with 29:21 minutes. That means he is on the ice for half of the hockey game, and he is playing against every single one of the league’s best players night after night. Z has also contributed offensively as well. He has 2 goals, 9 assists, and a +12 in 17 games. Dennis Seidenberg has also been a force for Boston so far. He and Chara make up one of, if not the best playoff defensive pairing in the NHL. Seides did miss 4 games this postseason though, but his impact in the Penguins series was textbook. He was a +5 in the series against Pittsburgh. He has no goals, 1 assist, and a +6 while averaging 24:10 minutes of ice time per game in 12 games.
Johnny Boychuk has had an excellent postseason as well. He has 48 hits, 55 blocked shots, 5 goals, an assists, and a +3 in 16 playoff games. Adam McQuaid scored the series clinching goal against the Penguins and has had an excellent playoffs. He has 2 goals, an assists, and a +8 while averaging 14:55 minutes of ice time a game. Andrew Ference has played well since his return to the lineup from injury. He has an assists, and a +3 in 8 games. Torey Krug cooled off a bit against the Pens, but he still played well on the man advantage and in transition. He had an assists and a +2 against the Penguins, and he proved that he was more than capable of receiving significant minutes against good players. So far he has been one of the rare offensive minded defensemen that can play well in their own end.
The Hawks have their own elite defensive pairing in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith won the Norris in 2010, the same year the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. He has certainly been playing at a similar level to that run so far in these playoffs. He has 2 goals, 9 assists, and a +6 in 16 games. Keith also received a suspension for a careless high stick to the Kings’ Jeff Carter. He can have a bit of a temper at times so it would be wise for a guy like Marchand to try and get under his skin a little bit. Seabrook has also had quite the turnover after being is coach Quenneville’s dog house for the majority of their Detroit series. Since being paired back up with Keith, Seabrook scored the game series clincher against the Wings, and has a goal and a +2 against Los Angeles.
Both Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have outstanding postseasons as well. Oduya has 2 goals, 3 assists, and a +9 in 17 games for Chicago while averaging 21:35 minutes of ice time per game. Hjalmarsson has 5 assists and a +10 in 17 games while averaging 22:13 minutes of ice per game. Both players are tops in +/- on the Hawks, and they give the team a solid second pairing to go along with their excellent first pairing. Nick Leddy has been a major disappointment for the Hawks in the postseason so far. After putting up a solid performance in the regular season with 6 goals, 12 assists, and a +15 he has only put up 2 assists and a -7 in all 17 of the Hawks’ playoff games. Michal Rozsival has been solid for Chicago so far in the postseason. He has 1 assists, and a +6 in 17 games.
This section isn’t going to be too long. Both Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have been unreal for their respective teams. I am going to have to give the slight edge to Rask in this department though. He has a line of 12-4-1 with a 1.75 goals against average, a .943 save percentage, and 2 shutouts. Rask has only allowed 3 goals in his last 5 games. He is in the zone in a big way, and if he continues to play at the level he has against Chicago, they are going to have a difficult time scoring on him.
Crawford has a line of 12-5-1 with a 1.74 goals against average, a .935 save percentage, and 1 shutout. The big question heading into the playoffs would be whether or not he could carry this Hawks team to the Cup final. So far he has answered those critics, and has done so in spectacular fashion. However, he is not unbeatable. He has allowed 10 goals over his last 5 games. Again, both of these goaltenders are playing at a high level right now and it will be interesting to see which team can get to these guys first.
5 Keys for the Bruins:
– Clogging up the neutral zone will be a significant step in stopping the Hawks from gaining any momentum. If the Bruins can control the neutral zone while defending their own blue line, they will be fine. They will have to play at a similar level of excellence in this area as they did against the Pens.
– Making Chicago play in their own zone will be huge for the B’s. Making guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp play defense as opposed to letting them play with the puck will be a huge momentum killer for Chicago. It will take away any rhythm they have, and make them work for every inch of ice.
– Being physical is synonymous with Bruins hockey. The Hawks can play the physical game too, but not at the level Boston can. If the B’s can beat on the Hawks big offensive guns they will wear them down over the course of the game. This a perfect example of getting the other team to play your game.
– Staying disciplined will be big for the Bruins. The Hawks have some of the best offensive players in the world on their team, and though their man advantage has struggled, the Bruins are without Gregory Campbell on the PK.
– Getting in Crawford’s face will be a massive part of the Bruins attack. Like Rask, Crawford is going to save everything he can see. Parking Lucic and Horton in front of him while firing shots into the paint will be big. The Hawks don’t really have an answer for guys with the size of Looch, Horton, and Jagr.
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