It’s a clash of the titans in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Blackhawks vs. the Bruins.
Boston with its size and brawn against the speed and skill of the Hawks.
The Bruins play physical, but so can the Hawks.
Both teams defend and have similar experience. Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and the Hawks won it in 2010.
Both teams roll out four lines and get production from all four. Both teams have stars and can skate.
It’s clear from the first three rounds of the playoffs that these are the two best teams in the NHL.
The Hawks aren’t as worried about the Bruins as much as they are about playing their own game.
“We’ve got to work for what we’re going to get,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got to make sure we play a smart game, an intelligent game, a fast game and a hard game. They’ve got some scoring and some guys that can make plays and they’ve got some defensemen that can shoot it. We’re going to have our work cut out, but we welcome the challenge.”
It’s the individual matchups that could make all the difference in the series.
Corey Crawford vs. Tuukka Rask:
These guys are largely responsible for their teams being here and are considered the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP should their team win the Cup.
The 28-year-old Crawford has been a starter for three seasons and has a 1.74 goals-against average, best in the playoffs, and a .935 save percentage.
Rask, 26, has a 1.75 goals-against average and playoff-leading .943 save percentage.
“He’s been great,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said of Rask. “I think the more shots we can throw at him the more chances we’re going to have to score.”
Jonathan Toews vs. Patrice Bergeron:
These guys should see plenty of ice time against each other. They are perhaps two of the three best defensive forwards in the league (along with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk), but they also can score.
Toews has just 1 goal in the playoffs but has 8 assists, including the set-up on Patrick Kane’s series clincher against the Kings in double overtime. Look for Quenneville to try and keep Toews away from Bergeron.
Duncan Keith vs. Zdeno Chara:
The 6-foot-9 Chara will be the biggest player on the ice and can fire the puck harder than anyone in the game. He averages more than 29 minutes a game for the Bruins, who count on him in all situations.
Keith is one of the quickest Hawks and moves the puck like nobody else. Watch his first goal against the Kings in Game 5 when he played 40 minutes. He took a pass in the neutral zone and put it in another gear when he realized there was nobody between him and the net.
“Because we went to the same school (Michigan State), he’s a guy I’ve always kept my eye on,” Bruins rookie Torey Krug said. “He’s definitely a hard-nosed guy. He likes to compete. That’s what I like about him.”
Bryan Bickell vs. Milan Lucic:
Both players have been monsters in the playoffs.
The 6-4, 220-pound Lucic has been physical and a leader on the forecheck. He has 3 goals 13 points and is plus-13.
The 6-4, 233-pound Bickell has 8 goals for the Hawks to tie Patrick Sharp for the team lead. His physical play is a must if the Hawks hope to win the series.
Dave Bolland vs. David Krejci:
If Tuesday’s practice was any indication, Bolland is going to be back in the middle on the third line with his main assignment being to check Krejci, the Bruins’ leading scorer.
Bolland has flourished in this role before, like in 2010 when he was assigned to stop Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton and then Mike Richards in the Finals. He succeeding on all counts.
The Bruins have four players with 5 or more goals led by Krejci, who has 9 goals and 12 assists in 16 games.
Right winger Nathan Horton has 7 goals and 17 points while Bergeron has 5 goals as does defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
While Sharp and Bickell lead the Hawks with 8 goals each, Patrick Kane is warming up and coming off a hat trick in Saturday’s Western Conference finals clincher against the Kings. He has 4 goals in the last two games.
The Hawks also have Marian Hossa, who has 7 goals in the playoffs.
“Offensively, they’re like Pittsburgh: explosive,” Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “They have high-skills forwards who can score and make plays.”
The Bruins are huge on the blue line starting with Chara. Boychuk is as physical as they come and Seidenberg, Chara’s partner, and Andrew Ference are top shutdown guys.
Krug has had a strong playoff since making his debut in the East semifinals with 4 goals and 6 points in nine games.
The Hawks have six defensemen who can move the puck in Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival.
The Hawks are No. 1 in penalty killing led by Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger, Keith and Hjalmarsson while the Bruins are sixth.
Neither team has set the world on fire on the power play with the Bruins 10th and the Hawks 11th in the league rankings.
“Our power play the first two rounds was OK,” Quenneville said. “This last round we didn’t have the production we were looking for. We just don’t want to lose the momentum coming off the power play sequence. We want to make sure we’re more effective.”
All that’s left now is to drop the puck and play.
“I think all the information is out there for both teams to understand how we both play,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “There are no secrets there. It’s about having confidence in what you plan on doing and going out there and executing it. That’s all you can do.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.