Bruins - Blackhawks preview: Keys to the series

Bruins - Blackhawks preview: Keys to the series
June 12, 2013, 1:30 am
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CHICAGO – The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are the final two hockey teams standing at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they are the most balanced, well-rounded and deserving teams to fight it out for Lord Stanley’s chalice.

“They don’t have many holes on their team. We’re the same way on our team,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more when we get down to it.”

Some have made the parallel between the Blackhawks and the Penguins, and assume that the Bruins can have some success with the same kind of game plan. That’s all well and good, but the Blackhawks are sounder defensively, better between the pipes with Corey Crawford and have some bigger, stronger, grittier forwards that will be willing to pay the price to get to the net.

That should set up for a hell of a series as Chicago attempts to make it an up-and-down track meet, and the Bruins want to slug it out and slow things down while busting up the Hawks’ puck possession game.

Here are five keys to the series:
 
1. SLOW AND LOW, THAT IS THE TEMPO: Just as the Bruins wanted to get in on the fore-check and pound the Pittsburgh defense physically, the B’s will attempt to do the same thing to slow down and discourage the Chicago Blackhawks defensemen corps. That will be a bit more of a difficult task as there aren’t any undersized targets like Kris Letang turned out to be in the conference finals, and guys like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook won’t be discouraged nearly as easily. It will take a full commitment to a hard, fast fore-check and discipline through the neutral zone in order to slow down the Blackhawks attack, and even with all that they might be difficult to stop. But it’s the only real way to effectively battle a Chicago hockey club that is used to possessing the puck, and attacking the offensive zone with speed. Interestingly enough the Blackhawks are sixth among playoff teams with 32.5 shots per game, and the Bruins lead that category with an average of 36.4 shots per game. Something has got to give there.


2. PUT KANE ON ICE: The Blackhawks scorer tore it up with four goals in the final two conference finals games against the Los Angeles Kings, and was playing with the swaggering surety of a top offensive player. That’s good news for the Blackhawks, and bad news for a Bruins team looking to find ways to slow down the Chicago offensive attack. Expect a steady diet of Patrice Bergeron on that Kane line, and perhaps a supporting role for Brad Marchand looking to upset the applecart with Chicago’s mullet man. The Bruins were off to a good start before they even landed their plane in the Windy City, as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville broke up Jonathan Toews and Kane, and that should make it a bit easier for the Bruins to divvy up their defensive stoppers on each player. But it’s vital they slow down and frustrate Kane, who win a game all by himself if given the proper time, space and freedom to operate with the puck.


3. FIRST POWER PLAY GOAL WINS!: The Bruins and Blackhawks were in the bottom half of power play success rate during the playoffs, and both units have struggled despite some pretty good personnel involved. Torey Krug gave the Black and Gold a lift on the PP during the second playoff round against the New York Rangers, but the B's went an ungodly 0-for-13 against the Penguins in the conference finals. They did also hold Pittsburgh to an 0-for-15 on the PP during that series, so they’ll happily take an even draw on posing up zeroes in both categories. But scratching out a few PP goals over the course of the series could give Boston the slight advantage they’ve been searching for. The Blackhawks weren’t much better with a 1-for-14 PP against Los Angeles, and have killed 94.7 percent of the penalties called on them during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Krug, Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr need to find a way to make a difference on special teams as they struggle to do so during five-on-five play.

 
4. PUT THE PRESSURE ON THE GOALIE: Corey Crawford has been among the best goalies in the playoffs, even if Tuukka Rask stepped to the head of the class while stopping 98 percent of the pucks he faced from the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the .935 save percentage and low goals against average are nothing to sneeze at, and the big Chicago goaltender has passed every test thrown his way thus far. Outdueling Jimmy Howard in the series against Detroit was impressive enough, but he outdid that by outplaying Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. The key against Crawford is getting plenty of shots on him, and getting him moving side-to-side where strict technique becomes more of a challenge for the young netminder. The 6-foot-2, 208-pounder is coming off the best regular season of his career, but the 28-year-old will be tested once forwards like Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton crash the net. Boston has already managed to get pucks by Henrik Lundqvist when he was locked in for the New York Rangers, creating traffic and havoc in front of the net will be top priority, because Bryan Bickell, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw will be getting to the front of the net to pester Tuukka Rask.


5. GET AN EARLY LEAD, RIDE THE WAVE: One of the more underrated accomplishments during the conference finals sweep against the Pittsburgh Penguins was Boston’s ability to score first in each of the four games. They never trailed even once in the playoff series, and found it much easier to dictate their style of play and tempo while playing with a lead. In fact, the Bruins haven’t trailed in a Stanley Cup playoff game since the first period of a May 25 Game 5 against the New York Rangers. Boston has a long history of having success when they are front-runners against quality opponents, and it will be the aim to get on top of the Blackhawks and seize control of the game. A quick start could also quiet down the United Center crowd in Chicago known as the Madhouse, who should be out of control with noise and enthusiasm when the Bruins and Blackhawks drop the puck Wednesday night for Game 1.


PREDICTION: The Bruins will win their second Stanley Cup championship in the last three years when they travel to Chicago for Game 7, and win on the road for the first time in the series. When has that happened before for the Black and Gold? Bruins over Blackhawks in 7 games.