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2013 Stanley Cup Roundtable: Blackhawks Battle Bruins

Evan Budrovich, Annette Irwin, Graham Jenkins |
June 12, 2013 | 3:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Writers

Jonathan Toews are Marian Hossa are raring to bring the title back to Chicago (Anna Enriquez/Creative Commons).
Jonathan Toews are Marian Hossa are raring to bring the title back to Chicago (Anna Enriquez/Creative Commons).
Lord Stanley's Cup is up for grabs once again, as the Boston Bruins face the Chicago Blackhawks for the most hallowed trophy in sports. Our panel tells you what to look out for in the NHL's first "Original Six" finals in over 30 series.

1) Both teams are lightning-hot, as Boston swept the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference finals while Chicago topped the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Which squad do you think is carrying more playoff momentum heading into the series?

Evan Budrovich: It's a welterweight of a Stanley Cup Final, featuring two of the original six NHL teams. That being said, the brightest lights shine in Chicago. The President's Cup winners overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Conference Semifinals, then dethroned the defending champs while clinching home ice advantage for Wednesday night. Do not discount the Bruins after dismantling one of the best offenses in the NHL, but they have an experienced squad that is playing with swagger, not momentum. The Blackhawks are holding their shoulders higher, but the Bruins have  swagger and could swing the series by stealing a game at the United Center.

Annette Irwin: Both teams are on fire. The Bruins staged an incredible comeback facing elimination against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Chicago barreled through adversity as they overcame a 3-1 series deficit to Detroit Red Wings in round two. Chicago dominated the defending champion Kings too, and finished the series in style with Patrick Kane's hat trick, and is cruising in with supreme momentum.

Graham Jenkins: Sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins is certainly an incredible accomplishment by the Boston Bruins, and they will be riding high off that feat into the Stanley Cup Finals. However, I am more impressed by the Chicago Blackhawks breaking down the brick wall that was Jonathan Quick. He was the best goaltender in the playoffs up until he faced the Blackhawks, and they scored four goals against him twice during the Western Conference Finals. 

The Kings did not go down against the Blackhawks without a fight, forcing overtime in Game 5 by scoring with under 10 seconds left in regulation. They took Chicago to double overtime, where the Blackhawks kicked it into another gear and defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champions. 

Sure, the Bruins came back from a daunting 4-1 Game 7 third period deficit against the Maple Leafs in the first round, but the Blackhawks came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings in the second round. The Blackhawks have shown they will weather the best their opponents give them, and then unleash hell when they return fire.

2) Both goalies have been near unstoppable for most of the postseason, with Boston's Tuukka Rask and Chicago's Corey Crawford both allowing under two goals per game. Which do you choose for the next 4-7 games?

Budrovich: Both goalies shined in their conference finals in relatively different manners. Life was not easy for Crawford, who received a fair share of criticism following the Blackhawks first-round exit against Phoenix last postseason. This year has been a different story for him, as he is finally starting to climb out of the stigma of poor playoff performer by limiting chances and keeping opponents to one-shot opportunities. Rask, meanwhile, was absolutely flawless in the Eastern Conference Finals, building on an impressive season with career highs in shutouts (five) to fuel the Bruins' stingy defense. With the Stanley Cup on the line, fans should trust Crawford more because the system is curtailed for his success. With the best power-play defense in the league, the Blackhawks are never fazed under pressure. Although Rask has arguable played the better net-minder in the playoffs, the Bruins' all-out style of defense leaves them vulnerable against elite offenses that are clicking. The Blackhawks could expose the over-aggressive Bruins with Patrick Kane firing on all cylinders. Not saying that one is directly better than the other, but Chicago's scheme places more confidence in Crawford to succeed in this series, despite Rask’s more impressive play.

Give Chicago the narrow edge on the goalie front (Sarah Connors/Creative Commons).
Give Chicago the narrow edge on the goalie front (Sarah Connors/Creative Commons).
Irwin: Both goalies are playing their best hockey at the right time. Crawford has outdone Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and L.A.'s Jonathan Quick, who many consider among the best in the NHL. But Boston’s Tuukka Rask has been out of this world. Against the Pittsburgh’s potent offense, Rask stopped 134 of 138 shots (.985 save percentage). On top of that, he had two shutouts in the series. He’s been calm, focused and just too good. One can argue the Bruins reached the finals solely because Rask leads the league with a .943 save percentage. Tim Thomas who?

Jenkins: Rask in the playoffs overall has a solid 1.75 GAA and a .943 save percentage, but a lot of that can be attributed to his performance in the last round against the Penguins. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Rask put up a spectacular 0.44 GAA. The problem, however, is that this performance level is unsustainable, and I don't think he will be able to maintain that level against the Blackhawks. Crawford, on the other hand, has been relatively consistent in all three rounds so far in the playoffs. Overall, Crawford has a 1.74 GAA and a .935 save percentage in the playoffs, and in the Western Conference Finals he posted a 1.82 GAA and a .927 save percentage. His performances in each round haven't deviated much, and I think if he continues to perform like he has, the Blackhawks will be in good hands. Sure, a hot goalie can carry a team to victory. Tuukka Rask certainly is a hot goalie right now. Jonathan Quick was too.

3. Chicago has prolific scorers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the front line, but Boston's David Krejci leads the NHL with nine playoff goals while the Bruins' Nathan Horton is second in points with 17. Which offensive unit would you take at this point, and why?

David Krejci leads the NHL in postseason points, but faces Crawford and a tough Blackhawks D (Dan4th/Flickr).
David Krejci leads the NHL in postseason points, but faces Crawford and a tough Blackhawks D (Dan4th/Flickr).
Budrovich: Conventional wisdom would lead you to think the Blackhawks attack will be the most dominant unit in the series, yet the Bruins have found ways to score this postseason in unheralded ways. While the Blackhawks don the best scoring offense in the NHL with threats in all four lines, the Bruins are finding ways to score in bunches at the most pivotal time. In a similar run to the Los Angeles Kings last season, Boston's middle-of-the-pack offense is finding ways to score from numerous contributors, and guys that were rather unsuccessful in the regular season. The Blackhawks' success has been well documented, but their scoring comes from relentless pressure and wrist shots that could snipe a man from across the arena. While the Blackhawks live on precise passing and a flurry of attacks, the Bruins pound the net for rebounds and opportunistic strikes. That being said, I take the Blackhawks' scoring because talent and depth will win out in a grueling Stanley Cup Finals.

Irwin: This is an extremely difficult choice, as both teams feature forward depth. I would have to go with Chicago’s speedy and skilled forwards. The Blackhawks have four potential game-changing forwards: Kane, Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. But the real star of the playoffs so far is Bryan Bickell who has scored eight goals, second behind Boston’s Krejci. Kane and Toews may have struggled until the Western Conference Finals, but all it takes is one series for these superstars to get going, as supported by Kane’s hat trick, including the double-OT game-winner against the Kings to clinch the series. These two possess unbelievable hockey sense and have better timing than Bruins’ Krejci and Horton, while Kane and Toews lack Boston’s size but they make up for it with their speed. 

Jenkins: Boston's Milan Lucic-Krejci-Horton line is on fire right now. Krejci's 21 points (9 G, 12 A) in the playoffs are phenomenal, as is Horton's 17 (7 G, 10 A), and Lucic's 13 points (3 G, 10 A). Chicago's Kane-Toews-Bickell line has been predictably productive, with Kane leading the line with 14 points (6 G, 8 A), while Bickell has thirteen (8 G, 5 A), and Toews has nine (1 G, 8 A). For some reason, Toews just cannot seem to find the back of the net. Even though the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line has scored more points than the Kane-Toews-Bickell line, I am going to go with the Blackhawks' top line in this matchup because that unit is going to hold onto the puck more, and they are one of the most dangerous top lines in the NHL with the puck. That is not to suggest that Krejci's line is not dangerous with the puck, because they certainly have shown what they can do when opponents give them chances. But since the Blackhawks' line is one of the best puck possession lines in the league, it is going to generate a lot of offense, whether it be a goal or a scoring chance, and the Bruins will have their work cut out for them.

4) Which player, one that doesn't always make the headlines, will be most crucial for their team or will be an X-Factor in the series?

Budrovich: The Chicago Blackhawks have a dominant front line, strong defense and deep roster, but handyman Michael Handzus will be pivotal in the Stanley Cup Finals. Handzus has nine points this postseason, the most since his trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 with the Philadelphia Flyers. At 35 years old, Handzus has an incredible touch with the puck, assisting on seven Blackhawk goals in the postseason. He may not log the major minutes as a member of the third line, but the savvy center man knows how to feed the best strikers, and will be racking in critical points this series.  

Irwin: Milan Lucic will be crucial for the Bruins in this series. When he’s on his game, Chicago might not be able to stop him. The 6-foot-4 powerful forward can wear down any defensemen with the mix of his size and speed. 

Milan Lucic is among the Bruins' surprising postseason stars (rubyswoon/Flickr).
Milan Lucic is among the Bruins' surprising postseason stars (rubyswoon/Flickr).
For Chicago, look for forward Patrick Sharp. He’s just as vital to the Blackhawks game as the other Patrick (Kane), and is tied with Hossa and Kane for the team lead in scoring with 14 points (eight goals and six assists) in 17 postseason games. He has a knack for scoring, but also has the ability to play as a facilitator. He’s valuable on the penalty kill and power play as well. If Sharp is off his game, Blackhawks could struggle in this series. 

Jenkins: If the Bruins shut down the Toews line, Marian Hossa will be crucial for the Blackhawks to generate offense on that second line.

On the other side of the rink, Patrice Bergeron will be equally as crucial for the Bruins as Hossa will be for the Blackhawks in this series.

5) Which team do you think will win the Cup?

Budrovich: Blackhawks in 6. This series will be tied through the first four games, with both teams winning on the opposing ice. In the end, the Blackhawks' pressure will force Boston to make mistakes, resulting in timely goals to flip the series in the President Cup’s Trophy winner’s favor and complete the perfect season in the Windy City.  

Irwin: It’s the first ‘Original Six’ matchup since 1979, so of course it’s going to Game 7. And your 2013 Stanley Cup Champions will be – The Boston Bruins. The power and size of Bruins will be a tough match for the skill and speed of the Blackhawks, and Boston Strong will live on. 

Jenkins: Blackhawks in 6.



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