For the second time in three seasons the Bruins will participate in the Stanley Cup Finals. This time skating against Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks as the series kicks off Wednesday night in Chicago.
The Bruins are coming off a four-game sweep of the East’s top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to a 1-0 Game 4 victory last Friday night in Boston.
The Hawks got here via a five-game-series victory over the defending Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings thanks to Kane’s Game 5 hat trick.
From an offensive standpoint, the Blackhawks are very similar to the Penguins with goal scorers like Kane, Toews , Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. Defensively Chicago is very solid with one of the best one-two punches in the league in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. In net, the Hawks are led by Corey Crawford who much like Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has been excellent in goal during the playoffs.
Let’s go ahead and take a look at what the Bruins have to do in order to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Boston.
Rask needs to win the goaltending battle
Usually the two teams with the hottest goalies meet in the Stanley Cup Finals, luckily for the Bruins Tuukka Rask is one of those two goalies. The Bruins enter the Finals with Rask playing some unreal hockey between the pipes. In 16 playoff games thus far Rask has a 1.75 goals-against average and a.943 save percentage. Rask is coming off a series where he allowed just two goals in four games against the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins including two shutouts.
Rask has exceeded expectations thus far and has kept the Bruins in some games with some big saves. The Bruins will need that from Rask in order to take down the Blackhawks and recapture the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks have a handful of guys who can put the puck in the net so obviously shutting down the Blackhawks will be no easy task. After watching Rask dominate the Penguins in four straight, Rask is showing no signs of slowing down.
For the Blackhawks Corey Crawford has been just as good as Rask. Crawford’s 1.74 goals against average leads all goalies who have started at least one playoff game. Crawford enters the Cup Finals with a .935 save percentage and one shutout. After dropping three of the first four in the Blackhawks Western Conference Quarterfinals series with the Detroit Red Wings, Crawford has bounced back with wins in seven of his last eight.
The key to the series very well could be which goalie out performs the other.
Slow down Toews and Kane
It’s been a bit of a struggle for the Blackhawk’s dynamic duo. The Bruins hope that remains the case during the Stanley Cup Finals. Captain Jonathan Toews has had a rough run in the playoffs so far with just nine points in 17 games which includes only one goal. Patrick Kane enters the Stanley Cup Finals with four goals in his last two games as he recorded a hat trick in Game 5 of the West Finals. Kane has eight assists to go along with his four goals. Even before his three-goal outburst in Game 5, Kane has shown signs of improvement- something the Bruins hope to slow down.
Kane and Toews are clearly two very talented forwards who the Bruins will need to keep an eye on at all times. There’s no doubt that Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be seeing a lot of these two and as a defensive unit. The Bruins will have their hands full with the two young forwards.
Win the special teams battle
For the second time this postseason, the Bruins will face a team with a statistically worse power play—New York Rangers being the other—than theirs. After 16 games the Bruins have a 15.6 percent success rate on the power play while the Blackhawks enter the Stanley Cup Finals converting 13.7 percent of their man-advantages.
On the other side of the coin, the Blackhawks are the NHL’s best in playoff penalty kill as they have killed off 28 of their 30 penalties, a 94.8 penalty kill percentage. The Bruins have killed off 26 of their 30 penalties; good enough for an 86.5 penalty kill percentage.
Where both teams struggle to score on the power play and are excellent on the penalty kill, power play goals will surely be hard to come by. In a series that is likely to feature many close games, a power play tally could be the difference between victory and defeat.
The Bruins will need to continue to be solid on the penalty kill and find ways to light the lamp on the man advantage in order to make it four straight series victories.
Top line needs to remain red-hot
The Bruins top line of Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic have been the story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as Krejci—21 points—and Horton—17 points—are the two playoff scoring leaders so far. Lucic has had a great playoff run as well with 13 points.
This red-hot trio has been the Bruins most consistent line in their first three series and the Bruins will need that to continue in the Stanley Cup Finals. During their cup run in 2011, Krejci led all players in playoff scoring and was playing great hockey. Luckily for the Bruins Krejci has been even better here in 2013.
Horton and Lucic have complimented Krejci very well as the two power forwards have chipped in all playoffs long with some big goals. Horton has been a playoff hero for the Bruins during his time in Boston and that has continued in the 2013 playoffs. The Bruins top line will face their most difficult challenge thus far in the playoffs as they will see a lot of the Blackhawks’ Keith and Seabrook. Keeping the Bruins top line off the score sheet will be a difficult task for the Hawks.
Find an answer for Bryan Bickell
In each Stanley Cup Playoff there is always one guy that comes out of nowhere to have a great playoff run and help his team win a Stanley Cup It’s usually a guy who is not known for his scoring ways therefore making his offensive outburst a pleasant surprise.
In 2010 it was Dustin Byfuglien, 2011 Brad Marchand and in 2012 it was Justin Williams. The Bruins hope that Bryan Bickell’s name is not added to that list for 2013.
Bickell enters the final series of the playoffs with eight goals and five assists including two game-winning-goals. Bickell had just nine goals in the lockout shortened 48 game season, but the veteran forward has caught the Stanley Cup fever and has been a big part of the Blackhawks’ offense. Bickell is averaging just shy of 13 minutes a night, but is without a doubt making the most of his limited ice time. As an unrestricted free agent at seasons end, Bickell will look to put the stamp on what has been an already impressive postseason.
Things could get ugly for the Bruins if they continue to let Bickell light the lamp.