Greatest Strengths and Glaring Weaknesses for Both 2013 Stanley Cup Finals Teams
The 2013 Stanley Cup Final features a matchup of two well-balanced teams with great depth and enormous talent, but the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are not perfect clubs.
Each franchise has weaknesses to exploit, areas of concern and players who must elevate their performance to help their team lift the best trophy in all of sports.
Let's look at the two biggest strengths and two most glaring weaknesses of both the Bruins and Blackhawks ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Strength: Blackhawks Have the NHL's Best Penalty Kill
The Chicago Blackhawks have the best penalty kill in the playoffs with a 94.8 percent success rate in shorthanded opportunities.
Even on the road, the Blackhawks' penalty kill has been phenomenal. Chicago has allowed just one power-play goal in 28 shorthanded situations away from home.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford has also made a tremendous impact on the team's penalty-killing success. He has faced a league-high 90 power-play shots against and has stopped 87 of them, which gives him the highest shorthanded save percentage (.967) in the playoffs.
The Bruins are the best five-on-five team in the postseason with a league-leading 1.4 plus/minus rating at even strength, so it's important that the Blackhawks prevent Boston's power play from giving it some extra scoring.
Boston was 0-of-15 with the man advantage in the conference finals, so there's no reason to believe its power play will suddenly start to click against Chicago in the Cup Final.
Strength: Blackhawks Protect Home Ice
The Blackhawks have the home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final, which is good news because they are a much better team at home.
Here's a quick comparison of the team's home and road performance in the playoffs:
Chicago is also 4-0 in closeout and elimination games at the United Center, which is why it's to the Hawks' dvantage that Game 5 and Game 7 will be on home ice.
Playing in the Madhouse on Madison is one of the few legitimate home-ice advantages in today's NHL. Most modern arenas are very similar, and the crowd is less of a factor now than it was in places like the old Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden 25 years ago.
The Blackhawks fans do a tremendous job of energizing their team, and that process starts before the game when soloist Jim Cornelison performs a stunning rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The Bruins are 5-1 away from home in the playoffs and took both games in Pittsburgh to start the Eastern Conference Final by a combined score of 9-1. Chicago must continue its impressive form on home ice to start this series strongly.
Weakness: Blackhawks Are Below Average on Faceoffs
Possessing the puck, sustaining offensive zone pressure and killing penalties are all greatly impacted by winning faceoffs in all three zones.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they have won only 47 percent of their faceoffs in the postseason, which ranks 14th out of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. They also lead the league in faceoffs lost (570).
Conversely, the Bruins lead the league in faceoff wins (563) and faceoff percentage (56.0), so this could be a problem area for the Blackhawks, especially when they go up against Boston centers Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley (all three have a faceoff percentage of 59.0 or higher).
Jonathan Toews is the only Blackhawks forward who has won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs, among players who have taken 35 or more draws. The Blackhawks captain lost an important defensive-zone faceoff in the final seconds of regulation in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final that led to a Los Angeles Kings goal that forced overtime.
If Chicago doesn't improve on faceoffs, it will have a tough time winning this series and excelling on special teams.
Weakness: Inconsistent Scoring from Top Stars
The Blackhawks have not received consistent scoring production from a few of their top stars in the playoffs, and this cannot continue for this team to beat a great defensive club like the Bruins that also has an elite goaltender.
No. 1 center Jonathan Toews scored at a point-per-game level for the first time in his career during the regular season (48 points in 47 games), but he has just one goal in 17 playoff games. Toews went without a goal in his first nine games of the postseason and has now failed to find the back of the net in seven straight games.
As the first-line center and an elite playmaker, Toews has to be more consistent offensively.
Another player who must score goals for Chicago in the Cup Final is Patrick Kane. Before his hat trick in the series-clinching victory of the Western Conference Final, Kane had two goals in his first 15 games, including two separate goal droughts of seven and six games.
Despite being tied for the team lead with eight goals, veteran winger Patrick Sharp has only found the back of the net twice in his last 11 games. Five of his eight playoff goals were scored in the team's five-game first-round triumph over the Minnesota Wild.
Inconsistent scoring from these three stars has resulted in Chicago averaging almost 0.50 goals less per game in the playoffs compared to the regular season. Toews, Sharp and Kane have to contribute offensively on a consistent basis in this series or the Bruins will hoist the Stanley Cup.
Strength: Bruins Goalie Tuukka Rask Can Steal a Game and a Series
Tuukka Rask has been the best goaltender in the playoffs with a 12-4 record, the league's second-best GAA (1.75) and the top save percentage (.943).
In the conference finals, Rask silenced all of his doubters by holding the Penguins, who led the playoffs with 4.27 goals per game after Round 2, to a franchise-low two goals in a four-game series.
The Bruins would not have swept the Penguins without Rask dominating one of the most talented offenses that the NHL has seen since 2000. In Game 3 of the conference finals, the 26-year-old netminder made a playoff career-high 53 saves in a 2-1 double-overtime win and then shut out the Penguins for the second time in the series in the conference championship-clinching Game 4 victory.
Not only is Rask capable of stealing a game or two for the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, he's capable of stealing this entire series.
The Blackhawks have beaten two quality goaltenders in Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings) and Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) in the last two rounds, but neither of those players performed as well as Rask did to help the Bruins win the Eastern Conference.
Rask has never played better in his NHL career than he is right now, and his exceptional performance in the postseason to this point gives the Bruins a slight goaltending advantage in this series.
Strength: Bruins Can Shut Down Elite Scorers
The Bruins have done a brilliant job shutting down some of the best scorers that the league has to offer during their 16-game march to the Cup Final.
In its second-round series against the New York Rangers, Boston limited superstar winger Rick Nash to one goal and veteran center Brad Richards to zero goals through five games. Then, superstar forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, James Neal and Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang were all scoreless in the conference finals. According to TSN's Stats Guy, the Bruins defensemen played a big role in shutting down Pittsburgh's stars.
Boston ranks second in the playoffs with 256 blocked shots, first in faceoff percentage (56.0) and has two elite shutdown defensemen in captain Zdeno Chara and veteran Dennis Seidenberg.
After shutting down Crosby and Malkin and holding these elite offensive players scoreless in four straight games, the Bruins are fully capable of preventing Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa from dominating the Cup Final.
Weakness: Boston’s Power Play Is Awful
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The Bruins' No. 1 weakness over the last three seasons has been their awful power play. Without a lot of elite offensive skill at forward and a lack of a top-tier puck-moving defenseman, Boston has struggled to convert on many of its chances with the man advantage during the playoffs since 2011.
After going 3-of-20 on the power play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, the Bruins finally started to find some consistent success with the man advantage in the second round versus the Rangers with four goals in five games.
The insertion of offensively skilled rookie defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski into the lineup certainly played a part in the improvement of the power play.
These young blueliners added more playmaking, speed and powerful point shots to the power play, skills that the injured veterans (Seidenberg, Ference and Wade Redden) they were replacing rarely bring to the ice.
When Seidenberg and Ference both returned for the Penguins series, the Bruins power play went back to being completely ineffective because Bartkowski and rookie Dougie Hamilton were forced to sit in the press box as healthy scratches.
Boston was 0-of-15 with the man advantage during the conference finals and didn't generate many chances. On many occasions, the Bruins had trouble just entering the attacking zone cleanly while on the power play.
Against a Blackhawks team that has the most successful penalty kill in the playoffs, scoring on the power play will be one of the Bruins' toughest challenges in the Cup Final.
Weakness: Bruins Struggle Against Teams with Speed
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The way to beat the Bruins is to have speed through the neutral zone and use this quickness to create odd-man rushes. This is exactly what the Leafs did in Round 1 with talented forwards such as Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. If not for a miracle third-period comeback in Game 7, Toronto would have upset the Bruins.
The Bruins barely overcame the impressive speed and skill of the Leafs offense, and in the next two rounds, the Rangers and Penguins were slower teams that could be pushed around, which played right into Boston's hands.
The only defenseman who has fantastic speed and is a tremendous skater is Torey Krug, who probably won't play more than 16 minutes in any game of the Cup Final as a rookie with little playoff experience.
As a highly skilled offense that uses its speed to its advantage, the Blackhawks have what it takes to create quality chances against the Bruins. The best way to prevent Zdeno Chara from shutting down their top forwards and not allow him to get between his goal and the opposing player.
If Chara is in front of the player he's defending, he will use his long reach and strength to take away the opponent's time and space almost every time.
Boston will need to play great team defense to prevent the speed of Chicago forwards such as Kane, Sharp, Brandon Saad and Toews from generating scoring chances consistently on Rask.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.