With the drop of the puck for the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Finals just over 48 hours away, the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks prepare to do battle in one of the more highly anticipated playoff series in recent seasons.
Players such as David Krejci, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask have dominated the playoffs thus far and have given no signs of slowing down. As we have seen throughout the postseason, one-on-one matchups can shift the entire momentum of a series and give one team a major advantage.
Both Boston and Chicago are looking to take momentum from their dominating performances in their respective conference finals into the final stretch in their journey to hoist Lord Stanley's trophy.
With that said, let's look at my top three player matchups of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals heading into Game 1 on Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago.
Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews
If there is anything that Bruins center Patrice Bergeron has shown us in the last few seasons, it is that he is maybe the best two-way player in the game.
In the Bruins' series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, Bergeron stepped up to the challenge of limiting the production of the world's best player, Sidney Crosby. Not only did he limit Crosby, but he completely shut him down. Crosby went scoreless throughout the four-game sweep that his team suffered—something that nobody could have predicted.
Now, Bergeron has the task of shutting down the captain of the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews. Toews is coming off of a terrific series against the Los Angeles Kings, including a performance in the series-clinching Game 5 victory in which he tallied two assists (one of which came on Patrick Kane's overtime winner).
Not only will Bergeron have to keep track of Toews in his defensive zone, but at the faceoff dot as well. Toews, who is Chicago's leading faceoff man, will need to dominate faceoffs against Bergeron if his team has any chance of controlling the majority of the puck throughout the series and thus creating more scoring opportunities.
These two players are currently at the top of their respective games, and the winner of this battle will give his team an overwhelming advantage to win this series.
Duncan Keith vs. David Krejci
No player has been hotter in this postseason than Boston's David Krejci. The Bruins center is currently the NHL's leading scorer in this postseason, racking up 21 points in 16 games. However, his toughest challenge may be yet to come.
Leading Chicago's defense, Duncan Keith is one of the best shutdown defenseman in the game. Now, Keith will be faced with a seemingly improbable task of shutting down the playoff's hottest scorer in Krejci.
Krejci features on a line that also contains wingers Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. This line has proven to give opponents nightmares throughout these playoffs. Combined, the three have scored 51 points in the playoffs, which tops all playoff teams. Krejci has easily been the driving force of this line, and it will be Keith's job to shut him down.
So far this postseason, Boston is perfect in games in which Krejci has scored, winning all six games. Therefore, it cannot be overstated how important he is to the Bruins' success,and how vital it is for Keith to be able to limit Krejci's production.
While both teams consist of superstars and big-name players, it may very well be that the winner of this matchup finds itself lifting the Stanley Cup in two weeks time.
Corey Crawford vs. Tuukka Rask
Yes, I know. Technically, these players don't really matchup against each other. Chicago's Corey Crawford does not slap one-timers on Boston's Tuukka Rask, nor does Rask skate in on a breakaway on Crawford.
However, this is the most important battle of the Stanley Cup Finals. As goes without saying, a hockey team can only go as far as its goalie takes it. And up to this point, these two have the best goaltenders throughout these postseason.
Rask been everything that Boston fans had hoped for and so much more since replacing Tim Thomas, posting a 1.75 GAA. Meanwhile, Crawford, who has been playing the best hockey of his career, has been marginally better with a 1.74 GAA.
Both teams have been so good defensively throughout their postseason runs, and just the slightest mistake from one of these two could prove to be costly in this series.
At the end of the day, one of the two may very well be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, which is awarded to the MVP throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Therefore, it's safe to say that whichever one of these two players has a better finals will find his team standing atop the National Hockey League as Stanley Cup Champions.
This year marks the first Stanley Cup Finals matchup between Original Six teams since 1979, when the New York Rangers squared off against the Montreal Canadiens. As the Blackhawks and Bruins meet, fans are being spoiled to big-name players reviving an old-school rivalry.
When superstars such as Bergeron and Toews take the ice on Wednesday night, their focus will be solely on winning their one-on-one matchups.
As dominant as the Blackhawks have been throughout the season, including that legendary start to the season in which they registered at least a point in each of their first 24 games, I feel that Boston is playing the better hockey right now.
Bergeron, Krejci and Rask have been unstoppable throughout these playoffs, especially over the past two weeks. With that said, I like the Bruins to win this series in six games.
What about you? Give your opinions on other significant player matchups between Boston and Chicago, as well as predictions for the series in the comments section below.