Bruins vs Blackhawks: Breaking Down Every Key Matchup in 2013 Stanley Cup Final
The Original Six component between these two ancient rivals gives it flavor, but the most fascinating aspect is the lack of familiarity these two teams have with one another.
The truncated 2013 season meant there were no interconference games this season. The Bruins and Blackhawks not only didn't play each other, but they had no common opponents.
The two teams last played each other Oct. 15, 2011, when the Bruins defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout.
While both teams will have scouting reports and plenty of video to study, they don't know each other firsthand.
But once the feeling-out process ends—probably by the end of the first period of the first game—the matchups will take over. Here's a look at the key matchups that will determine the outcome of the series.
Some of the matchups may be direct confrontations on the ice, while others are more figurative, such as the battle between the two goalies or the strategic matchup between the coaching staffs.
Jonathan Toews vs. Patrice Bergeron
Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron are not only the two best all-around players on their teams, they are very similar in the way they play the game.
Both are responsible players who concentrate on defense and understand the importance of neutral-zone play. Toews is solid in the faceoff circle, while Bergeron is the best in the league at it.
Toews and Bergeron are both finalists for the Selke Award, the trophy that honors the league's best defensive forward.
Toews has a slight edge on Bergeron when it comes to offensive play, but he has not been at his best in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has scored one goal through the first three rounds and will need to pick up his production in this series.
Bergeron has been a clutch postseason performer. He scored both the tying and winning goal in the seventh game (in overtime) in the miracle comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs
He also assisted on an overtime goal in the conference semifinal against the New York Rangers and scored the winning goal in double overtime in the third game of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blackhawks Top Line vs. Bruins Defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg
The Blackhawks earned their spot in the Stanley Cup Final when their top line of Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell came through with seven points in the decisive fifth game against the Los Angeles Kings.
They are likely to see a lot of the Bruins' top defensive pair in Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
Those two dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins and shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Two years earlier, head coach Claude Julien used them almost exclusively in the Stanley Cup Final against Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.
While Chara and Seidenberg play tough, physical hockey, both are smart and skilled at taking the puck away and carrying it out of the offensive zone.
The quickness of Kane and Toews could cause problems, but Chara's ability to get his stick on the puck and break up offensive plays will be crucial in this series.
Corey Crawford vs. Tuukka Rask
Corey Crawford had much to prove coming into the playoffs. He had played very well in the regular season, but his errors in last year's first-round playoff loss to the Phoenix Coyotes cost the Blackhawks dearly.
He allowed two soft overtime goals that paved the way for an ugly first-round loss.
Tuukka Rask had his own poor playoff nightmare to overcome. Rask's last playoff performance came in 2010, when the Bruins lost a conference semifinal series to the Philadelphia Flyers after building a 3-0 lead.
Rask backed up Tim Thomas the last two years and had not played in the postseason since then, but the loss to Philadelphia was a brutal memory.
Both goalies have tossed those past playoff failures aside. Crawford has a 1.74 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and one shutout in the postseason. Rask has a 1.75 GAA, a .943 save percentage and two shutouts.
Both teams expect stellar performances from their goalies.
Bryan Bickell vs. Milan Lucic
The Bruins rate the edge when it comes to physical play over the Blackhawks. Boston ranked 10th in hits during the regular season while the Blackhawks were 30th.
Chicago has played a more physical game in the postseason, but the Bruins have outhit the Blackhawks 571-458.
Milan Lucic (three goals, 10 assists, plus-13) is the Bruins' signature hitter and most physical player. Lucic lit the fuse for the Bruins in their comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the seventh game with his pounding presence and his play around the net.
Bickell (eight goals, five assists, plus-6) has come into his own by anchoring himself in front of the net and either scoring or setting up his teammates.
Both Lucic and Bickell have similar styles of play. It's essential for both men to establish their physical presence in this series.
Battle of the No. 2 Lines
It's not just about the top lines in the Stanley Cup Final. Both the Blackhawks and Bruins are noted for their depth and their ability to roll four productive lines.
Strong performances by either No. 2 line could tilt the series dramatically. The Blackhawks' line of Michal Handzus, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa is talented and explosive. Sharp is aptly named; he is one of the most accurate shooters in the NHL. Hossa has overpowering strength, brilliant skating ability and a wicked shot. Handzus is not a star, but he can handle faceoffs and has good timing.
Center Patrice Bergeron gets the most out of his ability on an every-night basis. He is as skilled defensively as he is offensively. Left wing Brad Marchand has excellent acceleration and is an excellent shooter. He also knows how to get under the skin of his opponents with verbal and physical jabs. Right wing Jaromir Jagr has yet to find the back of the net in the postseason, but he has seven assists and has played with surprising commitment on the defensive end.
These two lines may or may not be on the ice at the same time. However, the No. 2 line that asserts itself has an excellent chance to tilt the series in its team's favor.
Tyler Seguin vs. Patrick Kane
Instant offense can bring the crowd to its feet and change the course of any game in the Stanley Cup Final.
Both the Bruins and Blackhawks can play shutdown defense, but both teams have players who can create offense on their own and turn a game around.
Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin can fulfill those roles with electricity, and they know each other well. The two were teammates in the Swiss National "A" League during the lockout and they became fast friends.
They also played on the same line and same power play. According to the Boston Herald, Seguin said their friendship will be put on hold during the Stanley Cup Final.
Seguin has had a difficult run in the postseason with one goal and three assists and a demotion to the Bruins' third line. Kane had a recent seven-game goalless streak, but he has turned that slump around with four goals in the last two games.
If Kane stays hot and Seguin continues to struggle, that could be a huge bonus for Chicago.
Michigan State Matchup
Duncan Keith is the Blackhawks' best defenseman. Joel Quenneville is going to count on him to play a key role in preventing Boston's top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic from dominating.
However, Keith can't sacrifice his offensive game just to keep the Bruins' trio from scoring. Keith, who played at Michigan State from 2001 through 2003, is a solid puck mover (nine assists in the postseason) with a dominating shot that he has used to score two playoff goals.
Keith has the ability to take over the series and dominate.
Torey Krug is the Bruins' sixth defenseman, but don't think for a second that he is not a game-changer. Krug, who has a wicked shot, scored four goals against Henrik Lundqvist in the conference semifinal against the New York Rangers.
Krug played at Michigan State in 2009 and 2010. While Krug is tiny at 5'9" and 180 pounds, he is one of the best skaters on the Bruins, can handle his defensive responsibilities and has a tendency to come through in the clutch.
If the Blackhawks overlook Krug's abilities, it could be disastrous.
Claude Julien vs. Joel Quenneville
Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville are two of the most respected coaches in the NHL.
Each man has the ability to find favorable matchups for his team and then put the correct players on the ice to exploit them.
The series will be difficult from a coaching perspective in the early stages because neither Julien nor Quenneville is familiar with the opposition. They will be dependent on scouting reports and what they have seen of each other on television.
Both the Blackhawks and Bruins have struggled on the power play while having strong penalty kills. If either coach can get the power play to kick in and score a few goals, it could go a long way to deciding the outcome.
The Bruins are connecting on 15.6 percent of their power-play opportunities, while the Blackhawks have been successful on 13.7 percent of their chances with the man advantage.
The other part of this coaching matchup will be in-game adjustments. Both coaches have excelled in this area, and the chess match should be one to savor for all observers.