Chicago gets the 2013 Stanley Cup Final underway Wednesday night. What is it going to take for them to beat the Boston Bruins?
On the surface, it is Chicago's speed vs. Boston's rugged defense. However, there is a lot more to this matchup.
Both the Blackhawks and Bruins came out of the conference finals defeating teams that share some similarities to their current opponent. Again, this is a case of oversimplifying. In reality, the bar is definitely higher for the two finals combatants starting Wednesday night in Chicago.
That is due to the defensive nature of the Boston forward corps. Much like the Detroit Red Wings, that took Chicago to seven games in the Western Conference Semis, the Bruins are going to come at the Blackhawks with a fierce backcheck.
Boston's forwards can deny and frustrate opponents. Open ice is going to be at a premium. They can put the puck in the net as well. By the way, they also win faceoffs, which is not good news for the 'Hawks.
On the other side of the coin, Chicago differs a bit from the Pittsburgh Penguins team that Boston swept in the Eastern Conference Final. The Blackhawks are a bit deeper and also present the challenge of playing defense.
Chicago is not going to come out on top of a slug-fest with the Bruins. Trying to out-hit Boston is going to have negative consequences. However, it is important for the Blackhawks to show that they cannot be flustered with chippy or physical play.
They did so against the Kings despite what the hit numbers suggest. Chicago's game is speed and skill. To concentrate on pounding the Bruins takes them away from what will ultimately win them this series.
The 'Hawks transition game is the key to hoisting the Cup. If Boston can control the neutral zone and eliminate the stretch pass, things could be bleak for Chicago. The Kings weren't able to do enough in this area. It remains to be seen how successful the Bruins will be at slowing down the 'Hawks.
Chicago needs to show early on that they can gain possession of the puck. It also needs to maintain poise in the face of what should be a lot of physical action.
Both teams are decidedly better killing penalties than converting on the power play. This will be an area to watch closely as there will likely be lots of opportunities for each team.
Home ice belongs to the Blackhawks. Chicago is 9-1 at the United Center in the postseason. Boston dropped two games to Toronto at home but have not lost in the TD Garden since. Remember that the Bruins also won two games in Pittsburgh to start the Eastern Conference Final.
This is likely to be a series in which momentum sways from game to game. These teams cannot be accused of having an easy ride through the playoffs. So who comes out on top?
I say the Blackhawks in seven games. Now let's get to some hockey.