NHL Stanley Cup Final 2013: Critical Keys for Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are set to face the Boston Bruins in the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final and are considered by oddsmakers to be the favorite to be the team hanging another championship banner come October.
There was a point in time when it didn't look like the 'Hawks would make it out of the second round. After going down 3-1 against the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals, they collectively found their game and reeled off three straight victories to get into the Western Conference Final.
Since Game 4 of the second round, Chicago has gone 7-1 while outscoring their opponents 24-16. They've done a lot of things right but still have a lot of work to do to earn those final four victories needed before lifting the Cup.
Stay out of the Scrums
Through the first four games of the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks looked like a team that could be pushed around. Justin Abdelkader and Dan Cleary were clearly under the skin of Jonathan Toews and were engaging the 'Hawks in scrums after nearly every whistle.
Since then, the team has upped its toughness quotient—after a bang-'em-up series with the L.A. Kings, no one thinks that Chicago is too soft to hang with the Boston Bruins.
The B's still ice several players that are outstanding agitators. Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and even Zdeno Chara are likely to try and start altercations after the whistle. Those scrums lead to wasted energy and will benefit Chicago in no way.
Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the 'Hawks need to just skate away, barring some gross violation of the hockey code by the Bruins. Be tough during play, leave it alone in between whistles.
Ratchet Up the Power Play
Special teams have been a strong suit for the Chicago Blackhawks because of the penalty kill. That unit sports an outrageous 94.8 percent kill rate, which is the best in the playoffs this year.
The other side of the pillow hasn't been nearly as cool for the 'Hawks, as the power play has produced at a lowly 13.7 percent. Chicago has far too many offensive weapons to not be hovering closer to 20 percent.
The Boston Bruins play a physical brand of hockey, which leads to penalties at times.
If Chicago can make the B's pay for their minor infractions, it could force them away from their physical game a bit, opening things up for the awesome foot speed that the 'Hawks posses. This is also likely to be a very close series, and power-play markers could be the difference between winning and losing the Stanley Cup.
Keep Up the Internal Goal-Scoring Race
Out of the top 10 goal scorers in these playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks have four of them on their roster. No other team has more than two representatives on the list, showing just how deadly Chicago's top six has been in these playoffs.
Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are tied for second in goals with eight each, while Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are also in the top 10, having scored six and seven goals, respectively.
For the 'Hawks to take down the Boston Bruins, they'll need to continue to receive that outstanding level of output from the likes of Sharp and Kane. The B's top forwards are every bit as effective as those on Chicago's roster, so any drop-off could prove disastrous.
Conn Smythe-Quality Goaltending
Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings found out the hard way that Corey Crawford is playing at an elite level right now. Heading into the Western Conference Final against the defending champs, all the praise and hoopla was going to Quick.
Now that he's dethroned arguably the best money goalie in the NHL, maybe Crawford can get some respect.
His 1.75 GAA is tops in these playoffs, while his .935 save percentage is second. For the 'Hawks to win their second Cup since 2009, Crawford will have to continue his dominant play between the pipes.
Roll 4 Lines
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Blackhawks could see some minor changes to their lineup for Game 1 against the Boston Bruins.
Regardless of who's in and who's out, the 'Hawks need to roll their four lines and not worry too much about matchups. The Bruins are likely to chase the Jonathan Toews-Zdeno Chara matchup at all times and all the line juggling in the world won't change that.
Double-shifting is likely the best answer to that problem, but it's pivotal for the 'Hawks to use their entire bench in this series.
Players like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw need to play, and they need to find ways to impact games. The third line is in desperate need of a jolt, and the only way to get the guys going is to play them.
Forecheck Boston's D into the Ice
The Boston Bruins are a defense-first team that will protect the net at all costs. Their defensive core reflects that mentality as a majority of their blueliners are built like brick houses. The only way to wear monsters like Zdeno Chara down is to make them skate, and to make them skate a bunch.
If the Chicago Blackhawks can find success with the dump-and-chase in this series, it could be the difference-maker. Getting the puck in deep and turning the defense around will be a huge key to success for Chicago.
The 'Hawks used their ferocious forecheck with great aplomb against the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings; they'll need to continue to grind away against the large and not-particularly-mobile Bruins defenders.
Unless it's Torey Krug. That kid is the manifestation of the word mobile.
Continued Success in One-Goal Games
It's no secret the the Chicago Blackhawks have gone 7-1 since losing Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
What's mildly surprising is how many of those contests were won by only a single goal. Of Chicago's last seven victories, five of them were one-goal wins. It takes a lot of moxie to close out close contests in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Chicago will need to have carryover success when it comes to wining tight games.
Wake Up Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews hasn't been producing at an elite level in these playoffs, and yet the Chicago Blackhawks have still managed to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. An invigorated and out-of-nowhere performance from Bryan Bickell has eased the burden for No. 19 to produce.
Yet it's tough not to think about how scary Chicago would be if Captain Serious started getting it done in the offensive zone.
He showed signs of life in the Western Conference Final, posting two assists in the closeout Game 5. If Toews can continue to elevate his game, then the 'Hawks will be that much tougher to match up against.
The Boston Bruins can defend well, but there's only so much that could be done if Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell and Toews all got going simultaneously. Only one piece of that performance puzzle is currently missing.
Maintain the Killer Instinct
Killer instinct: It's what separates Stanley Cup champions from never-beens. The ability to smell blood in the water and know how and when to go in for the kill.
The Chicago Blackhawks are chock full of killers. Patrick Kane is one of the coldest goal scorers in the NHL. His ability to break a game open and net devastating goals may be second to none in this league.
When he's on, Jonathan Toews is as strong of a late-game player as you'll find.
Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp each have two game-winners to their credit, and the Blackhawks have yet to lose a game when leading after two periods. That's the kind of closeout hockey that wins championships, and the 'Hawks will need to continue playing that brand of puck to down the Boston Bruins.