The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have a lot in common. Both teams were forced to survive a seven-game series during their Stanley Cup playoff run, and each could make a very strong case as to why they should be the favorite in the finals.
Since the teams are so evenly matched, the margin for error is minuscule. Small swings in momentum and a couple lucky bounces are going to have a major impact on the series. Whichever team is able to handle that tension better will win the Cup.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the most important player for each team heading into what should be a long, exciting series. Strong performances from these two players are essential to the success of their respective sides.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask
Whether Rask could handle the pressure of being the undisputed No. 1 goalie in Boston for an entire season was a major question mark after the lockout ended. Most of those questions were answered early in the campaign, but any lingering concerns were eliminated in the conference finals.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla were among the Pittsburgh Penguins stars Rask shut down in the last round. He gave up just two goals in the four-game sweep, solidifying his status as an upper echelon netminder.
The task doesn't get any easier in the finals. Chicago has a very dangerous offense of its own. Three players lead the way with 14 points in the postseason, namely Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. It was enough to power the Hawks past the defending champion Los Angeles Kings.
As mentioned, this series is likely going to feature several swings of control. The Bruins need Rask to remain one of the few constants by giving them a chance to win every night. If he avoids any glaring mistakes, Boston should be in terrific shape.
Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews
Toews was not listed in that group of Chicago's leading scorers. He's actually five points behind that trio with nine points in 17 games, which is well below his usual pace. The dynamic center scored 48 points, including 23 goals, in 47 regular-season games.
While the Blackhawks definitely need him to become more productive in the offensive zone, he means far more to the team than scoring. His ability to help in every facet of the game is exactly what championship teams are built on.
He's spent nearly five minutes per game playing special teams during the postseason. It may not seem like much, but when you consider he plays just over 21 minutes, that means nearly a quarter of his time is spent on the power play or killing penalties.
Toews is also the team's leading faceoff taker at 53 percent. So he really does it all to help Chicago win games, even if he isn't putting up a point per night. If the scoring does rebound to normal levels for the finals, the Blackhawks will be very tough to beat.