Stanley Cup Final 2013: Critical Keys for Game 3

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

Stanley Cup Final 2013: Critical Keys for Game 3

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    The Stanley Cup Final has reached a critical phase. The two teams have split the opening two games in Chicago. The feeling-out process in this series is over.

    As the series resumes in Boston, the Blackhawks are going to try to use their speed and puck possession to take charge in the series. The Bruins are going to try to counter with physical play that leads to Chicago turnovers.

Corey Crawford's Glove Hand

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    Corey Crawford's name is at the top of the NHL's postseason goaltender rankings. Crawford has a 1.72 goals against average, slightly better than Boston's Tuukka Rask's 1.73 GAA.

    Crawford has been stellar throughout the playoffs, winning a goaltending duel with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings to help the Blackhawks get to the Stanley Cup Final. However, the Boston Bruins are not conceding anything to Crawford.

    They are targeting his glove hand. NBC Sports Network analyst Pierre McGuire pointed this out in Game 2 (43-second mark of video above).

    Crawford made a brilliant save on Jaromir Jagr in the first period and Jagr also beat Crawford to the glove side with a shot that clanked off the post in overtime. The Bruins won the game when Daniel Paille's shot went just underneath Crawford's glove, hit the inside of the post and landed in the back of the net.

    The Bruins will continue to test Crawford to the glove side in Game 3.

David Krejci's Goal Production

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    David Krejci has been the Bruins' most consistent offensive player throughout the postseason. He is tied with Chicago's Patrick Sharp for the league lead in goals with nine during the postseason. He leads the league in playoff points with 23. 

    Krejci has not scored a goal since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh. His ability to hold the puck until the last possible split second gives him an advantage over most defenses and goaltenders.

    Look for Krejci to assert himself in Game 3 and put Crawford to the test with his shooting accuracy.

Blackhawks Need Sharp Road Effort

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    The Chicago Blackhawks would not have won the Presidents' Trophy and recorded points in the first 24 games of the regular season if they weren't an outstanding road team.

    However, they have not distinguished themselves on the road in the postseason. They are 3-4 away from home in the playoffs, and they have lost Game 3 in each of their previous series.

    They dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in the opening round to the Minnesota Wild, the only game they lost in the series. The Red Wings punished them 4-1 in Game 3 of the conference semifinal series in Detroit. They also lost a 3-1 decision to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.

    The Blackhawks had a huge road win in Game 6 against the Red Wings (above), a victory that forced a decisive seventh game. The Blackhawks need to come with that kind of effort against the Bruins in Game 3 if they are going to give themselves a chance to win the game.

Offense from Boston Defense

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    One of the primary reasons the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final has been the production they have received from their defensemen.

    They have size, strength and will play a physical game on defense. They also have the ability to change the game with their offense.

    The Bruins defense has scored 15 goals in the postseason. Johnny Boychuk has five goals, rookie Torey Krug has four, captain Zdeno Chara has scored twice and Adam McQuaid also has two goals. Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Wade Redden have also scored in the postseason.

    However, in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins defensemen have combined for just one assist.

    Head coach Claude Julien wants his defensemen to load the gun and fire away. They are skilled at avoiding shot-blockers and getting the puck to the net.

    If the Bruins can get a goal or two from their defensemen in Game 3, it would give them an excellent chance to take the lead in the series.

Speed of Viktor Stalberg

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    Viktor Stalberg is almost certainly the fastest skater on the Chicago Blackhawks and one of the swiftest skaters in the league.

    However, he is not an overly productive player. He did not dress for the Blackhawks in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final as head coach Joel Quenneville chose to go with a more physical lineup that included sturdy but slow Brandon Bollig.

    Stalberg is expected to be in the lineup for the Blackhawks in Game 3, according to Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com. He has been held to three assists in the postseason after recording nine goals and 14 assists in the regular season.

    "I think we need some speed from him," Quenneville told Powers. "I think we need energy. I think that he's a threat off the rush and defensively responsible."

    Although Stalberg has the speed to get behind the defense and create scoring changes, he is just as likely to shoot the puck over the net as he is to test Tuukka Rask with a well-placed shot.

    This maneuver is a gamble for Quenneville.

Bruins Physical Play

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    The Chicago Blackhawks want to seize control of the Stanley Cup Final with their speed, puck possession and skill.

    The Boston Bruins have all three of those elements, but they may not be the Blackhawks' equal in any of those areas. However, they have the edge on Chicago when it comes to physical play.

    When the Blackhawks were dominating play in the first period of Game 2 and building a 19-4 edge in shots on goal, the one thing the Bruins did was outhit the Blackhawks.

    They continued with that trend in the second period, and by the end of 40 minutes, the Bruins were outhitting the Blackhawks 39-13. The margin narrowed to 50-34 by the conclusion of the game, but the Bruins got back in the game and they managed to win it 2-1 in overtime. Their physical play was a major factor.

    Milan Lucic led Boston with 10 hits, while Adam McQuaid added eight hits. The Bruins will try to use their physical play to impact Game 3.