Based on where they stand in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals and the reputations they have established in their respective situations, the Chicago Blackhawks constitute an unstoppable force, the Boston Bruins an immovable boulder.
For the fifth time in five tries over the five-year coaching tenure of Joel Quenneville, Chicago broke a 2-2 tie in a playoff series with Saturday’s 3-1 win. The Hawks will now try to throw the knockout punch in Game 6, just as they did every previous time in this scenario.
Overall, in the Quenneville era, the Blackhawks are 9-2 when they have a chance to finish off an adversary. Excluding Game 7s, they are 8-1 when they are immediately coming off the win that gives them three of the requisite four to clinch the series.
The Bruins, however, have been one of the NHL’s best postseason survivors during six seasons under head coach Claude Julien. In his reign, Boston is 10-4 when facing elimination and, with the exception of Game 7s, its opponents are winless at 0-4 on their first attempt to end the Bruins' campaign.
Something will have to give in Game 6 at the TD Garden Monday night. Here is a deeper look at how either trend can trip up.
Time: Monday, June 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, CBC, RDS
Key Storyline: Key Centers May Not Be Available
Each team’s resident Selke Trophy candidate left Game 5 with injuries. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, who has a recent history of concussions, stayed on the bench for the third period after he took a high hit from Bruins blueliner Johnny Boychuk.
Meanwhile, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron sat out the majority of the second period and eventually went to the hospital with a reported spleen ailment, according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.
Even if either of these key players is in decent condition to dress for Game 6, it is safe to assume that they will not be 100 percent. If they cannot suit up, others will need to step up all the more.
In addition, Boychuk may leave a vacancy on the Bruins defense if the NHL decides his hit on Toews is suspension-worthy.
Key Matchup: Corey Crawford versus Tuukka Rask
At this stage of a multi-round staring contest between netminders, the cost of a blink can only inflate.
Chicago has put its share of pucks behind Rask with solid maneuverability and net-front presence. Boston has victimized Crawford primarily via his well-documented trapping glove.
For both teams, exploiting the opposing goaltender’s weakness is all but an unconditional centerpiece of their offensive game plan.
Injury Report (via tsn.ca)
Patrice Bergeron: Questionable for Monday with an undisclosed injury.
Gregory Campbell: Out for the rest of the playoffs with a right fibula injury.
Jonathan Toews: Questionable for Monday with a head injury.
Bruins’ Projected Lineup
Line 1: Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Line 2: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron or Carl Soderberg-Jaromir Jagr
Line 3: Daniel Paille-Chris Kelly-Tyler Seguin
Line 4: Kaspars Daugavins or Soderberg-Rich Peverley-Shawn Thornton
Line 1: Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk or Dennis Seidenberg
Line 2: Seidenberg, Matt Bartkowski or Wade Redden-Andrew Ference
Line 3: Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Starter: Tuukka Rask
Backup: Anton Khudobin
Blackhawks’ Projected Lineup
Line 1: Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews or Andrew Shaw -Patrick Kane
Line 2: Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa
Line 3: Brandon Saad-Shaw or Dave Bolland-Viktor Stalberg
Line 4: Marcus Kruger-Bolland or Brandon Bollig-Michael Frolik
Line 1: Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Line 2: Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Line 3: Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Starter: Corey Crawford
Backup: Ray Emery
Boston Will Win If…
Zdeno Chara does a little more of what he did in the third period of Game 5 and virtually none of what he did throughout Game 4.
In the aftermath of Game 5, Jesse Connolly of the New England Hockey Journal made this observation to sum up Chara’s recent nosedive: “Chara, including the empty-netter, has been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks' last nine tallies. Yowza!”
Boston’s towering captain did make mild amends in Saturday’s closing frame by at least breaking up Crawford’s shutout, thereby instilling the statistical notion that the Bruins still had a chance.
Another homeward-bound slapper from Chara may or may not be necessary depending on what the forwards on his side do in Game 6. But if he keeps things noticeably tidy on the home front, that just might be enough to physically and psychologically drive his allies to production at the other end.
Bottom line: Chara has a track record to defend. In his captaincy, the Bruins are 4-0 when they need to win in order to force Game 7.
Chicago Will Win If…
It mutes the masses of TD Garden early and elicits the same fast-working elimination potion it so often has under Quenneville.
The Blackhawks already flaunted one of their playoff trademarks on Saturday by taking the lead and pulling within one victory of a take-all clincher before the opponent could.
With the exception of those series when it falls into a 3-0 or 3-1 hole, the core Chicago group always brandishes the same basic killer instinct in Games 5 and 6. As a result, not once since Quenneville has been in charge have the Hawks allowed an opponent to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 or 3-2.
With another fast, fruitful start from any of its marquee players, a la Patrick Kane in Game 5, this series should be no different.
Prediction: Bruins 3, Blackhawks 2
This series had the look of a seven-gamer before it even commenced, and that look has only strengthened as the momentum has swayed through the first five contests.
With both Bergeron and Toews far from their normal selves, or possibly unable to play at all, both parties will have a void to fill in the way of exemplary two-way leadership.
The potential absence of Bergeron, along with his own aforementioned slump and the implications of this contest, should spur Boston’s captain Chara to a much more efficient outing. The tone he and other active leaders set ought to start a strong-enough cycle of energy with the Garden crowd to at least ensure the Blackhawks don’t corral the Cup on Bruins property.
Bergeron’s prospective absence means the Bruins will likely need to channel their 2008 team. That was when he missed the bulk of the season, including the playoffs, and an underdog Boston team valiantly forced Game 7 before a top-seeded Montreal team asserted itself as the clear-cut superior back home.
With or without Bergeron, look for that pattern to repeat itself in this final week of the 2012-13 NHL season.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via hockey-reference.com