10 Burning Questions Entering the 2013 Stanley Cup Final

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2013

10 Burning Questions Entering the 2013 Stanley Cup Final

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    The Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks figures to be an NHL classic.

    In addition to the Original Six nature of the championship tussle, both teams are deep and talented. The Bruins will depend a bit more on their size and strength, while the Blackhawks use their speed and quickness a little better than the Bruins.

    Boston and Chicago have yet to play each other this year. That brings a heightened air of mystery to the championship.

    Here's a look at 10 burning questions that will be answered in this series.

Will Milan Lucic Impose His Will?

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    Milan Lucic had a regular season to forget for the Boston Bruins. He was held to seven goals, and he was so non-productive that head coach Claude Julien benched him for a game late in the regular season.

    That message was heard loud and clear, because Lucic stopped going through the motions once the playoffs started. The big left wing started using his size (6'4" and 220 pounds) and skating speed to punish opponents.

    Lucic began crushing opponents with fearsome checks, and he has scored three goals and tallied 10 assists in the postseason. He's going to try to impose his will on the Blackhawks, and they are going to have to find a way to slow him down.

Can Jonathan Toews Find His Scoring Touch?

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    The Blackhawks' best all-around player has endured a difficult postseason from a goal-scoring perspective.

    He has found the back of the net just once in the first three rounds of the postseason. It's somewhat shocking that the Blackhawks could advance to the Stanley Cup Final with their best player in a goal-scoring funk.

    Toews has not been a bad player by any means. He has registered eight assists, played tough defense and battled hard in the faceoff circle. But if the Blackhawks are going to beat the Bruins, he is going to  have to find the back of the net with at least a couple of clutch goals.

Do the Bruins Have the Team Speed to Keep Up with the Blackhawks?

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    The Bruins can play a skating game, but they are more comfortable getting the puck deep, thumping bodies and making plays in the corners that lead to goals.

    The Blackhawks are more inclined to play an up-and-down skating game. They have speedsters like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith who can take the game to a new level.

    The Bruins have their share of fast skaters in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Rich Peverley and Torey Krug, but how will they hold up in long stretches of roller-coaster, firewagon hockey?

    That would probably be an advantage for the Blackhawks.

Which Patrick Kane Will Show Up?

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    Patrick Kane was not having much of an impact in the postseason before the Blackhawks' final two games against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.

    Going into the fourth game of that series, Kane had scored two goals throughout the postseason, and he looked lost much of the time. Instead of carrying the puck in the offensive zone and taking advantage of slower defensemen with his stick-handling and quickness, he was regularly getting his pocket picked or simply losing the puck.

    However, when he batted a puck into the net past Jonathan Quick in Game 4, Kane was visibly relieved. The Blackhawks won that game 3-2 and came home with a chance to end the series.

    Kane had no interest in giving the Kings a chance to return to Los Angeles for the sixth game. He scored the overtime winner to complete a hat trick as he finished off a two-on-one with Toews.

    If Kane can continue to stay hot, it will be that much harder for the Bruins to beat the Blackhawks.

Can the Blackhawks Take the Bruins' Pounding?

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    The Chicago Blackhawks are not a team of weaklings, but they are not going to engage in the hitting game the way the Boston Bruins will.

    During the playoffs, the Bruins have doled out 571 hits, while the Blackhawks have been credited with 458. In the regular season, Boston ranked 10th in the league in hits, while Chicago was dead last.

    The Bruins' tendency to deliver big hits gives them the ability to wear down most of their opponents. Players like Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton deliver punishing hits with frequency, and that should be a key factor in this series.

Will Torey Krug Emerge as the X-Factor in the Series?

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    It's not always the stars that decide playoff series.

    In many cases, a role player or someone who has been overlooked tends to become an X-factor in the series.

    That player was Torey Krug when the Bruins met the New York Rangers in the conference semifinal round. The diminutive defenseman was called up from Providence when Boston suffered a series of injuries on the blue line.

    Krug scored four goals in the five-game series victory over the Rangers and showed off his speed, puck-carrying ability and toughness. He didn't score any more goals in the sweep of the Penguins, but he continued to play well.

    If the Blackhawks don't play close attention to Krug, he has the quickness and skill to score big goals and have a big influence on the Stanley Cup Final.

Will Bryan Bickell Continue to Score Clutch Goals?

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    While Toews and Kane were struggling to put the puck in the back of the net throughout most of the playoffs for the Blackhawks, head coach Joel Quenneville found an emerging star to help the team survive and advance.

    Rugged left wing Bryan Bickell is tied with Patrick Sharp for the team lead in goals with eight. Bickell's contribution was nearly unexpected. He scored nine goals in the regular season and did not figure to be a major offensive force in the playoffs.

    However, he has used his 6'4", 233-pound frame to assert himself. He goes straight to the net and establishes position, and he's not going to get knocked down easily.

    He's been strong to this point and will have to maintain his level of performance against the Bruins.

How Do the Bruins Contend with Marian Hossa?

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    Marian Hossa is a game-changing player for the Blackhawks. He has a massive skill set that includes speed, strength, puck-handling ability, accurate passing and a vicious shot with a quick release.

    Hossa has seven goals and seven assists during the postseason, and he scored the game winner for the Blackhawks in Game 4 when they gave the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings their lone defeat at home in the postseason.

    The Bruins have a player who was more dominant than Hossa a decade ago. However, Jaromir Jagr, 41, no longer compares to his rival with the Blackhawks because he has lost too much of his speed.

    The Bruins are going to have to account for Hossa, but if they spend too much time and effort on him, one of the Blackhawks' other stars could take advantage of a lapse in defensive coverage.

Can the Blackhawks Force Zdeno Chara into Mistakes?

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    The Blackhawks are going to be forced to confront Zdeno Chara on the Boston blue line for as many as seven games.

    The Trencin Tower of Power—dubbed by Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe—is the Bruins' best defenseman and a former Norris Trophy winner.

    When Chara is moving his feet and throwing his shoulder into an opponent, he is almost always going to win that battle.

    However, he is not invincible. When he is in the corner, he can have problems with turnovers when his opponent delivers the blow. The Blackhawks are going to have to get after Chara when he is stationary and take advantage if he gives them any turnovers.

Which Team Will Get the Better Goaltending?

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    Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks and Tuukka Rask of the Bruins have given their teams spectacular goaltending in the postseason.

    Crawford comes off a Western Conference Final in which he got the best of Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, who was labeled as the best goalie in the world at the start of the series. Crawford has a postseason-leading 1.74 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and one shutout.

    Rask is coming off a ridiculous series in which he held the Pittsburgh Penguins to two goals in four games. He has a 1.75 GAA, a .943 save percentage and two shutouts.

    Both goalies are superb. The one that outduels the other has an excellent chance to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of the series and possibly take home the Conn Smythe Trophy.