Michael Russo's four keys to the Stanley Cup Final

  • Updated: June 11, 2013 - 11:28 PM
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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask celebrated after the Bruins defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, in Boston on Friday, June 7, 2013. The Bruins swept the series.

Photo: Charles Krupa • Associated Press,

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The goalies: Chicago’s Corey Crawford vs. Boston’s Tuukka Rask

Not to cast any aspersions on the job Crawford has done this postseason, but Rask has been magnificent for Boston. The two have nearly identical stats (12 victories, minuscule goals-against averages and bulky save percentages), but Rask held the mighty Penguins to two goals in a four-game sweep (.985 save percentage). Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held scoreless. That’s extraordinary.

Crawford, tremendous in Chicago’s first-round, five-game elimination of the Wild, has had a history of surrendering cheesy goals, although he usually recovers impressively afterward (two or fewer goals in seven of the past nine games).

Chicago was the best defensive team in the NHL this season. Boston was the second best in the Eastern Conference. But with so much firepower on both sides, this series very well could come down to a big save here and there.

 

Boston’s physicality vs. Chicago’s speed

Few teams forecheck better than the Bruins (Milan Lucic is the poster child), and that was one major reason Pittsburgh couldn’t execute. The Penguins spent much of the game getting hounded in their own zone. The Bruins are much more physical than the Blackhawks (including defensively, where they’re led by captain Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference). But so were the Los Angeles Kings, and they’re physicality didn’t hurt Chicago in the Western Conference finals.

So it’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins forwards, especially the third and fourth lines that have been effective in the playoffs, can disturb Chicago’s deep back end. The Blackhawks defense is as good as it gets when it comes to getting the puck out and up the ice quickly on transition.

It also will be interesting to see if the Bruins can neutralize Chicago’s speed by doing what they do so well — clogging the neutral zone. The Blackhawks are much faster than the Penguins, who got slower with their late-season acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow.

 

Any forward line is a threat

It’s no coincidence that the two deepest teams in the playoffs are the two last teams standing. On Chicago, captain Jonathan Toews has been held to one goal. Until a series-clinching hat trick against Los Angeles, Patrick Kane wasn’t finding the twine either. But the Blackhawks have plenty of weapons, from Marian Hossa (fourth Stanley Cup Final in six years, six of his seven goals are go-ahead goals) and Patrick Sharp (eight goals) to third-liner Bryan Bickell, who after being one of the NHL’s lowest-paid players at $600,000, will strike it rich after his monster eight-goal-and-counting postseason.

Boston can scorch you from anywhere as well. Center Patrice Bergeron (Game 7-tying and series-winning goals vs. Toronto) is clutch and automatic in the faceoff circle. David Krejci leads the playoffs with nine goals and 21 points, while Nathan Horton has 17 points and is plus-21 — ridiculous when one considers Boston has scored 40 even-strength goals. Jaromir Jagr might have re-invented himself at 41, but his 78 playoff goals are tops among active NHLers. Brad Marchand could be a big factor, too. Boston’s agitator gets under opponents’ skin and puts pucks in the net (five).

 

Offense from the back end

Both teams are dangerous from the blue line. Fifteen of Boston’s 50 goals have come from defensemen, with sharpshooter Johnny Boychuk having five and rookie Torey Krug four. Similarly, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can create chances for the Blackhawks.





 

  • related content

  • Chicago’s Corey Crawford has answered his critics with a 1.74 goals-against average in the playoffs.

  • Defenseman Johnny Boychuk delivered a check to Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul in the first round.

  • With eight postseason goals, Bryan Bickell, left, has been the breakthrough player for the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

  • Boston’s Tuukka Rask was at his best in the Eastern Conference finals, holding Pittsburgh to two goals.

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