3 keys to a Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup finals victory
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2013 10:28PM
Updated: June 12, 2013 8:52AM
There are no previous meetings. No mutual opponents. No way to quantify how relatively easy or difficult their respective paths to the Stanley Cup Final were.
But here’s what we do know about the Bruins — they’re big, they’re mean, and they’re really, really good. They have Detroit’s team defense combined with Los Angeles’ size and physical nature. They have the best goalie in the playoffs in Tuukka Rask and they just humiliated the juggernaut Penguins.
Here’s what else we know: This promises to be the toughest series yet for each team, and nobody on either side expects a quick series. Here are three keys for the Hawks as they go for their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
1. The big boys
NOTEWORTHY: Perhaps no non-goalie has a greater impact on the ice than Boston’s 7-feet-on-skates monster defenseman, Zdeno Chara. He’s huge. He’s skilled. He’s a deft pass-blocker (with his massive reach) and has the hardest shot in the league (with his massive leverage). And he’s one of the fittest players in the league, capable of playing 30 minutes a game. With Joel Quenneville splitting up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — for now, at least — Chara is likely to be matched up with Toews’ line, specifically big Bryan Bickell and big Marian Hossa. Ugly goals down low will again be the key. So Bickell and Hossa will have to stand their ground against the biggest man in hockey history.
QUOTEWORTHY: “We are good friends, he’s my neighbor,” Hossa said. “He lives right across the street [in Slovakia]. But these two weeks, that has to go on the side and we just have to play the roles. I’m sure right after, we’ll be friends again.”
2. Breaking out
NOTEWORTHY: When the Hawks were at their lowest point of the postseason — down 3-1 to the Red Wings, having scored just two goals in three games — largely because of Detroit’s hyper-aggressive forecheck, and how it prevented the Hawks from utilizing one of their biggest strengths: their skilled, puck-moving defensemen. They were helpless at times to get the puck out of their zone. At their best, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson and co. are triggering odd-man rushes with tape-to-tape breakout passes. Detroit didn’t allow it. The good news? The Hawks adjusted and solved the Wings’ team game by Game 5. The bad news? Boston’s forecheck is even better, and the Bruins are far more physical. If the Hawks can’t get out of their own end, it won’t matter much who’s playing up front.
QUOTEWORTHY:“They’re quick — so talented up front, and quick on defense,” said Boston’s Jaromir Jagr, who lost to the Hawks twice with Dallas. “It was a huge difference compared to other teams. They’re so fast and everybody can move the puck on their defense.”
3. As the Crow flies
NOTEWORTHY: Nobody — not even the Hawks — is expecting a high-scoring shootout in this one. So while good goaltending is always a key in series, it’s particularly crucial for Corey Crawford to come up big. He’s been stellar all postseason, with a league-best 1.74 GAA (.01 better than Rask) and a .935 save percentage. He was overshadowed by Howard against Detroit, but he prevailed. He was supposedly not in Quick’s league, but was far superior. Last year, Quick entered the postseason as a pretty good goalie, and finished it as one of the world’s best. If Crawford outduels Rask and leads his team to the Cup, he can make that same leap.
QUOTEWORTHY: “He certainly deserves all the credit in the world, and then some,” Toews said. “I mean, he’s doing it all.”
Prediction: Hawks in 7
Both teams are weary and surely banged-up. It’s a toss-up between two great defensive teams with two red-hot goalies. In the end, the Hawks’ offensive depth — and home-ice advantage — wins out.