Stanley Cup Final 2013 – Tale of the Titanic Tape
Sometimes a series comes along that doesn’t just have faithful hockey fans breathless with anticipation, sitting on the edge of their seats and anxiously counting down the hours until puck-drop, but has the charisma to make the world sit up and take notice, the power to steal the focus of an entire nation, if only for a few hours. The Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Boston Bruins is such a series, pitting not only two of the Original Six franchises against each other for the first time since 1979, but showcasing two of America’s most passionate cities for what could possibly be seven games which immortalise players in the chronicles of NHL history and forever in the minds of those watching.
This Stanley Cup Final could be a veritable feast of hockey brilliance and this post takes a look at the key aspects that will determine whether it can live up to its monumental billing.
Can the Blackhawks deal with Boston’s fore-check?
Although these two sides play a pretty similar style, fusing individual brilliance on offence with a stoic defence-first mentality, the Bruins’ fore-check and how Chicago are able to adapt to the constant pressure will be a huge factor in the outcome of this series. Having just beaten the Kings in five games, the Blackhawks are no strangers to the physical side of the game, with L.A leading all sides in the postseason in total hits with 755. Despite the way in which the Hawks were able to survive this part of the Kings’ play and then monopolise it in their favour, the Bruins are second in total hits and it is the relentless nature of the tactic that makes dealing with it a very different beast.
Boston consistently pin teams in their own defensive zone and this combined with rapid line-changes means that defencemen are often fatigued, either forced into icing the puck or reduced to weak clearing attempts against much fresher opponents. Chicago will need to find a response to this, perhaps utilising the skating abilities and speed of their defensive players. This brings me neatly on to my next point.
Can the Bruins adapt to Chicago’s speed in transition?
The mobility and skating speed of defensive players such as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy is a significant advantage for the Blackhawks, with the team ideally equipped to switch from defence to offence in a split second, often catching their opponents’ off-guard. This has been noticeable against both the Detroit Red Wings and L.A Kings, where defencemen contributed heavily on offence, punishing sloppy line-changes and ill-timed pinches by the boards. The sheer speed throughout the team is also a constant danger, with even the likes of Michael Frolik, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus more than capable of breakaways. The Bruins will need discipline from their forwards to combat this during the series, actively tracking opponents back through the neutral zone, something they usually receive.
A battle of depth?
Though the Hawks are undoubtedly the most talent-laden roster in terms of depth, with so many players producing offence whenever the top line has struggled, the Bruins are perhaps more rounded and play a four-line rotation which can wear down the opposing team over the course of a series. This was evident against both the Rangers and Penguins, where the third-line was superb, causing match-up problems across the ice. Gregory Campbell will obviously be missing after his heroic efforts in the Pittsburgh series leaving an important gap on the penalty-kill, but Claude Julien has plenty of options to choose as a replacement.
I feel this aspect of the final is completely in the balance. The outcome of this series will perhaps come down to who is best able to win their individual war, that single moment where a player dekes past their marker, or escapes their one on one battle for a second, or finds the penalty box after a silly mistake, could make all the difference.
Boston’s defence vs. Chicago’s attack?
Although most people are talking about star players neutralising each other and the reliance being on which depth players are best able to step up in their absence, when it comes to crunch time, this series will be about which player can write their name firmly into the echelons as a performer on the biggest stage. Zdeno Chara and Denis Seidenberg (or Jonny Boychuk) were impeccable against the Penguins, regardless of which superstar they were facing. Crosby, Malkin, Morrow and Iginla were all non-entities because of their hard-nosed play and unbelievable reading of impending attacks. They will carry this confidence into the Finals, to face a Chicago top-line just finding its very best form.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both started the postseason slowly but produced fine displays against L.A in games four and five. Kane in particular has returned to scintillating form and his hat-trick was very much like watching a phoenix being born from the ashes, criticism being washed from his shoulders. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have been their usual imperious selves in the rounds so far, no real surprise there. Verdict: I, like the rest of the hockey world, simply cannot wait to see what happens when these players step into the spotlight together.
Those amazing intangibles?
There are just so many of these to consider that I shall just outline the main three. Home ice has been vital in the postseason so far, with home teams winning 56 out of 80 games. The Blackhawks will hope to make their home ice advantage count and the stats suggest they will, having won 8 out of 10 games at the United Centre. Face-offs: Boston are certainly in control in this area, winning 56 % led by Patrice Bergeron in comparison to Chicago’s 47 %. Where the face-offs are won could perhaps be more important, though only time will tell. Special teams: both of these teams are wonderful on the penalty-kill and pretty average on the power-play. Something has to give here and the Bruins have the revelation that is rookie defenceman Torey Krug on their man-advantage unit, will his fairy-tale story continue?
Both teams have received stellar goaltending throughout the playoffs; Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask are both Conne Smythe contenders, with Rask just ahead in my opinion. I predict the team which holds Sir Stanley’s Cup aloft will be the one whose goalie is best able to maintain his sparkling form. Which one that will be, is anyone’s guess.