To win the 2013 Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins will truly have to earn it by beating the undisputed best teams from the NHL’s shortened regular season. After sweeping the top team in the Eastern Conference in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the B’s are now set to face the Chicago Blackhawks - the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the NHL leader in points during the regular season (Game 1, Wednesday night, 8 p.m., NBC). Like Pittsburgh, Chicago is not afraid to roll four lines although keep in mind that strategy can go out the window under different circumstances in playoff games.
Patrick Kane (6 goals, 8 assists, plus-4 this postseason) and Jonathan Toews (1 goal, 8 assists, plus-4) are household names in the NHL and with good reason. Chicago’s two young superstars are some of the better forwards in the game; Kane is probably the most offensively talented American forward and Toews, aka Captain Serious (as he’s been called), is a carbon copy of Patrice Bergeron. The wealth of talent doesn’t end there for the Blackhawks up front as Marian Hossa (7 goals, 7 assists, plus-8) and Patrick Sharp (8 goals, 6 assists, plus-4) are also on the top two lines. The wild card for them is Bryan Bickell, a hulking forward who has put up eight goals and five assists (plus-6) after scoring only nine goals in the regular season. He’s a free agent to be so that might be a big reason for his production this season, but whatever the case he’s playing the best hockey of his life.
Boston faces its biggest challenge of the postseason against Chicago in terms of their mobile defensemen. What the Blackhawks lack in size on the blueline, they make up for in speed and puck carrying ability. Duncan Keith (2 goals, 9 assists, plus-11) is one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL and he teams with Brent Seabrook (2 goals, 1 assists, minus-2) on Chicago’s top defensive pairing. Keith is a whiz on the power play although you wouldn’t know it based on the Blackhawks’ struggles in the postseason with the man advantage. Niklas Hjalmarsson (5 assists, plus-10) and Johnny Oduya (2 goals, 3 assists, plus-9) are the underrated second defensive pairing for Chicago.
The series could very well be decided by Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford’s (12-5, 1.74 GAA, .935 save percentage, 1 shutout) play. So far, he’s started every game for the Blackhawks this postseason and he’s never been pulled. He’s allowed three goals or less in every contest except Game 2 vs. Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals (4 goals). He’s big (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) but not super athletic and he’s prone to a very soft goal once in a while. Chicago doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses, besides the power play, but we thought the same thing about Pittsburgh a few weeks ago.
The Bruins can absolutely beat the Blackhawks, but they’ll need to play at something close to their top level like they demonstrated against the Penguins.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate