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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NHL Finals Preview: Boston vs. Chicago

Wild on Sports
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NHL Finals Preview: 
Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

My, my...where to begin?

This has got to be one of the better Stanley Cup Final match-ups, on paper, that we have seen since Detroit-Pittsburgh back in 2008. All the story line are there -- two original six teams (first time since 1979), two of the hottest goalies in the world at the moment, two high charged fan bases and two teams that have been there before, recently, and will not succumb to the emotional roller-coaster that is the NHL Finals.

I suppose instead of talking about all the similarities and things they do well (there are enough to fill ten pages about) lets shift our attention to what each team has to do to win. To me, they are very clear cut.


Why Boston Will Win...

Tukka Rask - Rask stopped a ridiculous 134 of 136 shots in the Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins and arguably the best offensive attack in recent NHL history. That's a .985 save percentage for those of you keeping track at home...WOW. History has proven that the team that gets the hot goaltender at the right time usually has the best chance of winning. Bruins fans saw first hand what Tim Thomas was able to do in the 2011 playoffs, carrying the entire city on his back en route to the Cup. As good as Thomas was in 2011, Rask has been better in 2013. Sure, Thomas made the flashy saves, but what Rask brings to the table is probably one of the most technically sound butterfly styles in the NHL today. He is always in position and because of that makes it look easy -- pucks just hit him. If he continues his historic play they are going to start carving not only the Stanley Cup but the Conn Smythe as well.

Shut Down Match-ups - Bruins coach Claude Jullien loves defensive match-ups and has the horses to really shut down two entire lines. Offensively the Blackhawks are very good, but may not have the same depth that Pittsburgh had, up front at least. This will play huge to the advantage of the Bruins. Expect the d-combo of Zedeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg going up against the Jonnathan Towes line. This pairing typically sees the opposing team's top forward. With the exception of game 7 of the West Finals when Patrick Kane went off for a hat trick, Towes has undoubtedly been the Blackhawks best and most important player on the ice. Really the success and mood of the team starts and ends with him. Detroit was able to get to him a little bit in the early stages of the conference semi's and that, as much as anything, was the reason the series went 7 games. Towes spent the first two games frustrated and in the penalty box. Expect Boston to try copy that blueprint with the combo of Lucic on offense and Chara on the back end when the Towes line is on the ice. As for the afore mentioned Kane, he will likely draw the odds on favorite to defend his Selke title in Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron can hang with Kane stride for stride. If he was able to shut down the best player int he world last series, he should have no problem with Kane.

Fate - Boston seems to be a team of destiny following the Boston Marathon attacks. Boston Strong, and strong they are. The Bruins will likely have fans across the country rooting for the city, not just the team. That momentum alone may be enough.


Why Chicago Will Win...

Corey Crawford - Crawford has been the unsung hero of the Blackhawks, at least in the eyes on many on the East coast. He has been over shadowed a bit by the play of Rask but his numbers thus far are equally impressive -- 1.94 GGA, .926 SV%  vs. 1.95 GAA, .943 SV%. This will mark the first time these playoffs that the Bruins will face a goalie who is peaking going into the series (James Reimer, Henrick Lundquist, Tomas Volcun being the others). Crawford is a big body who really fills the net well. Like Rask, he is a technical butterfly style goaltender who when sharp makes all the saves look easy. The Bruins struggled at times during the regular season finding the back of the net. That has not been the case so far in the playoffs, but then again they have yet to face a goaltender playing to Crawford's caliber. If Crawford is on his game he very well could be the difference maker.

Skilled Scoring -The Blackhawks have three players -- Towes, Kane, and Marrian Hossa -- who would each be the most talented offensive player if on the Bruins. Outside of Tyler Segin, who has been ice cold thus far, the Bruins have no real player with a nose for the net. Huge advantage here if Towes & co. can find a couple chinks in Tukka armor. The Blackhawks would love to be able to do what the Penguins failed to do -- turn games into high scoring shootout type affairs. Boston is not built for that style of hockey. Score 4 or 5 goals in a game and there is a near certainty that you will win.

Mirror B's - Chicago might be the first team the Bruins will play this postseason that can take the Boston style of play and shove it right back in their face. Guys like Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith can all really throw the body around. The Rangers and Penguins both tried to play Boston's style but had to change their own games to do so; the Blackhawks need no such change. If they are able to get in the faces of guys like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchant, goating them into stupid penalties, they have a very high likelihood of success.

What Does Vegas Think?
Vegas has the odds at Chicago 2-3 to win while the Bruins are at 13-10. Given the Blackhawks dominance during the regular season there really is little surprise there. It is interesting to note that they have the best odds for the series outcome at Blackhawks in five games, going off at 4-1. The worst odds are for a second consecutive Bruins sweep, going off at 14-1. That is a bit surprising. Experts everywhere have this series going deep (6/7 games). Then again, everyone said that about the Conference Finals for each side and those went just 4 and 5 games.

Prediction:
All things considered, I think the Bruins have a great plan in place from the Pittsburgh series to shutdown high scoring offenses. The goaltending match-up will be an interesting one. Expect a very low scoring, hard fought battle throughout. With that being the case, Bruins in 7.

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