Stanley Cup Preview: Chicago Blackhawks v. Boston Bruins

Posted: 06/09/2013 by bc in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Among the surprising tidbits about this blog is the make-up of the followers. The one tidbit that always surprises me most is the educational background of our readers. Many, if not most, are professionals with advanced degrees.
In deference to them, this post on the Stanley Cup match-up is in SWOT Analyses format.
Also, I wanted to get this out ahead of the crowd in mainstream media and the blogosphere. Among the things I’m most proud about this blog is how well it holds up in terms of the info and insight presented. I’m not just talking about my own posts but also co-blogger yougetwhatyouputin and those who post comments.
I rely on other websites for stats, facts and occasionally opinion. When material from other sites is used it is always credited and/or linked. By going first, it gives you the opportunity to see that we talk our talk and walk our walk around here.

Strengths:

Boston Bruins: Generally defense is the Bruins strong suit. When you peel back the onion though, you find the B’s D is based on the system they play, both with and without the puck and some extraordinary talent.  Between the pipes Tuukka Rask replaced a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Conn Smythe, Roger Crozier Saving Grace and William M. Jennings without a measurable difference in result. The blue line is anchored by Zdeno Chara, perhaps the NHL’s most impactful D-man in the post Nik Lidstrom era. At center, 2011-12 Frank Selke Trophy winner and perennial finalist Patrice Bergeron completes the Bruins three-pronged Ministry of Defense.
The field-general is head coach Claude Julien who describes the defending scheme as ‘layered.’  From the puck or point of attack the B’s put one man forward supported by 3 across and 1 or 2 in support and 2 in backup. Regardless of where the puck is, think of it as a 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 from the puck out. If the initial checker is beat on the play, or a successful pass is executed, the point man changes but the formations remain constant. Thus the layered D. If the opposition beats the point man, two or more step up in smothering layers.
This is exactly what frustrated the Penguins stars and forced them off their game. When you do get puck control against the very aggressive layered D Bruins, you don’t have time to do anything with it.
This is the key to understanding the Bruins. They defend as aggressively as they attack.
A secondary strength is team balance. GM Pete Chiarelli and Cam Neely have been meticulous in  assembling complimentary, off-setting balance throughout the roster. On the back-end, Johnny Boynton and Adam McQuaid bring the snarl. Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference are the puck movers. The sixth D is one of rookies Dougie Hamilton, Tony Krug, Matt Bartkowski or veteran Wade Redden.
The balance continues upfront where Boston can ice 3 scoring lines consisting of guys with skill and/or power.

Chicago:

The nearest facsimile to the Chicago Blackhawks faced by the Boston Bruins in this playoff was the Toronto Maple Leafs. In other words the B’s haven’t faced anything close to what the Blackhawks bring. Chicago’s team speed and ability to execute at high tempo is unmatched in the NHL.
These Blackhawks defend aggressively to force turnovers. Once acquiring teh puck they really turn it up a notch.
The emergence of Bryan Bickell as a genuine power forward has added another layer of depth to the very deep Blackhawks. Chicago’s depth has been tested by injury to top six center Dave Bolland and suspension to Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. Neither Danny Carcillo or Jamal Mayers can crack Chicago’s top twelve forwards. Two time 21 goal scorer Michael Frolik is a 4th line player in Chicago.

Analysis: The strength match-up pits Chicago’s speed and depth against Boston’s positioning and balance.

Weaknesses:

Boston: Since Gregory Campbell broke his right fibula, Claude Julien has had to play each game with a short bench. Not only does this task his top nine forwards, it also keeps punishing forward Shawn Thornton off the ice. Prior to Campbell’s injury, Boston was a team that rolled four lines. On the back end Boston will play hockey’s argument for the compliance buyout Wade Redden or one of 3 rookies.
Pittsburgh wasn’t able to exploit these weaknesses but match-up coach Randy Carlyle marshaled his assets such that the Bruins were pushed to the wall.

Chicago: Liking these Blackhawks is an acquired taste. They are their own worst enemy. This is a team that can outwork anybody on any given night, but the question is, will they be wiling to pay the price? For these ‘hawks the willingness involves keeping their heads and avoiding retaliation penalties and suspensions. It means these Blackhawks have to work hard and play smart hockey.

AnalysisThus far in the playoffs each team has overcome its weaknesses. In the Stanley Cup Final each will face its toughest opponent. Boston showed against Pittsburgh that it force a great team off its game. Chicago proved to everybody that speed kills.

Opportunities:

Somebody has to figure out how to score. Tuukka Rask is sporting a GAA of 1.75, .943 SP along with 2 shutouts in 16 playoff games. Corey Crawford has earned a GAA of 1.74, SP of .935 to go along with his 1 shutout.
Opportunities are be born of patience and discipline.

AnalysisEach team has shown it can make its own luck. Boston by getting the under the skin of its opponents. Chicago by forcing mistakes and challenging opponents to match its tempo. Does Brad Marchand goad the ‘hawks into temper tantrums and stupid penalties? Will Bryan Bickell pot some ugly goals from the low slot?

Threats:

The short list consists of injuries and the quality of the officiating. In other words, the unexpected as to the former and the inconsistent as to the latter.

Analysis: Chicago is better positioned to overcome injuries. Michal Handzus has filled in admirably for Dave Bolland so far. At age 36 can Zeus summon another series from his own wonky body?
Boston impresses me as better suited to overcome bad officiating. Good defensive teams usually do rise to adversity.
Boston was down by 3 goals but came back to beat Toronto in OT of game 7. Chicago was down 3 games to 1 and came back to beat Detroit.

Summary

There is always a temptation to rate teams according to the quality of their opposition. It’s bunk though. You measure teams by how they match-up. In this Stanley Cup Final blog we’ve attempted to do that.
In a nutshell, and all of the aforementioned cancelling out this series comes down to a couple of If’s:

1. Boston. If Bergeron and Chara shutdown Toews, Kane and Hossa and Krecji and Horton continue to lead the scoring, Bruins win.

2. Chicago. Coach Quenneville can and will use the last change in four home games to get his big guns out against Boston’s 3rd D pairing.

The cat and mouse game between master commanders could well decide this series.

Pick: Chicago in seven games.

Note: Information available at tsn.ca, thn.com and NHL Live was used in crafting this post.

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Comments
  1. bbdux93 says:

    I would like to think you’re right in your prediction – but I’m inclined to think the Bruins will win – in less than 7.

    • bc says:

      LOL, I wasn’t even going to do a prediction but thought, ah jeez, people expect it.
      The series will be decided as all series and games are decided. The team that wins the majority of the key on one on one battles will win.
      You might be right bb. It could be Bruins in less than seven.
      There was an interview with Crosby. You can watch it here. But I know you hate the guy. Anyway, he denied that the Bruins shut them down. He said, “We got our chances. We didn’t score.”
      Kinda like Corey Perry against the Wings, no?

      • bbdux93 says:

        I really have nothing against any player – fact is – I am amazed by how well most guys play what I think must be the most difficult of all sports. With Crosby it’s been the media and their constant swooning over him and the Penguins. On a slow day during an earlier series a blogger on a team site – don’t recall which – voiced my thoughts when he said according to the NHL there was no need to go through the motions of the play offs – just mail the Cup to the Penguins.
        The best thing about the Bruins victory was watching Barry Melrose say he was shocked. Not laughing out loud here – but still smilin’.

      • bc says:

        Yeah, for the most part, media lives in a high school culture.

        Bruins never trailed in the series. It doesn’t get more dominant than that. I called it ‘stunning’ on Twitter.
        Bruins defense, by that I mean all five guys and the scheme Coach Julien has implemented, is awesome. At the same time, the Blackhawks defense, based on puck possession, is equally impressive.

  2. yougetoutwhatyouputin says:

    First and foremost, Misery loves company… welcome Kings! Really interested in this Stanley Cup Final! Hard to believe it is their first meeting in the finals. I like Boston in this series because I like the pesky Marchand. He continues to effectively get under the opponents skin. However, if Chicago can neutralize him and play their style of hockey (puck possession game) it will be a heck of a series.

    • bc says:

      It should be a great series BUT….who thought Kings would fall in five or the Pens would get swept? The match-ups are great. Toews and Bergeron are two of the most complete players in the game. Many were surprised back in 2010 when Bergeron was added to Team Canada. None would be surprised today. Especially after his work against Crosby and Malkin.

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