Busy day at work today, so I’ll keep my thoughts on this series brief. Here we go:
- To me, the Blackhawks are a lot like the Penguins: high-end talent up front, a fantastic regular season, and high expectations. There’s one key difference: the Hawks have a defense that, you know, plays defense. The Blackhawks are like the Penguins in that they’re a well-rounded team with plenty of firepower, but they also have a very solid defense corps. This series will be another challenge for the B’s, but they’ve clearly been up to the task thus far. The Hawks’ defensemen move the puck out of their zone very well. It’ll be important for the Bruins to establish a good forecheck, particularly bruisers like Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on the first line and Shawn Thornton on the fourth. Wear the Hawks’ defensemen down.
- I’m not sure what to expect from Corey Crawford. He seems to alternate between being a top-flight goalie and being merely average enough to stay in the net. He’s got very solid stats this postseason, but I don’t buy him as an “elite” goalie quite yet. However, the Hawks won the Cup in 2010 without an “elite” goalie (Antti Niemi), so that may not matter as much.
- My father, Father BruinsHockeyNow, and I have watched a lot of Hawks games over the past few years to watch our neighbor, Jimmy Hayes, play professional hockey (which is pretty cool). He won’t be playing in this series (barring injuries), but it’s given me a chance to watch this Chicago team. The other day, my father said that he thinks Patrick Kane will go away if the Bruins put a body on him, and I tend to agree with him. Kane and Tyler Seguin are similar in that they’re both highly skilled but shy away from physical contact. If they get pounded and pounded every shift, they’ll start to stay away from the corners and loose pucks. It’ll be important for the B’s to put a body on Kane (legally) every time he touches the puck.
- Jonathan Toews is normally one of the most even-keeled players in the NHL, so it was strange to see him absolutely lose his mind in the Detroit series. It was also a plus for the Bruins. If Toews got that far off his game against Detroit, imagine what a player like Brad Marchand, a known agitator could do to him. Toews was absolutely ineffective for huge stretches of that Detroit series because players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were driving him nuts. Toews is the rudder of this Hawks team; if the B’s can get him off his game, good things will happen.
- Special teams may be a wash again in this series. Both teams have strong penalty kills, and both have struggling power plays. If one side can break through, it’ll be a game-changer.
- It’ll be important for the Bruins to not buy into Andrew Shaw’s antics, the same way the Hawks must avoid being baited by Marchand. Shaw is a Marchand Lite, a small, annoying guy who has a knack for scoring when you hate him the most. Lucic in particular is a guy who I can see taking a swipe at Shaw and possibly taking a dumb penalty in the process. The B’s must maintain their composure.
- So what happens? The Bruins are currently playing the best hockey I’ve ever seen them play, quite frankly. No Bruins team I’ve ever seen has played the kind of all-around hockey this team has played since the last ten minutes of Game 7 vs. Toronto. It’s incredible. If Tuukka Rask puts forth the effort he did against Pittsburgh, the B’s have this one in the bag. If he’s merely average, they should still be OK if they play the strong team defense they’re capable of. I see the Bruins splitting the first two in Chicago, winning both at home, then clinching the Cup on Garden ice in Game 6. Let’s hope that’s how it goes down.