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The Stanley Cup Finals are finally here. After a lockout-shortened season and all the speculations and predictions, we have our two finalists. Many predicted this matchup in the finals, and after the way the two teams have played in these playoffs, it is pretty obvious that these are the best two teams in the NHL and deserve to play for the Cup. We are in for a great series against two Original Six teams, but there are some key match-ups to watch when this series gets underway Wednesday night.
A lot of focus has been put on the goaltending in this series as well it should be. But considering the goalies do not have anything to do with the offense, Tuukka Rask vs Corey Crawford is not the matchup here. A huge part of this series is going to be Tuukka Rask vs the Blackhawks offense. After shutting down arguably the best offense in the league, it is not going to get much easier for Rask. He will now be facing another high-powered offense with star players who can finish. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are the three players to watch on the Blackhawks. They also have good depth and have other players that can finish like Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp. Tuukka Rask has gotten better as the playoffs have gone on, and has been the best goaltender in the league over the last two series, especially after only giving up two goals to the Penguins. If he can continue to play well and shut down Chicago’s offense like he did with Pittsburgh, the Bruins will have a great chance to win this series.
Corey Crawford, who has been almost as good as Rask, has 1.74 GAA, which just edges Rask’s 1.75. The biggest difference between the two goaltenders is the save percentage, where Rask leads with a .443 to Crawford’s .435. This shows that Rask has come up with more saves than Crawford, which is why Rask gets the edge in goaltending. Crawford does need to worry about the best line in the playoffs in David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. That line will be big in this series considering it has the two best offensive players in the playoffs up until this point. But the key for Crawford is going to be stopping shots from the point. A big part of why the Bruins are in the Finals is due to the success of their scoring from the point. So far this postseason, the Bruins have 15 goals from the point, while the next closest team has six. The Bruins have had a lot of success with those shots from the blue line and it will be on Crawford to make sure he sees those shots and most importantly stops them. If you can force the Bruins to beat you with their forwards alone, you take a big element away from their game.
The two power forwards have been huge for their respected teams this offseason. Milan Lucic who is not putting up the numbers like the rest of his line, is causing havoc out on the ice and opening up opportunities for his line-mates. He has been a man amongst boys in these playoffs and is going to be matching up with another power forward who has stepped up his game in Bryan Bickell. Both players play on their teams top lines and both players are around 6 ft 4 and 230 lbs. They both have 13 points in the playoffs, though Bickell has eight goals and Lucic only has three. Bickell who only had nine goals in the regular season is not only getting on the scoresheet, but he is hitting everything that moves and has become a big part of the top line for the Blackhawks.
Lucic and Bickell are almost the same player. They are both big and physical who are not afraid to get into it in the corners or after the whistle. With both players playing so well and both being big physical players, this could be something to watch over the whole series. There is a good chance they see a lot of each other if their lines matchup like many think they will.
Something to watch as well is going to be how both teams use their lines. The Blackhawks, like the Bruins, like to run four lines. Though most of their success has come from their top two lines. The majority of the Blackhawks third and fourth lines are a minus in the playoffs. Only the Bruins third line is a minus, but they played better against the Penguins. With both teams being deep and running all their lines, it will be interesting to see whose depth has more success. This is going to be a hard fought and grinding series, depth is going to be key.
This matchup is truly a matchup of the top two teams in hockey. Chicago had the best record in the NHL, and the Bruins who finished in fourth in the East, were always a top team. After the way they played against the Penguins, many people are feeling the way David Krejci does when he said, “We may not have the best players in the world, but we may have the best team in the world.”