CHICAGO | Beyond the glitz of the spotlights and the glittering Stanley Cup, the championship series between the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins for the battered old bowl comes down to something very basic:
Can the Bruins’ bruising play stop the skating Hawks in their tracks?
If the answer is yes, the Bruins probably win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
If the answer is no, the Hawks likely capture their second Cup in four springs.
Detroit tried to do that, and nearly succeeded, but the Hawks rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the final three games of the series, the last one in overtime.
Defending champion Los Angeles tried as well, and had less success, falling in five games, though not before Mike Richards’ goal late in Game 5‘s regulation forced overtime, which went almost 32 minutes before Patrick Kane settled the issue.
The answer reveals itself beginning tonight, when the Hawks host the Bruins in Game 1 of the best-of-seven test. Interviews on Tuesday made clear that neither the Hawks nor the Bruins see any reason to change their style.
Kane, for instance, felt revitalized in the final two games against the Kings, scoring a hat-trick in the clincher.
“I’m a player who wants the puck and I’m a better player when I have it,” Kane said. “Teammates, coaches from my past, parents have said you’ve got to want the puck and the team’s better off when you have it. That’s what I tried to do the last two games and it felt like I had more success when I did that. I’ll try to have the same mindset here in the Finals, try and get the puck and make plays.”
Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are tied for the team lead with
14 points each. Kane is flashy, Sharp workmanlike, and Hossa, in his fourth Cup Final in six years, indefatigable.
That leaves out Jonathan Toews, who with only one goal among his nine points in 17 games is said to be in a slump. Boston center Brad Marchand, expected to be matched against Toews, isn’t so sure.
“Look at how teams tried to shut down Toews in the first couple rounds,” Marchand said. “(Detroit’s Henrik) Zetterburg was practically falling down skating after him. But that gives other guys so much other room, that’s why they’re playing so well.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to do that or not going to do that.
We’re going to have to find some way to slow him down.”
For all the talk of shutdown defense — and the Bruins held powerful Pittsburgh to two goals in four games in their sweep of the Eastern Final — Boston has scored 50 goals in the playoffs. The Hawks will have to play defense as well.
Because Eastern and Western conference teams didn’t meet in this lockout-shortened 48-game season, to goaltender Corey Crawford, they’re something of a mystery. He knows David Krejci and Nathan Horton can score and that Milan Lucic and Marchand are superior setup men, but what else?
“You want to have a little bit of a feel when you play a team, have a feel for what they do in certain situations,” Crawford said. “Just trying to get some video, get that feeling, more of an artificial feeling, for how they play.
“At the same time, we want to play our game. You don’t want to sit back and wait for them to come to you and say, OK, this is what they’ve got. You want to attack and play with speed and confidence.”
The Bruins are a bump-and-grind team, as their size befits. They crushed the quicker Penguins, who didn’t appear to be nearly as interested as a squad with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla should have been. But the bruising Bruins had much to do with that, and now face a similar team in the Hawks.
“They’re a very good puck-control team,” Marchand added. “They cycle back, don’t like to dump it too often. If they don’t have a play, they cycle back and try to swing with speed, hit guys with speed. That’s very tough to play against. Detroit used that for years, and obviously it’s working well for Chicago this year.”
This first meeting of Original Six teams in the Stanley Cup Final since 1979, when Montreal trounced the New York Rangers in five games, has other intrigues.
There’s Hawks center Dave Bolland’s return to the third line, with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, and the demotion of Viktor Stalberg.
There’s the brilliance of Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask since the Bruins near-death experience in Game 7 of the opening round against Toronto. And there’s the old man of the series, 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr. His last Cup Final was 21 years ago – when he, then as fast and elusive as Kane is now, helped Pittsburgh dismantle the Hawks in a four-game sweep.
Jagr would tell you the problem with power against speed is that the powerful side has to catch the fleeter side to win the day.
There was a moment in Game 5 against Los Angeles when it was clear that the more nimble Hawks had the advantage. Anze Kopitar had Kane lined up for a crushing check at center ice. But Kane, with a lateral move Gale Sayers would have been proud of, sidestepped Kopitar, who lunged at thin air.
Kane and his cohorts will have to do the same for up to seven games — and expect no fewer than seven in this series — to repeat their feat of 2010 and hold Lord Stanley’s trophy above their heads again.