Bruins: Niklas Hjalmarsson
June, 9, 2013
By James Murphy | ESPNBoston.com
The Chicago Blackhawks beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five games with a 4-3 double-overtime win to clinch the Western Conference and advance to the 2013 Stanley Cup finals, in which they will face the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins will once again likely be underdogs against the Blackhawks in the finals. While the Bruins proved the naysayers wrong against a similarly high-powered offense in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Blackhawks bring a more balanced game to the table. The Hawks are loaded with offensive skill, but they also have a great blue line. They carry many of the same traits as the Bruins, and that's why this promises to be one of the best series in recent memory as well as the first Original Six finals since 1979.
Here are three things the Bruins and their fans should expect from the team that had the best start in NHL history this season by earning a point in 24 straight games:
1. The Hawks can light you up and shut you down: The Blackhawks finished tops in goals against in the regular season and second in goals for. They've got skilled forwards like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and emerging power forward Bryan Bickell, who is tied with Sharp for second in playoff goals with eight, trailing only Bruins center David Krejci, who has nine. But much like the Bruins, these forwards start their offense with defense. Similarly to Bruins center and reigning Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron, Hossa leads the way as the best two-way player on the roster. But the slight difference between the Bruins and the Blackhawks is that while the Bruins defense has become one of the better puck-moving groups in the playoffs, the Hawks defense has been doing that all season and is the best when it comes to transition. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith lead the transition game, but Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are right behind them in turning defense into offense while at the same time limiting chances in their own end. That's why Corey Crawford's 1.74 goals-against average is actually slightly better than Tuukka Rask's 1.75.
2. The Hawks bring finesse, grit and frustrating tactics: As witnessed in the first period of Saturday's Game 5, when they struck for two goals in 2:17, the Hawks can strike fast and furiously and possess plenty of skill and finesse. But they can also be physical. In addition to Bickell's prowess, they also have other bangers like Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland and bring a hard-hitting game every night. The Hawks have their own version of Brad Marchand in the pesky Andrew Shaw, who will be doing his best to agitate the Bruins' best players. It will be very interesting to see how Milan Lucic handles Shaw. The sometimes hot-tempered Lucic was successful in the way he dealt with Matt Cooke in the Eastern Conference finals by maintaining his physical presence but not crossing the line, and that will be key with Shaw.
3. Expect a chess match: The Blackhawks are well coached by Jack Adams Award candidate Joel Quenneville, who has a system in place that his players buy into and execute on the ice. Similarly to Bruins coach Claude Julien, Quenneville seems to have a pulse on his team and can adapt game to game, period to period and shift to shift, as evidenced by the way he handled his players' ice time in the overtime sessions in Game 5. Like Julien, Quenneville doesn't allow star power to take over in the dressing room and holds everyone equally accountable. Both of these teams play hard and play together. This series should be a classic.