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Monday, June 10, 2013
Q's challenge: Stopping the Bruins

By Jesse Rogers

Jonathan Toews and Zdeno Chara
Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has 11 points this postseason, just three less than the Hawks' leaders and Boston has played one fewer game.
CHICAGO -- The chess game for Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has begun as he prepares his team for the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, which begins here Wednesday.

Due to the lockout, the teams didn't meet in the regular season.

"I think everybody was speculating that at the beginning of the year, how was that going to play out?" Quenneville said on Saturday.

And so scouts and video examination will be the norm for both sides over the next few days. How will the Hawks stop a Bruins attack that outscored the Pittsburgh Penguins 12-2 in sweeping the East's top seed out of the playoffs?

"We've seen some of their games, especially the last series there," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Sweeping Pittsburgh, I think, says it all right there with the amount of firepower Pittsburgh had, what they were able to do to a team like that."

Like the Hawks, the Bruins are ignited by their defense, led by the massive Zdeno Chara. He has 11 points this postseason, which is just three fewer than the Hawks' leaders, and Boston has played one fewer game. There are point producers up and down the Bruins' defensive pairings, including rookie Torey Krug, who was thrown into the postseason madness at the last minute. He has accumulated six points in nine games. Stopping the Bruins' transition game from defense to offense will be a key.

Up front, the Bruins have a dynamic trio. Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton are on a roll, having amassed 51 points in 16 playoff games. For comparison, Boston's second line has 31 points in the postseason.

So Quenneville's first task will be deciding who checks Krejci's line. Quenneville usually isn't afraid to send out any of his four lines, but Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa could see a lot of Krejci and his wingers.

If Quenneville wants to match his nasty guy with theirs, then Chicago's Andrew Shaw and Boston's Brad Marchand will see plenty of each other. Each can be a headache for the other team and each can go too far in trying to disrupt, but both have the skill to contribute, as well. Which player will be able to rein in his antics and still provide some muscle? This will undoubtedly be one of the storylines in the series.

And then there's the headache for the Bruins. If there is any carryover from the last series, Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews and the newly hot Patrick Kane will be a handful for Boston. If Quenneville can get a matchup with Kaspars Daugavins, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin, the Hawks should have an advantage. The loss of Gregory Campbell to a broken leg has forced Boston coach Claude Julien to rework his bottom six forwards. It remains to be seen whether the chemistry exists as it does with their top six.

Then again, Quenneville could go several routes with his matchups and line combinations or even change them entirely, as he's done several times in the playoffs. Top line against top line is always a possibility.

And Julien will undoubtedly put his own stamp on the matchups; expect the Bergeron line to challenege Toews when Boston has its way.

As for overall styles of play, Boston might try to do what the Los Angeles Kings never were able to do: get nasty with the Hawks. If Marchand is able to goad Shaw into penalties and Chara gets in the face of some Hawks forwards, it's possible the Blackhawks will get distracted. But the Hawks have proved they won't back down from a fight or a physical style. To the surprise of many, it was their forechecking which did damage in the Kings series, not the other way around.

But the Bruins are quite different than the Kings. Boston will throw everything at the net and isn't as brooding with the transition game as the Kings are. The Hawks just faced a team that put the puck on opposing goalies the fewest times per game in the playoffs, but now face a team that has taken the most shots in the playoffs, 36.4 per game.

As for the goalies themselves, there's really no edge. Tuukka Rask has better numbers and faced more shots, but neither has played into the fourth round before as a starter and each has been on the top of his game. It's anyone's guess which young goalie will outplay the other.

The X factor in the matchup could be the adversity each team has faced. The Hawks weren't tested early and almost were knocked out by the Detroit Red Wings in Round 2. Tight games, a suspension to a star player, and an overtime win in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings kept the Hawks' attention in the next round.

Although Boston beat a good Pittsburgh team, the Penguins don't have nearly the defense or goaltending the Bruins should encounter versus Chicago.

The Bruins faced their adversity early in the postseason by winning in dramatic fashion in overtime of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1. But that was several series ago, so the Hawks might be ready to pounce as the Bruins try to regain their mojo against an elite opponent on both ends of the ice.

Or maybe the last two series took something out of the Hawks, just as occurred with the Kings, who had tough affairs heading into the conference final. And maybe the Bruins, who have gone 9-1 in their past 10 playoff games, are just that good.

A case could be made for either side, so it might come down to that chess match between coaches. The teams will meet on Wednesday for the first time this season, but within two weeks they'll come to know each other quite well.