Clash For The Cup
Depth will lead Chicago to Cup
The Chicago Blackhawks have gotten to where they are now because of depth, and it will be depth that carries them to the Stanley Cup.
On any given night, the Blackhawks' stars have emerged to make the difference -- Patrick Kane's hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals -- but the reason they rolled off points in 24 consecutive games to start the season, finished with the league's best regular-season record and are now four wins away from their second Stanley Cup since 2010 is because they received help from everyone.
Here's a telling stat about the Blackhawks' depth: Captain Jonathan Toews tied Kane with a team-best 23 goals in the regular season, and Toews has scored just once in 17 playoff games.
Where Toews' production has dropped off, others have picked up. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have been consistently healthy in the playoffs, unlike the regular season, and have combined for 28 points. Michal Handzus, a trade-deadline pickup, has seven assists.
And then there is Bryan Bickell, who was a solid contributor on the third line in the regular season. In the playoffs, he's been a star. He has eight playoff goals, one fewer than his regular-season total, and five assists.
Depth has been key to the Blackhawks' offense, but it's also been vital to their defense, especially their penalty kill. Frolik and Kruger have established themselves as two of the NHL's best penalty killers while helping the Blackhawks kill off 55 of 58 power plays in the playoffs.
Come the decisive game of the Stanley Cup finals, the Blackhawks may get another star-like performance from Kane or it may be a game winner from Brandon Saad or Viktor Stalberg or an essential blocked shot by Johnny Oduya or Michal Rozsival.
The name doesn't matter because for the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup it's going to be the complete team, not an individual, that gets them there.
Scott Powers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com.
Can't contain black-and-gold train
The Bruins have been gaining steam ever since their historic, comeback victory against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, and the Blackhawks are just the next foe in front of this unstoppable locomotive.
The Bruins are 9-1 in their past 10, including the third-period Game 7 comeback in the first round.
Backed by goaltender Tuukka Rask, Boston's defensive game is near perfect. That has coincided with an offensive surge, particularly from the Bruins' top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. That trio has combined for 51 points in 16 Stanley Cup playoff games.
One of the interesting aspects of this series is the ability of both teams to roll out four lines. At this point of the season, depth is an important factor and the Bruins and Blackhawks have been blessed in that category.
From a physical standpoint, the Bruins hold the edge in this series. The Blackhawks aren't ready for what is about to hit them head on with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Nathan Horton, Shawn Thornton and Lucic. Plus, they haven't been chirped at by the motor mouth of the Eastern Conference in Brad Marchand.
The Bruins are not lacking in confidence, either. With the exception of rookie defenseman Torey Krug and forward Kaspars Daugavins, every player in the lineup has won at least one Stanley Cup championship. Sure, nearly half of the current Blackhawks roster won in 2010, but Boston has the edge in experience.
Between the pipes, Rask has been tremendous. Yes, Chicago netminder Corey Crawford has played well, too, but Rask has been in the zone the entire postseason. He would never say it publicly, but he's motivated by the comparisons to Tim Thomas, and also by the fact a major payday will be coming this summer if he continues to play at this level.
This will be a highly competitive, highly entertaining series that will be won by the Bruins. Unlike 2011 when the Bruins won on enemy territory in Vancouver, this spring Lord Stanley will be celebrated and passed around TD Garden ice after Game 6.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.