The Chicago Blackhawks are on to the next great challenge, and the final hurdle in this race to the cup; the Boston Bruins. The Blackhawks can take a look in the mirror, and see a lot of themselves in the B’s. They bring a ton of scoring power, grit, great goaltending, and beyond that, a difficult rink to play in, filled with passionate fans. On the ice, there’s lots for the Hawks to keep track of; Here’s who they should be most worried about.
Brad Marchand brings a complete game to the table, and the Blackhawks are going to see a lot of him in the next couple of weeks. He lives in the shadow of line-mate Patrice Bergeron, which is where he is most dangerous, as teams believe they have ‘bigger fish to fry’ than #63. He is always there for the B’s when they need him, at key moments in the game, he delivers, whether that is with a big hit, a brilliant pass, or a goal of his own. His 13 points rank him third on Boston, behind Nathan Horton and NHL league leader David Krejci. He will attempt to intimidate, as he is the Boston version of Chicago’s “rat” Dave Bolland. He did this very effectively last series, where he pestered stars Sidney Crosby and Brenden Morrow to no end. Marchand will need to be taken care of with some physical play from Brent Seabrook and the rest of the defense. He is also very adept at bringing the puck into the offensive zone with control, so the Blackhawks have to jam up the neutral ice, like they did oh-so-well in games Four and Five against the Kings.
They don’t call him “Big Z” for nothing. Zdeno Chara is a big unit, measuring in at 6’9″, 255 lb. Perhaps the most incredible thing about #33 is that he can skate, and skate better than many people in the NHL. He has the ability to make good short or long pass from the defensive zone, and can skate up-ice with the puck and make a play himself. Defensively, he punishes opponents with big hits and huge strength around the boards, and frustrates the forwards with a lengthy reach, to go with spot-on positioning. If you’re in the Boston crease, and Chara is on the ice, watch out. He is near impossible to outmatch offensively. The Blackhawks will look to counter this by getting some secondary scoring, notably from Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg, when Chara is catching his breath. Otherwise, the top six forwards will have to take every shot they can get, no matter what angle, and hope for a rebound. If your name is Patrick Kane, you need to stay away from the Bruins captain. The size difference between the Hawks hottest scorer and Big Z is near a foot, and Chara will quash any opportunity Kane has with or without the puck. The rest of the Blackhawks need to bring Chara to the net, where his big body will be in the way of the Boston goaltender, and they need to outmatch him on the rush, with 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 chances with great passing and speed.
Just as the Blackhawks, the Bruins have a secret weapon in goal. Tuukka Rask was flying under the radar for most of the regular season and into the playoffs, until the Bruins were recognized as serious Cup contenders. Since then, the 26-year-old Fin has taken the eyes off of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford and placed them squarely on him. Rask is statistically, putting up better numbers than Tim Tomas did in the Bruins Cup run in 2011. That’s how good he is. One thing that surprises everyone that has seen him play is his sense of calm in the net. Even in double overtime, Rask plays with smooth, deliberate motion, and due to this, makes the right play almost every time. The Blackhawks need to get into his head, much like Logan Couture did to Jonathan Quick, which extended the life of the San Jose Sharks. It will prove very effective if Rask starts to make mistakes, as no one really knows how he will handle them, because he hasn’t made any so far. Pucks will have to go to the net, no matter where the Blackhawks shoot them from, and bodies like Bryan Bickell will have to be there ready for a deflection or rebound.
It’s the best time of the year. Only one team can go out as Champion, and the Blackhawks start the final leg of their journey in just over 36 hours time.
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