Stanley Cup Final Preview- Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final 2013 Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

bruins vs blackhawks

  • Game 1-Wed June 12 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 2-Sat June 15 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 3-Mon June 17 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 4-Wed June 19 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 5-Sat June 22 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 6-Mon June 24 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 7-Wed June 26 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC

Here we are hockey fans; the Series is upon us. Today, the Stanley Cup Final gets started in Chicago and, as hockey fans, we should be in for a treat. Both teams enter the series on incredible tears with Chicago going 7-1 in its last 8 games, and Boston boasting a 9-1 record in its last 10 contests. Both teams were top choices from the outset of the season to make it this far, but the paths have been very unique. Chicago is fresh off of a President’s Trophy-winning regular season, and is primed to cause damage to the scoreboard in the Final. Boston will have an idea of its own, fresh off its shockingly dominant sweep of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. Let’s take a look at some keys to this series and what to anticipate.

1. These Teams Are Good

Obviously at this point of the season it goes without saying that the two best teams are left standing. Both teams have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, and for good reason. They are both built to win now. Both teams feature great coaching in Claude Julien for Boston and Joel Quenneville for Chicago. Both coaches were the coaches for these teams the last time each won the Stanley Cup, so they are battle tested. Although neither team’s goaltender has won the Cup as a starter, both have been fantastic this year, and both will look to continue to excel in the Final. Also, both teams will roll four lines throughout the series, and rely on depth scoring to lift the silver challis at the end of the series.

2. The Bad Boys

Boston did a great job last series of using physical play, and the mental challenges that accompany it, to its advantage last round against Pittsburgh. Entering the series, one of the questions was how Pittsburgh’s stars would respond to the in-your-face physical style that the Bruins play, and the answer was loud and clear: two goals in four games for the mighty Penguins. Players like Shawn Thorton, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand goaded the Pens into bad penalties and loss of focus at times, and you can believe they will look to do the same to Chicago’s stars. That is why the aforementioned players for the Bruins, and their counterparts in Chicago will be huge factors in the outcome of this series. Guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw will have to walk that thin line that, as agitators, they always walk. The Penguins did not have an answer for the Bruins, but Chicago might. Shaw and Bickell will have to keep their cool and try and get under the big boys for Boston’s skin, without taking bad penalties. It should be one of the more interesting “game within the games” of this series.

3. Star Power vs. Team Power

Like the Penguins, Chicago boasts elite high end talent with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp in the lineup, and like with the Penguins, Boston will have to have a direct gameplan to shut these guys down. The first key is to not put the star power on the power play, and when they do, if Boston can blank the Hawks on the PP as they did with Pittsburgh. That will go a long way to helping the B’s win. Boston may not lean on one particular player, but they certainly rely on a team and getting contributions from up and down the lineup. The Penguins and Rangers had no answer for the Lucic-David Krejci-Horton line, but the Bruins still relied on the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid to advance. Look for Boston to implement a similar game plan against Chicago to neutralize its stars.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending

At this point, I am not sure why we even talk about it, but it is too crucial to not mention. Both goalies have their name on the Stanley Cup already, but neither was the starting goalie when their respective teams won. Tuukka Rask would love to take over this series as some feel he did against Pittsburgh last round, but I feel that Boston’s defensive gameplan and execution were a bigger factor than Rask’s goaltending last series. There is no doubt he will have to be as good as he has been, if not better, to stop Chicago. Corey Crawford played behind Antti Niemi when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, and has had a sensational season this year, but many are claiming it is because of the team in front of him. This will be his moment to prove that he is The Man, especially with making a dominant Jonathan Quick look fairly pedestrian last series versus Los Angeles a not so distant memory. It will presumably be a close, tight checking series in which the first goal will be HUGE in every game. There will be no room for error for either netminder and this will nearly certainly be the difference maker in this series.

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Prediction:

Chicago is not the Pittsburgh Penguins, and are the President’s Trophy winners for a reason. Its speed, skill, and grit will be too much for the Bruins to handle. Chicago in six.

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Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Eastern Conference Preview- Pittsburgh vs. Boston

sidchar52931

Eastern Conference Final Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins

    As we come down the home stretch in the playoffs, the matchups are becoming much tighter and the stakes are much higher. Every team remaining in the postseason has won a Stanley Cup within the last four years, so the experience is there. On Saturday night, the Penguins and Bruins will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh, and it should be one hell of a series. The big bad Bruins will try and impose their will on the skilled Penguins, and the Penguins will try and make the Bruins play defense constantly. Let’s take a look at some of the top storylines to watch in this series.

1. Style vs. Style

This is going to be a series of clashing styles, as the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey that sees them send a lot of traffic to the opposition’s net, while the Penguins play a puck possession game in which they want to spend as much time as possible making their opponents play in their defensive zone. Whichever team can establish the style of play that they want faster than the other will have a distinct advantage.

2. The Crosby Effect

It’s a widely accepted fact that the Penguins possess the best player on this planet in Sidney Crosby. Stopping Crosby is nearly impossible, so the best most teams can hope for is to slow him down, and the Bruins will look to do just that. The dilemma that the Bruins face will be how to do it. You can be assured that Zdeno Chara will be in between Crosby and Crosby’s shadow every shift. But Chara has looked tired and a step slow throughout these playoffs, so the Bruins will probably have perennial Selke contender Patrice Bergeron out against Crosby along with Chara on every shift. Enter the Crosby Effect:with your best defensive forward and defenseman out against Crosby, who will be matched up against James Neal,  Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang? The Bruins will have to “pick their poison” so to speak as to which line they want to take their chances with. If I were a betting man, I’d say Bergeron and Chara shadow Crosby, and the Bruins will be comfortable with the Nathan Horton-David Krejci-Milan Lucic line to outduel the Neal-Malkin-Iginla combo.

3. Keep Your Cool

Perhaps the biggest key to the series for both teams will be discipline. Because the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey, they may be able to goad the Penguins into taking some bad after-whistle and frustration penalties. Malkin and Neal both struggled with this during the regular season. Conversely, because of the skill and speed of the Penguins mixed with their ability to mix it up a little as well, the Bruins will have to watch the hooking and holding penalties. Both teams want to stay out of the box because both teams have been very good, if not great, on the power play this postseason, Likewise, neither team has been overwhelming on the penalty kill. Discipline is a sign of a well-coached team, and both coaches are in the top tier of coaches in this league. Limiting the opponents’ special teams play will also be important as both teams like to roll all four lines to get into the groove of the game. Chances are whoever scores the most special teams goals will win this series.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

If you have read any hockey article on TheCover4, you’ll probably notice that we believe goaltending to be the biggest factor in any NHL game, and this series will be no different. Quietly, Tomas Vokoun has posted a 6-1 record in this year’s playoffs, with a .941 save percentage, trailing only Jonathan Quick in that department. However, many will give the goaltending advantage to the Bruins and Tuukka Rask. Like every other aspect of each of these two teams, it is very close. Rask has been very good for the Bruins all year, and it is clear that he is their guy between the pipes. On the other end of the rink, you have the aforementioned Vokoun, who took over for the embattled Cup-winning Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the Penguins’ first-round series against the Islanders. Vokoun has been good when called upon, but questions still remain about how long his leash is should he falter a bit. You know Fleury is biding his time and wants to get back in as soon as possible, but which Fleury will the Penguins get if that time comes? The Fleury of their ’09 Cup run? Or the Fleury of the ’12 Flyers series? Hopefully for Pittsburgh fans, they won’t have to find out, and Vokoun will keep up with his solid play.

5. Emotion

Hockey is a very emotional sport and there will be many emotions flowing throughout this series. Both Pittsburgh’s ConsolEnergyCenter and Boston’s TD Garden are tough venues for visiting teams. With Boston still recovering from the tragic Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent craziness that ensued, the city has rallied behind the Bruins, and the Bruins have reflected the sentiment by wearing “Boston Strong” decals during games and police, fire and armed forces clothing in their postgame interviews. While I’m sure it is not their main motivation, never underestimate that little extra motivation. In addition to that, the Boston players will surely want to make Iginla see the error of his trade deadline choice to nix a trade to Boston, in order to be dealt to Pittsburgh where he felt was his best chance to meet Lord Stanley. In addition to Iginla seeking his first Cup, the Penguins also feature the likes of Neal, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Vokoun  and Brandon Sutter all looking for their first Cup victory, so the hunger will still be there for the Pens. Once we get into this series, I am sure you will see some very intense, emotional hockey played.

Who Ya Takin’?

From early into this season, many have been eyeing a Bruins-Penguins Eastern Conference Finals. They have been the two best teams all year in the East and have past experience to help them. Many picture this series going seven games. While at first glance it looks like an even match-up, the Penguins just seem to edge the Bruins in nearly every department: depth, speed, skill, scoring. But the two departments that the Bruins are at least their equal, if not superior, are goaltending and physicality. Luckily for the Bruins, those are two huge departments. As Ottawa showed against Pittsburgh, a good goalie can steal at least one game single handedly. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Craig Anderson in Ottawa is better than Rask, and Rask has yet to see an offensive dynamo like the Penguins. I just don’t think that the Bruins have the players to get it done. The Penguins skill and puck possession will be the difference in this series.

Penguins in 6.

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Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Game 7: What It’s All About

asdasThere are probably no two words that conjure up a bigger realm of emotions for sports fans than “Game 7”. Excitement, anticipation, fear, hope, the list goes on and on. It is the game where legends are made. If your team is in Game 7, it is the epitome of a rollercoaster ride. The magnifying glass of the sports world is on you for (at least) 60 minutes. Every mistake is scrutinized, every coaching decision is questioned, and it only ends one of two ways, wondering “what-if”, or a shining moment that will stick with you for a lifetime, for both fan and player alike. For every major North American sport except football, Game 7 is what separates the best from the rest. There are many different ways to get there, but none of that matters once the game starts. A blown 3-0 series lead, a comeback from down 3-0, a couple bad calls from games earlier in the series; all forgotten. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is the final score, and that is what makes game 7 beautiful. Hockey is no exception, and the drama of Game 7 is unmatched. We have had a few in this year’s playoffs, and with the teams remaining being that much more even, you can be sure there are more to come. The drama of a game 7 is incredible, it’s the reason the players finish that second work out of the day in summer training, it’s the reason that the die-hard fan doesn’t shave that playoff beard, it’s the reason the coach watches that extra 15 minutes of film, to do everything you know how to do to make sure that your team has that shining moment, and not wondering “what if”. Anyone can be the hero, the long-time team captain, an underrated role player, a struggling star, or the last person on earth that you would ever guess. It’s a beautiful thing.

Let’s take a look at some of the faces of game 7.

dive_display_imageThe Moment: 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Darius Kasparitis’ OT Goal

This lends to one of those game 7 moments from an unlikely hero. Darius Kasparitis was a feared hitter on the Penguins blueline for many years, but was not known for his scoring prowess. After Mario Lemieux tied the game late to send it to Overtime, Kasparitis sailed a shot passed future hall of famer Dominik Hasek and became the unlikely hero. In his elation, he took off down the ice, ending in a home plate slide through center ice.

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Alex-Burrows-Ryan-KeslerThe Moment: 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, Alex Burrows’ OT goal

For the two seasons prior to 2011, the Vancouver Canucks enjoyed a successful regular season leading to high post season hopes, only to be eliminated both years by the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. Nursing a 1-goal lead at home in Game 7, the Canucks gave up the tying goal to captain Jonathan Toews, leaving many in attendance to fret “Not again”. Chicago defender Chris Campoli botched a clearing attempt that Burrows jumped, caught and dropped to the ice, skated to the slot and buried a slap shot behind Chicago netminder Corey Crawford. As the Vancouver crowd went wild and the team celebrated, CBC announcer Jim Huson put the moment perfectly, “Finally, after 3 seasons for Vancouver, it’s a great day for an exorcism”. Vancouver went on to face the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose in… you guessed it, 7 Games.

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9008195_448x252The Moment: 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, The Comeback Completed.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, but their road to the finals was nothing short of spectacular. In their Semifinals series against the Boston Bruins, not only did the Flyers trail the series three comes to none, but after erasing that deficit to force game 7, they were down three GOALS to none in Game 7. They slowly erased the deficit, and Simon Gagne’s third period Power Play goal capped the comeback, giving the Flyers a 4-3 lead in the game, that they never relinquished.

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talbot-topperThe Moment: 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, Max Talbot Scores 2.

After losing to the Red Wings in 6 games the season prior, Pittsburgh found themselves matched up in the Finals once more against the Wings. A long, well played series culminated in Game 7 in Detroit. Unsung role player Max Talbot was the Game 7 hero for the Penguins, potting 2 goals in the game. Talbot’s first goal was typical of him, taking the puck and swinging it towards the net to see it go in, but his second goal was very atypical for Talbot. Coming on a 2-on-1 against goaltender Chris Osgood, Talbot looked off the pass and picked a corner, a true goal scorers goal, and in celebration and realization of the moment, Talbot slid to his knees pumping both fists, becoming one of those indelible images, at least to Penguins fans.

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MessierThe Moment: 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, The Wait Is Over.

New York’s 54-year quest to recapture Lord Stanley’s old silver mug came to an electrifying conclusion in the deafening confines of Madison Square Garden. The Rangers saw their leads of 2-0 and 3-1 trimmed and had to hang on through a tight third period. One of the most compelling playoff runs in NHL history, that included “the guarantee”, the Rangers capped it off in thrilling fashion to finally dispel the chants of “1940!!!!!!” that echoed through their cross-town rival Islanders’ arena for decades.

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Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Iginla to the Pens: Shero’s Mastery or Feaster’s Failure?

There’s no denying Penguins general manager Ray Shero is damn good at his job. He’s assembled quite a supporting cast for the cornerstone players he inherited when he took over for Craig Patrick in May 2006 (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby).

But let’s ease up on the credit being given to Shero after Thursday’s early morning surprising trade in which he managed to steal Calgary legend Jarome Iginla for a first-round pick, a soft pack of Winstons and some plywood.

No, it wasn’t Shero’s mastery — which has been displayed in acquiring Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Matt Niskanen and Chris Kunitz for a couple of used needles. It was the complete and utter incompetence of Calgary general manager Jay Feaster, who since taking over the position, has been on a consistent run of franchise-crippling decisions.

Let’s give a little background on Feaster. Sure, he’s a Stanley Cup-winning general manager (Tampa Bay in 2004) but he is on an impressive streak of mind-bogglingly stupid decision-making. Since taking over for Darryl Sutter following the 2010-11 season, Feaster has managed to make people around hockey wonder how he created a Stanley Cup-winning roster in Tampa.

The biggest mistake happened at the end of February. Feaster signed Colorado center Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year offer sheet worth $10 million. For those of you unfamiliar with the workings of NHL contracts, O’Reilly was a restricted free agent. Any team could sign O’Reilly, but Colorado could match the offer and O’Reilly would have been forced to go back to Colorado. If Colorado didn’t match, the Avalanche would receive a first and third-round pick.

Feaster and the Flames decided that O’Reilly was worth the draft picks, but Colorado quickly matched. OK, no big deal. The risk was worth it, right?

Not so fast. Feaster neglected to recognize that O’Reilly played a couple of KHL game after the NHL season was underway. Because O’Reilly wasn’t on the Flames’ reserve list, he would have had to go through waivers in order to join Calgary’s roster. O’Reilly would have certainly been claimed, thus Feaster would have his lost his first-round pick (almost certainly a top-10 pick) as well as his third for nothing.

Feaster was also widely mocked for signing bottom-pairing defenseman Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.25 million contract. Additionally, he spent his first-round pick on Mark Jankowski, NHL Central Scouting’s 43-best player, from a Quebec high school that has yet to produce an NHL player.

Iginla shouldn’t have been a Flame this year. Calgary has been downtrodden for a few years, but Feaster refused to recognize the need to rebuild. Had Feaster done the smart thing and tried to trade Iginla at the trade deadline last year, the return would have been much higher.

So yes, Shero was dealing with one of the NHL’s most incompetent general managers when negotiating for Iginla. Shero had shown has wasn’t adverse to overpaying for rental players, sending top prospect Joe Morrow to Dallas for Brenden Morrow and two second-round picks to San Jose for Douglas Murray. For some reason, Feaster failed to recognize that and gave Iginla away when he didn’t have to.

The trade deadline was still six days away and if Iginla, as reported, was only willing to waive his no-movement clause to go Pittsburgh, Feaster could have waited a couple more days and continued using Los Angeles and Boston to drive up the price from Pittsburgh.

Instead, Feaster crumbled under pressure and likely secured his firing at the end of the season.

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Brendan Shorts
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