By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — It starts with respect and it will end with a handshake. But in between, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are likely to engage in a hatred-infused confrontation.
Both teams are members of hockey’s Original Six, making this the first time two of the league’s oldest members have confronted each other in the championship round since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens dispatched the New York Rangers in five games.
These two teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 1978, when the Blackhawks were swept. Boston has won five of the six playoff series between the two teams, but that’s just history.
This series will be decided by the personnel matchup. Here’s a look at the Bruins players the Blackhawks are going to try to beat.
C Patrice Bergeron – The most complete player on the team. Bergeron is a defensive guru and the best faceoff man (62.1 percent in the regular season) in the league. He’s also one of the best clutch scorers in the postseason, having scored both the tying and winning goal in the seventh game vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Bergeron does not have gaudy statistics (10 goals, 22 assists), but he comes through in the clutch. Bergeron scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in the seventh game triumph over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
LW Brad Marchand – Whether you call him the “Little Ball of Hate” or the “Nose-Face Killer,” Marchand is a super-annoying opponent who will deliver jabs — verbal and physical — throughout the series. Offensively, Marchand uses his speed, quickness and surprising strong wrist shot to score key goals. He is a solid contributor who is often a difference maker in big games.
RW Jaromir Jagr – This is not the same Jagr who led the league in scoring four consecutive years from 1998 through 2001. Jagr, 41, has slowed down considerably. He has not scored a goal in the playoffs, but he uses his size and strength to protect the puck and keep the defense at bay. He has seven assists in 16 playoff games and he appears close to lighting the lamp. Shockingly, he has bought into head coach Claude Julien’s system and he is backchecking and playing defense.
C David Krejci – He is the leading postseason scorer in the NHL with nine goals and 12 assists. During the regular season, Krejci appeared to waltz through many games. He had 10 goals and 23 assists during the shortened season and he has never had more than 23 in any season. However, Krejci turns it on in the playoffs. Patience and vision are the keys to his game. He will outwait the defense and find an open teammate or the top corner of the net. Stealthy and effective.
LW Milan Lucic – One of the most noticeable players on the Bruins, Lucic is a 6-4, 235-pound freight train. Lucic loves to fly up the left wing and bounce an opponent in the corner and take the puck away. After a miserable regular season – just seven goals – Lucic has come to life in the postseason with three goals and 10 assists. He set the Bruins’ comeback against Toronto in motion by pounding the Leafs with his thunderous checks and then he set up and scored a goal in the comeback. Formidable when he skates at full speed.
RW Nathan Horton – One of the playoff heroes from 2011, Horton is repeating that role this year. Horton has seven goals and 10 assists and leads all playoff performers with a plus-21 rating. Horton has a wicked wrist shot and the size to establish himself down low and score the dirty goals.
C Rich Peverley – This is where the Bruins may be quite vulnerable. Peverley moved to the third-line center position after hard-nosed Gregory Campbell broke his leg in Game 3 while blocking a slapshot from Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Peverley is fast and versatile, but he has struggled to produce. Peverley had six goals in the regular season and has just one (and no assists) in the playoffs. Peverley gets his chances because of his speed, but he is in a deep funk.
LW Kaspars Daugavins – When Campbell went down, Daugavins was elevated from the taxi squad. Very speedy and aggressive, Daugavins is like that terrier that clamps on to your trousers and doesn’t let go. Limited talent, but note the “s” on the end of his first name. It’s not Kaspar or Casper. It’s Kaspars – give him his “s.”
RW Tyler Seguin – The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Seguin is supposed to be the Bruins’ superstar because of his explosive speed, superb moves and explosive shot. Through three years, he is a decent player but he is still more potential than production. Seguin seemed to arrive last year with 29 goals, but he was stagnant this season with 16 goals and 16 assists. He has scored one goal in the postseason.
C Chris Kelly – One of the Bruins’ best penalty killers and an excellent defensive player. He is solid in the faceoff circle. Kelly has not scored a point for the Bruins in the postseason, but he can still be an effective player.
LW Daniel Paille – One of the fastest skaters on the team and another effective penalty killer. Paille scored 10 goals in the regular season two more in the postseason and he was much better this year than he had been in the past. His speed allows him to get in the open and make key plays.
RW Shawn Thornton – Thornton is the Bruins’ policeman and if they sense that the Blackhawks want to engage in fisticuffs, he is their fighter of choice. But Thornton is not a typical goon. He is a high-energy player who can force mistakes and help his team score unexpected goals. A hard hitter who gives the Bruins solid depth.
Zdeno Chara – The captain of the team and one of the primary reasons they slapped donuts on Sidney Crosby and Malkin in the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chara is the NHL’s biggest man at 6-9 and 255 pounds and he uses his long reach to break up plays better than anyone in the league. Chara is a big hitter and a physical force, but he does a lot more than bludgeon opponents. He sets them up and outsmarts them as well. Chara’s slap shot is often overrated. While he regularly wins the NHL’s hardest shot competition, it takes him a long time to fire it. He’s often more effective when he takes a short wind-up or fires a quick wrister.
Dennis Seidenberg – When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Seidenberg was the most underrated performer on the team because of his intelligence strength and skating ability. He’s still the same type of player, but he’s a half-step slower and will make some poor reads from time to time.
Johnny Boychuk – A big, aggressive hitter (6-2, 225 pounds) with a bomb of a slapshot. Boychuk will light up opposing forwards who come into the zone and he can overpower goalies with his rocket. The Bruins often look to set him up from the point. Strangely, they rarely use him on their pedestrian power play.
Andrew Ference – When he puts on his glasses and addresses the media after games, Ference is as thoughtful as a college professor. However, he can be nasty and vicious on the ice. Good shooter, puck carrier and well positioned in his own zone.
Adam McQuaid – He scored the only goal in the fourth-game triumph over the Penguins that allowed the Bruins to complete the sweep. Another big man (6-4 and 197 pounds), McQuaid likes to play the physical game and he has a nasty streak that makes opponents think twice before challenging him. His puck-handling can be an issue when challenged hard by forecheckers.
Torey Krug – He is the Bruins’ X-factor. Krug was called up from the team’s minor-league affiliate after injuries hit the defense core, and he scored four goals in the second-round five-game victory over the New York Rangers. Krug, 22, is only 5-9 and 180 pounds and he looks vulnerable. However, he’s one of the fastest skaters on the team, he has a blistering shot and he is solid in his own end. If the Blackhawks don’t pay attention to him, he could be a difference maker.
Tuukka Rask – He had a seat on the bench in 2011 when Tim Thomas led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, but he has come into his own this season. He threw his name into the Conn Smythe discussion with a brilliant performance against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Final. He gave up two goals in four games, stopping 134 of the 136 shots. Rask uses his height (6-3) to cut off the angles, but his anticipation and sense of calm are his best assets. Rask has a 1.75 goals against average, a .943 save percentage and two shutouts in the postseason.
Anton Khudobin – Like Ray Emery, Khudobin has not played in the playoffs. However, the backup goalie was solid in the regular season when he had a 2.32 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.