Reporting Steve Silverman
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Boston Bruins are an impressive team, taking the Eastern Conference by sweeping the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins were the glamour team in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring at a league-best rate of 4.27 goals per game before they ran into the Bruins’ aggressive defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Two goals in four games. Ridiculous (hey there, Jeff Joniak).
But while the Bruins put on a great show against Pittsburgh and have won nine of their last 10 games, it was the Blackhawks who won the President’s Trophy and set a record with their 21-0-3 start this season.
The Blackhawks are very much the equal of the Bruins, and likely the better team. If they are going to take this series, they will have to attack the Bruins’ strengths and win the majority of the battles.
Defenseman Zdeno Chara is an intimidating player because of his 6-9, 255-pound frame. He’s the biggest player in the league and he uses his size and overwhelming reach to break up plays on a regular basis. That’s one of the things he does best.
When Blackhawks forwards come into the Bruins zone on the rush, they may not realize how effective Chara is at deflecting a pass or knocking the puck loose. Chara is also going to win the battle when he goes into the corner with momentum. He is regularly going to separate his man from the puck.
But Chara is not superman and he can make errors. When Chara has the puck in the corner or he is standing with it, he is vulnerable. Hard-hitting players can use their leverage by delivering the first blow and knocking Chara off the puck. He also can be harassed when carrying the puck up the ice. It takes him a while to work up to full speed and quick players can cause him trouble when he is attempting to accelerate.
Dennis Seidenberg is Chara’s primary defense partner and the two have complemented each other very well over the last four seasons.
Seidenberg is strong, tough to knock off the puck, smart and he has good vision. However, he suffered the dreaded lower-body injury earlier in the playoffs and he has missed four games in the postseason.
His speed has been impacted. Seidenberg is not skating the way he did two years ago when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup by beating the Vancouver Canucks. That half-step difference may only reveal itself once or twice a game, but it can result in a turnover that may result in an excellent scoring chance.
If a Patrick Sharp or a Patrick Kane can pick his pocket, the Blackhawks can exploit Seidenberg.
The Bruins’ top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has been the best unit in the postseason by a wide margin. Krejci (21 points) and Horton (17 points) are the NHL’s two leading postseason scorers, while Lucic (13 points) is the engine that drives the line with his power and hitting ability.
This line was a disappointment during the regular season as Horton and Lucic seemed to waltz through most games.
The Blackhawks are going to have to attack this line with their own physical play. Bryan Bickell, Brandon Saad, and Andrew Shaw come quickly to mind as players who can challenge that trio. If Krejci, Horton and Lucic are allowed to skate with freedom, the Blackhawks are in trouble. But if they hit them back, it’s a different story.
Patrice Bergeron is the Bruins’ best all-around player and he is the Boston equivalent of Jonathan Toews.
Both players excel at the defensive aspects of the game and are finalists for the Selke award. Toews is very good in the face-off circle; Bergeron is the best in the league.
Bergeron is a strong offensive player with a propensity for scoring clutch goals. Toews is a better offensive players when he’s at the top of his game. Toews has struggled offensively throughout most of the postseason.
One of these players is going to outlast the other in this series. If Toews can raise his offensive game to what it was during the regular season, he has a good chance of taking the battle from the Bruins’ leader.
Finally, Rask was the Bruins’ salvation against the Pittsburgh Penguins, frustrating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin throughout the series. However, Rask is not impregnable. The Blackhawks made Jonathan Quick look like a mortal goalie in the last round and they can do the same to Rask by getting traffic in front and screening him.
If Rask can’t see the puck because Bickell, Shaw, Saad and Michael Handzus are getting in front of him, the Blackhawks can make this red-hot goalie look quite beatable.
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.