Reporting Steve Silverman
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The matchups and machinations have started already, even before the first puck has been dropped.
If these two teams are mirror images of each other, as many observers have noted, the chess game between Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien could have a decisive impact on the Stanley Cup Final.
Both men have already won championships with their teams and that brings league-wide respect. However, one of them will have a second title, and with that comes legendary status.
Quenneville has already engaged in the battle. He has either made a strategic change by breaking up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews after those two were the dominant pair in the decisive game against the Los Angeles Kings, or he is engaging in some out-of-character subterfuge to confuse the Bruins.
Changing line combinations seems strange. Kane had three goals in his last game, including the series winner in double overtime. Toews sent a perfect pass to Kane that he one-timed past Jonathan Quick.
Why would Quenneville change line combinations just when his two stars had started peaking?
Quenneville has looked at the tape of the Bruins playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has seen the stifling defense that Zdeno Chara has played in all three series, especially the last one when he blanketed Penguins’ superstar Evgeni Malkin.
If Quenneville was not engaging in trickery, he will have Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on one line and Kane with Michal Handzus and Bryan Bickell on the other.
Separating Kane and Toews means that Chara can’t be on the ice against both of them. That makes sense, but it’s unlikely the Bruins are shaking. Chara wasn’t on the ice with Sidney Crosby nearly as much as he was with Malkin; neither man scored a single point.
That’s because Patrice Bergeron was on Crosby and he may be the best defensive forward in the league.
Look for Julien to have Chara attempt to shut down Kane, while Bergeron battles Toews in a classic duel between two of the most complete centers in the league.
Quenneville’s way is to tinker with his lines and alter his strategy as he sees fit.
Julien does it in a different manner. He wants his team to play to its strength. He plays a defensive system first. The defensemen have to clear the opposition from the front of the net and the forwards must forecheck and backcheck relentlessly.
They have to, or Julien will put players into the lineup who will play his system.
Late in the regular season, Julien pulled left wing Milan Lucic because he was floating around the ice and not playing at full speed. He got the message. Since that humiliation, Lucic has resembled a runaway freight train.
Quenneville is much more likely to change his strategy at any point in the series; Julien is more likely to change his personnel to suit his strategy.
Quenneville and Julien are two of the best coaches in the league and neither man is likely to school the other. However, one decisive move could prove to be the difference in what should be a very tight series.
Quenneville has started the maneuvering already, but it may be the last move of Game 7 that proves decisive in this series.
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.