By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have been seen as a Stanley Cup Final of near-equals from the time this confrontation became a reality two weeks ago.
The Blackhawks had speed and quickness, while the Bruins had size and strength. Yet, neither side was weak in their opponents’ dominant areas.
The Bruins have the ability to transition from defense to offense with speed and skill, while the Blackhawks can bang bodies with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw when they have to.
Stars? Both sides have them. The Bruins bring Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara to the fight. The Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.
Goaltending is virtually even. Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have been the two best goaltenders in the playoffs and are the primary reasons their respective teams got to the Stanley Cup Final.
The two teams both have the depth to play four lines. That’s unusual in the NHL. When a team gets deep in the playoffs, a head coach will shorten his bench. Both Claude Julien of the Bruins and Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks are not afraid to throw their fourth-liners out there.
But it’s not enough to have depth. You want to have quality depth. That may be why the Blackhawks have forged a 3-2 lead after five games.
Nothing is decided yet and the Bruins could come back to win game six and force an anything-can-happen Game 7 (especially if Patrice Bergeron can return to the lineup). But it seems like the Blackhawks depth players are better than those that the Bruins send out to battle.
In Game 5, the Blackhawks’ role players had to step up after Johnny Boychuk ran into Jonathan Toews and sent him tumbling. Toews did not play in the third period, and that’s when the Blackhawks needed his defensive expertise the most.
Marcus Kruger, Michael Handzus and Dave Bolland all made up for Toews’ absence. They played dogged defense and did a good job of denying Boston consistent scoring opportunities.
While the Blackhawks were coping with Toews’s injury, the Bruins had to deal with the absence of Bergeron. He is their best all-around player. They needed Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin, Chris Kelly or Daniel Paille to step up and make something happen offensively.
None of them were able to make an impact. The closest thing the Bruins had to an effective depth player was Carl Soderberg, the Swedish import who was playing his first postseason game. He had a good scoring opportunity in the first period and made several other solid plays, but he could not make an impact on the scoreboard.
Looking back at the series, the Blackhawks got a depth win in Game 1 on Shaw’s double-deflection, while the Bruins returned the favor in Game 2 on Kelly’s tying goal and Paille’s winner.
While Paille scored another goal in Game 3, that game belonged to Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Rask. The Blackhawks used their stars in Games 4 – most notably Kane, Toews and Patrick Sharp – but they also received goals from Handzus, Kruger and the game-winner from Brent Seabrook.
But in Game 5, the Blackhawks’ depth came up big, while the Bruins didn’t have any answers.
If that happens once more, there will be a length parade featuring a shiny Stanley Cup in Chicago for the second time in four years.
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.