By virtue of record and seeding -- as well as a poll of 19 NHL Network and NHL.com panelists -- the Chicago Blackhawks are the favorites to win the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, which begins with Game 1 on Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
But are the Blackhawks the better team? It's a hard call to make because the finalists have not met on the ice this season and haven't played any common opponents because of the intraconference schedule used during the 2012-13 season.
In the end, the seven-game series will determine who is the better team -- as it always does.
But who wants to wait that long? Instead, NHL.com writers Shawn P. Roarke, Dan Rosen, Arpon Basu and Corey Masisak break down the teams in key categories to find out which team has the overall edge entering the series.
Not surprisingly, the Tale of the Tape came out in favor of the Blackhawks, but it was a close contest throughout the categories.
The Bruins have the highest scorer in these playoffs, but each of the voters preferred Chicago's superior depth to that of Boston.
Chicago is so deep Dave Bolland, who regularly played on the second line, is logging fourth-line minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks have four players in double-digits in points, and five players with at least four goals. Every forward who has appeared in the postseason has at least one point, except for Brandon Bollig, who has played in three games.
It is not just depth when it comes to Chicago. The Blackhawks also have quality. Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp each have eight goals; Patrick Kane has snapped an early-round slump and is on a tear; and Jonathan Toews is one of the best two-way forwards in the game.
Boston's front line is nothing to dismiss, however.
Patrice Bergeron, a two-way center in the same class as Toews, anchors the second line, featuring young agitator Brad Marchand and legendary vet Jaromir Jagr. Before an injury to Gregory Campbell, Boston boasted the most dangerous and effective fourth line in recent memory.
Edge: Chicago 4-0-0
Boston's foundation is on its blue line, and that strength was reflected in the voting; each panelist said the Bruins have the best defense. That is a bold statement, considering the Chicago blue line features the one-two punch of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Zdeno Chara, who plays more than 29 minutes a game, is the anchor of Boston's unit, and he is ably assisted by undervalued Dennis Seidenberg. Andrew Ference, who returned from a lower-body injury at the start of the third round, added stability to the unit, joining Johnny Boychuk as a second shut-down pair. Torey Krug, a call-up from the American Hockey League, has seen limited minutes but awakened Boston's power play. Adam McQuaid scored the series-clinching goal in the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving Boston 15 goals and 35 points from its defensemen.
Chicago is extremely deep on the blue line and loves to activate its defenders into the attack; they have six goals and 21 assists. Keith plays the most minutes, followed by Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, who are within a minute of each other when it comes to average ice time.
Edge: Boston 4-0-0
There is little to separate the goalies in the Final. Each was merely an interested bystander the prior time his team played this late into June. Now each has assumed a starring role and is excelling at it.
Boston's Tuukka Rask allowed two goals against the Penguins in the four-game Eastern Final; he stopped 134 of 136 shots. He has a 1.75 goals-against average in the playoffs with a .943 save percentage and three shutouts.
Chicago's Corey Crawford has a 1.74 GAA with a .935 save percentage and one shutout.
Edge: Boston 3-0-1
This is another area with very little difference; each coach has a recent Stanley Cup on his resume.
Boston's Claude Julien, who won in 2011, made all the right moves again and was especially impactful with his use of defensemen to shut down the top two lines of the Penguins.
Chicago's Joel Quenneville won the Cup in 2010. This postseason, he guided the Blackhawks back from the precipice of a 1-3 series hole against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round. He did a masterful job deploying his players to completely shut down the Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown line in the Western Conference Final.
Edge: Boston 1-0-3
You don't get to the Stanley Cup Final without excelling at special-teams' play, and Boston and Chicago are among the best, especially when it comes to killing penalties.
The Blackhawks have allowed three power-play goals in 58 shorthanded situations; one of those goals has come on the road. That effectiveness more than makes up for a middle-of-the-road power play, which is hitting at 13.7 percent.
Boston's kill was unbelievable in the third round, surviving 15 opportunities of the top-rated power-play unit from Pittsburgh. The Bruins' power play is slightly better statistically than the Blackhawks', at 15.6 percent.
Edge: Chicago 3-1-0
Each team enters with incredible momentum on its side, fueled by a near-elimination earlier in the playoffs.
Chicago has won seven of eight games since falling into a 1-3 hole against Detroit in the second round. It advanced to the Final with a double-overtime victory in Game 5 against the defending champs, even after Los Angeles tied the game in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
Boston has won nine of 10 since rallying from a 4-1 deficit in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round to avoiding letting a 3-1 series lead slip away. The Bruins have won an overtime game in each round this postseason.
Edge: Even 0-0-4
In case it hasn't become abundantly clear by now, this series is far too close to call with any certainty. There is precious little that separates the Western Conference Champion from the Eastern Conference Champion. Home-ice advantage, held by the Blackhawks, could be the tipping point.
Because of the equality between the teams, most experts expect a long series; 18 of the 19 NHL Network and NHL.com panelists making predictions said the series would go at least six games.
In the end, though, the majority of the four-writer panel commissioned for this project picked the Chicago Blackhawks, the best team in the regular season, to raise the Cup for the second time in four seasons.
Edge: Chicago 3-1-0
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