Five key questions surrounding Stanley Cup Final

Wednesday, 06.12.2013 / 10:14 AM
Shawn P. Roarke  - Senior Managing Editor

CHICAGO -- The buildup finally is finished. After days of discussion and dissection, the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks will commence Wednesday with Game 1 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) at the United Center.

Once the puck drops, the answers to all the questions that have been raised during the past four days of inquisitions will begin to reveal themselves.

Asked to identify the biggest key to the series, Boston's Rich Peverley hinted at the frustration the players are starting to feel as they wait to get back to those things they can control -- mainly their actions on the ice.

"That's for you guys to write about, I don't know," Peverley told during Stanley Cup Final Media Day on Tuesday. "They have a lot of depth, we have a lot of depth; they are playing really well at the right time and I feel like we are playing pretty good right now, too. I think it is going to be a really good series. I can't focus on one thing."

Nobody can identify just one thing that will win or lose the final series of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but here are five key questions whose answers will play a part in determining which team will raise the Stanley Cup later this June.

1. Which team will win the matchup battle?

One of the reasons the Bruins are so tough to play is because they spread their weapons out as much as possible, causing headaches for opposing coaches looking for matchups in either the offensive or defensive zone.

Offensively it's a pick-your-poison proposition. Do you load up against the David Krejci line, which has torched opponents for the past three rounds? If you do, Patrice Bergeron and his linemates, including Jaromir Jagr, are given a little bit more freedom.

"You know, it's hard for the other teams to stop our team because there's my line, Bergeron's line, the third line," Krejci said. "The fourth line is playing pretty good hockey in the playoffs, as well.

"It's tough for the other teams, but we have to bring our A game every single night."

Offensively, it is a full-time job to try to get away from Boston's top two defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Bruins coach Claude Julien has no fear of overworking Chara and will split up his big two to get the matchup he wants. In the previous round, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma couldn't get his players away from Chara.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville might try to break up his loaded top line, which features Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, to make his lineup deeper and harder to match against. He hinted at those changes during practice Wednesday.

Plus, the Blackhawks are comfortable mixing and matching players, as it is a regular occurrence for them during the season.

"That's [Quenneville] to a T," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said of his ever-changing cast of linemates. "He has a great feel for us as players, what we can bring to a particular game, upcoming game. He's done a good job of scouting teams we're playing, looking at different matchups.

"I think all of us as players, we're comfortable playing with each other. We're used to being thrown around in different combinations and we all trust that Joel picks the right ones."

2. Will a lack of familiarity between the teams affect the series?

These teams haven't played each other in what seems like forever.

Both coaches are great strategists, identifying and exploiting the weaknesses of an opponent with surgical precision. But does the lack of in-game data hurt their process? Julien had eight days to break down the Penguins and came up with the perfect game plan. Can he do it again without any live experience as to how the Blackhawks play?

And what of the players? Will a lack of familiarity -- and just as importantly, emotional history -- cause the first game to be contested at a pace less than blistering?

"I don't think at this time of year," said Boston forward Shawn Thornton. "There is no time to feel each other out when every shift could be the difference. We should be ready to go right off the drop of the puck. I know you guys [the media] need something to write about, but I don't think it will be much of a factor."

3. Can Chicago make the faceoff battle competitive?

On paper, the faceoff war will be decidedly one-sided. Boston is the best faceoff team in the playoffs, winning 56 percent of its draws. Chicago is in the middle of the pack, winning 47 percent.

Why is this important?

"I think anybody wants to win the faceoff because it is going to give you possession," Boston center Chris Kelly said. "We've always been a team that prided ourselves on playoffs, really work on it, talk about it a lot among the centers. We have more than three or four guys that can take draws and I think that really helps. Whenever you have possession, I think that is definitely going to help."

It certainly did in the last round when Boston dominated the circle and denied Pittsburgh free possessions on numerous occasions, making the Penguins chase the play.

If Chicago is going to be representative on faceoffs, Toews will have to be at his best. He is Chicago's best faceoff artist and takes the majority of the draws. If he is on, the Hawks have a chance to neutralize one of Boston's biggest advantages in this series.

4. Can Boston counter the speed of the Chicago defense?

While the Bruins have not played Chicago this season, Boston right wing Jaromir Jagr has. He played the Blackhawks while with the Dallas Stars -- before his trade to Boston -- and was impressed by the eventual Presidents' Trophy winner.

"I thought they were the best team in that conference for sure," Jagr said Tuesday. "They play different hockey than any other teams in that conference. They are quick and so talented up front, but they are quick on defense. I think it was a huge difference compared to other teams. They are so fast and everyone can move the puck on their defense, so we have to be careful there."

Boston will need to slow the game down in the neutral zone as much as possible, avoid turnovers and make sure they account for the Chicago defensemen jumping into the play to make the attack a four-man proposition. It will be the job of a back-checking forward to pick up the late-man activation.

"They always come with four guys on the rush and we really have to be aware of them joining the play, especially the [defensemen] because they are always active," Seidenberg said.

5. Can Zdeno Chara handle another two weeks of playing almost 30 minutes a night?

Nobody has played more minutes in this postseason than Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' most valuable skater.

Chara plays in all key situations and often will double shift to neutralize separate threats when necessary. On many occasions this postseason he has played more than 10 minutes in a period.

Each round, the opposition thought they had the answer to get Chara off his game. Get the puck in deep, make him turn around and then punish him on the forecheck. Each round, the opposition was wrong.

Chara remains almost as fresh today as he was at the end of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I learned that you can't slow him down," Julien said. "He's in great shape. The more you give him, the more he likes it. He takes good care of himself between games and recovers extremely well.

"When you're that size, that well-conditioned, that strong, it's really hard to slow him down. He's been a real horse for us."

If he remains a horse throughout this round, Chicago's ability to produce offense will be severely compromised.

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