Sunday’s matinée matchup will mark the first time that the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have met since the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, when Chicago topped Boston 4-2 to win their second title in four seasons. The Blackhawks brought home the hardware, but the B’s did not make an easy go of it; four of the six games in the series were decided by one goal, and three were settled in overtime.
Marian Hossa tallied his 18th and 19th goals of the year during Friday's 4-2 win against the Western Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks. Each came with the Blackhawks down a man: He opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the first period and closed it with an empty-netter in the game's closing minute. Hossa's 28 career shorties are now tied for most among active NHL players, along with Martin St. Louis (TBL) and Mike Richards (LAK). The 35-year-old winger also led the Blackhawks with eight shots on goal Friday, a season high.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the Bruins rank second in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.17), and netminder Tuukka Rask’s Vezina Trophy-worthy campaign is a major reason why. The Finnish netminder ranks fourth in the league in save percentage (.928), and his five shutouts this year lead NHL goalies. Anyone who watched the 2013 Cup Final series understands just how hard Rask is to beat one-on-one, and his game has arguably improved since then.
Just as the Blackhawks have relied on major contributions from Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger, the Bruins have their own stable of youngsters who have gone above and beyond, including Reilly Smith and Torey Krug. Second-year pro Smith, acquired from Dallas in the Tyler Seguin deal, ranks second on the B’s with 34 points in 47 games. Krug, an undrafted defenseman out of Michigan State, showed flashes of offense during the 2013 postseason and has parlayed that into a stellar rookie campaign; his 24 points (10G, 14A) leads the Bruins’ defensive corps, and he’s threatening to break Hall of Famer Ray Bourque’s team record for goals by a rookie blueliner (17 in 1979-80).
Since the teams last met in June, gone via free agency are key pieces in the Bruins’ ride to the 2013 Cup Final: Nathan Horton (Columbus), Andrew Ference (Edmonton) and Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey), as well as Seguin and Rich Peverly (traded to Dallas). However, the B’s have simply reloaded, adding All-Stars Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla to the top six. The B’s lineup may have changed, but their ability to defend their net, play a physical game and get greasy goals has not gone away.
While the Bruins come to town with one of the NHL’s most talented two-way lineups, their performance in January suggests that skilled offenses can score on the B’s; three of Boston’s last six opponents have rung up at least four goals on the usually stingy defense. At the other end, the Bruins’ offense remains as balanced as just about any other team. The Blackhawks skaters will need to be responsible with the puck, and play a simple, disciplined style at both ends of the ice. As it was the last time these competitors met, one lucky bounce will likely decide the contest.