With the Original Six franchises meeting for the first time in their storied histories in the Stanley Cup Final, what better way to see two of the top teams in their respective conference finally face off?
When the B's faced divisional opponent Toronto, along with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins in the first three rounds, they knew exactly what they were matching up against from an experience standpoint, having faced each team at least three times in the regular season.
"The last thing you want to do is try and feel your way through this Final, because by the time you’re done doing that the damage will be done," said Julien, when asked if he'll get a better idea of the 'Hawks come Game One. "You’ve got to go out there and establish your game plan and just play with confidence."
With the video analysis, scouting and preparation in the game, the B's and Blackhawks won't be all too surprised with what they see come Wednesday night at the United Center when Game One kicks off.
And when a Bruin was asked this week about not having faced this Western Conference team all season (and since 2011, for that matter), there wasn't any concern, and it was not just because of the confidence in their game.
"You can say we don't know them but its pretty obvious they're a very good team with a pretty strong lineup," Captain Zdeno Chara said on Sunday, following the B's first practice preparing for the Cup Final.
"I think that the coverage and all of the media coverage we get, it's pretty clear that the information we get is the same as they do. They try to do the same thing. It's not like teams aren't going to be prepared for each other."
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien didn't see much difference preparing for the 'Hawks as for the rest of their playoff opponents.
"Like everything else, even the teams that we played we relied a lot on video. The only advantage you have sometimes is that you know from going head to head with them what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. When it comes to that, it’s the same for both teams," said Julien.
"I think we’ve done a lot of pre-scout and watched them play enough, have and idea of how they’ve played, just like I’m sure they do with us. You do your research, you talk to people, you do a lot of things. It’s about preparing and preparing your team more than anything else. Like I said today, there’s not too many secrets left in this game."
"It’s only the head to head, how the two teams are kind of going to clash, what’s going to happen when we do," Julien added. "It’s as simple as that. It’s about having confidence in what you plan on doing and going out there and executing it, that’s all you can do."
B's veteran center Chris Kelly was pretty forthright as well.
"I think at this point in hockey there’s so much video, and you break down the game so much," said the leader 'B' who alternates wearing the 'A' with defenseman Andrew Ference. "Both sides will be pretty familiar with each other come the first game on Wednesday."
Minimizing Opponent's Strengths
From a coaching standpoint, we've seen the Bruins alter their game plans against the first three opponents faced this postseason, while maintaining their defensive system. Against Toronto, it was about slowing down their speed (which, by all counts, nearly led to the B's demise in the first round). For the New York Rangers, the focus was about getting past their shot-blocking machine and arguably the league's best goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. In doing so, the B's saw blueliners chip in offensively and the surge of the a young defensemen trio of Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton effortlessly get pucks through on 'The King.'
When facing Pittsburgh, the approach saw the Bruins hold the league's most talented offensive team held to just two goals, and neither coming off the stick of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal or Kris Letang. Captain Zdeno Chara, along with Dennis Seidenberg, and the addition of Andrew Ference back in the lineup, played key roles. The rest of the back end, forwards and Tuukka Rask provided the layers that suffocated the Pens.
So, I asked Coach, how does he balance giving his team the amount of video they need to be aware and prepared, while not causing them to be overthinking out on the ice?
"Even if we haven’t played them we’ve taken the same approach as far as giving information," said Julien of the pre-series prep mirroring their 'homework' for the first three series.
"Same thing, even if you’ve played them, you don’t want to give them information overload. We do all the research as coaches and we have all that stuff for ourselves, so if we need it, we can share it with the players."
"We give them the basics and you give them the things that you really have to be careful with. That way you don’t kind of handcuff your players not to play their games because they’re overthinking."
While Julien and the coaching staff, shall we say, burn the midnight oil with preparation, the focus for the players rests on playing their game. When necessary, the coaches will make adjustments - whether in-game or from game to game.
"It really is all about your team and how well you want to play, and whatever they do extremely well you try to adjust to that," said Julien. "Not anymore than that, even though we haven’t played them. It’s really about us having confidence in our game and trying to minimize their strengths like we’ve done with every other team so far."
Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville has the same mindset.
"You watch the games, you've got scouts, you talk to people who have been involved in playing agains them. There's not a lot of secrets out there in the game and I think what you see is probably what you're going to get," he said.
"They've got a lot of guys that can make plays and as quickly as all those scouting reports are in, as soon as the game starts, things can change quickly and you kind off go off what you're seeing in front of you. So it's the awareness you want to make sure your team has going into games is in place, but at the same time, you want to make sure at the end of the day it's what we do and what we can control and preparing that way."
"We’re not going in there blindly," said Julien. "I wouldn’t be here if that was the case. Have a pretty good idea what we want to do. Whether it works or not, we’ll see. If it doesn’t work the way we like it, we’ll make the adjustments."
Julien Has Buy-In
The most important part of the coaching staff's game plan? The buy-in from the team.
"We’ve done a good job playing our system and believing in our system, and I think when you go against a team that you haven’t played yet this year, a lot of emphasis goes into what you’re going to do," said Milan Lucic earlier this week, following practice, in the lead-up to the Final.
"So we need to stay on course and what’s made us successful here this playoffs."
"You obviously analyze certain situations but it’s still hockey so I think you have to remember that. Video helps you skim a topic but until you’re on the ice and doing something, that’s the important part," said Andrew Ference.
"I think guys will get a feel for each other right of the first few shifts and get right into the grove. At the end of the day, it’s the same sport. They’re going to be a great opponent. And seen them or not, we have seen three great teams already and so have they."
"You know it’s not reinventing the wheel as far as we’re still playing the same confines of the sport."
And for Ference and the B's, it's that combination of preparation and "killer instinct" that will cause them to have success.
"Everybody knows that as the playoffs progress, you have to consistently get better. You can’t just plateau and expect success. Like I said, I think, he’s [Julien] been through it and we’ve been through it and there’s not secrets about what it takes."
"So I think that’s the thing, now that you know what to do, its just a matter of doing it and executing and individually that’s up to everybody to do that and help us collectively."