Stanley Cup Final 2013: Blackhawks must learn from Pittsburgh's failing

Bruce Bennett

Pittsburgh couldn't stop Boston from mugging Sidney Crosby and the rest of its stars. Chicago has to find a way, but the Blackhawks are better-equipped.

Whether the games were in Pittsburgh or Boston, the Bruins pretty much had their way with the Penguins' star players in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was an old-fashioned mugging, with everyone getting in the face of guys like Sidney Crosby at every available opportunity.

If the Bruins are to take down the President's Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, a similar tactic will be needed. The Bruins have more forward depth than a lot of teams, but they probably don't have the firepower to match Chicago goal for goal.

In other words, Boston needs to find a way to do what Detroit did for three straight games in the conference semifinals.

By denying the Blackhawks speed through the neutral zone (and riding some incredible goaltending from Jimmy Howard), the Red Wings were able to make up for a lack of depth. Along the way, the Red Wings frustrated their longtime rivals, even getting Chicago captain Jonathan Toews to famously lose his composure in Game 4.

Don't think for a single solitary second that the Bruins aren't going to try the same thing with Toews. You know they will, and Toews probably does, too.

You can't stop a team from being physical when that team wants to be physical. The Bruins want to be, and nothing Chicago does in the Stanley Cup Final is going to change them from that philosophy. Pittsburgh did a terrible job in Games 1 and 2 of the East final of trying to match that physicality. When the Penguins tried to play more of a pace game after the series shifted to Boston, things went better, but they couldn't get pucks past Tuukka Rask.

(It probably didn't help that Boston had control of the matchups once the series moved there, meaning Claude Julien could get Zdeno Chara on the ice with Sidney Crosby whenever he wanted, which was often.)

(Of course, when Dan Bylsma did control the matchups, he still let Crosby play against Patrice Bergeron, which was probably not a good idea, as evidenced by the fact that Julien seemed to prefer that exact matchup.)

Chicago is more capable than Pittsburgh of playing a grinding style of hockey. Guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are good at that type of game, and that may give the Blackhawks more of an edge than the Penguins had.

In the end, though, it's more likely that this series will be decided by star players, or at least their ability to keep a level head and play the game they're on the team to play. That means Toews has to stay out of the box, and Kane has to continue doing what we saw him do against Los Angeles, when he was getting ripped for not scoring before hanging four goals over the last two games to sink the defending champs.

When the Blackhawks host Game 1 Wednesday, watch how Joel Quenneville tries to manipulate the matchups. Odds are he will try to keep Toews and Kane away from Chara, but Boston has to pick its poison to an extent, because Chicago has a bit more scoring balance than the Bs past opponents. Stop Kane and Toews if you'd like, but Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Bickell, and others still bear watching. That means pressure will eventually be placed on guys like Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug in the defensive zone, perhaps more than they've faced so far in these playoffs.

While everyone is probably going to give Boston the edge in goal because of Rask, Corey Crawford is a huge reason why Chicago has reached this point. He was great at times against Detroit, including in Game 6 after Joakim Andersson's soft goal gave Detroit the lead. He had his moments against Los Angeles, too, especially in the first overtime of Game 5 Saturday, a performance that gave Kane the chance to net the double overtime winner.

There is a ton of intrigue with this Stanley Cup Final matchup. In the end, however, it might be decided by Chicago's ability to learn from Pittsburgh's mistakes. The Blackhawks can't get suckered into a street fight. They can win one, but it isn't the style that best fits their talent. It might be tempting to try to beat Boston at its own game, but the Blackhawks can't afford to fall into that trap.

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