Are you ready for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final?
I know I am.
The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have been spectacular during the postseason. The Blackhawks have dropped just five games in three rounds while the Bruins have dropped four and just one since the first round.
Boston and Chicago rank first and third respectively in goals allowed per game during the playoffs, setting up what should be a physical, defensive battle where one or two goals could be the difference.
Make no mistake about it, both the Bruins and Blackhawks deserve to be here. The Blackhawks were widely considered to be the Western Conference's top dog headed into the playoffs whereas the Bruins knocked out the Eastern Conference's supposed top dog in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So, in such a close matchup, what will ultimately determine the Stanley Cup champion?
Here are the keys to this year's Stanley Cup Final.
Both the Bruins and Blackhawks appear so evenly matched that the series may ultimately come down to what each team gets from its depth.
The Bruins have received a whopping 15 goals from the blue line in the postseason. That includes five tallies from Johnny Boychuk and four from rookie Torey Krug, whose impact cannot be overlooked. Adam McQuaid also scored the game-winner against the Penguins in Game 4 of their series.
As for the Blackhawks, an amazing 12 different players have scored for the team in the playoffs. Bryan Bickell has been outstanding, posting eight goals, tied for the team lead with Patrick Sharp. Two of those goals have been game-winners.
Michal Handzus has also been big for Chicago, registering nine points (two goals, seven assists). And don't forget second-year pro Andrew Shaw, who has notched seven points (four goals, three assists).
The Bruins' Tuukka Rask and the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford rank first and second respectively in save percentage among goaltenders who have played at least two games in the postseason.
Crawford has ceded fewer than three goals in 12 games during the playoffs. Since the start of the second round against the New York Rangers, Rask has allowed more than two goals just once.
As explosive as the Bruins and Blackhawks have been offensively lately, don't expect them to rack up many goals against each other. Rask and Crawford have simply been outstanding.
One misstep by either Rask or Crawford could determine the series.
How Will Chicago Deal with Boston's Physicality?
This could be the most crucial factor of the series.
As we know by now, the Bruins are an incredibly physical team. Boston left winger Milan Lucic has recorded 68 hits by himself in the playoffs, second among all players. The Bruins have the potential to wear down the Blackhawks if the series is drawn out, which it probably will be given the strength of both teams.
Chicago can't allow itself to get pushed around. Even the savviest teams can lose form against the brutality of the Bruins.
If the Blackhawks can withstand Boston's punishment, they have a much better shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
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