We're all set for a crucial Game 4 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, and the way that the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins execute their keys to the game will be the biggest telling point in who pulls out the victory.
After the Blackhawks looked poised to continue their roll after a thrilling Game 1 victory that went all of three overtimes, the Bruins finally came together to win a huge Game 2 in overtime in Chicago before a dominant performance from goaltender Tuukka Rask led to a 2-0 Bruins win in Game 3.
Now, Chicago has the chance to steal one in TD Garden to take back the home-ice advantage. But without their best hockey, they'll return home on the brink of elimination.
Let's take a look at the biggest keys to Game 4 for each team.
Boston Bruins Keys to Game 4
Is Tuukka Rask Capable of Another Dominant Game?
So far in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Tuukka Rask is channeling his inner Jonathan Quick.
Don't get me wrong, Quick isn't some sort of legendary goaltender who every goalie should aspire to be. But his performance in last year's Cup Final was nothing short of spectacular, and his Los Angeles Kings needed every bit of it.
As it seems in this year's finals, the Bruins need every bit of Rask. So far, they seem to be getting it. With the help of a shutdown performance from each of Boston's defensive pairings, Rask is making it nearly impossible to get a rubber disk past him.
NBC Washington writer Adam Vingan gave us a stunning stat to show just how dominant Rask has been:
The 26-year-old has been quietly putting his mark on the Stanley Cup playoffs ever since they began, with not nearly enough credit being directed his way.
Keeping a team like the Blackhawks scoreless is much easier said than done, but don't tell that to Tuukka Rask. He may disagree with you.
Can Jaromir Jagr Continue to Defy Old Age?
Battle-tested veteran Jaromir Jagr hasn't been scoring goals for the Bruins in these playoffs, but he's done just about everything else.
Despite picking up no goals in his 19 playoff games this postseason, the 41-year-old has racked up eight assists, and the Bruins have greatly benefitted from his unique mix of experience and all-time great ability.
At times, Jagr has looked as though he's shaven 15 years off his life by playing with the attacking force and elusive puck movement that has made him one of the NHL's greatest players in history.
His play reached a new level in Game 3, when his cross-crease pass to Patrice Bergeron resulted in a beautiful goal. He fooled everybody on the ice (even Bergeron) with the blistering pass past Corey Crawford, and after taking a moment to settle the puck, Bergeron put it home.
It was just the latest display of the immense impact Jagr has had on this Boston Bruins playoff run. The average fan might look to his lack of goals and assume he is struggling, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
Chicago Blackhawks Keys to Game 4
Can They Improve in the Faceoff Circle?
I know what you're thinking: "faceoffs?"
Yes, such an overlooked and insignificant statistic is eating at the Blackhawks as of late. Usually, faceoffs cancel themselves out at about 50-50 and never provide a major boost. But the Bruins have found a way to break the mold.
In Game 3, Boston won 40 of 56 faceoffs, good for 71 percent. Their leading factor in that department was world-renowned faceoff artist Patrice Bergeron, who went an unforeseeable 24-4 in the circle.
On the other side of the coin, Blackhawks center Michal Handzus and Dave Bolland went a combined 1-for-18.
This year's Stanley Cup Final has proven to be so tight that any given game could come down to one possession. One play. And with the Bruins taking an overwhelmingly large amount of possessions away from the Blackhawks with their faceoff success, they're setting themselves up for many more opportunities to make that play than Chicago.
If Chicago doesn't start canceling out their struggles in the faceoff circle, the Bruins will continue to get the extra possessions necessary to win.
Is Marian Hossa Healthy Enough to Do Marian Hossa Things?
Despite missing Game 3 with a late decision, Blackhawks star Marian Hossa is "likely to play," according to Adam Gretz of CBS Sports.
But the likelihood of him being able to return to his usual prowess as a suffocating, two-way star is still very much in doubt.
The Blackhawks replaced Hossa with Ben Smith in Game 3, a player who had appeared in just one game during the 2012-13 season prior to the decision. When replacing one of the NHL's premier players, that's quite the drop-off.
With the way Hossa plays, he uses energy and determination as much as any trait to ensure his advantage. Any player who could put up seven goals and eight assists thus far in the postseason and also emerge as a fantastic defensive forward would need these traits.
But if Hossa is not 100 percent, the questions start piling up as to whether he can handle the physicality of the moment against a hungry Bruins team who is charging toward their second Stanley Cup in three years.
The 34-year-old will have to come out strong and prove that he can make his usual impact if the Blackhawks want any business in winning Game 4.
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