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Evenly matched foes square off in Cup finals

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jun 12 2013 08:06:21 AM MDT
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Trying to find something that separates the teams in the Stanley Cup finals isn't easy, especially because the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins don't have previous head-to-head matchups this season to dissect.

Both teams feature depth at forward and defense, strong goaltending and recent Stanley Cup championships.

Chicago is known as a highly skilled team that can play a physical game as well. Boston is known as a physical team that also showed it can play a skill game as well.

There is even a historic similarity. Both are Original Six franchises that never previously met in the Stanley Cup finals. That changes Wednesday with Game 1 at the United Center in Chicago.

"What's going to make this series so fun is both teams don't really know what to expect going in," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "I don't think it's going to take long for the rivalry and the battles to start in this series."

The lockout-shortened season meant no games were scheduled between the Western and Eastern conferences. The last time the Bruins faced the Blackhawks was Oct. 15, 2011, a game Boston won 3-2 in a shootout.

As with any series, goaltending likely will play a major role, but good luck finding an advantage for either team there.

Chicago goalie Corey Crawford has a playoff-best 1.74 goals-against average; Boston's Tuukka Rask is second at 1.75. Rask leads in saves percentage at .943; Crawford is next at .935.

Neither goalie seemed interested in breaking down his counterpart during Wednesday's media day news conferences.

"He's a good goaltender, but I'm thinking about what I have to do," Crawford said. "I'm thinking about their shooters, their players, their tendencies. Really for me, it doesn't really matter to compare us. I'm not shooting on him, and he's not shooting on me."

While Crawford did admit to watching Rask on video, Rask said he doesn't even do that. In fact, Rask doesn't get too caught up in breaking down opponents' tendencies at all.

"My job is really easy, I'm just trying to be in front of the puck all the time," Rask said. "Guessing where they're going to shoot isn't going to help that. I know who their good players are. I'm in the league. But the only thing I can do is try to stop the puck."

The Bruins may get a slight edge in experience by virtue of returning 17 players from their 2011 championship. Defenseman Zdeno Chara said that familiarity means the players know what to expect from each other.

The Blackhawks had to survive a roster purge after winning the 2010 title due to salary-cap issues. Still, Patrick Kane sees similarities between that squad and this year's team, especially regarding the strong contributions Chicago has received from unexpected sources.

In 2010, it was Dustin Byfuglien who stood out. This spring, it has been Bryan Bickell, whose eight goals rank second in the playoffs. Boston's David Krejci tops the list with nine.

"A lot of guys on that (2010) team were unknown, and then you make a Cup run and you're going to get good contracts and it's going to be tough to keep everyone together," Kane said. "It seems like that's happening again with this team. Guys are making names for themselves and are earning paychecks."

But that's for the future. Right now both teams are focused on getting on the ice.

"This is going to be a good battle," Krejci said. "We can't wait to get it started."