Category: 2013 Cup finals questions


Cup finals questions: More surprise success for Michal Handzus?

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When the Chicago Blackhawks traded for Michal Handzus, there were more than a few howls from around the league.

Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski wrote that the 36-year-old had a fork sticking out of his back. Some troublemakers joked that his recent playoff scoring streak would make sense … if it happened in Europe. Only a handful of people thought he’d be anything more than a guy who’d win some faceoffs.

Instead, Handzus has been a useful second-line center for Chicago. He already has more points (nine) in 17 postseason games as the eight he scored in 39 regular season contests spread between Chicago and the San Jose Sharks.

Even head coach Joel Quenneville admitted that he didn’t expect things to work out like this for the Slovakian pivot. Handzus agrees, as reports.

“I don’t think anybody thought I was going to be playing in the top six,” Handzus said. “I just came to the team that was winning before I came here. They played great the whole season. I just try to fit in, try not to disrupt anything because they were playing great. I just try to play anywhere. I don’t care if I’m playing on the fourth line or second line. It’s all about the team right now, winning. It’s not about individual goals anymore.”

That’s a good attitude to have because NHL coaches change line combos more often than they change ties. Considering what Boston did to a versatile offensive machine in the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s plausible that Handzus could fall out of the top-six if things fall off the rails. Make no qualms about it; skating with the likes of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa boosted his stats immensely.

Still, he doesn’t need to be a scoring machine to exceed expectations. He just needs to do what’s asked of him reasonably well.

And he might just skewer a few more critics in the process.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.


Cup finals questions: Can both teams stay so remarkably healthy?

Michal Handzus #26 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with teammates Patrick Kane #88 and Patrick Sharp #10 after Handzus scored in the second period of Game Two of the Western Conference Final during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on June 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Kings 4-2.
(June 1, 2013 - Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

When people talk about how deep the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are, it’s partially because of how well these teams were assembled, but it’s also due to how close they are to operating at 100% going into the Stanley Cup finals.

Obviously, the Boston Bruins don’t have Marc Savard (concussion), but beyond that the only player on either team that isn’t available for Game 1 is the Bruins fourth-line center, Gregory Campbell.

Will that streak of relatively good health last for what’s left of the playoffs? Maybe, but it’s far from certain.

At this time of the year, these guys will play through a lot. In fact, not too long after Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews or his Bruins counterpart Zdeno Chara lifts the Stanley Cup over his head, we will probably start to learn of players that were battling through significant injuries.

Still, this figures to be a close series that’s sure to feature a lot of big hits and blocked shots. The fact that both teams are so good at killing penalties and mediocre to bad with the man advantage, means that they can feel a little more comfortable playing aggressively.

Hopefully both sides will stay healthy, but if guys do go down, the silver lining is that these teams have players that can step up if need be. The Boston Bruins did just that when they lost defensemen Wade Redden, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Seidenberg, so we know they’re deep in terms of blueliners.

Boston is already shorthanded as far as forwards go, but they do have a promising youngster in Jordan Caron if they need him. Tyler Seguin could also stand to take on more responsibilities if one of Boston’s top players gets hurt, given that Seguin has been logging just 15:14 minutes per game in the postseason.

The Blackhawks have some solid forwards that can step up if need be, as evidenced by the fact that Viktor Stalberg might not even make their Game 1 lineup. They also have Daniel Carcillo ready and waiting. However, they might be less prepared to handle the loss of a key defenseman.

Chicago was able to endure Duncan Keith’s recent one-game suspension, but his replacement, Sheldon Brookbank, had a minus-two rating and logged just 6:50 minutes.

Probably the worst case scenario for either team is that they lose a goaltender, although in Chicago’s case, they do have an accomplished – albeit rusty – backup in Ray Emery.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.


Cup finals questions: Will Hawks hold down the HuLK?

Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Milan Lucic

The forward group that dominated the 2011 playoffs is doing the same through the first three rounds of 2013. So, the question is: can the Chicago Blackhawks slow down the Boston Bruins’ “HuLK” line?

The trio of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci presents a befuddling mix of talent, size and skill. Head coach Claude Julien rarely splits them up, and when you look at their playoff numbers, it’s easy to see why:

Krejci: 21 points,* +14, two game-winning goals in 16 games
Horton: 17 points, +21, three game-winning goals in 16 games
Lucic: 13 points, +13, zero game-winning goals in 16 games

As this piece discusses, the lockout cut off any chance for the Blackhawks to get an idea of what they’re up against. Instead, we can only look at how Chicago handled the top players from other opposing teams in the 2013 postseason.

The verdict? So far, so good.

  • In five games against the Minnesota Wild, Zach Parise only managed a goal while Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter went pointless.
  • Henrik Zetterberg went without a goal until Game 7 of their second-round series (while adding three assists in the semifinals) and Pavel Datsyuk only managed a goal and an assist in seven contests.
  • The Blackhawks held Anze Kopitar pointless through four games before he scored a goal and an assist in Chicago’s 4-3 double OT win in Game 5.

Those numbers certainly don’t guarantee that Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and the rest of the Blackhawks will be able to subdue that bear of a line.

Still, whether you attribute it to puck possession, positive bounces or “offense being the best defense,” it seems that Chicago is developing a track record for powering down some of the league’s most dangerous players.

* – Krejci’s 21 points tops all playoff scorers. Horton’s 17 comes in second.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.


Cup finals questions: Which goalie will stay the hottest?

Tuukka Rask

Seeing goalies take center stage in the Stanley Cup finals isn’t really a new development. Last year we saw Jonathan Quick stymie everyone on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Three of the last seven Conn Smythe winners have been goalies, including the past two years in a row.

This year figures to be no different with both Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Chicago’s Corey Crawford roaring into the finals on a tear.

Rask’s Herculean effort in stopping the Penguins holding the league’s top offense to just two goals in four games is the kind of thing legends are made of. His .986 save percentage over the four-game sweep has made people in Boston completely forget about what Tim Thomas did back in 2011.

Crawford, on the other hand, was outstanding in his own right in stopping the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said Crawford is “doing it all” for the team and he’s not one known to joke around.

source: Getty ImagesSo who stays hot in the finals? It’s tough to ignore what Rask has done and while we might normally wonder if he can stop Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa… He just got done shutting down Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Kris Letang. So much for the easy question. If he continues at the same level he was in the Eastern Conference finals, it’s tough to see how Chicago breaks through.

Crawford did well to survive Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown in the last round and already survived Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Will he be able to handle Brad Marchand’s nose for the net or Milan Lucic threatening to blow through the crease while David Krejci tries to find holes? That could be all up to how guys like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook handle business in front of him.

As for what Vegas thinks, they’re leaning on Crawford and the Hawks to stay on course for the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. Would you want to call Rask and the Bruins an underdog at this point?

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.


Cup finals questions: Will either power play wake up?


June 2. That’s the last time the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins scored a single power-play goal. If that doesn’t seem remarkable, consider this: These two teams crushed their Conference finals opponents while combining to convert on just one of their 27 power-play opportunities.

Clearly, they were able to overcome this issue, but going into a series as even as this one, being the more successful team with the man advantage would be huge.

Although neither team has traditionally been this bad, power-play problems are nothing new for the Bruins. They ranked 26th in that regard during the regular season and when they won it all in 2011, they had an abysmal 11.4% success rate with the man advantage.

To make matters worse for Boston, the Chicago Blackhawks have been among of the most effective penalties killers all year.

“I think they do a good job of fronting shots,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told CBC Sports in reference to the Blackhawks’ penalty killers. “You really have to work hard to get the shots through. That’s what they are, they’re very patient; they’re very aggressive when you do lose, I guess, control of the puck and if they feel they can get on you, they’ll get on you quick. They’ve done a good job that way.”

So while the Bruins have nowhere to go but up, the odds are against them when it comes to excelling in power-play situations.

The outlook might not be as grim for Chicago. The Blackhawks were mediocre with the man advantage this season, which puts them above Boston in that regard. Boston is accomplished when it comes to killing penalties, but — aside from obviously Marc Savard (concussion) — the only noteworthy player on either team that’s injured happens to be forward Gregory Campbell, who was one of the Bruins’ top penalty killers.

“It just means some other guys have to step in and do the job,” Julien said. “[Campbell] is an elite penalty killer for us. Like anything else, when you lose a player like that it certainly hurts your team. But at the same time, there’s also guys that come up and step up and do a great job just like our young Ds did when our three Ds were hurt.”

In the end, with two squads that are cold in power-play situations and superb shorthanded, it wouldn’t be surprising if neither team is able to frequently punish the opposition for taking penalties.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.