Despite the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks were the runaway Presidents’ Trophy winners during the regular season and the odds-on favorite to take home the Stanley Cup at the beginning of this postseason, it seems as though they are entering this series against the Boston Bruins as the underdogs. Though that may seem a little crazy, given that the Blackhawks do boast one of the league’s most impressive groups of elite talent in their forward group, it certainly appears to be the case.
The reason for that lies within the suffocating defensive system that Claude Julien’s Bruins have executed perfectly throughout these playoffs. After stumbling through the first round against a quick and speedy Maple Leafs’ squad, Boston’s team defense has been at its absolute best.
“They just prove they have a strong defensive game” said Chicago forward Marian Hossa. “They play such a great team game.”
After quickly dispatching Rick Nash’s New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs, all while holding the former Columbus captain to just a single goal in the series, it was on to Pittsburgh, where the Bruins’ strength on defense was to clash with the vaunted, Miami Heat-like forward lineup of the Penguins. In the Eastern Conference Final, the Bruins’ defensive system was once again front-and-center, as the team never trailed for a single second during that series, holding the Penguins to just two goals in four games.
“We have to be really disciplined. By that, I mean we have to play (as a) five-man unit up and down. We just cannot have turnovers,” said Hossa, when asked about what his team needed to do to be successful against Boston’s defense.
“We cannot just go one-against-three in the neutral zone. The blue lines are crucial for turnovers because they can hurt you.”
Perhaps the largest reason for Boston’s defensive success in the 2013 postseason has been the play of 6-foot-9, All-Star blueliner Zdeno Chara. After an up-and-down year during the lockout-shortened season, Boston’s captain has elevated his game to a new level in the playoffs. After completely neutralizing both of the world’s two best players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, during the last series against Pittsburgh, Chara is undoubtedly back to being the toughest defenseman in the league to play against.
“He's the biggest guy on the ice. His stick is so big. If you don't move your feet, he's going to hurt you, he's going to come close to you and pin you on the board,” said Hossa, Chara’s Olympic teammate on Team Slovakia. “You have to make sure you're moving your feet, stop and start.”
With Hossa, captain Jonathan Toews and often-underrated winger Patrick Sharp all skating together, Chicago’s first line will definitely pose an incredibly difficult challenge for the Bruins’ captain. The ongoing battle between Chara and the Blackhawks’ first line should be one of the most interesting storylines to follow in this series.