CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins hadn't played each other since October 2011 -- a lifetime ago in hockey -- and that lack of familiarity creates an interesting variable in the Stanley Cup final.
"I think (there is) probably a lot of unpredictability in everyone's mind how it's going to play out," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said prior to Game 1 of the final, which was in double overtime at press time.
It's not as much of a problem for Chicago's Marian Hossa and Boston's Zdeno Chara. They're not just countrymen, they're neighbours back home in Slovakia and their friendship goes way back.
While players on either side Wednesday didn't want to analyse opponents they were unfamiliar with, Chara was willing to get specific about Hossa.
"What do you want to know?" he said. "I remember a lot of things. What do you want to know?"
How good of a neighbour is Hossa? How close are you? How often do you communicate?
How has Hossa managed to make the Cup final in four of the past six seasons?
Or perhaps the best question should be posed to Hossa about how the Blackhawks can handle the 6-9 Chara.
"He's the biggest guy on the ice," Hossa said. "You have to make sure you're moving your feet, stop and start. It's not easy. But if it's possible, it's better to play on the other side."
Quenneville implied he switched up his lines to cope with Chara's presence. But someone has to play on Chara's side and deal with the suffocating impact of the Bruins' top defenceman.
"He's definitely a factor," Quenneville said. "Not too many guys you're going to go down inside and expect to beat him one-on-one. He has a great stick, can control that side of the ice."
Hossa knows that well. He and Chara were teammates with the Ottawa Senators for three seasons, and they also played together in five world championships, two Olympics and one World Cup.
Chara said he and Hossa talk or text every once in a while during the season. But that friendship doesn't do much good when Hossa is trying to get a little advantage on the ice.
"I try to joke with him because he like to be serious all the time on the ice," Hossa said. "I know he doesn't like to talk on the ice. I try to throw some funny stories on the faceoff, make him laugh a little bit."
Most opponents don't laugh at the prospect of facing Chara. He wasn't a Norris Trophy finalist and hasn't won the award for top defenceman since 2008-09, but that's not a fair indication of how he's seen around the NHL.
"You have to commend him on how he's playing, how he's played in his career," Quenneville said. "He's a special defenceman."
Obviously his teammates and coaches see that, too.
"He's always been a Norris Trophy winner for us. You have no idea what this guy does for a hockey club," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "He's been an MVP for us since the day he stepped into that dressing room, and continues to be."
Hossa is one of Chara's top boosters and vice versa. But for the next little while, the friendship goes on a break.
"That has to go on the side and we just have to play the roles," Hossa said. "I'm going to play my game, he's going to play his game. I'm sure right after we'll be friends again."
-- The Canadian Press