Finally, the Stanley Cup Finals are upon us. After months of frustration due to a fruitless lockout, a shortened regular season, and intense playoffs, we finally see the culmination of this season. From the Western Conference we have the Chicago Blackhawks, champions from three years ago and the number one seed in the West. From the Eastern Conference we have the Boston Bruins, champions from two years ago and the number four seed in the East. This matchup consists of 2 of the original 6 teams in the NHL, the first time since 1979. Lets take a quick look at some keys to this series.
Both teams in this series have shown amazing resiliency and fortitude to get to where they are now. The Blackhawks were all but finished in the Conference Semifinals to the Detroit Red Wings when they went down 3-1, but managed to force and win a game 7 to take the series. For the Bruins, things almost ended in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs after they had surrendered a 3-1 lead of their own. They were down 4-2 in game 7 with only a few minutes remaining. As we all know now, they completed one of the greatest single game comebacks in NHL history after they tied things up and sent the game into overtime where they won 5-4. I’ll give the advantage in grit and determination to the Bruins, as that’s what this team is built off with players like Chara, Bergeron, Krug, Lucic and Marchand.
In terms of offense and the ability to score at will, the Blackhawks should have the advantage; as they were the second best offensive team in all of hockey this year with 3.1 goals per game. Patrick Kane found his scoring touch again after a hat trick against the LA Kings in game 5, and the likes of Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa providing offense as well, they should be good for goals. As for the Bruins, they will need to rely upon Chara and Seidenberg to try to slow down the Hawks top line, and limit their scoring chances, which is easier said than done.
Speaking of defense, I’d give that advantage to the Bruins as they have shut down the top lines of the Rangers and Penguins respectively in the last two series. So much so in the last series that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang did not register a single point among themselves. That’s arguably the two most talented offensive players in the league in Crosby and Malkin, completely shut down. Much will be expected out of Patrice Bergeron and the other talented two-way forwards on the Bruins as well, in shutting down the vaunted Blackhawks offense.
Goaltending is an advantage I also give to the Bruins. We saw Tuukka Rask dominate the Penguins last series, recording two shutouts, and allowing only two goals total in the four game series. Rask can thank his defense partly for that, as it was definitely a great all around team effort to stop the Penguins offense, but Rask was beyond superb. Corey Crawford has been no slouch himself! He has been very important to the Blackhawks success so far, but his impact has not been as dramatic as Rask’s. Goaltending is the most important aspect in a Stanley Cup championship run and if the Bruins want to get back to the mountaintop, they will need to continue to rely on Rask.
Now onto coaching, where I see a clear advantage for the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville hasn’t been anything revolutionary in his time as Blackhawks coach, but it’s on the Bruins side where problems can really be seen. Claude Julian doesn’t have the greatest reputation, as he has made some questionable calls including splitting up Chara and Seidenberg earlier in the playoffs. While he has won a Stanley Cup himself, he isn’t the most trusted coach in the league and is prone to questionable decisions.
In conclusion, we’re seeing two very different teams with two very different styles of play clashing. While the Blackhawks like to open space up and score at will, the Bruins like to slow play down and be very physical, at times even just beating up their opponent, essentially what they did to the Penguins. The Bruins should have a ton of confidence when it comes to shutting down top-notch offenses as they did to the Penguins last series. The Blackhawks themselves have dealt with stingy defenses and succeeded as evident when they beat the Kings in only five games. My predication for this series is the Boston Bruins in 7 games, as they take home their second Stanley Cup in three years.