When the season began almost 6 months ago, this would have been the matchup that a lot of people would have predicted would battle for the Stanley Cup. Sure, some other clubs were included in the mix, but nobody would have been surprised to see the Chicago Blackhawks facing the Boston Bruins for the ultimate prize. Each team has won a Cup in the last 3 years, and for the most part have the core in place that hoisted the Silver Chalice. Chicago won in 2010, followed by Boston in 2011.
So, who has the advantage this time around? Lets take a closer look:
Both Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford would be considered the front runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. There isn’t much to distinguish between the number of the two netminders, as evidenced by their stats from NHL.com
Both have played every minute of the playoffs for their respective teams, and although there has always been nagging questions about Crawford’s upside, he has proven to be as solid as they come.
With the exception of the 1 game suspension to Duncan Keith that forced him to miss Game 4 of the Conference Final, the Blackhawks have gone with the same 6 defensemen in every game of the playoffs so far. That consistency and the experience of playing with one another will benefit them in the long run. The Bruins have used 9 defensemen due to injury, and each have played at least 5 games over the course of the first three rounds.
The Bruins have 35 points from their defensemen so far in 16 games, while Chicago blueliners have countered with 27.
Defensively, the Blackhawks don’t really have a weak spot, as all 6 mainstays are veterans who have been in pressure situations. Boston has 2 or 3 rookie defensemen in the lineup at any given time, but will likely start the Finals with just Torey Krug as the inexperienced defenseman.
While David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron have both centred lines that have been productive througout the playoffs for the Bruins, the Blackhawks have had stretches where Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been ineffective. They seemed to wake up at the end of the Los Angeles series, and if they are all going at full steam, then it will be a very back and forth, entertaining series.
Boston will no doubt miss Gregory Campbell, who was a dominant lower line player before his broken leg. That injury will reduce the effectiveness of the fourth line, which was dominant in the 2nd round series against the Rangers.
Overall, there isn’t much to chose between the teams here, but the Hawks might be just a little deeper.
The only truly dominant unit in terms of special teams from either team is the Chicago Penalty Kill. Clocking in at 94.8%, it is a game changer and allows the Hawks to toe the line physically without much fear. Neither team’s power play has been especially effective, surprising considering the 5 man units each team could put out there.
Both Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien are at the top of their game, and there isn’t much to choose between them either. Quenneville has had his ups and downs in these playoffs with respect to keeping his composure, while Julien has been pretty steady and composed throughout.
The Bruins still have 15 skaters from their Stanley Cup team, plus Tuukka Rask who was the backup to Tim Thomas. They have added the 2 time cup winner Jaromir Jagr to that mix. Chicago dismantled the peripehral of their team following their 2010 Cup win, and have just 9 skaters left from that team, although the core pieces are intact.
Both teams had to go through some adversity to get to the Finals. Boston was within an eyelash of being eliminated in the first round by the Maple Leafs, while the second round was almost Chicago’s undoing, needing an overtime goal in game 7 from Brent Seabrook to knock out the Red Wings.
Jared: IF Jonathan Toews indeed wakes up, the Hawks have the edge. He has pretty much been sleepwalking through the first three rounds, finally showing signs of life in game 5 against the Kings. The Hawks need him performing to Conn Smythe levels, to make the Bruins defense spread out a little bit. Toews is a big game player and I would expect nothing less. PREDICTION: Hawks in 7.
Phil: After the Bruins were minutes away from being eliminated by the leafs, something seemed to spark them. Since them they rode that into the Stanley Cup finals. Both these teams are very well balanced. This series will most likely go 7 and it will go either way. Both these clubs have most of the players atop the leader boards in points. It is hard to pick a winner but I think Tuukka Rask will out play Corey Crawford and that might be the edge the Bruins need. PREDICTION: Bruins in 7.
Jamie: I feel like at this point in my playoff predictions career the opposite of what I choose will happen. Chicago proved in their semi-final matchup that they could get frustrated very easily. Then LA did not take advantage of that fact at all. Chicago ran the series. Boston proved they can smother you and just shut down every system you have. Boston lives and breathes this style of play. In the first East Vs. West meeting of the season, I think the East is going to walk away the winner. Boston knows how to frustrate. All they do is frustrate and that is going to give them the edge. You need time and space to make plays, and Boston proved they’re more than happy to take away both time and space from superstar players. PREDICTION: Boston in 6.
So there you have it. Talk is cheap and they get down to business tonight. Two great teams that will battle for the Cup. This series is one not to be missed, as there isn’t much to choose between them at all, and it has all the makings of a knock-down, drag out affair. The last team standing will have truly earned it this year.
Enjoy the Series!