After close to 90 years of playing each other in the NHL and to the pleasure of many millions of hockey fans longing for two old school cities with two old school teams to duke it out, the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks will finally meet in the Stanley Cup Final. The championship clash is effectively a ‘Titles Only’ rubber match between the two mutually-loved cities after the Red Sox toppled the Cubs in 1918 (why does that number ring a bell?) and the Bears slapped a then-record beating on the Pats in 1986.
The Bruins stunning Wales Final sweep of the Penguins on Friday night ensured the Bs will have a chance to become twice-in-three-years Cup champs. The next night in Chicago, the 2010 Cup-winning Hawks took a valiant champion’s last punch before countering with its own knockout punch in OT that sent them to the last series of the NHL season.
And now we have arrived at the series guys like my old man have been waiting their whole goddamn lives for: Boston vs. Chicago. But it’s not just old-timers who a relishing the match-up. NBC couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario with two great teams from two great cities that are only a timezone apart. Younger fans are fired up to see Patrick Kane. Others can’t wait to see the “Dangerous” David Krejci unwield his next magnificent maneuver. And some may just tune in to see a couple of the best unis that pro sports can offer. Hey, the more, the merrier for what has all the ingredients to be a classic. Let’s take a closer look…
How’d we get here, man?
The Hawks took five games to dispatch an impish Minnesota Wild squad, came back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock off the Red Wings in dramatic fashion, and then knocked the defending champ L.A. Kings in a hard-fought, tight five game series.
The Bruins pulled a miracle OT win out of their ass in Game Seven to stun Toronto (and, frankly, everybody else), handily beat a Rangers team that was increasingly tuning out its soon-to-be-fired coach in five, and exposed Sid Crosby as an entitled (to calls) whiner while simultaneously making him play the worst four game span of his career.
Except for Greg Campbell’s broken leg, both teams made it through the first three rounds relatively healthy, though both teams are no doubt loaded with banged-up guys at this point. Chicago needed 17 games to dispatch their prior opponents, the Bruins 16. Neither back-up goalie (Ray Emery or Anton Khudobin) has seen any action yet so they definitely don’t play for the Penguins. If we do this round, it means one fanbase is shitting down its leg.
Are you experienced?
Nobody comes into this Cup Final with more Cup Final experience than Marian Hossa. The former Atlanta Thrasher star played in three of them in a row, losing the first two but making the third time a charm with the Blackhawks in 2010. Though he’s only one guy, the Hawks still have a few very important holdovers from that team (Sharp, Toews, Kane, Seabrook, Keith) but their bottom six does lack that valuable experience that can sometimes result in a loss instead of a win.
On the other hand, the Bruins will ice 15 guys that each played a role in the ‘11 Cup run (Tuukka didn’t log any playing time), including five of their bottom six. Experience isn’t execution but it’s much better to have it to rely on than not. As awful as the Great Philly Collapse of 2010 was, the Bruins have (generally) heeded the lessons of that disaster.
What do the Bruins need to do to win the Cup?
In a nutshell—do pretty much exactly what they just did to Pittsburgh. The Hawks are built on speed and finesse as well, though the Bs showed they’re quite capable of nullifying those skills. Claude and staff know doubt pored over video from the Detroit series to see how the Wings kept Toews in check. Bs need to play blanket D and make D the priority. Get sticks in passing/shooting lanes. Take away time and space. Play smart. Take advantage when opposition does make errors, especially lower-pairing D. And Tuukka needs to just keep being his otherworldly self.
What do the Blackhawks need to do to win the Cup?
Get behind the Bruins’ D or get a jump on them in transition game. Try to create bang-bang scoring plays, the Hawks’ specialty. Take advantage of last change to put a powerhouse line out vs. a third/fourth line. Get more from Toews and Kane. Somehow beat Rask.
Chicago boasts a great top four on offense in Sharp, Hossa, Kane, and Toews. Add in Brian Bickell and his ‘Joel Ward from 2011’ imitation and the Hawks have a pretty formidable top six. Still, they haven’t scored an awful lot and the Wings showed that Toews can be thrown off his game. Their bottom six is talented and youthful but outside of Frolik and Shaw, they don’t present the same threat as their counterparts.
We always hear the names Malkin/Crosby and Toews/Kane linked together as dynamic duos for their respective teams. It might be time teams started worrying about Krejci/Bergeron in the same manner. Their lines decimated the Pens vaunted two-some and not only shut them down, they scored big goals against them. Chicago has more firepower up top but their lower half of forwards doesn’t match up with the Bruins.
The Hawks’ D is led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, two guys who are very good at both ends of the ice. Keith also has a nice edge to his game. Oduya, Hjalmarsson, Leddy, and Rozsival round out an average bottom four. The top two are dangerous but there are holes for the Bruins to expose the rest of the D.
Zdeno Chara has been his usual immense self this postseason and that will continue. He’ll likely be paired with Dennis Seidenberg quite a bit though Claude showed he’s not shy about splitting them up when he needs to. Boychuk, Krug, McQuaid, and Ference round out a tough, gritty D that has been lighting up opposing goalies in the playoffs. Ference, in particular, was great in the Pittsburgh series so expect more of the same.
Nothing But Net
Corey Crawford has been one of the surprise players this spring. Many, myself included, weren’t sold on him as a starter but he’s proved up to the task. He’s been great, though he has had a couple of iffy goals and some scrambly moments in front of him. Still, there’s a reason Coach Q hasn’t had to summon Ray Emery yet.
Tuukka has been lights out ever since he took that dixie down MSG. He gave up just two goals in four games to the league’s best tommy gun offense. Not only is he winning, he’s doing it with a methodical calmness indicative of a guy who just isn’t going to give anything up. This is the one area where the Bs have the clear advantage.
The Bruins answer the defensive bell once again, frustrating Chicago’s snipers while capitalizing on their own chances. Tuukka remains unsolvable. Bruins in 6.