Tonight marks game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins. Both teams faced adversity on their respective paths to hockey’s holy grail.
The Bruins only true scare came in round 1 of the playoffs as the Toronto Maple Leafs had the Bruins against a wall in game 7 down 4-1 with 10 minutes remaining. Boston mounted a furious comeback, eventually winning the game 5-4 in overtime. The Bruins then went on to dispose of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins losing only one of those games en route to their second Stanley Cup Final in the past three years.
The Chicago Blackhawks made fairly quick work of the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals so it may be easy to forget that they were on hockey life support in the previous round against the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings had Chicago down 3-1 in their best of seven series only to let the Hawks win two close games to tie up the series, then allowed them to win an overtime thriller in game 7.
This is truly a dream matchup for the NHL as they get an “Original 6” matchup for the first time since 1979. Chicago and Boston are also two of the more passionate fan bases in the league and two of the largest media markets. One would anticipate television ratings through the roof and the product on the ice should follow suit.
It’s difficult to say which team has the advantage in this series as this is the first time the two clubs will face-off against one another this season. Due to the lockout-shortened season, the Western Conference played solely against their Western counterparts and the Eastern Conference played only against the East.
If we break down the series on a matchup basis I think it’s clear that this is fairly even on both sides. The Blackhawks thrive on a speed and puck possession game, while the Bruins are a strong two way team that likes to inject their style of play with heavy contact and strong defense.
The Blackhawks forwards have a slight edge against Boston. Speed kills and the Blackhawks have it. They are also healthy relatively speaking, while the Bruins lost centerman Greg Campbell to a broken leg. Campbell isn’t the type of player that will win you a series, but his loss in the faceoff circle can’t be understated with the Hawks playing such a heavy possession style.
Zdeno Chara gives the Bruins the edge on defense. He continues to be one of the best shut down defenders in the game and still contributes heavily from the point on the power play. I anticipate Chara will be given the task of neutralizing Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.
The goaltenders are a wash. Tuuka Rask is playing at the top of his game for the Bruins and continues to be one of the best goalies in the league. Corey Crawford has been equally as impressive for the Blackhawks. Outside of a few soft goals in the early rounds he’s been rock solid in net for Chicago and has given the Hawks defensemen the confidence to jump into the play offensively.
This should be a classic series between teams with subtle similarities, but ultimately contrasting styles. I think the Hawks speed and ability to stretch a defense with long breakout passes could be key to taking Boston off their game. As with any series, home ice is a big advantage and the Blackhawks have that being the top seed in the league.
I think each game is close with both goaltenders shining, however Chicago’s speed, plus home ice will be the deciding factor in this series.
The Chicago Blackhawks will raise the Stanley Cup for the 5th time in their franchise history by defeating the Boston Bruins in 5 games.