Here we are. The Stanley Cup Final is upon us. It’s the Chicago Blackhawks versus the Boston Bruins. Two great teams. Two Original Six teams. Two recent Cup winners. Two teams that used to have egregiously cheap owners. However, while Dollar Bill Wirtz died and his son decided that, you know, maybe the Blackhawks should have games on TV, Jeremy Jacobs is still owning the Bruins, and is still exceedingly thrifty, and he was one of the main forces in the NHL lockout. As such, in a way it is kind of a bummer that, at the end of this shortened season, Jacobs’ team has a chance to hoist the Cup. On the other hand, Chicago and Boston are two passionate fanbases with a rich sports history, so the NHL got pretty lucky this was the matchup they got. Not that the lockout has really seen much lingering ill will during the season, although that may chance once Gary Bettman steps on the ice to hand the Cup to either Zdeno Chara or Jonathan Toews. But which captain will it be?
Chicago was the story of the regular season. They started off with a great run to open the year, and ended up with the President’s Trophy and the league’s best goal differential. They handled the Minnesota Wild with ease, before facing some difficulties with the Detroit Red Wings. That series went into a seventh game, and into overtime in that final matchup. One goal, and the Blackhawks wouldn’t be here. However, they managed to get the win, and then in the Western Conference Finals they put any concerns behind them, beating a formidable Los Angeles Kings team in a mere five games, thanks in part to a Patrick Kane hat trick in the clincher.
Boston’s regular season wasn’t quite as good, but it was still impressive. They only managed to earn the fourth seed, thanks to the surprise Montreal Canadiens, and then they had issues in the first round against an overseeded Toronto Maple Leafs team. They were even closer to elimination than Chicago against Detroit, as in a game seven they found themselves behind late. Then, in the blink of an eye, the game was tied, headed into overtime, and then the Bruins managed to avoid the upset. That was the only real challenge they faced in this postseason. They solved Henrik Lundqvist in the second round, handling the New York Rangers with ease. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they were the underdog against a loaded Pittsburgh Penguins squad. They managed to sweep them, briefly starting a storm of “Oh the Penguins are huge disappointments will they fall apart?” nonsense. Now, hopefully we can forget all that, and focus on the fact the Bruins are an excellent team facing another excellent team.
Both teams have gotten great goaltending. Thanks in part to the Blackhawks bombarding Quick, the two netminders in this series have the best save percentage in the playoffs. While Corey Crawford is at an impressive .935, Tuukka Rask rised above the pack with his .943 SV%. He has been great. Nobody is missing Tim Thomas. I have more faith in Rask to keep up his excellent play, based on track record, but that is no slight at Crawford.
However, Rask will probably face the tougher challenge in net. Then again, the postseason numbers don’t indicate that. The top two scorers in these playoffs are David Krejci and Nathan Horton. The Blackhawks have nobody in the top five, although they have three guys tied for sixth and one more player right behind them. Plus, players such as Toews and Kane have had their struggles, but let us not overrate the small sample size of three rounds of the postseason. Chicago has only played in 17 games. That’s not even a fourth of your usual NHL season. I like both of these offenses, and Boston’s has played better in this postseason, but I prefer Chicago’s weapons and their depth.
Now, if I flip it again, Boston has the players in place on defense to hinder Chicago’s weapons. Of, course the Blackhawks have the players to make life difficult for the Bruins as well. Zdeno Chara is the best blueliner in this postseason. People have made note of big man Bryan Bickell and his money earning ways (enjoy the new Dustin Penner, whichever team signs him) have gotten some press, but Chara yields to no NHLer in size. Chicago has plenty of blueline depth of their own. Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook. The rest, all of which are good players. Boston has depth too, as guys like Torrey Krug have emerged. Krug is like the polar opposite of Bickell. I think the defense is pretty much a wash.
I think this series is pretty much a wash, honestly. These teams are very close to one another in terms of talent. They have good coaches. They are both playing well. Which of these goalies can keep up their excellent play? One series can really make a goalie’s numbers take a dive, as Quick can attest to. Will Kane and Toews play well? Will some surprise player emerge as an unlikely hero? Or have Bickell and Krug already announced themselves as such players? In the end, I think the Blackhawks are the slightly better team, and they have home-ice advantage. If Rask keeps up his play, the Bruins will take this series, but I think he takes a slight step back toward Earth. The Blackhawks will hoist their second Cup in recent memory, making 1961 a distant memory. Nobody will weep for Jeremy Jacobs. Blackhawks in six.
The Final begins at 8:00 Eastern on Wednesday on NBC. There are two teams left. If my math is right, after this series, there will only be one.