The Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final matchup has storylines galore. It’s an Original Six matchup, the first games between an Eastern and Western Conference team all year, and pits the season-long favorite from the West against the gritty underdogs from the East.
Here’s a look at how the two teams got here, how they stack up, and what to watch for.
Regular Season: 36-7-5 (#1 seed in the Western Conference)
Regular Season: 28-14-2 (#4 seed in the Eastern Conference)
How they got here
Chicago slept through Minnesota in five games, came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat archrival Detroit in seven games and then dispatched the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in five games to claim the Clarence Campbell trophy. Boston escaped a 4-1 third period deficit against Toronto to win in seven games, and then lost a total of one game while dismantling New York (in five) and Pittsburgh (in a sweep) to capture the Prince of Wales trophy.
More on Boston
Of Boston’s four playoff losses, three came against Toronto in the first round. That’s just one indicator of hot the Bruins are; another is the fact that Boston allowed two goals against the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jerome Iginla, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis in an unthinkable four-game sweep of Pittsburgh. When at their best (as the Killer B’s have been for the past month), the Bruins feature a dominant blend of speed, skill, toughness, tenacious checking, roster depth and a total commitment to team defense. Plus they have a motivated goaltender in Tuukka Rask who is making everyone in Boston forget about 2011 Conn Smythe trophy winner Tim Thomas.
Superlatives aside, a few factors stand out with the Bruins. First, their top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic are on an incredible pace offensively, yet are allowing next to nothing defensively. Meanwhile, second-line center Patrice Bergeron has become Mr. Clutch in pressure situations, and refuses to lose faceoffs. Wing-man Brad Marchand continues his torrid playoff tear and continues to be effective as agitator against the opponent’s top players. Defensively, along with the stellar Rask, captain Zdeno Chara has been masterful in shutting down the other team’s top offensive threats. Others like Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid are extremely physical and difficult to play against.
More on Chicago
For the entire regular season and one round of the playoffs, Chicago was the NHL’s darling squad — a fun, fast crew that hardly ever lost (setting a new unbroken points record out of the gates) in a conference filled with a majority of the league’s top teams. However, when adversity set in against surprising Detroit, the Blackhawks stepped up and found another level after making things look so easy all year. Like the Bruins, Chicago rolls incredible forward depth, but also features even more high-end talent like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, captain Jonathan Toews and suddenly red-hot sniper Patrick Kane (who picked up a hat trick in the clincher against the Kings). Yet with all the names available, including blueline studs Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, the keys to Chicago’s run have been the emergence of forwards Bryan Bickell (eight goals) and Andrew Shaw, plus goaltender Corey Crawford.
Crawford was almost run out of town a season ago after a poor regular season and a difficult first-round series loss against unheralded Phoenix. Yet Crawford responded to his doubters by posting an amazing regular season, now an even better playoffs, perhaps stealing a series from the Red Wings before outplaying playoff stud Jonathan Quick in the Western Conference final. The second-year Shaw has emerged as a tenacious two-way threat, playing on the edge in a similar fashion to Bruins superpest Marchand. The biggest and most necessary breakout belongs to Bickell. After toiling for four years in AHL obscurity, the 27-year-old is blossoming and filling the power forward void Chicago left by trading away Dustin Byfuglien.
Many pundits (like myself) expected Pittsburgh to be in this position, but the Bruins’ complete silencing of the Penguins cemented their place as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup — even starting the series on the road. Boston will look to impart its aggressive, tight-checking style of play on Chicago and relentlessly hit the Blackhawks into submission. Meanwhile, the speedier ‘Hawks want to break loose against Boston and push the pace of the game against a team not used to the much faster overall speed of the West (Eastern teams did not play Western teams in the lockout-shortened year). The team that dictates the play and gets the most clutch goaltending will win this series, and I would expect the relatively healthy Bruins to be able to do that for the majority of this series. Therefore, I expect Boston to win its second Stanley Cup in three years with a six-game series win over Chicago.