By: Dan Leach
An Original Six dream fest of a Stanley Cup Finals gets going Wednesday night in Chi-Town as the two teams left standing have definitely earned their chance at North American Sports oldest trophy. The 2011 Cup Champ Bruins seemed all but toast in their first round series against Toronto, but found a way for the miracle comeback and have not looked back since. The 2010 Champion Blackhawks seemed to have one foot on the golf course , down 3-1 to the Red Wings in the conference semi’s, but their never-say-die attitude kept them alive , winning three straight and led them right into a dominating performance in the Conference Finals against last year’s champion Kings . We should be in for a knock-down-drag-out Stanley Cup Finals and when all is said in done, the team left standing will be well deserving of what I feel year in and year out, is the toughest championship to win in sport.
Boston-The Bruins made absolute mincemeat of who many thought was the best team in hockey and its nine goal output in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals was something to behold. David Krejci playoff leading 21 points have been huge for the B’s as he might lead the postseason in points for the second time in three years. Nathan Horton has scored many of his seven playoff goals at the most opportune times, including three game winners. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been very impactful offensively as well. Jaromir Jagr might be 41 years young, but is proving to be an excellent late season pickup, making huge plays all postseason long, but has yet to score. Tyler Seguin has only scored one goal in 16 games, but could bust out in this series.
Chicago-The Blackhawks are at their best when their scoring is balanced and that is how they have moved through the playoffs this season. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp have been lethal for the Hawks and Sharp’s eight goals are good for second best in the playoffs. Bryan Bickell is becoming a star in front of our eyes this postseason and his eight goals and 13 points have been enormous in helping Chicago get to this point. Michal Handzus has played well on the second line, but has not been a true scoring threat. Jonathon Toews has not had a good postseason by any stretch, but has the ability to get hot in a hurry and has played under the bright lights of a Stanley Cup Final before and was a difference maker.
Boston-The Bruins D has steadily improved in each round of the playoffs and what they were able to do as a unit against the Penguins borders on historic. Zdeno Chara won’t get the Norris Trophy this season, but has showed this playoff year that he is simply the best defenseman in hockey. Dennis Seidenberg has shown he can shut down top scores like Toews and Kane, and Johnny Boyschuk and Adam McQuaid were excellent in the Pittsburgh series. Rookie Torey Krug got off to an excellent start this postseason, but took a step back against the Penguins and will need to change that against the Hawks.
Chicago-When he isn’t getting suspended for silliness, Duncan Keith has been a beast all series long and is a major reason the Hawks have gotten to this point. Brent Seabrook is at his best when able to move the puck in transition for Chicago and that will be a key if they are to have success in this series. Niklas Hjalmarsson has been solid all postseason and Michal Rozsival was a huge factor in the series win over the Kings. Nick Leddy has been feast or famine at times and Johnny Oduya will need to play much more consistent against a very powerful Bruins offense.
Boston- Tuukka Rask has been absolutely sensational in these playoffs and saved his best for when it mattered most in the ECF against the Penguins. He comes into the Finals as one of the leading candidates to win the Conn Smythe. His 1.75 GAA and playoff leading .943 save percentage are phenomenal and just to show you how dominant he was against the Penguins, his GAA in that series was an absurd .44. Rask’s 53 save performance in Boston’s 2-1 2OT win in game three against the Penguins was an all-timer. A win in this series and you can add Rask’s name to the very small list of upper echelon goaltenders in today’s NHL.
Chicago-Corey Crawford has not had a bad postseason by any stretch, but when you look at his numbers and overall play compared to a net minder like Rask, it simply pales in comparison. Crawford has played well enough not to be a liability for the Hawks, but hasn’t really had to steal any games. He did come up huge after the Red Wings took a huge 3-1 lead in the Western Semi’s and has shown he has what it takes to keep his team in it no matter how long the odds. His GAA of 1.72 is the best in these playoffs and he did just out duel Jonathon Quick, but comes into this series as the second name mentioned when it comes to goaltenders.
Boston-The good news is the Bruins PK held the Penguins scoreless in 15 chances in the Conference Finals. The bad news is the Bruins PP has been pretty dreadful at just 15.6% and now they get to go up against the absolute machine that is the Blackhawks penalty kill.
Chicago-The Hawks top-ranked penalty kill has been put opposing teams in a stranglehold on their way to the Finals. They are 55-58 killing off penalties which is nothing short of amazing. Chicago’s Power Play on the other hand has left a lot to be desired and is only hitting at a 13.7% clip. The worry for the Blackhawks though is if Boston controls five-on-five play, there will be a tremendous amount on pressure on their struggling PP to make a difference.
Boston-Claude Julien has been a calming influence albeit a feisty one at times since taking over the B’s in 2007, winning a Cup in 2011. He is a master of in-game matchups and has seemed to make moves with a masterstroke in this year’s playoffs. He team has completely bought into his system of playing touch defensive-minded hockey that is the perfect antidote to Chicago’s sleek end-to-end style of play.
Chicago-Joel Quenneville looked overmatched against Mike Babcock in the Conference Semi’s, but showed his mettle helping keep his team calm and focused on its way back from down 3-1. He also has recently won a cup in 2010 and knows what the pressure of a Cup Finals brings. He has made excellent moves as well this postseason, most notably giving Bickell more playing time as well as getting the most out of Brent Seabrook, who had been struggling.
OFFICIAL DTM PREDICTION MACHINE SELECTION- BRUINS IN 6 - Call them a team of destiny, call them the Miracle B’s, whatever moniker you want to use, this year’s Bruins are special. I think this is going to be a lot of fun to watch and should have some games that could go deep into OT. Rask will outplay Crawford and Chara’s presence on D will be evident from the first puck drop. In the end the Bruins will just have too much in all facets of the game and will systematically wrestle the series away from the Blackhawks.