First off, I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 11 of the 14 playoff series’ this postseason after the Conference Finals. I had Chicago over L.A., but Pittsburgh over Boston.
I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better final series than this one. Two major hockey cities, two Original Six teams. Boston and Chicago, the Bruins and Blackhawks. NBC couldn’t be happier, because the TV ratings for this series will probably be higher than any Stanley Cup Final in the past. Maybe the only person upset about this matchup is Gary Bettman, who probably would have liked it if Phoenix and Florida met in the Cup. But who cares what he wants, right? On to the prediction.
STANLEY CUP FINAL
The President’s Trophy-winning Blackhawks and the 4th seeded Bruins are two very similar teams, but also different at the same time. Both are tremendous defensively, but they each have their own way of scoring goals. After their incredible Game 7 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, Boston has been an unstoppable force in the East. The went on to defeat the Rangers in just 5 games, and now they are coming off of a sweep of the number 1 seeded Penguins in the Conference Final. A lot of people, myself included, didn’t think Crosby, Malkin, and the rest of the Penguins’ offense could be stopped. Man were we wrong. In their series with Pittsburgh, the Bruins allowed just TWO goals against. Now remember, the Penguins were the best team in the NHL at scoring goals this year, and yet they only had two in four games against the Bruins. That is a remarkable statistic for Boston. Credit Patrice Bergeron and his line, as well as Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask for shutting down the Penguins offense. What Boston did against Pittsburgh is what they’ll most likely do against Chicago in terms of defense. They had Patrice Bergeron’s line play against either the Crosby or Malkin line, while Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg played against the other line centered by either Crosby or Malkin. Against Chicago, they will probably have Bergeron playing the Toews line, and Chara playing the Handzus line (or vice versa). Bergeron is a Selke Trophy finalist, which is awarded each year to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Chara is constantly in the Norris Trophy discussion, although this year he is not a finalist. The bottom line here is that the Bruins, led by Bergeron and Chara, are an incredible defensive team from top to bottom. In net, Tuukka Rask has been phenomenal as well. He ranks second in GAA this postseason (behind Corey Crawford), and first in save percentage. He had two shutouts in the four games against Pittsburgh. Offensively, Boston has 6 guys with over 10 points this postseason, led by David Krejci who has 21 (most in the NHL). They have been getting contributions from everyone on offense, including their defensemen. Unlike the Blackhawks, Boston gets the majority of their goals on shots from the point, or rebounds in front of the net. The Bruins are also one of the best teams in hockey at winning faceoffs, and Chicago is not. This could be a key to any success the Bruins might have in this series.
The Blackhawks have had an interesting postseason. They knocked out the Wild in 5 games in the first round, but never really played with a playoff-like intensity. In the second round, they fell into a 3-1 hole against Detroit after the first 4 games. It was at this point that the Hawks finally started to play like it was the playoffs. They won 3 straight against the Wings to advance to the Conference Final, and rolled over the Kings in 5 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final. I thought that the Blackhawks would have had a lot more trouble against the Kings than they really did. The Kings were a big, physical, and fast team that liked to throw their weight around. They were the exact type of team that the Hawks have had trouble against all season. However, all that went out the door in this series, and the Blackhawks never seemed fazed by L.A.’s physicality. Corey Crawford was the MVP of this series. He came up with a number of massive saves, especially in the two overtimes of Game 5. Prior to the Conference Final, all anyone was talking about was Jonathan Quick and how amazing he was playing. Now, I think Crawford is beginning to get the respect that he deserves. He is first in the NHL in GAA this postseason, and is second in save percentage. Defensively, ever since Joel Quenneville reunited Keith and Seabrook, the Blackhawks have been really good. Niklas Hjalmarsson had arguably his best playoff series of his career against the Kings, and the Hawks will need him to continue playing well against Boston. I said before the Conference Final that the Hjalmarsson-Oduya pairing would be a key component of the Blackhawks-Kings series, and I was right. Jonathan Toews, a Selke finalist, and Marian Hossa are two of the best defensive forwards in the game and have the ability to really disrupt any team’s offense. Offensively, the Blackhawks have really turned it up over the last 4-5 games. They chased Jonathan Quick in Game 2, and put up 14 goals over 5 games against L.A. Bryan Bickell has arguably been the Hawks’ MVP this postseason, as he has 8 goals and 5 assists. Patrick Kane hadn’t done much prior to Game 4 of last series, but scored 4 goals in the final two games, including a hat trick and the winning goal in Game 5. If he stays hot for the Hawks, look out. Jonathan Toews has played a lot better lately even without lighting the lamp. Hossa and Sharp continue to get great chances and are converting more often than not.
This is going to be an excellent series. While Boston was able to completely shut down Crosby and Malkin, I am not so sure they can do that again against the Blackhawks’ top guys. Chicago has 2 all-star caliber lines, and a third and fourth line that can be dangerous as well. The stretch pass that the Blackhawks use is unlike anything Boston has tried to defend in the East this year, and they will need to respect that in this series, which will open up other opportunities for the Hawks. Also, the speed of Chicago on the backcheck and forecheck is better than any speed the Bruins have seen so far. The Blackhawks are possibly the fastest team in hockey, and they know how to use that to their advantage. Having said that, this series will be one for the ages.
-Chicago wins series, 4-3.