Game 7

bluejackets07-rgbjpg-8678ad1b3fbe2735For the second straight postseason, we’re going to witness a Game 7 featuring the Blackhawks. And, for the second straight year, the Blackhawks come into this one having won games 5 and 6 to force a seventh game. While their victory in Game 6 was about as exciting and nauseating as a game can get, it’s important to realize that all that win did was allow the Hawks to live another day and have a chance to win Game 7. Without a win tonight, Game 6 means jack squat.

Like I’ve done before, here’s what the Hawks need to do tonight in order to win and advance:

  • Corey Crawford needs to be great like he was for most of Game 6.
  • The Blackhawks’ forechecking has to be relentless. The Saad-Shaw-Kane line put on a forechecking clinic last game, so hopefully the other lines will follow their lead.
  • Look for the Kings to play Drew Doughty against Kane and his linemates. This will open up the door for the Toews line to possibly have some success. Tonight would be a good time for Bryan Bickell to show up again.
  • The Hawks cannot afford to take penalties. One or two are fine, because that’s hockey, but they can’t be stupid ones. If they do take penalties, the PK has to be good. They allowed another PP goal to the Kings in Game 6, and it almost cost the Blackhawks their season.
  • Brent Seabrook needs to forget about his whole postseason up to this point. He has not been good. The Hawks really need him to start playing like he has in past playoffs, like last year when he was a huge reason for them winning the Cup. The rest of the defense needs to be great as well. No defensive zone turnovers, no breakdowns in coverage, and no getting beat to rebounds in front of Crawford. The defense as a whole played maybe their best game of the series in Game 6 despite a few mistakes, but they’ll need to be better tonight.
  • The Blackhawks will most likely only roll three lines. The fourth line during the morning skate today was Versteeg-Handzus-Bollig. Those guys will be glued to the bench for most of the game, meaning the other three lines are going to have to somehow play 60 minutes without getting exhausted, much like last game.
  • Lastly, look for Patrick Sharp to have an effect on tonight’s game. He was everywhere in Game 6 and damn near scored a few times. Could he finally be heating up? I hope so.

As for how to handle another Game 7, do what you feel most comfortable doing. Don’t watch it with ANYONE who isn’t going to be 100% focused on the game. If need be, watch it by yourself to avoid any distractions or interruptions. That is what I’ll be doing.

Drew Doughty said following Game 5 that the Kings couldn’t let this series get to a seventh game. After Game 6, he said the Kings won’t lose Game 7. Sounds to me like he’s scrambling for things to say and trying to pick up his team while knowing there’s some doubt in that locker room. As for the Hawks, they have been extremely calm and business-like. I prefer their approach.

If you thought either of the past two games were going to make you vomit from being so nervous, then guess what? We get to go through all of that again in just a couple hours.

I can’t wait.

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Blackhawks force Game 6

139990-330-0It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Blackhawks won Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on home ice to avoid elimination and send the series to a sixth game in LA. Down 3-1 in the series to the Kings, the Hawks knew they had to come out in Game 5 with their best effort to avoid being sent packing, and while they didn’t quite play with what appeared to be their best effort through the first 40 minutes, the next 43 minutes looked more like it.

Brent Seabrook’s powerplay goal less than two minutes into the game provided the Hawks with a huge spark, and they somewhat took off from their. Moments later, Johnny Oduya made it 2-0 after knocking home the rebound off a shot by Patrick Kane. The Kings would score to make it 2-1, but then Brandon Saad countered that with a goal of his own to reestablish the two-goal lead. Patrick Kane ended the first period with three assists.

The Kings would eventually score the next three goals in the game to go up 4-3 on the Hawks heading into the final frame.

Knowing that they must at least end the third period tied, the Hawks came out buzzing and Ben Smith scored 1:17 into the period to tie it up at 4 apiece. The rest of the period was pretty much all Chicago, but they couldn’t get another puck by Quick, sending Game 5 to overtime.

The first overtime was quite possibly one of the best overtime periods the NHL has seen in recent memory. The Hawks and Kings traded chance after chance with one another, while both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick made big save after big save. Anze Kopitar actually beat Crawford on a shot, but it rang off the pipe and left the game tied at 4. A second overtime period was needed for the second straight year in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final between the Hawks and Kings.

940-couture-loganOnce overtime number two began, it didn’t take long until Michal Handzus, of all people, scored the game winner on a beautiful backhand after a great feed from Brandon Saad left Zus all alone in front of Quick (Patrick Kane picked up his fourth assist of the game on the goal). Just like that, the series was sent back to LA for Game 6.

While the Blackhawks gained some obvious momentum with their thrilling OT victory in Game 5, they are still going to need to bring their absolute best effort to beat the Kings on their home ice with LA looking to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Effort, and a few line changes could very well propel the Hawks to victory and make Game 7 a reality.

Here’s what needs to happen for the Hawks to avoid elimination again:

  • Kris Versteeg should not be dressed for Game 6. He was benched a little over halfway through the second period of Game 5 and never saw the ice again after that. He is becoming WAY too much of a liability on the ice to keep him in the lineup. Peter Regin should take his spot and play with on a line with Sharp and Handzus.
  • While I would like to see Brandon Bollig join Versteeg, it won’t happen. Quenneville won’t put Jeremy Morin (a rookie) into the lineup in an elimination game.
  • The Blackhawks’ powerplay HAS to convert in Game 6. It did in Game 5 and it provided them with a ton of momentum right off the bat.
  • Speaking of special teams, the Hawks’ PK was good in Game 5 and did not allow a goal against. That needs to happen again in LA.
  • Corey Crawford has to play his best game of the series. It’s that simple.
  • The Hawks’ defensemen have got to start boxing out Kings players in front of the net (I’m looking at you Seabrook…). There have been way too many goals scored by the Kings this series that could have been prevented if they were simply boxed out in front of Crawford and not allowed the inside position on a rebound.

Like always, I could continue going on and on, but I’ll leave it at that for now. If the Blackhawks can do those things I mentioned above, we’ll be talking about a Game 7. It won’t be easy though, as the Kings know they do not want to come back to Chicago. As Drew Doughty put it earlier today (Thursday), “We know we can’t let it go to Game 7. We need to win [Game 6].”

So do the Hawks.

Now or never

940-toews-jonathan-8colAfter dropping Game 3 to the Kings on Saturday night in LA, the Blackhawks now trail in the series two games to one. Despite playing a solid first 40 minutes in Game 3 much like they did in Game 2, the Hawks went silent for the final 20 and lost as a result. They know it’s time to step up and put together their best 60 minute effort of the season, or else they’ll be eye-to-eye with the exit door from the playoffs. It’s now or never for the Hawks.

Here is what needs to happen in Game 4 in order for the Blackhawks to even up this Western Conference Final at two games apiece.

  • It’s time that Joel Quenneville reunites Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line. I was calling for this to happen heading into Game 3, but now it’s really time to make the move. The Blackhawks need Kane to get hot, and what better way to help that happen than by putting him back on a line with Toews? Over the years during rough stretches of the playoffs, this has been Quenneville’s go-to move to get the Hawks back on the right track. He did it going into Game 4 in LA last year, and it worked beautifully. He did it in Game 4 in Boston during last year’s Stanley Cup Final, and it worked there as well. By reuniting Kane and Toews, the Kings won’t be able to blanket either player. If they do, then they’re risking leaving the other uncovered, which is not a good thing. Also, it opens up the chance to place Hossa and Sharp back on the second line together, another move that was made going into Game 4 against LA last year that worked like a charm.
  • Michal Handzus cannot center the second line any longer, or at least while Kane is on that line. If Q does put Kane on the top line and Sharp and Hossa on the second, it is possible that he leave Handzus with Sharp and Hossa. That trio did some good things last postseason. However, the lack of speed and offensive skill that you get with Handzus is so alarming that I wouldn’t mind seeing either Smith or Shaw center Sharp and Hossa, despite the success Handzus had with 10 and 81 last year. If Kane does remain on the second line with Sharp, then there is absolutely no way Handzus can stay on that line. Kane needs to play with fast, skilled players in order for him to be effective. Placing Smith or Shaw on his line as the center allows Kane to play with more speed and skill.
  • I’ve been saying this pretty much everyday, but Brandon Bollig needs to go. I don’t know that he even stepped on the ice during the entire third period of Game 3. What good is he to the team if that’s going to happen? In the meantime, you have Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin watching the game as spectators. It’s gotten to the point with Bollig where I’m starting to wonder if the front office (Stan Bowman) isn’t telling Quenneville to keep him in the lineup so that Bowman doesn’t look so bad for handing Bollig a three year extension earlier this season.
  • The Hawks’ penalty kill has to start killing off penalties. They were dominant on the PK through the first two rounds, but now they’ve allowed three powerplay goals to the Kings over the last two games.
  • The Jeff Carter line of the Kings needs to be slowed down. They have torched the Hawks this series, and it’s time Quenneville looks to shut them down. Heading into this series, the Hawks wanted to shut down the Kopitar line, which they have by matching the Toews line against them. Now it might be time to shift their focus to stopping Carter and his linemates. The only potential problem here is this: If Kane is reunited with Toews, then the Hawks lose their “shut down” line of Toews and Hossa.
  • The top line of the Hawks has been good all series, but it’s time that the other three lines quit watching and start playing as well. This series cannot be won by relying on just one line to score all of your goals.
  • Speaking of scoring, the Hawks’ powerplay cost them Game 3. They went 0-4 with the man advantage. They only have two powerplay goals on the road this postseason, which won’t get the job done. It’s time they start finding the back of the net when given the opportunity with an extra man.

Over the past 5-6 years, the Blackhawks have come up with huge win after huge win when they’ve needed it in the playoffs. Tonight calls for another one of those huge wins. If they don’t get it, then they’ll be down 3-1 and on their way out of the playoffs. They need to play a full 60 minutes in Game 4, and they need to step on the Kings’ throats once they get them in a vulnerable position in the game. Some are saying that the Hawks are simply out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years. While that may be true, if there’s one team who can find another gear and will themselves to victory, it’s the Blackhawks.

A win tonight is imperative for the Hawks.

Blackhawks – Kings thoughts

940-couture-loganWe’re through two games of the Western Conference Final already, and things are dead-locked at one game apiece. I don’t think anyone predicted either team to come away with a sweep, and we now know that we will not get a sweep from either team. After watching the first two games between the Hawks and Kings, it is obvious that these two teams match up very well with one another, and that this series has the potential to go the distance. Both sides are doing certain things very well against the other, and both sides are trying to figure out how to stop the other from being successful in specific areas.

Here’s what has stood out to me thus far.

  • The Blackhawks had Game 2 in their back pocket, but never were able to get that all important three-goal lead. A lucky goal by LA at the end of the second period and two straight powerplays to begin the third for the Kings ultimately ended up being the difference.
  • LA is having a lot of trouble keeping up with the speed of the Blackhawks. This was far more evident in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. The Kings took a number of penalties through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 due to the fact that the Hawks were skating circles around them. This is something that will not change moving forward. The Blackhawks are the faster team, and it would appear they figured out how to use their speed effectively against the Kings. This could eventually end up winning the series for the Blackhawks if they continue to dominate the pace of the game.
  • The Kings were the far better team at the faceoff circle in Game 2, and rightfully so. They are one of the deepest teams (if not the deepest) in the NHL at the center position, and all of their centers are good at the dot. Seeing as how both the Kings and Blackhawks rely so much on puck possession in order to be successful, faceoffs could become a crucial factor in determining who wins this series.
  • LA’s powerplay is good. The Blackhawks got through the first two rounds in large part because of how good they were on the PK. Neither the Blues or the Wild had a powerplay as good as that of the Kings, and so the Hawks better adjust and find a way to slow LA’s man-advantage down. They scored two massive goals on the PP in Game 2.
  • Where are the Patricks? Both Kane and Sharp have disappeared through the first two games of the WCF. Sharp, while he hasn’t done much at all this whole postseason, has seen his scoring chances vanish this series. The same can be said for Kane, who seems to draw two or three King defenders every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck. One way to maybe try and get Kane going is to put him on a line with Jonathan Toews. The Kings can’t blanket both of those guys at the same time, meaning one should see a few more scoring chances. That would open up the opportunity to reunite the Sharp-Handzus-Hossa line that was so successful during last year’s Stanley Cup run.
  • The fourth line of the Blackhawks was phenomenal during the first two periods of Game 2, even with Bollig being on that line. Ben Smith scored the Hawks’ second goal of the game off a nice tip-pass by Bollig in the neutral zone. Moving forward, those guys are going to need to continue being effective. Now that Andrew Shaw is coming back into the lineup, that means someone needs to go. My vote is for Brandon Bollig to eat some pine and let Peter Regin play on the fourth line with Smith and Kruger. Bollig’s dumb penalty early in the third period of Game 2 might have earned him the right to watch from a sky-box.

All in all, this series is completely up for grabs at this point. I wouldn’t look into how the Blackhawks lost Game 2 too much. That was such a horrible collapse that you almost can’t count it against them. They were the victim of a couple soft penalty calls and a weird bounce/no-bounce of the puck behind Corey Crawford in the third period, all of which led to Kings’ goals. Don’t forget the Blackhawks dominated portions of Game 1 and 38 minutes of Game 2.

The Kings are a weak 3-3 at home these playoffs, and the Blackhawks have been one of the best road playoff teams over the last 5 years. I have all the confidence in the world that the Hawks can win at least one of the next two games in la la land. If they can do that, they will regain home ice advantage in the series.

Western Conference Final prediction

After the first two rounds of the playoffs, I have correctly predicted the outcome of nine of the twelve series played. So far, New York knocking out Pittsburgh has been my biggest upset pick. Hopefully I can keep my hot streak going here.

56 vs. 940-couture-logan

So for the second year in a row, we get a Chicago-LA Western Conference Final. This is a matchup of the last two Stanley Cup winners, and many believe the winner of this series will go on and win the Cup again.

The Kings enter this series fresh off a dominating Game 7 win in Anaheim in which they beat the Ducks by a final of 6-2. I was anticipating the Kings to win that game, but not in that fashion. They are on a tear right now despite needing seven games to dispatch the Ducks. Marian Gaborik has done exactly what the Kings were praying he would do when they acquired him at the trade deadline a couple of months ago. He leads the playoffs with 9 goals, and also has 6 assists to go along with that. He also sits second in the league in points right now with 15, 4 points behind teammate Anze Kopitar. Speaking of Kopitar, this guy is playing in a different world right now. Neither Dallas or Anaheim could figure out a way to slow him down. To beat Chicago, the Kings will need those two guys to keep playing at their current pace. Besides those two, the Kings are one of the deeper teams in hockey at the forward position. They can roll four lines just about as well as anyone in the NHL, and all four of those lines have been valuable to them this postseason as the Kings are averaging the most goals per game of any team. Again, to beat the Blackhawks, they’ll need production from their depth guys. We all know the Kings are a top defensive team in the league, and they are proving that to us yet again right now. After allowing 22 goals in the first round to the Sharks, the Kings allowed just 15 to the Ducks in the second round. They rank fifth in the playoffs in GA/G, but would be higher had they not been asleep through the first 3 games of the first round against San Jose. Drew Doughty is having an excellent postseason defensively, and he is one of their most important players in the offensive zone as well. However, the Kings will need more defensemen than just Doughty to be good offensively if they want to advance. In goal, Jonathan Quick has been decent, but not outstanding like in years past. Going back to last year’s regular season and WCF, he has really struggled against the Hawks. Could Chicago already be in Quick’s head before the series even starts?

As for the Blackhawks, they knocked off the Wild in six games in the second round to get to this point, but it wasn’t easy. The Wild did what the Kings will try and do, and that is win the neutral zone and force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game. The Blackhawks need to figure out how to be more effective on the forecheck after chipping pucks into the offensive zone than they were against Minnesota. If they can find a way to use their speed against the Kings and put LA on their heels, that would be ideal for Chicago. To do that, Kane and Toews will need to lead the way yet again. However, without more production from guys like Hossa, Sharp, Saad, and the depth guys, Chicago could find themselves in trouble. They are hoping to get Andrew Shaw back at some point during this series, and they’ll need him. His physical and pesty presence on the ice is key in the playoffs, not to mention his ability to screen goalies on the powerplay. One thing that the Blackhawks absolutely need to do better this series than in the first two is taking less penalties. The Kings can be a dangerous team with the man advantage, so the Hawks won’t want to test them too often. Having said that, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been outstanding thus far. They lead the playoffs with a 91.3 penalty kill percentage, and now is not the time for that trend to change. A big reason for that number is the play of Corey Crawford through the first two rounds. Your goalie is your most important man on the PK, and Crawford has come up huge time and time again for the Hawks while shorthanded. This postseason, Crawford has the best save percentage and goals against average of any goalie in the league. While most people will be focusing on Quick this series (as usual), it is Crawford who has actually been the better goalie for the second postseason in a row. He’ll need the help of his defensemen against LA, and so Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya will need to be really good to beat the Kings. How well the pairing of Hjalmarsson and Oduya plays could determine how this series pans out.

This is not the same Kings team that lost to the Blackhawks in 5 games during last year’s Western Conference Final. They are healthy now and have more firepower than they did a year ago. That said, I still don’t think the Blackhawks have played their best game(s) yet. They didn’t really come close to doing so against the Wild, yet still won that series in six games. I’d anticipate the Hawks to take their game to the next level now, and it’ll be on the Kings to try and stop them. If they do, or if the Blackhawks run out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years, LA will advance. If Chicago does begin to play their game and find some new energy, it’ll be them going on to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.

This should be a good one.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

 

How the Blackhawks can win the Cup

play_wip_15I already posted my prediction on how the Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Bruins will end. I said the Blackhawks will win in 7 games. While I am sticking with the prediction that the Hawks will win the series, who knows how many games it may take… Logic just says it’ll be 7 games based on how good both teams are. In that write-up in which I have my series prediction, I also threw some stats out there and gave a few opinions on both teams. Here, I will give my take on how I think the Blackhawks can win this series and bring the Cup back home.

Let’s start with my keys to success for the Blackhawks.

  1. Chicago’s top 2 lines. The Bruins absolutely shut down two of the world’s greatest forwards in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while sweeping the Penguins in the Conference Finals. They limited Pittsburgh as a whole to just 2 goals in the series. If the Blackhawks’ top 2 lines of Bickell-Toews-Kane and Sharp-Handzus-Hossa can continue producing in this series, and if Kane stays hot and Toews gets hot, Boston will be in trouble.
  2. Corey Crawford. He has been great through the first 3 rounds this postseason and 169382078_slidehas arguably been the MVP of the Hawks. His 1.74 GAA is the best of any goalie this postseason, and his .935 save percentage is second best. Boston has averaged the second most G/G during these playoffs (behind Pittsburgh), and therefore Crawford will need to be great again in this series.
  3. The power play. Neither Boston nor Chicago have a good power play, but both have stellar penalty killing units. One power play goal by either team could prove to be the difference in this series. While that sounds a little extreme, it’s not. The Blackhawks could really afford for their PP to get going and get a goal or two.
  4. Dave Bolland. Where has he been this postseason? He missed all of the first round due to a lower body injury, and maybe that’s still bothering him. Regardless, he has been rather ineffective over the last two rounds, which for him is very rare given his great postseason track record. It would be huge for him to finally get going against Boston. That doesn’t mean he needs to be averaging a point per game, but if he can get under Boston’s skin and create some chances for the 4th line, good things will happen.
  5. Win at home. The Blackhawks need to take care of business on their home ice. CT blackhawks-kings38.JPGSince 2010, Boston has the best home record in the playoffs of any team in the league. It will not be easy to win at the TD Garden. Therefore, winning at the United Center is imperative for the Hawks if they are going to win this series. While the Blackhawks have been really good on the road, they can’t count on winning in Boston. Grabbing games 1 and 2 would be huge for the Hawks before heading out east.

To build off of my first “key” of the top 2 lines producing for the Blackhawks, let me say this. Yes, Boston is one of the league’s best defensive teams. That is not a question. However, I don’t believe that they are as good as they may have appeared to have been against Pittsburgh. Holding a team to just goals in a 4-game sweep is unheard of. While the Bruins did play great defense against the Penguins, I think Pittsburgh had a lot to do with how that series played out as well.

The Penguins got away from their game plan and the style of play that they were using all season long. Instead, they tried becoming enforcers and tried to get into the heads of the Bruins by being a physical team, which they’re not. There was no better example of this than Sidney Crosby going after Zdeno Chara in Game 1. That is not the Crosby we know. In trying to change the way they played against Boston, the Penguins did just that. They got away from their smart, offensive-minded game plan that got them to the Conference Finals in the first place, and it cost them. They shot themselves in the foot that series, which led to poor play and a sweep. Yes, the Bruins were good defensively, but they got some help from the Penguins as well.

tumblr_mnr55hVBeD1rmzsm8o1_500I honestly do not think that Boston will be able to hold Chicago’s top guys scoreless in this series. In fact, I don’t think they will shut them down like many are predicting. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing their best hockey of the postseason right now since being reunited on the top line (along with Bryan Bickell), and I don’t see the Bruins stopping them. If they do limit the Hawks’ first line, then there is the second line of Sharp, Handzus, and Hossa to worry about.

Patrick Sharp is tied with Bickell for second place in goals-scored this postseason with 8, while Marian Hossa has 7. Sharp and Hossa have been arguably the two most consistent players for the Blackhawks this postseason, and they are as dangerous of a second line as you will find. Michal Handzus has become a key player for the Blackhawks on the second line, and he has seemingly found some great chemistry with Hossa. If Boston does find a way to slow down the Blackhawks’ first line, they still have the second line to be concerned about. I haven’t even mentioned Chicago’s third and fourth lines.

The Blackhawks’ third line of Stalberg, Shaw, and Saad is a huge reason as to why the Blackhawks have made it this far. Andrew Shaw, while he has only 4 goals this postseason, has been a very valuable asset to the Blackhawks’ offense. He is physical, he’s an agitator, he’s fearless, and he is getting better and better at camping in front of the Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw celebrates his first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of their NHL Western Conference finals playoff hockey game in Chicagonet on the power play. Viktor Stalberg has been disappointing up to this point and often receives the lowest playing time on the team, but his speed makes him a constant threat. Lately, he’s been getting more chances to produce, but hasn’t converted. As for Calder Trophy finalist Brandon Saad, his statistics are misleading. He has just 4 points (all assists), but is one of the best play-makers in the lineup. He often looks a lot like Toews and Hossa with his ability to maneuver through the defense with the puck to get to the net.

The fourth line of Frolik, Bolland, and Kruger is at times the best defensive line for Chicago. They will most likely play against David Krejci’s line in this series. As I stated earlier, look for David Bolland to pick up his game this series. He has been invisible for far too long, and it’s time for him to show up. If this line and/or the third line can get a handful of goals against Boston, the Blackhawks should be in good shape.

Defensively, Keith and Seabrook will have their hands full going against Boston’s top line. I am confident that they will get the job done. However, I will say again that the Hjalmarsson-chi_g_hjalmarsson_b1_600Oduya pairing will have a big impact on how this series plays out. Niklas Hjalmarsson is playing his best hockey of the year right now, and he’ll need to continue doing so. Johnny Oduya has looked good at times as well, but he has made way too many turnovers at others. He needs to be smarter with the puck in his own end and the neutral zone. If he can do that and be where he needs to be on defense, and if Hjalmarsson continues his hot play, I again like the Hawks’ chances.

I briefly eluded to this in my series prediction, but I’ll say it again. Boston has not played a team with as much speed as Chicago. They have not played a team who can use the stretch pass as effectively as Chicago. The Bruins will need to respect both the Hawks’ speed and stretch pass capabilities in this series by playing a conservative defense, which should open up some other chances for the Blackhawks. Chicago will need to have a good forecheck in this series, as Boston will most likely clog the neutral zone on defense.

The Blackhawks’ biggest weakness right now besides their power play is their ability to win faceoffs. They have won 47% of their draws this postseason, while Boston has won 56% of theirs (that’s the best of any playoff team). This is the biggest difference between the Bruins and Blackhawks. While the Hawks were able to win games against L.A. despite their inability to win faceoffs, they’ll need to be at least a little better against Boston. Not many teams can still be as good after losing the faceoff as the Chicago, but they can’t count on losing that many draws and being successful in this series.

There are so many different aspects of this series that can be discussed, but these are the biggest ones for the Blackhawks. If they can play the way they did against L.A., which I think they will, I like their odds. Boston is going to be the toughest challenge for Chicago since maybe the Red Wings in the ’09 playoffs, but this Blackhawks team is more than capable of winning.

Game 1 can’t come soon enough.

Stanley Cup Final prediction

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

56 vs. Boston-Bruins-Logo

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.