The Stanley Cup Final.
This shortened season approaches its climactic ending with two cities left standing. Boston. Chicago. This is the first time 2 Original Six teams have met in the Finals since 1979. Hockey purists will recognize the brilliance of this matchup. Boston comes in after a sweep of the top-ranked Penguins, allowing just two goals in that series. Chicago comes in after beating a defensively tough Los Angeles team that had only allowed 1.5 goals per game these playoffs before heading to Chicago. The question heading into this series is can the Blackhawks crack the bulletproof glass that has been the Boston Bruins defense?
The contest stands as 12-10 in favor of Danny. For the finals its 2 points to pick the winner, +2 if you get the games right. And Bonus point for picking the Conn Smythe.
One thing that makes this matchup increasingly difficult to analyze is the fact that these teams did not meet during the regular season. There was in fact no cross-conference games at all this year, so it is impossible to judge which conference comes in stronger. Hence, the only thing that is for certain is that Gary Bettman will feel the wrath of hockey fan's hell, regardless of which city he is in when he strolls out on the ice to present the Cup.
Chicago continues to be led by Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, although Patrick Kane showed his revival in the Los Angeles series. If they can just start to get that from Jonathan Toews it will go a long way. What he has lacked, Chicago have made up for in the form of Bryan Bickell, whose 8 playoff goals are closing in on his regular season total of 9. Not getting lost in the mix has been the play of Corey Crawford, whose 1.74 GAA is on par with that of his counterpart in this series, Tuuka Rask.
If Boston are to win this series they will have to limit the amount of time spent in the defensive zone. Tuuka Rask has had to be great, as the team in front of him has allowed 33 shots per game in the playoffs. With the talented scorers on Chicago's roster, that kind of record may not stand up well. Chicago has allowed just 28 shots per game, while giving up a similar amount of goals.
Boston will need to employ an aggressive forecheck from the likes of David Krejci and Rich Peverly, who will skate more now with the loss of Gregory Campbell. They will also need their D-men to hold down their blue line and maintain possession in the offensive zone. They can do it, but it will be tough.
Chicago will be tougher for Boston to score against than Pittsburgh proved to be. Chicago was able to crack a rigid Los Angeles defense. They also maintain home ice advantage, which has been so important in these playoffs. They get the nod.
Chicago in 7
Patrick Sharp for the Conn Smythe
The finals have come down to two teams that both truly deserve to be here. Chicago was a dominant team in the regular season, but had to fight back from 3-1 down to a tough Detroit team. And its hard to imagine that the Bruins were at one point 2 goals down and a minute and a half away from a 1st round exit.
Heading into this series, both teams are hot. I guess you have to be to get this far. Both made quick work of tough conference finals opponents and are playing with loads of confidence.
Its very very tough to pick either side in this one. There one side that is guaranteed to win though, is the NHL. Talk about an ideal finals for league revenues.
On the ice however, it gets tricky. In net, the Bruins have an advantage. Tukka Rask is playing like he wants to earn a Cup Ring as a starter, not as a backup, as he was during the previous Boston cup win. He gave up 2 goals during the four game sweep against Pittsburgh, and has only given up 12 goals in his previous 9 games, going back to the New York series.
Corey Crawford is no slouch either. He dueled against elite goaltender Jonathan Quick and came out on top. But in goaltending, I have to give the edge to Boston here. Rask shows no signs of letting up.
Offensively, both teams have been very strong. For Chicago, Patrick Kane was the star that sent them to the finals, beating quick more times than a taxi driver. A hattrick in a series clincher. Talk about clutch. Marian Hossa is also playing at a high level. Jonathan Toews is going to be zeroed in on by a tough Boston D, and he needs to step up.
For Boston, its been about David Kreijci. What a playoffs this guy has had. 21 points in 16 games. Every successful playoff team needs someone to play like this. Luckily for him, he is not alone. Milan Lucic has been a bruiser, and a scorer, as has Brad Marchand. Chicago has the more powerful guns, but Boston can more than hold their own.
When it comes to depth, both teams have it. Maybe a guy like Bryan Bickell benefits from the team he plays on, but there is no doubt he has stepped up big time in this post season. The Hawks will need him, and key role guys like Andrew Shaw to keep playing at a high level. For the Bruins, depth on Defense proved vital in getting them into the second round. Torey Krug cooled off after his hot 2nd round debut but he is still reliable. Contributions from 4th line guys like Dan Paille have been essential. Gregory Campbell exemplified what playoff hockey is about, killing a penalty with a broken leg that will cost him the rest of the year.
For the Bruins to win, they are going to have to keep up their rough and tough play they showed against Pittsburgh, although I doubt Chicago will whine as much as the Penguins. They win games when they keep the other team off the scoresheet, and they have shown they can do that to even the most elite offenses.
For Chicago, they will have to match Boston's confidence and intensity. Jonathan Toews needs to break out big time, and the depth will need to match up.
My Prediction. Well, tis a tough one to pick indeed. I have the utmost confidence that it will go to a deciding game 7. With that said, I think Tukka Rask steals it for Boston. Bruins in 7.
Conn Smythe Pick- Tukka Rask, win or lose