Middletown, N. J. - “What we do in hockey, echoes in eternity”….”There was a dream that was the Stanley Cup. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile”.
Ok, I am done slightly altering lines from the outstanding movie ‘Gladiator’ to fit the current time that we find ourselves in. As a lifelong New York Islanders fan, I have been through the trials and tribulations of a start-up franchise to 4 Stanley Cups to the depth of hockey misery. This season the Isles returned to relevance but alas, it was not enough to get them past the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
It was summer 2007 when the Chicago Blackhawks selected Patrick Kane with the 1st overall selection in the NHL draft. Kane was a 5’10 dynamo who just tore up the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the London Knights to the tune of 145 points in 58 games. I had followed him that entire season leading up to the draft and grew fond of his play.
After the draft, I decided to follow the Blackhawks as my secondary and Western conference representation. Don’t get me wrong, they can never replace my Isles in my head or heart but I found it fun and relieving to root for a team outside our conference and cheer on one of my new found favorite players.
We are now in 2013 and the Blackhawks are back in the Stanley Cup finals for the 2nd time in 4 seasons. They will have a very formidable opponent across the way, the Boston Bruins, making their 2nd trip in 3 years. It all sets up the first original six finals since 1979 and hockey fans all over the country and in Canada are anxiously awaiting the puck drop on Wednesday night.
With the shortened season keeping the entire 48 games within your own conference, these teams unfortunately have not yet met in 2013. There will be no familiarity to draw on and rivalries will have to start from scratch. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, especially in game one, as the teams might just have a period or two to ‘feel’ each other out.
But everyone is expecting one heck of a series and some even already taking to Twitter to pray for seven consecutive overtime games. The fear of a long summer without any hockey is that scary to a lot of us in the fanbase, no matter which team you decide to support.
Patrice Bergeron, Jaromir Jagr, Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford…..”Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” (darn, said I would be done with that, but it felt so natural in that situation, hee hee).
- Wed, June 12 – @ Chicago 8pm EST (NBC)
- Sat, June 15 – @ Chicago 8pm EST (NBCSN)
- Mon, June 17 – @ Boston 8pm EST (NBCSN)
- Wed, June 19 – @ Boston 8pm EST (NBC)
- Sat, June 22 – @ Chicago 8pm EST (NBC) *If necessary
- Mon, June 24 – @ Boston 8pm EST (NBC) * If necessary
- Wed, June 26 – @ Chicago 8pm EST (NBC) * If necessary
How They Got Here
- Defeated Minnesota Wild 4-1
- Defeated Detroit Red Wings 4-3
- Defeated Los Angeles Kings 4-1
- Defeated Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3
- Defeated New York Rangers 4-1
- Defeated Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0
Why The Blackhawks Can Win
Chicago just might be the only team in the entire league that can match Boston on the depth chart. Joel Quenneville never seems to worry about who he is putting on the ice in a certain critical situations, showing complete faith in all four of his forward lines. In fact, the line of Marcus Kruger, Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik (at times even Dave Bolland) was the best line of their game 5 victory over Los Angeles.
The forward ranks led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp give the Blackhawks 4 extremely talented capable scorers on each of their first two lines. Quenneville knows how to maximize this potential as he brilliantly interchanged the four during a crucial game 4 victory with Kane netting the tying goal and Hossa notching the winner after the switch.
On defense, it’s all about Duncan Keith, who arguably, could be playing himself into the Conn Smythe discussions. He has been absolutely brilliant at both ends of the rink, providing Chicago with not only an offensive presence but a shut-down defensive one as well partnered with Brent Seabrook. Johnny Oduya has had his moments in these playoffs where he has looked a bit shaky in his own zone but overall has provided good veteran leadership. Nick Leddy continues to garner experience with each passing game and Niklas Hjalmarsson is silky smooth with just about everything he does.
The goaltending is where is gets a bit cloudy for me. Yes I know that Corey Crawford, on the surface, has been brilliant, posting a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage (good for 1st and 2nd, respectively, in the league) but there are also times where he just does not look confident, whether it be flubbing a glove save or not controlling a rebound. In a series such as this, with all eyes peeled and intensity ramped up to its fullest, will he be able to avoid those one or two mental breakdowns over the course of the series? It could prove to be decisive whichever way Crawford goes.
Leading Playoff Scorers
- Marian Hossa 7-7-14
- Patrick Sharp 8-6-14
- Patrick Kane 6-8-14
- Bryan Bickell 8-5-13
- Duncan Keith 2-9-11
- Corey Crawford 12 W. 1.74 GAA, .935 S%, 1 SHO
Why The Bruins Can Win
I have said this before in every series preview I have covered regarding the Bruins but it certainly bares mentioning again. Karma. It just seems like there is a certain level of magic surrounding this Bruins team this season as they carry the weight of the entire city of Boston on their shoulders.
From the miraculous first round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs to utter domination over the New York Rangers and to everyone’s surprise, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Bruins might just have a mentality that will not allow them to lose at this point. I am not saying they should not have beaten the Pens (as we at Eyes had Boston in seven) but a sweep allowing only two goals, none on the power play and holding Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin pointless in the series? Even Nostradamus would not have been so bold.
Up front it has been as it was in 2011 when Boston defeated Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup : David Krejci leading the way. After posting 12-11-23 in 25 games during that playoff season, he has come up huge yet again, posting 9-12-21 in only 16 games so far this year, proving he is Boston’s most valuable clutch performer. Nathan Horton, entering unrestricted free agency this summer, has rebounded from a terrible concussion history to have a superb post-season with 7 goals and pacing second on the team in points. He has been very reliable and consistent. Brad Marchand will attempt to pester the Blackhawks at every opportunity and Milan Lucic is good to run at least one defenseman over in this series. Throw into the mix possibly the best defensive forward in the game Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins are just as good up front as Chicago. If Jaromir Jagr could ever find the back of the net it would greatly improve the Bs chances as he has now gone 16 games without a goal.
Defensively, it starts and ends with Zdeno Chara. In complete shutdown mode against Pittsburgh he showed why he is a potential Norris Trophy finalist each and every season and has chipped in nicely with 11 points in 16 games. Torrey Krug has been a revelation and the rest of the young blueline did not look intimidated at all as the stakes grew in the conference finals. Johnny Boychuk has even scored five times as the Bruins have squeezed 15 goals out of their defenseman so far in the post-season.
Tuukka Rask has waited for the opportunity to lead the Bruins out onto the ice every night as the primary starting goaltender and got his chance this season. He has certainly lived up to all expectations. After a regular season that saw him post a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage he can certainly match Crawford in the postseason as well with eye popping 1.75, .943 totals. Rask seems comfortable in the crease and never looks frazzled or much out of position, allowing only one soft goal that I can remember in the first three rounds (Carl Hagelin).
Leading Playoff Scorers
- David Krecji 9-12-21
- Nathan Horton 7-10-17
- Milan Lucic 3-10-13
- Brad Marchand 4-9-13
- Zdeno Chara 2-9-11
- Tuukka Rask 12 wins, 1.75 GAA, .943 S%, 2 SHO
Wow this is a tough one. Two great hockey cities, two outstandingly passionate and knowledgeable fan bases and to be completely honest, I know and interact with a lot of them on both sides and enjoy it immensely. In other words, I am in a can’t win scenario here. But at the end of the day, I have to be objective and put my opinion out there to be seen. After having an OK first round calling winners and an absolutely miserable second round, I had both conference finals pegged although it was Boston in 6 and Chicago in 7.
I think this could be the most evenly matched series of any that we have seen previously. Offense up front from a star perspective goes to Chicago but in terms of depth is dead even. Defensively I do not think the Blackhawks get enough credit for what they have been able to accomplish. Ranking first in goals against is nothing to shake a stick at and their transition game is so much better than it was in 2010 it’s scary. But the Bruins have youth and energy injected into their lineup and always have the dependable Chara to steer the ship clear of rocky waters. Boston was 3rd in the entire league in goals against so again, I would have to call this even.
Coaching? Quenneville and Claude Julien both are experts at handling the ebbs and flows of the post-season and have been in total command of their teams from top to bottom. Julien’s decision to insert Chara in the slot trailing by two in game seven of the opening round could be a huge reason why Boston is in the finals to begin with.
The difference could come down to goaltending. Both have outstanding post-season numbers so you have to look beyond the statistics. Rask to me looks steadier and less likely to mental breakdowns or scrambling. For that reason I give the edge to Boston. Both are making their first finals appearances as starters so there is no experience advantage to rely on.
As far as special teams go, neither has been too special on the power play. Chicago is 7-51 (13.7%) and Boston is 7-45 (15.6%). Penalty killing is a different story however. The Blackhawks are 54-57 (94.7%) while the Bruins are 45-52 (86.5%). Chicago has taken 73 minor penalties in the playoffs to Boston’s 65. Certainly does not look like a series decider in those numbers, that’s for sure.
Due to the fact these teams are so dead even in so many different areas, I have to slide the needle slightly towards Boston due to my Rask/Crawford comments. I will say however it goes the distance with 2 overtime games and if the Hawks were to win their second cup in four years I would not be the least bit surprised.
BRUINS IN SEVEN