Here now is the last entry of Breaking It Down for this post-season and it will be a doozy. We’re looking at the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, of course, and that means that another thrilling (but short) NHL season is coming to an end.
This is, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the first time two Original Six teams have met for the Cup since 1979. In that outing, it was the Habs against the Rangers. This time, it’s two recent champs and they’ll be looking to knock the stuffing out of each other for the ultimate prize in professional sports.
Now, these two teams didn’t actually play each other during the regular season because of the lockout and the subsequent scheduling changes. That leaves out a big chunk of analysis from a head-to-head standpoint, but there are still numbers to crunch, theories to float and players to compare.
Start with the fact that these two teams have been eerily similar throughout the post-season. Each club was nearly eliminated in a seven-game series by an unlikely foe, but each club came back to dominate in other outings. The Bruins are coming off a sweep of the favoured Penguins, for one, while the Blackhawks took out the defending champs in five games. Impressive.
The Bruins will be able to rely on Tuukka Rask to handle his business in goal, so that’s a big mark in the plus column for Boston. Rask, who could easily take the Conn Smythe Trophy, only let in two goals from the Pittsburgh Penguins and stopped 134 of 136 shots for a .985 save percentage. He is technically sound but creative enough to work through the traffic the Blackhawks are likely to put in front of him.
Corey Crawford, meanwhile, will give Chicago a chance to win. He’s already knocked off Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and LA’s Jonathan Quick, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that he could lead his club against Rask and come out on top. Crawford holds a .935 save percentage to go with a 1.74 GAA. Those aren’t Rask numbers, but they aren’t insignificant either.
The Blackhawks will go with Duncan Keith a whole lot in this series. He’s a big part of the system in Chicago and will fuel a D-group that loves to activate and move the puck. Brent Seabrook completes the pairing and gives the club a number of options along the blueline. Niklas Hjalmarsson is Number Three in the depth chart, but he plays like a Number One at times and forms a solid pairing with Johnny Oduya.
The Bruins’ defensive balance goes without saying and has been covered a lot in this series. It really is the same old song and dance and the Blackhawks will struggle against it, just like the Penguins did. Zdeno Chara is the top draw in Boston and he’s probably the best defenceman in the NHL. He contained Malkin and held him and his pals off the scoreboard. His partner Dennis Seidenberg helps the containment game, while the return of Andrew Ference adds more balance.
The Bruins are, of course, a defence-first hockey team. They won’t be held off the scoreboard (not to be repetitive, but ask the Pens), though, and they can hammer the Blackhawks from many different angles. David Krejci is piling up points and leading all scorers in the playoffs right now (another wise choice for the Conn Smythe), while Patrice Bergeron can be called on in the clutch and Nathan Horton can go (17 points, +14-rating).
For the Blackhawks, their forwards are where they really hold the advantage. They are a creative, quick group. Four of them are bonafide stars (Toews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp) and will put the puck in the net given the opportunity. If the likes of Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland can create space, the Bruins will be in tough to play the containment game.
For all the potential firepower on the Blackhawks, it pays to remember just one more time that the Bruins have shut this sort of thing down before. Are Toews/Kane/Sharp/Hossa better than Crosby/Malkin/Iginla/Kunitz/Neal? That’s a tough call, but they’re going to have to be if they hope to win against Boston.