(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (4) Boston Bruins
Every Stanley Cup final has something going for it, but this one is particularly remarkable. It features two Original Six teams that haven’t met in the playoffs since 1978. It also is a battle between two of the last three Stanley Cup champions – and core players from both winning squads are still around.
Due to the shortened regular season, these are also two teams that haven’t faced each other in 2013, and there was absolutely no crossover in their schedules. Every team that Chicago beat never played against the Boston Bruins and vice versa. That creates an added layer of mystery to this series that’s unique and refreshing.
Beyond that, these are two deep teams with four effective lines. Patrick Kane was the hero for the Chicago Blackhawks when they eliminated the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, but he also recently went through a patch of just two assists in seven games – and Chicago was 5-2 over that span.
That’s not to say these teams can do it all without their stars, though. In the second round, Detroit found some success by line matching and neutralizing Jonathan Toews. Chicago adjusted and ultimately managed to come from behind to beat Detroit, but between Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and Patrice Bergeron, the Boston Bruins have the tools necessary to make life hard for Chicago’s top players.
Keep in mind this Bruins team just finished reducing a Pittsburgh Penguins offense that included Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, and James Neal to a mere two goals – and neither of them came from the superstar players I just listed. In addition to overcoming Detroit’s attempts to silence Toews, Chicago also just got through with a defensively gifted team in the Los Angeles Kings, backed by the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, so they won’t be easily muted.
For Chicago, one of the big x-factors offensively is Bryan Bickell. He’s a great example of a depth player that’s taken a huge leap forward in the postseason with eight goals and 13 points in 17 games. He recorded at least a point in every game of the Western Conference finals. On the Bruins, the question mark is Jaromir Jagr. He’s a legendary player who has struggled at times during the playoffs, but he started to heat up in the Eastern Conference finals.
Obviously, Boston has plenty of playoff experience as it is, but having Jagr to lean on is a great asset and if he can find the back of the net for the first time since April 21st, it would be a huge morale boost.
Finally, you have to compare their goaltending, and neither of these teams have been backed by netminders with a ton of playoff success going into this year. Although they both recently won the Stanley Cup, these franchises did so with goaltenders who are no longer with them. And yet, Boston's Tuukka Rask and Chicago's Corey Crawford have both exceeded expectations thus far.
Between them, Crawford has perhaps been challenged less because he hasn’t had to deal with a team as potentially dangerous – speaking from a raw offense perspective – as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Still, Crawford has been consistently underestimated this year and while he hasn’t been magical, he’s been more than just good enough.
I’m going to pick the Boston Bruins to win the Cup in seven games because ultimately, I’ve been more impressed with their run. Their late comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7, their clean five-game defeat of the New York Rangers and their sweep of the team that many considered to be the favorites to win the Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins, has me believing they can knock off a very talented Blackhawk squad.
Additionally, the Bruins’ best players have been performing more consistently. While Toews, Kane, and Patrick Sharp seem to go in and out of hot and cold streaks, Nathan Horton and David Krejci have been consistently effective. The fact that Chicago has advanced this far despite patches where those their top players haven’t lived up to expectations has highlighted their depth – but they don’t have that edge in depth anymore.
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Viktor Stalberg
Marcus Kruger-Dave Bolland-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Michal Rozsival-Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Patrick Kane is an easy choice for this category after scoring four goals in his last two games. After finally breaking out of his cold streak, he’ll have to hope the time off between the Western Conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals doesn’t mess with his momentum.
Patrick Sharp was a key contributor in the first round, but he’s cooled down lately. He doesn’t have a point in his last three games and has just four points in his last 10 contests.
Chicago is 6-1 in the playoffs in one-goal games after going 19-3-5 in one-goal contests in the regular season. By contrast, the Bruins were a .500 team during the regular season when in games where the outcome was decided by just a goal and are 6-3 in that category in the post-season.
This is the third time in 10 seasons that the Presidents’ Trophy winner has made it the Stanley Cup finals. In 2010-11 the Vancouver Canucks won the Trophy before losing to the Boston Bruins in the finals. In 2007-08, the Detroit Red Wings captured both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
Chicago has killed 94.8% of their penalties in the playoffs.
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Jaromir Jagr
Kaspars Daugavins-Rich Peverley-Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille-Chris Kelly-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Adam McQuaid-Torey Krug
Tuukka Rask allowed just two goals in the Bruins four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That effort included two shutouts, but perhaps his most impressive performance was in Boston’s 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 3. Rask turned aside 53 of 54 shots in that contest.
Tyler Seguin hasn’t been able to get much going offensively in the 2013 playoffs. He didn’t get a single point in the Eastern Conference finals and has just one goal and four points in 16 postseason games.
Gregory Campbell is done for the playoffs with a broken fibula. Wade Redden hasn’t played since he sustained an undisclosed injury in the first round.
David Krejci leads the league with nine goals and 21 points in 16 playoff contests. Nathan Horton is in second place with 22 points.
If Boston wins the Stanley Cup, it will be the first time a franchise has won it twice over the span of three years since the Detroit Red Wings captured the Cup in 1997 and 1998.