Puck drop for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is tonight at 5:00 PST and 8:00 in the east coast on NBC. The Chicago Blackhawks will be representing the Western Conference while the Boston Bruins are coming out of the Eastern conference. The #1 seed and President trophy winner Chicago Blackhawks will have home ice advantage this series and that will certainly come in useful as they have been excellent at home with a 9-1 record. Boston however is 5-2 on the road this post season and is the only team with a winning record on the road.
Both of these teams are familiar with the Stanley Cup. Chicago won it in 2010 and Boston won it in 2011.
Chicago and Boston still have the core of those teams intact today as they look to duplicate their success.
Neither team had an easy road to the Final.
Chicago was in a 3-1 hole against Detroit in round 2 while Boston nearly blew a 3-1 lead against Toronto in the opening round and need some late game heroics to come back from a game 7 three goal deficit with 10 minutes remaining in the third period. After that hiccup against Toronto, Boston has been dominant going 8-1 including a sweep of the favorite Pittsburgh Penguins, and a dismantling of the New York Rangers in five. Boston has been playing excellent defense and efficient offense. Tukka Rask who was the backup net minder when Boston won in 2011 has been playing excellent hockey especially against the Penguins where he posted 2 shutouts in 4 games. His next task will be Patrick Kane, Marion Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp. Rask leads the NHL this post season with a .943 save percentage and is second in GAA with 1.75.
Chicago also has a formidable goalkeeper in Corey Crawford. Crawford, like Rask was not in net in 2010 when Chicago last won the Stanley Cup. Crawford has the post season leading GAA of 1.74 and is second in save percentage behind Rask. But the most important statistic in goalkeeping is Wins. Both have 12 and both are in search of 4 more.
On the defensive side of the ice these two teams are full of weapons. Chicago has a strong unit that includes Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nicolas Hjarmallson, and Johnny Oduya. Boston has the 6'6" Slovakian giant of Zdeno Chara who boasts the fastest slap-shot in the the league. Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, and Andrew Ferrence are certainly no pedestrians as they all played a key role in shutting down Crosby, Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginala and the rest of the Penguins. Both of these defensive units contribute to the scoring as well. Chicago's D often pinches in aside from Chara, Boston has good scorers in McQaid (scored winner in game 4) as well as Boychuk and Ferrence.
Chicago might be the deepest team offenseively, they are getting contributions from all of their lines. And Patrick Kane, one of the best scorers in the league has recently hit his stride, scoring a hat-trick in game 5 to clinch the series against the Kings. Brandon Shaw has scored some timely goals this post-season, Saad is a young dangerous threat and Toews, the winner of the Conns Smythe trophy in 2010 is always dangerous.
A huge advantage that Chicago has is on special teams. Boston does not have a very good power play (similar to in 2011 when they last won) and Chicago has one of the best power plays in the league.
Boston certainly has offensive stars in Bergeron, Jagr, Seguin, Krejci, Lucic, and Horton. The loss of Campbell will certainly hurt Boston. Boston has some excellent power forwards in Lucic and Bergeron, and Bergeron is also in my opinion one of the best two way players in the NHL.
This Original Six matchup will not be easy for either team and I expect it to go seven games. It will be a low-scoring goalie battle with Chicago eventually winning and Patrick Kane being awarded the Conn Smythe.
Boston's special teams will be the death of them.
TV ratings will be very high for these Finals.
May the best team win.