And then there were two. The Stanley Cup Finals begin Wednesday night when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Boston Bruins. Both teams know what they have to do to bring home the Cup. This is the Bruins’ second trip to the final in three years. This is the Blackhawks’ second trip in four years.
Both teams are similar and different at the same time. Each team was tested in the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs had the Bruins on the ropes in round one, before Boston made a dramatic comeback to win game 7. The Blackhawks looked down and out in the second round, when the Detroit Red Wings took a 3-1 series lead. The Blackhawks rallied, and won an epic game 7 to move on. In the conference finals, both teams made surprisingly quick work of their opponents. The Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Blackhawks had a little more trouble against the Los Angeles Kings. It took the Blackhawks five games, before they eliminated the defending champs in a 4-3 double overtime win on Saturday. Similar stories, yet different styles of hockey.
The Blackhawks are high-flying, while the Bruins are dump and grind. The Bruins are also very physical. However, the Blackhawks may not be intimidated, as they have made quick work of the Kings and Minnesota Wild. The Bruins may not be intimidated by the Blackhawks’ offense since they swept the Penguins.
Just like in football, special teams will be a critical factor in this series. As Barry Melrose pointed out on NHL.com, both teams have dominant penalty kills. The Bruins and Blackhawks do not have threatening power play units. The Bruins rank 10th, and the Blackhawks 12th out of the 16 teams that made the playoffs. Any contribution by the special teams–power play or short-handed goals–will be huge.
Besides each team’s perseverance, both starting goalies make for an intriguing storyline. The Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford and the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask were spectators when these teams won the Cup in 2010 and 2011. Now it’s their turn. They want to prove that they were the right replacements for Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas.
A storyline for game one is Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is juggling his lines again. Comcast Sportsnet Chicago reported that the Blackhawks are going big, as they’re bringing in enforcer Brandon Bollig. It appears Viktor Stalber is the odd man out again. NHL.com reported Quenneville may be changing up the top two lines as well. At practice Monday, he swapped centers Jonathon Toews and Michal Handzus, only Toews stays on top line, while his linemates, go down. Is it a good idea for Quenneville to mess with a formula that has worked? Should Quenneville mess with the team’s chemistry? The Blackhawks cannot afford another slow start, as they had against the Red Wings.
Stanley Cup Prediction: Blackhawks in 7. The Blackhawks have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and so far they have taken advantage. The Blackhawks posted a 9-1 record and a +16 goal differential this postseason. On the road, they are 3-4 and -2. The Bruins are a more consistent team, as they have a +9 differential at home and a +11 on the road. Both teams showed they like to make it stressful on their fans and build up the suspense. So, why stop now? Give every hockey fan what they want: an exciting seven game series.