For all of you hockey nut jobs out there, the wait for the Stanley Cup Finals is over as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins will begin their seven-game series tonight in Chicago to determine the winner of the most beautiful trophy in sports.
This is not really much of a preview because there are no statistics between the two teams this year. The lockout made sure of that. Chicago has taken down Minnesota, Detroit, and Los Angeles on its way to the finals while the Bruins got through Toronto, NY Rangers, and Pittsburgh. The Bruins have a record of 12-4 in the playoffs and have been on an absolute tear since that comeback in Game 7 against Toronto (relax Leaf fans...I could have said collapse). The Blackhawks are 12-5 and took care of the defending Stanley Cup champions in just five games.
If you have watched any of the playoffs both teams are playing extremely well and have gotten great goaltending and defense throughout the postseason. Couple of areas to focus on here:
Faceoffs: Faceoffs are so crucial in every game. They determine who has possession and can be the difference between scoring or preventing a goal. There are some strong faceoff takers on both teams but the numbers so far this postseason are very much in favor of the Bruins who have a 56% success rate (first among postseason teams) to the Blackhawks who have just won 47%. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will lead the way for the Bruins while the Blackhawks need Jonathan Toews and other centers to step up.
Special Teams: You would think that with all the talent on these two teams that the power plays would be scary. But the numbers don't lie folks. The Blackhawks have the lower percentage at 13.7 with the Bruins not much higher at 15.6. Its not going to get any easier for these power play units as the Blackhawks have the best penalty kill percentage in the playoffs at 94.8. The Bruins had one of the best penalty kills in the regular season but have fallen off a bit in the playoffs sitting at 86.5. The loss of Gregory Campbell is tough but the Bruins are defensively sound enough to make up for his loss. If either team can get its power play going it could be the difference in the series.
Goaltending: And last but not least it comes down to the masked men. Corey Crawford has been good all postseason as has Tuukka Rask who, if the Bruins win the Cup, should be the unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe. Its almost a wash here...almost
So who is going to take it? I can't tell you for sure but I know this is shaping up to be a heck of a series. Both teams have depth and play a hard style. The Blackhawks have the superstar names but the Bruins have a group that plays as well together as any I have seen since I have been watching hockey. Unfortunately one team has to lose and it will be because of a slight ability to outplay the other team and a bunch of luck.
That being said, I have to go with the Bruins in 7. It is almost a wash on the skaters but Rask has been unbelievable in these playoffs and the team as a whole has been on a roll since the end of the first round. They also just swept an offensive juggernaut and held some of the best players in the world scoreless through four games. It going to be a great series though...