Time Out For Sports Talk: Stanley Cup Preview – Bruins vs. Blackhawks Is A Classic NHL ‘Old School’ Series
TOST Question of the Week: What else? The Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks are the first matchup of two Original Six clubs vying for the Stanley’s Cup since 1979. What’s your prediction as the Black and Gold attempt to win their second Cup in three years and join the Red Sox and Patriots as winners of multiple championships this century?
Todd: Breaking down this historic series, my first thought is whether Tim Tebow can effectively fill in for the injured Gregory Campbell on the B’s fourth line.
Wait, we’re talking about Lord Stanley rather than Lord Timothy Richard Tebow, who arrived in Foxboro earlier this week? I guess to paraphrase one Bill Belichick, we’ve got a job to do and it’s putting together the best blog, which for us means all hockey talk—winning the neutral zone, pinching in along the boards and getting traffic in front of the net.
Those were all aspects of the game the Bruins excelled in as they dominated Pittsburgh in a four-game sweep to claim the Prince of Wales trophy, much to my shock and surprise. While I might not be sure of my own name (see previous blog), I am now certain that penguins can’t fly, especially when they’re being completely frustrated by a shutdown defense and while Tuukka Rask is turning away 134 of 136 shots in goal. Did anyone think Rask would post his first two career playoff shutouts against the Penguins?
Which brings us to Chicago – interesting that the Red Sox and Patriots were referenced above, as Bruins/Blackhawks serves as the rubber match of a 95-year championship showdown between these cities/regions. In September of 1918, the Red Sox beat the Cubs in six games to win the World Series; in January of 1986, the Bears beat the Patriots in what felt like six games to win Super Bowl XX.
Now the Bruins and Blackhawks meet for the first time in the playoffs since 1978, and the first time ever with the Cup at stake. For the Bruins, this also marks the fourth consecutive playoff opponent they haven’t previously faced in over 20 years, and the first time in team history the B’s have played three Original Six opponents (Maple Leafs, Rangers, Blackhawks) in the same postseason.
What makes the B’s and ‘Hawks such an interesting series is that these teams appear to be mirror images of each other. Both had a scare earlier this postseason but are currently on fire—Chicago was down 3-1 vs. Detroit in the Western Conference semis but has since won seven of eight games since and made short work of the defending Cup champions LA Kings; and we all know about the B’s improbable Game 7 comeback against Toronto, which has begun a run of nine wins in their last 10 games.
Both clubs have been tremendous on the penalty kill—Chicago is a league-best 55-for-58, but the B’s were a perfect 15-for-15 against the Penguins amazing power play (45-for-52 overall in the playoffs). Even less surprising than the PK prowess is that both teams struggled with the man advantage, so power play goals should be at a premium.
The rosters have a very similar look. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is a fan favorite and a two-way forward cut in the mold of Patrice Bergeron, although Toews has scored fewer goals the entire playoffs (one) than Bergeron has overtime game-winners (two).
Chicago’s unsung hero these playoffs has been Bryan Bickell (8 playoff goals), whose physical style of play might remind B’s fans of Milan Lucic; Boston has had their own unsung (and virtually unknown) blueliners in Torey Krug (4 playoff goals) and Adam McQuaid, who scored the lone goal in the B’s clincher over Pittsburgh. Another player to watch for the Blackhawks is 24-year old sniper Patrick Kane, coming off a hat trick in Chicago’s clincher versus the Kings.
Then there are the goaltenders—Corey Crawford has been impressive between the pipes (1.74 GAA, .935 save pct) but so has Rask (1.75 GAA, .943 save pct), who also hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game since the first round. Tuukka’s numbers are even better than those of Tim Thomas from the B’s 2011 Cup run, but Rask doesn’t get the same fanfare because he is so technically solid in net that he’s never out of position to make the diving saves that Thomas was famous for two years ago. If you’re a fan of low-scoring, defensive-minded games this Stanley Cup Final is tailor-made for your viewing.
I’ll make my prediction for this series with yet another reference to the days of the ‘Brass Bonanza’. While current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is most known for leading the ‘Hawks to the Cup in 2010, I remember him as a defenseman who spent seven seasons during the prime of his playing career with the Hartford Whalers (20 goals, 75 assists). His final game with the Whale turned out to be a loss in Boston in Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, a series I referenced a few weeks ago after the Bruins’ Game 7 comeback against the Leafs. Twenty-three years later, I see history repeating itself for Quenneville with another season-ending loss on Causeway Street. Bruins in six for the Cup.
Mike: Wow, Todd, that was thorough!
Looking back quickly, I did think the Bruins would get past Pittsburgh, but there was no way I would admit to thinking that there would be a sweep. I thought Pittsburgh’s offense was simply too powerful to be shut down and it would be a tough series, with the Bruins winning in six.
How wrong I was.
I think the series was a tough one, as tough as a sweep can be with several very tight games (including the 2OT Game 3 that I think broke Pittsburgh’s spirit), but still for the Bruins to allow a team averaging almost 5 goals per game just two goals in the series was amazing. Tukka Rask is a shutdown goaltender, and many teams have ridden a hot goalie all the way (including the Bruins in 2011).
But now they have to face a very tough Chicago squad, which dominated the Western Conference for most of the season, and I think the Blackhawks are going to give the Bruins a run for their money. As Todd said, the rosters are similar, and I think this is a hard matchup for Boston, though at least they should be rested, having been off since completing the sweep on Friday night.
Before I get to my prediction, I do want to touch on the Original 6 feel of this year’s playoffs. All six teams (Bruins, Rangers, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Blackhawks) made the playoffs, and there were several Original 6 matchups in the first three rounds, culminating in an Original 6 battle for the Cup.
This is exactly what the NHL needed after the long lockout. A huge part of the league’s core fanbase is rooting for those six teams. They are located in (with the exception of Toronto and Montreal) huge U.S. media markets (and the two Canadian teams are in two of the biggest markets in that country), and having those old rivals all be contenders can only strengthen the interest in the league. Sure, there is a rabid fan base in cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even Los Angeles, but it doesn’t have the same feel as when ancient rivals like Boston and Chicago square off (and the fact that this is the first time they have met for the Cup amazes me). I think there will be a lot of casual viewers tuning in to see at least some of the games in this series, and in my opinion, it will draw more interest than the alternate matchup of the Kings vs. the Penguins.
That being said, it’s time for my prediction. I wish I could be different, just to make it interesting, but I can’t. Like Todd, I see the Bruins winning this in six.