It will be an historic championship series. Not since 1979 have two of the NHL’s Original Six teams met up in the Stanley Cup final (that year, the Montreal Canadiens took out the New York Rangers in five games).
It will also be the first time the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, two of the oldest franchises in the National Hockey League, will face each other in the Stanley Cup final. That’s somewhat amazing, actually. What’s also amazing is the fact Winnipeg’s own Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, will get a shot at his second Stanley Cup ring in just three years.
Still, it’s quite clear that the Eastern Division champion Bruins and Western Division champion Blackhawks are the two best teams in the NHL right now. After all, the Bruins just crushed the immensely talented Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games while the Blackhawks took out the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings in five games.
We were expecting a couple of great series in the Conference finals and we got two blowouts. Pittsburgh wasn’t even a threat against the Bruins while L.A. just didn’t have enough offence to beat the Blackhawks. This, however, should be a great final simply because the two remaining teams are clearly the two best teams in the NHL.
You have the 2011 champion Bruins and 2010 champion Hawks. You have 26 players whose names are already on the Cup — 18 Bruins and eight Blackhawks. You have two teams who played their best hockey of the post-season in the Conference finals.
Chicago will play host the Bruins in Game 1 on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CDT. Let’s take a closer look at the series.
THE 2013 NHL STANLEY CUP FINAL
No. 4 Boston Bruins (28-14-6, defeated Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, defeated New York Rangers in five games, defeated Pittsburgh Penguins in four games) at No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5, Central Division Champions and President’s Trophy winners, defeated Minnesota Wild in five games, defeated Detroit Red Wings in seven games, defeated Los Angeles Kings in five games.)
There are a number of things about these teams that are familiar — they both work extremely hard, they are both highly aggressive, they can both score, they can skate, they both provide each other with terrific puck support and their goaltenders are very good. Of course, to be fair, Chicago’s Corey Crawford isn’t in the same league as Boston’s Tuukka Rask.
In the Eastern Conference final, Rask made 134 saves on 136 shots. Since 2005, no NHL goalie has a better save percentage than the No. 1 guy in Boston.
Still, according to nhl.com: “The finalists are very similar in construction. Each features a goalie playing at an elite level, a varied defense corps capable of playing both ends of the ice, and a deep fleet of forwards that features a potential game-changer on each line. All in all, it appears to be a recipe for an unforgettable Stanley Cup final.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Hawks were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, but they might not be now. That honor might actually belong to the Bruins who completely crushed a very good Penguins team in the Eastern final. In fact, there is talk that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma could find himself out of work as a result of the shellacking the Pens took from Boston.
Still, the Hawks took care of the Kings in five games and throughout the playoffs, they have played their best hockey whenever it has mattered most. The Hawks goaltending was a surprise this season, but that doesn’t mean Crawford won’t continue to be solid in the Conference final, at least as solid as he was against Minnesota in Round 1 and Detroit in Round 2. He was especially good against the Red Wings in the final three games of that series and he carried that level of play through to the Western final against L.A.
Jonathan Toews hasn’t scored much in the playoffs but he’s always around the puck and he set up the series winning goal against L.A. Patrick Kane has been brilliant; Johnny Oduya, Brent Seabrook and Dustin Keith have been great on defense and Bryan Bickell has been the most pleasant surprise of the playoffs.
Ultimately, however, the Hawks have four world-class forwards: Toews and Marian Hossa are on one line with Kane and Patrick Sharp are on the other. Hmmm, so too did the Pittsburgh Penguins and look what happened to them
The Hawks are favored by the Vegas oddsmakers heading into the final and they’ve certainly earned Boston’s respect. After all, the Hawks finished the regular season with 15 more points than the Bruins.
But it’s hard not to like the Bruins. With Rask in goal, big Zdeno Chara on defense and three tough, fast lines – including the almost unstoppable Milan Lucic-David Krejci- Nathan Horton line – the Bruins are playing the best hockey of their season right now. Boston won the Stanley Cup two years ago, a lot of those players are still wearing the Bruins Hub logo and against Pittsburgh they showed it.
The No. 1 line was terrific but when you put Brad Marchand alongside Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins have a second line that scores with as much ease — and in important points of the game — as the Lucic-Horton-Krejci line. In fact, Boston is so deep up front that nine of its 13 forwards have scored a goal in the playoffs, and 10 have three or more points.
Toews probably spoke for both teams when said this on Saturday night: “We know there’s going to be some more tough moments that we’ll have to battle through. We’re confident we can do that as a team.”
That statement could have been made by Milan Lucic.
There is no way to compare the two teams’ 2013 season. That’s because these teams will meet for the first time this season in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
Boston in six games.
Taylor is 10-4 in the post-season. He went 5-3 in the opening round, 4-0 in the second round and 1-1 in the third round.