Judgement day is upon us. Tonight, two of the NHL’s best will faceoff in a best of 7 game series to decide who will hoist Lord Stanley’s cup. This series will be different than any other series NHL fans have seen in quite some time for a few different reasons. For the first time since 1979, two Original 6 teams will meet in the Stanley Cup Final. This is also the first time an Eastern Conference team has met a Western Conference team this season due to the lockout that cut out any time for inter-league play, giving NHL analysts nothing really to compare. Lastly, these are probably two of the most evenly matched teams NHL fans have seen meet in the Final in recent years, with no clear cut choice as to who will walk away the victor in this series. Both teams have the same amount of strengths and weaknesses in their lines that seem to off set each other. All of these factors together should give hockey fans – and anyone who loves the playoffs in any sport – the most entertaining matchup this season.
By far, the Bruins biggest strength is in net. Tukka Rask has been arguably the best netminder in the playoffs to date. Rask held the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were averaging around 4 goals per game, to 2 goals for the series. Rask is also sporting the 2nd best GAA (1.75) and the top save percentage (.943), and has high potential to steal a game or two from the Hawks. The Bruins also have been very good at shutting down a teams top scorers, evidence shown in their previous series against Pitt. How many times did Malkin, Crosby or Iginla light the lamp against them in that series? Oh yeah, that’s right. Even with that series aside, against the Rangers, Rick Nash was held to 1 goal, and Brad Richards didn’t score once. However, as impervious as the B’s defense looks, their team does come with some flaws to exploit. The Bruins struggled with speed. A feature that Chicago has a lot of. If you disagree, you need to go back to the first series of the playoffs the Bruins played against the Maple Leafs. Kessel, Van Riemsdyk, and the like skated circles around the Bruins for most of that series. If it wasn’t for the hard nosed effort, and come back effort by the Bruins in game 7, we could be talking about a very different series.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been nearly unbeatable at home, one of their biggest assets as they go into this series with the Bruins with home ice advantage. The Hawks are 9-1 with a 1.70 GAA at home in the playoffs this season, and boasting a GF/G of 3.30. The Blackhawks also have speed, and a lot of it, which is something the Bruins have struggled with. This speed has benefitted the Hawks in many ways, including their penalty kill. The Blackhawks are coming into this series boasting a 94% success rate on the PK, and have allowed only 1 goal in 28 shorthanded situations. With the Bruins being as awful as they have lately when being on the powerplay, don’t expect to see very many goals from the Bruins being up a man. However, the Western Conference champs do have some flaws that the Bruins will be able to exploit. Toews, Kane, and Hossa have not been the most consistent of goal scorers for the Blackhawks, and with the Bruins being as good at shutting down top players as they are, The Hawks will have to either hope they step their game up, or look to other players to shine. The Hawks have also not been very good in faceoffs winning only 47% of their draws. Posessing the puck will very much be key in this series and winning faceoffs has to be priority for Chicago. If they can’t shape up their centers and win more faceoffs, it will be very difficult for Chicago to make it out of this series.
It’s pretty easy to tell that this series will most definitely go the full 7 games. Both teams match each other in almost every area, and there really is no clear cut advantage. Also, the fact that neither of these teams have even met this season makes it all that much harder to pick a victor. However, at the end of this series, the Chicago Blackhawks will come out on top. While the Bruins have been able to shut out top scorers as of late, they had a very tough time shutting them down when speed was involved. When the Bruins played the Leafs in the first series, the Bruins struggled greatly with the speed of Lupul, Kessel, and Van Riemsdyk, and when they were able to shut them down, others were right there to get involved. This will be a similar scenario in this series, but the Hawks are a much more skilled team then the Leafs and will come out on top of this series. Rask will steal a few at the Madhouse on Madison, but in the end, the speed of the Chicago Blackhawks will be too much for the Bruins and the Hawks will once again hoist the hardware. Blackhawks win this series 4-3.