SCF Preview: Bruins vs Blackhawks

After a 113 day lockout, a shortened 48 game season and fourteen series of playoff hockey, we have arrived at the Stanley Cup Finals in a matchup between the big, bad Boston Bruins and the run-and-gun Chicago Blackhawks. For the first time since 1979, two Original Six teams will face-off in the Finals—go ahead and take a drink. Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr played in both cities during his entire career, but his heart belongs in Boston forever.

How did they get here?

The Bruins played the “all-mighty” Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they swept the Pens with ease. Tuukka Rask stood on his head all four games limiting the Penguins to only two goals the entire series. Rask was helped by their strong defense led by 6’9” Zdeno Chara, who made an incredible helicopter save in Game 4 to secure the series win on home ice.

For the Blackhawks, they were able to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup Champs of 2012 Los Angeles Kings in five games. Chicago was able to take advantage of the times Jonathan Quick was shaky at times. The Kings were strong on home ice all playoff long, but the Hawks were able to hand them defeat at the Staples Center for the first time this postseason.

Chicago and Boston look like two teams who cannot be defeated. However, one of them will be when the final horn sounds of Game 1. They are both built similarly, but have different philosophies. Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien likes to establish the dump-and-chase so his grinders can fetch for the puck and create scoring opportunities from below the goalline. Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks likes to take advantage of poor line changes by using the long, stretch pass entering the offensive zone. When Chicago starts the back-and-forth style, watch out because it is deadly.

The way to shut down the Blackhawks’ playing style is to be more physical than they are. LA was outmuscling them in the third, overtime and second overtime periods of Game 5, when they turned the game around. Milan Lucic will have a fun time trying to handle Bryan Bickell—and vice versa—throughout the series.

Going back to the Western Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings, Jonathan Toews became easily frustrated and took penalties in Games 3 and 4 on the road. One player who can irritate anyone and is the best in the league in doing so is Brad Marchand. His job will be to bait Toews, Kane and the entire team into taking penalties, thus giving the Bruins a power play oppotunity.

One thing everyone is waiting for to click, and it just hasn’t for some reason, is the Blackhawks’ power play. Chicago is only 7-for-51 through 17 games with a 13.7% conversion rate. When a team has Kane, Hossa, Toews, Sharp and Keith on one unit, they should score a goal half of the time they’re on the ice. Expect Quenneville and the rest of the coaching staff to address it before Wednesday night.

It seems Patrick Kane has regained his scoring touch in Games 4 and 5 after being mute in the goal column seven games prior. In Games 4 and 5, Kane scored four goals, with the fifth game being a hat-trick.

In the faceoff dot was where Boston was at their best. Patrice Bergeron has been solid on the dot winning over 60% of his draws. Julien will likely matchup Bergeron against Toews in order to shut him down like he did against Sidney Crosby. Toews hasn’t been too shabby in the faceoff circle either, winning 53%.

41 year old Jaromir Jagr returns to the SCF for the first time in 21 years when he was a Pittsburgh Penguin. Already with two Cup rings, Jagr’s insatiable attitude is driving him to a third. The future Hall of Famer has yet to score a goal in the playoffs, but he has had an impact through sixteen games. I have a feeling his first goal will be a game winner or potentially, a series winner.

Depth defense has helped both teams arrive at this stage. For Chicago, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have been excellent on the back end. Hjalmarsson has hockey sense and his experience in the past has guided him to make smart, safe plays. Shot blocking is key to victory now and Oduya has been sprawling every which way to make sure the shot doesn’t get on net.

One problem Chicago could face is if one of their regular six defensemen suffer an injury or is suspended—like Duncan Keith, they will have no one else who can fill the role. Sheldon Brookbank is their seventh d-man, but was atrocious in Game 4 against the Kings.

Boston has a lot more options if they face a similar situation. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg has been the premier shutdown pair lately. They will have their hands full with the Blackhawks’ forwards, but if they can silence the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Iginla and Letang, they can surely do so against Hossa, Kane, Sharp, Toews and Keith.

Tuukka Rask will look to continue “Tuukka Time” in the Finals. Rask has a stellar .943 save percentage—best in the league.  The Finnish born netminder has been efficient so far not taking too many risks. In 2010, he watched Tim Thomas win a Cup for the Bruins, but now Rask looks to win as a starter.

I’m still not fully buying that Corey Crawford is a “great goaltender”. The way to score on Crawford is by throwing the puck at his feet and making him scramble. Don’t get me wrong, Crawford has been solid so far, but that is thanks to the skaters in front of him. The Montreal native is first in goals against average with 1.74 and is second is save percentage, behind Rask.

The upper hand in goaltending has to go to Rask, who will lead them to their second Stanley Cup in three years.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

Schedule (ET)

Game 1: Wed, June 12   8pm       Boston at Chicago            NBC, CBC, RDS

Game 2: Sat, June 15      8pm      Boston at Chicago           NBCSN, CBC, RDS

Game 3: Mon, June 17   8pm      Chicago at Boston           NBCSN, CBC, RDS

Game 4: Wed, June 19   8pm       Chicago at Boston           NBC, CBC, RDS

*Game 5: Sat, June 22   8pm       Boston at Chicago            NBC, CBC, RDS

*Game 6: Mon, June 24  8pm      Chicago at Boston            NBC, CBC, RDS

*Game 7: Wed, June 26  8pm     Boston at Chicago           NBC, CBC, RDS

*-if necessary