Stanley Cup final preview, picks: Hawks vs. Bruins

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, 2010: "I am seriously enjoying this Lord Stanley Cup victory." Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Cahra, 2011: "Chara win!"

Chicago Blackhawks (12-5) vs. Boston Bruins (12-4)

“I don’t think it is going to take very long to get the rivalry going.” – Milan Lucic

“It seems like every round we’re talking about how good the other team’s goalie is.” – Patrick Sharp

Road to the final: Chicago, the No. 1 seed overall, defeated the eighth-seed Minnesota Wild 4-1; seventh-seed Detroit Red Wings 4-3; and fifth-seed Los Angeles Kings 4-1. Boston, the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, defeated the fifth-seed Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3; the sixth-seed New York Rangers 4-1; and one-seed Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0.

They have a history: The playoff paths of recent champions Boston (riotous Cup winner in 2011) and Chicago (who took it all in 2010) haven’t crossed since the 1978 quarterfinals, when coach Don Cherry’s Bruins swept the Blackhawks 4-0 in quarterfinals. The Bruins lead the ‘Hawks 5-1 in all-time playoff series meetings, Chicago’s lone series victory coming in the 1975 preliminary round. This marks the first time the historic clubs have faced each other in a final, and the first time they’ve even played a game against each other in more than 600 days. It’s also the first all-Original Six final since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 in 1979. (In light of this duel, Blackhawks-Rangers remains the only Original Six final yet to be waged.) Chicago and Boston are linked by two of the greatest players to lace ’em up: Bobby Orr began his career in Beantown and ended it in the Windy City; Phil Esposito started in Chicago and then was traded to the Bruins.

For Blackhawks to win: Keep home-ice advantage. Sound simple, doesn’t it? Chicago’s Presidents’ Trophy pays off now. Overall, home teams are 56-24 (.700) in the playoffs, a percentage that hasn’t been so high in more than two decades; the ‘Hawks are  9-1 at United Center in these playoffs, including a run of five straight. But the road-warrior Bruins have outscored opponents a league-best 24-13 when away from TD Garden. The veterans have no qualms going into enemy territory, and they’d love nothing more than to strip Vince Vaughn of a reason to bang on the glass. Goaltender Corey Crawford must maintain his steady play for Chicago, the Blackhawks must keep the focus on skills, and another clutch Patrick Kane hat trick couldn’t hurt.

For the Bruins to win: Keep playing the way they’re playing now. You don’t dominate the best NHL team on paper in practically every category and then start making drastic adjustments. The Bruins’ mindset is on victory mode and has been since the 11 minutes left in Game 7 of the opening round. Key plays at the right time have come from rookies (Tory Krug) and octogenarians (Jaromir Jagr), suddenly dominant forwards (David Krejci) and ever-dependable blue-liners (Zdeno Chara). As long as the Bruins get under the skin of the ‘Hawks (if Jeff Carter can do it, Brad Marchand surely can) and continue to create those momentum-shifting plays, they’ll grind this out. As tough as they are to come by, a power-play goal or two couldn’t hurt either.

Matchup to watch: Chicago’s speed vs. Boston’s toughness. This is an easy storyline to latch onto as similarities abound between the two squads. Both clubs are quarterbacked by Norris-winning defencemen, both are getting goals from forwards low on the pay scale, both wield shutdown penalty killers, and both boast unflappable netminders with near-identical stat lines. The Blackhawks, however, are the fastest team here, and it starts with their experienced back-end duo. The Bruins are the toughest to put away for good (see: 2013 Leaf fans, sad; 2012 Capitals, multiple overtimes; 2011 Vancouver, mayhem). The B’s are tough both in the body-checking, faceoff-winning sense, but more importantly in the refuse-to-go-quietly sense. I swear they believe they are a team of destiny. Interesting thing here is, Boston is quick too (picture Brad Marchand flying down the wing), and Chicago can rough it up with the best of them (see Corey Crawford throw Kyle Clifford in a headlock?). The series could turn on how well one team plays the its opponent’s game.

Big question: Can Chicago’s top line solve stingy Tuukka Rask? With Boston’s forward depth looking to be a match for Chicago’s, the onus could shift back to Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Bruins netminder is coming off a Penguins series in which he left three future Hall of Famers pointless and posted allowed just two goals in four games; Toews has just one goal all postseason.

Best bet: Bruins in seven.


Hockey Central insider predictions

Chris Johnston: Bruins in six
Nick Kypreos: Bruins in six
Brad May: Bruins in seven
Doug MacLean: Bruins in six
Daren Millard: Bruins in seven
Scott Morrison: Blackhawks in six
John Shannon: Blackhawks in six
Mark Spector: Bruins in six


Tale of the tape

Average height and weight: Chicago 6’1”, 203 pounds; Boston 6’1”, 202 pounds

Average age: Chicago 28.2; Boston 29.1

Birthplaces: Chicago: Canada – 13, Sweden – 5, U.S. – 5, Slovakia – 2, Czech Republic – 2; Boston: Canada – 16, U.S. – 3, Czech Republic – 2, Sweden – 2, Finland – 1, Germany – 1, Kazakhstan – 1, Latvia – 1, Slovakia – 1

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