Ladies and gentlemen, it's finally time.
If I'm being honest, I would have never imagined being here and writing this article six months ago. I, like many others at the time, had lost any hope of a 2013 NHL season. But, as we know, the right people finally came to their senses, and here we are, just three days away from what promises to be a fantastic Stanley Cup final. Here's some keys to the series and how I see them playing out...
In case you haven't heard, Chicago has a few decent scorers on their team. Bryan Bickell, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa have all proved that they can put the puck in the back of the net this postseason. Combine them with the potential of Jonathan Toews (1 G this postseason) catching fire or "Hatrick" Kane continuing where he left off in Game 5 against LA, and Chicago has every reason to be confident that they can out-score Boston. Boston has never been a team to play amazing offensively, and it hasn't been a huge hindrance this postseason, but it's hard to see a scenario where Boston doesn't have to attempt to run n' gun and outscore the Hawks at some point.
Verdict: Chicago Leads 1-0
Now we're playing Boston's game. The Bruins have only given up three or more goals three times this postseason, two of those occurrences coming way back in round one against Toronto. Boston is, and has been for years, led by their strong defensemen who always seem to be in the right place at the right time. However, Chicago is no slouch defensively either. With Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading the way, the Hawks have put together a strong group of six defensemen they can trust. Behind them, netminder Corey Crawford has played surprisingly stellar this entire season and has posted a save percentage of .935 this postseason. Crawford and the Hawks have been good, but not nearly as good as Bruins goalie Tukka Rask. Anyone who seen a single minute of the Bruins-Penguins series will attest to that.
Verdict: Series Tied 1-1
The Bruins and Blackhawks are both lead by Stanley Cup champions in Claude Julien and Joel Quennville. The Bruins have made the playoffs every year since 2007 when Julien arrived in Boston and have a record of 256-146-56. In 2009, Julien won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach. In Chicago, Coach Q has also enjoyed success since his arrival, making the playoffs in all four of his season is Chicago and posting a record of 222-106-44. Although both coaches have proven their worth as top coaches in the NHL, Quennville gets a slight edge do to experience. In 16 NHL season, a Quennville coached team has only missed the playoffs once when his Colorado Avalanche finished the 2006-07 season one point behind the eight seed Calgary Flames.
Verdict: Hawks Lead 2-1
The Bruins win this matchup. Boston finished the regular season with 140 more penalty minutes than Chicago. Just like Chicago likes to stretch the ice and play at an upbeat tempo, Boston likes to slow it down, jam the net, and mix it up occasionally. Oh, and it doesn't get a whole lot more gritty then having a player break his leg and refuse to leave the ice and continue to kill off a minute of a penalty.
Verdict: Series Tied 2-2
Whenever two original six teams meet in a Cup Final, you have to talk about the history each team brings to the table. Somewhat shockingly, this will be the first time the Bruins and Blackhawks play for Lord Stanley's Cup. The Bruins have won the Cup six times compared to Chicago's four. The Bruins have also won more divisional titles, conference championships, and have more retired jerseys then the Hawks.
Verdict: Bruins Lead 3-2
Home Ice Advantage
Both teams have taken advantage of home ice these playoffs with the Hawks going 7-1 at United Center and the Bruins 7-2 at TD Gardens. What may give Chicago an edge on home ice is how much talent the Hawks have invested in their bottom two lines. If coach Quennville can find the proper chemistry and pull the right cards, it's hard to believe that the Bruins will be able to match up line-for-line with the Hawks without eventually getting burned by a mismatch the Hawks take advantage of. The Bruins great goaltending and strong defense will minimize Quenville's opportunities to take advantage of mismatches, but it only takes one bad decision that could cost the Bruins a series that promises to be as hard fought as this one.
Verdict: Series Tied 3-3
To me, this is probably the single most intriguing question of this series: can anyone in the NHL party as hard and Kane? Hold on Blackhawk fans, hear me out. I know what you're thinking: how could anyone EVER out party this guy?
As hard as Kaner can party, the Bruins may have a set of challengers that will finally dethrone Kane. Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand. Although they are long-shots, never in history has Kaner been challenged with not one, but two of the heaviest partiers the NHL has to offer.... at the same time. As much as I would love to see another round of Kaner celebrating the win in downtown Chicago, I'm feeling an upset. Seguin, Marchand, and the Bruins have what it takes.
Final Verdict: Bruins win in 7