Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins
This is it. The best team of the regular season versus the best team of the playoffs. shutdown defense versus rapid-fire offense. Brawn versus skill. It is arguable that both teams faced a glimpse of their rival in the conference finals, but I would like to add that that’s all it was. A glimpse.
For Boston, there are a lot of similarities between Pittsburgh and Chicago, but the little differences are what will make this a completely different series. Yes, the Penguins had a more star-studded depth, but Chicago’s depth is filled with role players excelling this postseason. They’ve been tallying points series in, series out. Whereas Pittsburgh seemed to go out of their way to hit Boston more, Chicago is more selective with their hitting. They tend to hit more to keep the puck in the offensive zone, specifically pinching in near the blue line. The Pens were seemingly throwing their bodies around thinking they could throw Boston’s game back at them. Chicago is faster and attempt stretch passes much more than the Pens. Chicago has a stable goalie and team defense that possibly only the Bruins don’t envy. Pittsburgh did have arguably the two best players in the world and several big names in tow, but I just can’t see Chicago’s best players getting shut down the same way. Chicago dominated the Wild, survived the Red Wings and handled the Kings mostly without Kane and Toews. Kane finally woke up in the last couple of games against the Kings. So imagine the high-flying Hawks of the past three rounds with a fully engaged and confident and a productive Toews.
Like the Bruins, the Kings were a big, physical team backstopped by a tremendous goalie, strong defense with scorers and skilled players sprinkled throughout their lineup. Both teams had good production from the blueline and strong performances from young, inexperienced players. But the Bruins are bigger than the Kings. They have better team defense and the ability to completely shut down the best of the opposition. They win a lot more faceoffs because their centers are some of the best in the game. Their depth is more productive and more effective in their roles. Lastly, the Bruins have the hottest goalie this postseason, and we’ve seen before what a hot goalie can do to lead his team to the cup. The biggest difference between the Kings and Bruins is their forwards’ two-way play. They dominate on faceoffs, possess the puck well, attack the net and when the other team gets the puck, will skate back just as hard and play defense. Boston has the ability to agitate the Chicago forwards with defense during play and the ugly stuff between whistles. It may be enough to frustrate Toews and Sharp off their games as evidenced in the Wings and Kings series.
The questions. Which goalie will slump first, Rask or Crawford? Both have been stellar and silenced any doubters through the first three rounds. But whichever team comes out the champion, will need their goalie to stand on his head. Crawford has let in a few soft goals that make me question whether or not he can outplay Rask. Can Chara shut down any or all of Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa? Sharp has been productive, Kane has finally awoken, Hossa has been steady and determined, Toews hasn’t produced, but he’s done everything else well. Each of the offensive stars of the Hawks bring something to the table, so even if Chara shuts down one or two of the players mentioned, Chicago is more than capable to bounce back with others. Who will win the special teams battle? Chicago’s PK has been (almost) perfect. Boston’s PP has been terrible. Chicago’s PP has been underwhelming, and Boston’s PK has been strong. Something has to give. It’s much easier to believe that Chicago’s power play will finally come to and be a positive factor. Which’s teams defense will be a bigger factor at both ends of the ice? Boston’s defense maintained offensive production in the conference finals, but they were unbelievable in their own end. Chicago stumbled a few times in their own zone last round, but pinched in well and produced in the offensive zone.
As deep, skilled and dangerous as the Blackhawks are (and as much as I want them to win), there’s something about the Bruins this postseason. Their drive, team hunger and detailed focus at both ends of the ice seemed to be something else this postseason. It’s a coin flip really. Chicago can relentlessly attack the Bruins and work together on defense to squeeze Boston into submission, or the Bruins can hammer the Hawks with big hits, big shots and big stops as they have all postseason.
Even though my gut tells me the Bruins will win in 6, I have to go with the heart and say
Chicago in 7