The same criterion is touted in every sport’s championship round. It all depends which team is hottest. Well in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals, that variable leaves us pretty much at a draw. The Bruins nearly blew a 3-1 lead against Toronto, finding themselves down 4-1 in the 3rd period of Game 7. Then a 3 goal barrage, including one with a mere 51 seconds left in the game. Including that Game 7, the Bruins are 9-1 heading into the Cup after blowing out the star-studded Penguins to win the Wales Conference.
The Hawks found themselves in slightly less severe despair, falling behind the rival Red Wings 3-1 in the series. Since the early deficit, the Hawks rolled atop the Clarence Campbell Conference with a 7-1 run, knocking off the defending champs.
Both teams have core players remaining from their recent victories in 2010 and 2011. Let’s analyze the matchups to decide who’s going to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2013.
Chicago has had a target on their back since they began the season with a historic streak. The 24 game point streak started the pace for the top team in the league to win the President’s Trophy. A loss in the Cup makes this historic season a mere footnote and leaves all of Chicago to watch the Cubs for the summer.
For Boston, everything changed on Patriots’ Day. The Boston Marathon bombing shook an entire city, and the Bruins understand their role in helping the city heal. Bruins have visited victims and families at local hospitals. Andrew Ference mentioned the one constant, saying “To a man, they just want us to win. That’s all they want from us.”
Boston 1 Chicago 0
Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien have seen it all in the NHL. Both reside with their third team after two previous firings, both won a Cup with their current team, yet both were bound to face the possibility of unemployment if it weren’t for Patrice Bergeron and Brent Seabrook.
Quenneville formerly had a reputation for not being able to get over the hump. Although he took the St. Louis Blues to the playoffs for seven straight years, including one trip to the conference finals, he was fired in year 8 due to his inability to win the Campbell Conference. Here in Chicago, he put that criticism to rest. Two trips to the Conference Final and a Stanley Cup have helped. This year, he started the season with his team humming, recording a point in 24 consecutive games. With his past success, focus to start the lockout season, and now a President’s Trophy, Quenneville gets the nod.
Boston 1 Chicago 1
The Hawks have the names, with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane. Toews averaged a point-per-game during the regular season (48 pts in 47 games), but cannot find that rhythm in these playoffs. He has just one goal in 17 playoff games, including zero in the last seven.
Patrick Kane faced similar scrutiny last Tuesday, when he only had 2 goals in his first 15 games. He defended himself, “It’s not that all of a sudden that I’m a bad player.” He then diagnosed his problem, admitting he was waiting for the puck to come to him instead of “going and getting it and making plays.” Then in Game 4, he went and got it alright, even if it did seem unnecessary. A Bryan Bickell shot on goal seemed to be on cruise control toward the net when Kane stuck his stick out to touch it as it crossed the line. Whether or not he stole the goal from “Bicksy,” it got him in a groove. Kane set the red light off 3 times in Game 5, including the double overtime laser to win.
While Boston stars aren’t as highly touted, they have been more effective in this year’s playoffs. David Krejci leads the playoffs in points, with 21. Linemate Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, have scorched the East with 51 points, including 19 goals and five game winners. Old timer Jaromir Jagr looks rejuvenated with linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron, especially, has proven huge for Boston, producing the tying and winning goals for Boston in the wild Toronto Game 7. Later, he sealed the Penguins’ fate in Game 3 as the second OT wound down.
The Boston stars get the nod Boston 2 Chicago 1
The Big Guys
Boston big men have been fantastic so far, flopping on the ice like Antarctic fish. The lasting image is of Gregory Campbell who dove in front of Malkin’s 97 MPH slapshot and hobbled for the remainder of the power play kill on a broken fibula. In that riveting Double OT Game 3, the Boston defenders blocked 25 shots, or roughly half of Rask’s saves.
They are led by behemoth, Zdeno Chara, who casts a seven foot shadow over opponents scoring opportunities. He makes it virtually impossible for forwards to obstruct Tuukka’s view, touting a plus-12 in the postseason.
If anybody were to be able to disrupt the Boston wall set up in front of the crease, it will be Chicago’s breakout star Bryan Bickell. Bickell is a physical force. Nearly every quote by his teammates about him mentions his big body. Bickell leads the Blackhawks with 8 goals (2nd in playoffs), with two of them being game winners. The 6’6’ 240 pounder will continue to prove he is a bonafide playoff performer.
Boston 2 Chicago 2
Although both of these teams won cups recently, it’s interesting to note that neither has the same goaltender. Antti Niemi and Timmy Thomas have been replaced with Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask
Corey Crawford, this year, has done well to repair his image since last season’s debacle against Phoenix. This spring, he boasts a 1.74 goals-against-average and .935 save percentage. His stout play helped to shut down a normally potent Los Angeles attack, allowing more than 2 goals only once in Game 5.
Tuukka Rask, though, is on a run for the ages. His eye-popping .943 save percentage leads the NHL postseason. He shut down Pittsburgh’s number one offense for only 2 goals the whole series, including 2 shutouts. He has allowed more than 2 goals just one game since the start of the second round. While his saves are hardly acrobatic, his positioning and focus are second to none. Rask gets the nod.
Boston 3 Chicago 2
Boston fans are known for being extremely psyched, aggressive, and, most of all, drunk. So I really hope none of them know my address. There is no doubt they will have the Boston Garden rocking.
But nothing beats Chicago fans. The home-ice advantage for the Blackhawks is even more significant when you appreciate the Madhouse may register on the Richter Scale. In the playoffs, Chicago is a mere 3-4 in away games, averaging 2 goals/game while allowing 2.3. At home, they are a different beast, with a record of 9-1 and 3.3 goals/game and only allowing 1.7.
Once Jim Cornelison belts his stunning rendition of the National Anthem through the raucous cheers of the home crowd, the advantage will be obvious.
Boston 3 Chicago 3
Some of you may think this is an arbitrary category, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Championships are won by men. The bigger the beard, the bigger the man.
What deserves more respect, Kane’s mullet or Jagr’s fu-manchu? Chara or Staalberg? Quenneville’s mustache laughs at Julien’s big, fat baby face.
In the end, the most impressive is the enormous beard grown by the extremely young Brandon Saad. Most of us young men can’t grow peach fuzz until our 20s, while Brandon Saad’s luscious chin-locks earned a zip code. Victory goes to Chicago. Series goes to Chicago. I can’t wait for the parade.
Chicago 4 Boston 3