There was a point when the calendar turned into 2013 that we didn’t think this moment would come. But marathon negotiations in January brought the lockout to an end, and gave us a 48-game season for the ages. Even better, we now get a Stanley Cup Finals matchup that has the potential to be even better.
This year’s finals will pit a pair of Original Six franchises against each other. You have the team that was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the franchise that “saved hockey”, the Chicago Blackhawks, against the Boston Bruins and all that that city has gone through in the last couple of months. Great stories all around. But how do the two teams match up against each other?
On one hand, you have a star-studded group of forwards coming out of the Windy City. Not unlike the team the Bruins knocked off in the last round. Patrick Kane has found his groove, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have been steady all postseason long, and Jonathan Toews impacts the game in so many ways. But it goes beyond the big names for the Hawks.
Bryan Bickell has gone from a guy who had trouble staying out of the coaches dog house to a legitimate forward, both during the regular season and in the playoffs. He’s not only a big body in the lineup, but a guy with some very nice hands. He’s come up with big goal after big goal during these playoffs. Andrew Shaw is a fearless forward with a knack for getting in the dirty areas. Michal Handzus has solidified the middle for the Hawks. Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik help form one of the best penalty killing duos on the planet.
But it’s not like the Bruins are exactly hurting for talent up front, either. Patrice Bergeron is one of the game’s best two-way forwards. Brad Marchand is a more skilled version of Andrew Shaw and is having a terrific playoffs. Nathan Horton is playing himself into a monster contract, while Milan Lucic has rebounded from a very mediocre regular season to become a force in these playoffs. David Krejci has been an offensive force in the postseason. And who can forget about Jaromir Jagr? The veteran is playing in his first finals since 1992, where he came out on top against the Hawks.
Just as both teams possess deep forward lines, each also features a deep blue line of defensive talent. The Bruins boast the 6’8″ monster Zdeno Chara, along with Dennis Seidenberg, on their top pairing. Beyond those two, they have a group of gritty defensemen, including Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid, as well as young guys like Torey Krug and Matt Bartowski, each of which has made a positive impact in their first real action during the playoffs.
Chicago boasts possibly the best D pairing in the league, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as their top guys. Niklas Hjalmarsson has had a pretty outstanding playoffs, playing next to Johnny Oduya. Michal Rozsival has been a big contributor, and Nick Leddy is an outstanding puck mover from the blue line. The thing about this Chicago defensive corps is that they’re not only strong in their own end, they are all capable of jumping in and helping out on offense.
Even in goaltending, these teams are relatively close. Tuukka Rask has been outstanding, having allowed just two goals in the Eastern Conference Finals. Corey Crawford has been a large reason for the Hawks’ success in the postseason, though one could make the argument he hasn’t been tested quite as much.
On paper, these teams are evenly matched. On the ice, the Hawks have the edge in speed, while the Bruins have the edge in physicality. Which one will win out remains to be seen, and is part of why these Finals are going to be so hard to predict. Either way, we’re set up for a fantastic Stanley Cup Finals. Stay tuned as we continue to bring you detailed analysis and some bold predictions as Wednesday’s Game 1 nears.