Stanley Cup final might be good enough to make us forget lockout
Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman (left) and coach Joel Quenneville listen to a question during a news conference for the NHL Stanley Cup final in Chicago, June 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
Bring it on.
A compelling matchup on the eve of the 2013 Stanley Cup final is expected to turn into captivating action, perhaps even enough to make everyone forget about the ridiculous lockout that reduced the NHL season to 48 games.
By now, no doubt, you’ve heard about many of the juiciest story lines of a series that not only brings together two of hockey’s oldest franchises, but two of America’s iconic sporting cities.
Start with the first Original Six final since 1979 and the first time ever the storied Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have met for hockey’s most treasured prize.
Add the fact that both can play rough and tough and both have captured a championship in the past three seasons and you know the intensity will be sky high from the opening shift Wednesday night at a rocking United Center.
And because it’s the first time Eastern Conference and Western Conference teams will be found in the same rink since a year ago, who knows exactly what to expect?
“It’s going to be a little weird the first two or three or four shifts,” Blackhawks forward David Bolland said Tuesday at the annual Stanley Cup media day, where both teams faced the usual barrage of pre-series questions.
“Normally when you see a team during the season, the confidence of who you are going up against is there. This time, nobody really knows.”
There will be plenty of matchups to digest as the series evolves.
Both goaltenders — Tuukka Rask for the Bruins and Corey Crawford for the Blackhawks — have had solid post-seasons to this point. But a big final could elevate either of them to elite status.
Like every team that faces the Bruins, the inevitable question is how they will deal with towering, workhorse defenceman Zdeno Chara, the prototypical shutdown defender that makes life miserable on forwards of all shapes and sizes.
On the other side, the Blackhawks have so much depth at forward that even Chara can’t be on the ice to keep them all at bay.
Statistically, the Bruins have an incredible 15 goals from their defence, one of the more impressive post-season performances from a blueline. The Hawks, meanwhile, have an incredible penalty kill percentage of 94.8%.
While the Bruins have been impressive on the back end, the Hawks have done their damage by mixing and matching their big-name forwwards, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Throw in the surprise eight goals from big Bryan Bickell and the attack is multi-dimensional.
Then again, they are facing a defence that held the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-led Pittsburgh Penguins to just two goals in an entire series.
Among the many intriguing battles that any series inevitably produces, a matchup between Toews and Boston centre Patrice Bergeron could end up being as pure as it gets. Superb at faceoffs and among the best two-way players in the league, their play away from the scoresheet will be significant.
So, yes, predicting the outcome in this best-of-seven classic is treacherous territory.
Both teams have had their scares these playoffs.
For the Bruins, it was the forever-infamous Game 7 calamity in Boston where a 4-1 Maple Leafs lead was erased in the final 11 minutes. It was the ultimate sporting wakeup call as the Bruins have gone 8-1 since, including a stunning sweep over the favoured Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.
“That had a big impact in how we’ve played since,” Bruins coach Claude Julien acknowledged Tuesday.
For the Blackhawks, that dominant regular-season team, the reality check came at Joe Louis Arena in the Western Conference semifinal. After back-to-back losses to the Red Wings, the Hawks were a game away from being eliminated before storming back to win three in a row.
“It was a wakeup call,” Hawks defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “I thought it was maybe some of that adversity we needed in the playoffs that we didn’t really have in the regular season.
“I thought the boys did a good job of facing it and working hard and getting back in the series.”
Both teams enter the final in relatively good health, minus the bangs and bruises it takes to get to this stage. The Bruins, though, will be without winger Gregory Campbell, who broke his leg while blocking a shot against the Penguins.
Will the hitting by thunderous at times? With the Cup on the line, the answer is obvious.
“It doesn’t matter what round you are in, when you get to the playoffs, every check is finished by every team,” Bruins fourth-line winger Shawn Thornton said. “We expect every round to be physical. And we’re going for the Stanley Cup in this one.”
On the basis of the regular season, the edge would go to the Hawks based on their No. 1 seed and 77 points, 15 more than the Bruins, who were No. 4. in the East. But they hand out the Presidents’ Trophy for those games, not the Stanley Cup.
“This season was a great story, a great start,” Hossa said. “We felt like after so many wins, we had something special here.”