So now we’re down to two. The NHL playoffs have brought all the hard hitting, fast-paced action we’ve come to expect, and at last we’ve narrowed the field down to just two teams: The Chicago Blackhawks, and the Boston Bruins. We’ll take a look at the numbers and then make some picks on how we see this series playing out.
The first and only matchup between the East and the West in this lockout-shortened season promises to be one for the ages. Both teams are on a roll right now, and both seem to be playing their best hockey of the season at exactly the right time.
The Bruins are coming off a sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who at one point were favored to win the East. Boston shocked the hockey world by outscoring Pittsburgh 9-1 on the road in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, and the Bruins never looked back, finishing the sweep while goalie Tuukka Rask was brilliant, allowing only 2 goals throughout the entire series.
Meanwhile in the West, the Blackhawks dethroned the defending champions – The Los Angeles Kings – in only 5 games. Chicago’s relentless pressure, speed, and pinpoint passing were finally enough to break through the LA defenses that had allowed only 20 goals through their first 13 playoff games, which led the NHL after the first 2 rounds. But Chicago was able to score 14 times in the series while playing excellent defense in front of goalie Corey Crawford, and it was enough to send the Kings to an early summer.
But which team had the tougher road to the Stanley Cup Finals? Which team has proven more along the way? Sadly, comparing the opposition each team faced is nearly impossible for a season which saw nearly half of its’ games squeezed out to make room for a lockout. The smaller schedule for teams gave no room for inter-conference play, and so how the East matches up against the West is still very much up for debate. But the standings have shown The Chicago Blackhawks as the best team in hockey almost since the first puck dropped in January. Chicago opened the season with an unprecedented 24 straight games recording at least a point in the standings. The quick start propelled the Blackhawks to the top of the NHL standings, and no one was able to catch them, even for a moment.
5 Key Stats:
1: Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask leads the league in Save Percentage this postseason, stopping more than 94% of the shots he has faced. Second in the league is Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, with over 93%.
2: Boston’s David Krejci and Nathan Horton lead the league in total points and plus/minus with 38 points between them (16 goals, and 22 assists) while combining for a plus 35 in the +/-
3: Both teams have been stellar on the penalty kill recently. Chicago leads the NHL this postseason, killing 94.7% of their opponents powerplay chances. The Bruins have been a little less impressive, but still boast an 86.5% success rate on the penalty kill, and they were perfect in their last series against the Pittsburgh Penguins’ deadly offense.
4: Patrick Kane has 4 goals in the last two playoff games, including a series’ clinching hat trick in game 5 against the Kings. While impressive, Kane only scored twice in his team’s previous 15 playoff games. The Blackhawks offense is always dangerous, but it runs so much better when Kane is at the top of his game. They’ll need him to keep producing in the offensive end against this Boston defense that shut down the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
5: The Bruins have won 9 of their last 10 games, and the Blackhawks have won 7 of their last 8. Something has got to give.
Prediction: The Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games
Conn-Smythe Trophy Winner: Corey Crawford
- Stanley Cup Preview: Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks (titletownsportsnetwork.com)
- Canucks poll: Blackhawks? Bruins? Which team would you LEAST like to see win the Stanley Cup? (vancouversun.com)
- Chicago Blackhawks vs Boston Bruins (netnewsledger.com)