The puck drops tonight.
Are you excited??
Game one of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight. The Chicago Blackhawks will take on the Boston Bruins. This series will pit two of the last three Stanley Cup winners against each other. Also, this series will feature two of the National Hockey League’s Original Six teams for the first time since 1979.
The best of seven series will show two teams with contrasting styles. Chicago likes to outskate their opponents. Puck possession along with a top flight penalty killing unit has often been the difference in why they have made it so far.
The Bruins, on the other hand, are a big and physical team that is not afraid to mix it up with their opponents. They have a knack of frustrating the opposition physically and mentally. Defense is their calling card and they can score when needed.
The series will also feature two goaltenders that have come into their own in Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask. No matter who wins this series, expect one of these players to add the Conn Smythe Trophy to their resume. That goes to show how instrumental goaltending can be for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
In yesterday’s practice, coach Joel Quenneville set up the lines like this:
First line- Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa
Second Line- Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane
Third Line – Brandon Saad, Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw
Fourth Line – Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik.
By taking out one of the team’s fastest skaters in Viktor Stalberg, the team figures that Boston will try to muck things up by playing off of the Blackhawks’ reputation of being a ‘finesse’ team. Brandon Bollig who has not played in any of the playoff games thus far is the team’s de facto enforcer. Expect for Bollig to monitor any and all overtures of physical play by Boston.
As much as it was impressive to watch the Bruins dismantle such as team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, it needs to be pointed out that Pittsburgh is an awful defensive team with a shaky goaltending situation. I’m not saying that Boston’s win was hollow, but they only did what a good hockey club is supposed to do, beat an inferior team.
A player to watch in such a situation is forward Andrew Shaw. As the playoffs have gone along, Shaw has matured in each round. During the Detroit series, Shaw took double digit numbers in penalty minutes. In the Los Angeles series, one of the Kings tried get him to do something foolish. He didn’t fall for it. In this series expect for more of the same. If Shaw catches a stick to the ribs on the way to the bench after a shift, so be it. The referees seem to see the retaliator not the instigator.
As long as the Blackhawks don’t try to muscle up with the Bruins like the Maple Leafs did. They will be fine. Toronto got too far ahead of themselves.
The Western Conference champions are a young but veteran group. They are well aware of what’s at stake.
All the Blackhawks have to do is stick to the game plan. A veteran team such as Boston will wait for the slightest deviation in character and they will exploit it.
Most hockey pundits don’t think that the Blackhawks don’t have a chance. I disagree with those assessments. Look at the Detroit series. The team was on the brink before they rallied to win that series in seven games. Also, they overcame a bad call to win game seven. In the next round, they faced the defending Stanley Cup champions and their all-world goaltender Jonathan Quick. The team found a way to end the title run of a team that was supposed to beat them up physically.
My Prediction: Blackhawks in seven games.