Stanley Cup Final 2013: Preview & Pick for Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins
The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in double overtime in Game 5 on Saturday night, earning the right to play against the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Neither team struggled to advance beyond its respective conference championship.
The Bruins dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins in a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Final, while the 'Hawks only allowed the defending champions to take one game in the Western Conference Final.
Two Original Six franchises will meet in the final for the first time since 1978 in what should be a clash of titans.
Where They Stand After the Conference Finals
Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are flying high after their conference final wins.
Boston surprised many by sweeping the Pens—a Cup-or-bust squad that dominated the trade deadline in an attempt to secure another championship banner.
Adding Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow to a lineup that already included Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang wasn't enough to boost Pittsburgh to a single victory over the Bruins.
Meanwhile, after a run of six straight series victories, L.A. finally met its match in a determined and fired-up 'Hawks club.
Both teams experienced near-misses to get here.
Boston needed an epic come-from-behind Game 7 victory in Round 1, while Chicago went down 3-1 in Round 2 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Corey Crawford didn't come into the 2013 NHL playoffs with the reputation of a big-game goaltender. If there was a question mark for this Blackhawks team, it was hanging directly above the 28-year-old netminder's head.
He's now out-dueled Jonathan Quick on the biggest of stages and posted gaudy numbers along the way. Crawford's 1.72 GAA is tops, and his .936 save percentage is good for third in these playoffs.
Crawford's emergence as a money goaltender is a storyline worth monitoring through the final, especially after preventing the Detroit Red Wings from closing the 'Hawks out in three straight games.
So far throughout Boston's run to the Cup, no line has been more outstanding than David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. The trio steamrolled the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers before putting on a clinic against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They've combined for 51 points through three rounds of action, and no team has been able to stop their combination of size and skill.
Jaromir Jagr is also returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years. He started to play some inspired hockey toward the end of the third round and will be looking to secure his third trophy.
Players to Watch
The 'Hawks don't need Jonathan Toews to produce at a high level when depth players like Bryan Bickell are scoring 13 points through 17 games played.
The former second-round selection has been a revelation for Chicago in these playoffs, posturing as a goal-scorer while antagonizing the opposition's best players.
Bickell is currently tied for 16th in playoff scoring, putting him ahead of players such as Pascal Dupuis and Patrick Kane.
Chicago shouldn't be surprised by Marian Hossa's points explosion in these playoffs. He's tied for sixth in league scoring and is a known and accomplished Stanley Cup playoff performer.
Hossa is once again up to his old tricks as he's spearheading Chicago's attack along with Patrick Sharp. There may not be a more underrated two-way forward left in the playoffs at this point.
One of the most confident puck-carriers in the NHL, Patrick Kane is no stranger to scoring big goals in the Stanley Cup Final.
He's was great for the 'Hawks against the L.A. Kings, and he will be looking to kick the killer instinct into overdrive against the Bruins after scoring three goals in Game 5.
Boston's power play had been sputtering through the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins were having issues scoring goals with the extra man, which was a big reason why their first-round series went to seven games.
Enter Torey Krug.
The young defender wasn't expected to be a part of Boston's roster in any way during the playoffs. Now it's hard to imagine the Bruins without Krug on the back end. He isn't going to bowl anyone over, but his speed and hockey IQ are both off the charts.
Brad Marchand is Matthew Barnaby with a scoring touch. He's an absolute pain to play against and always seems to score at the most in-your-face moments.
Nothing is more demoralizing than watching one of your star players get lit up on one shift, only to watch the guy who landed the hit score a goal on the next shift.
Boston has the second-most effective five-on-five offensive game in the playoffs, thanks in large part to the work of David Krejci (along with Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, his linemates).
He's the leading scorer this postseason and is four points ahead of the second-place Horton. Krejci has been a dynamic force in the offensive zone on nearly every shift and is arguably the most dangerous forward in the Stanley Cup Final.
Goaltending matchups don't get much closer than this one.
Tuukka Rask has been excellent for the Boston Bruins this postseason, giving fans plenty of reason to forget about Tim Thomas, who left the team high and dry while going on hiatus.
Then there's Corey Crawford, the much-maligned goaltender who seems to be this generation's version of Chris Osgood—he just can't get any respect.
Now they'll be facing off for the right to lift the Stanley Cup.
Rask and Crawford are both in the top three of every statistical category outside of shutouts, where Crawford is currently tied for fourth.
Boston's goalie has the best save percentage of the postseason, posting a remarkable .943 mark, while Chicago's netminder sports the most outstanding GAA with a 1.72. Fans hoping for 5-3 or 6-4 hockey games will likely come away disappointed with this final, as goals will be at a premium.
Because of the quality of goaltending in this series, we're bound to see a handful of 2-1 and 1-0 hockey games, with each team only needing to score once or twice to secure victories.
Chicago's top six hasn't been particularly outstanding throughout these playoffs as a whole, while no one has been able to put a stop to Boston's top guns. There is a particularly big discrepancy between the top lines for each team.
While the Bruins have received 51 points from their top trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, Chicago had a hard time even settling on a top unit in the Western Conference Final.
Patrick Kane finally clicked on the top line toward the end of the series with the Kings, perhaps giving the 'Hawks a dangerous top trio for the first time during the 2013 postseason.
The fact that the 'Hawks have made it all the way to the Cup Final with a rotating cast in the top six is a testament to their depth, but it could also signal an issue against the Bruins.
The top three scorers for Chicago had only posted 39 points before Game 5 against the Kings, when Kane notched a hat trick. Toews in particular will have to find another gear in order to hang with Boston's strong and talented forwards, or this could be a quicker series than people realize.
Chicago Will Win If...
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to pick up their play while Corey Crawford continues to stand on his head.
Chicago's top two forwards just haven't been consistent enough through the first three rounds. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are doing a lot of heavy lifting, but the captain and Kane need to become more than secondary scoring threats if Chicago wants to win its second Stanley Cup since 2010.
Crawford will also face an offensive onslaught the likes of which he hasn't seen in this postseason yet. No disrespect to the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and L.A. Kings, but Boston's forwards are clicking at a ridiculous rate right now.
Those guys are elite talents and will be crashing toward the crease at every opportunity. Crawford hasn't shown a propensity to lose his cool, but if any team can rattle him, it's Boston.
The 'Hawks will also need a massive series from their top defensive pairing in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Since being united against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, the pair has been outstanding and nearly unbeatable.
How they match up against Boston's top guys could determine the outcome of this series.
Boston Will Win If...
They don't change a thing.
Since Game 7 of Round 1, the Bruins have been on a tear. The B's have looked more and more impressive as the playoffs have gone on, receiving contributions all throughout their lineup while playing within a strong and sound defensive structure.
There's no panic with this team, no quit and no real discernible weakness.
They can hit, and they can score. Boston can hang in whatever kind of hockey game the 'Hawks try to play. This is a legitimately frighting hockey team, from the top line of Horton, Krejci and Lucic all the way down to the Gregory Campbell-less Merlot Line.
Tuukka Rask is playing out of his mind, Zdeno Chara has been incredible in front of him, and there's little to dislike about the Bruins moving forward.
Boston Bruins 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
It's tough to think of a scenario that would lead to the 'Hawks being able to take four games to win this series. Even if Kane and Toews continue to elevate their games, Chicago just doesn't have enough answers for Boston and its depth.
Krejci, Lucic and Horton aren't the kind of line you can "shut down" via traditional means, while Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr could still hit another gear themselves. There's just too much of everything in Boston up and down the lineup.
Barring an all-world performance from Corey Crawford, the 'Hawks are going to go home empty-handed after an outstanding regular season and solid run to the Stanley Cup Final.