This Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago, the NHL Stanley Cup Final will get underway with Game 1 of a best-of-seven showdown between the Boston Bruins—out of the Eastern Conference—and the Western Conference-winning Blackhawks.
The series opener is set to get underway at 8 p.m. ET, and it will be broadcasted nationally on NBC. Game 2 in Chicago will be played Saturday night before the series shifts to TD Garden in Boston for Game 3 on Monday night and Game 4 next Wednesday.
The Bruins needed a Game 7 miracle just to advance out of the opening round against Toronto, but they have made the most of the opportunity by going 8-1 in their last nine playoff games, including an unlikely four-game sweep of No.1 Pittsburgh in the conference finals by a combined score of 12-2.
Overall, Boston is 12-4 in the postseason with the total going 7-7-2 in the 16 games. However, the team has stayed “under” in five of their last seven playoff games.
Chicago rolled over Minnesota in five games in its opening-round series but quickly found itself in a 3-1 hole in the next round against Detroit after losing three straight games. The Blackhawks were able to right the ship with three straight wins of their own to beat their bitter Central Division rivals in seven games.
They carried that momentum into the Western Conference Finals where they buried the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. The total has gone 5-7-5 in 17 playoff games with the line set at five for every single game.
Boston wins the series if
The Bruins have continued to improve as these playoffs have worn on, so the first key to winning this series is, at the very least, to maintain the form they displayed against the Penguins. Known primarily as a tough-minded, hard-hitting defensive team, Boston is actually the highest-scoring team in the postseason with 3.17 goals per game.
While there may not be any bona fide superstars on the roster, David Krejci has played like one with a team-high nine goals and 12 assists in 16 playoff games.The Bruins have a total of six different players with at least four postseason goals, so the ability to keep moving the puck around on each of their lines will go a long way in helping to keep Chicago from camping in their end of the rink.
The other key to winning this series is the continued high level of play by goalie Tuukka Rask.
Rask comes into this series with a GAA of 1.75—to complement a .943 save percentage—on 527 shots on goal. Boston has a power play kill rate of 86.5 percent in the postseason, which is certainly not the best, but it may be good enough against a Chicago team that has converted on just 13.7 percent of its man-advantage situations.
Chicago wins the series if
Chicago has struggled with consistency at times in the playoffs when it comes to putting the puck in the net. The Blackhawks scored a total of six goals in the first four games against the Red Wings before blasting them with 10 goals in the final three contests. Against the Kings, the team scored a total of 14 goals in five games for an average of 2.8 goals per game, which was still lower than their regular season average of 3.1, which ranked second in the league.
It will be up to players like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane to light the lamp against the Bruins. This trio has combined to score 21 goals while adding another 21 assists in the last 17 games. Another scoring force has been forward Bryan Bickell, who tallied eight goals and five assists in the first three playoff rounds.
Fortunately, the Blackhawks come into the Stanley Cup Final with a hot goalie of their own.
Cory Crawford has practically stood on his head to stop shots this postseason, which is reflective of his 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage. He has given up a few soft ones along the way, but the battle for MVP of the postseason should come down to Crawford versus Rask. Chicago has been the best team in the playoffs defending against the power play with a kill rate of 94.8 percent, which could end up being a big factor in this series.
The Bruins have been opened by BetOnline as +120 underdogs on the series price, with Chicago listed as -140 favorites. As far as the money line for Wednesday night’s Game 1, Boston has been opened as a +132 road underdog with the Blackhawks listed as -145 home favorites. The total line has been set at five.
Boston is 6-1 in its last seven games against the Central Division and 22-7 in its last 29 games playing on three or more days of rest. The total has gone over in six of its last nine games against the Western Conference.
Chicago is 7-1 in its last eight games against the East and 41-16 in its last 57 games following a win. The total has gone over in seven of its last 10 games against a team from the East.
Due to the shortened regular season, these teams did not face one another. However, going back over the previous few seasons, the Bruins have won six of the last eight meetings with the total going an even 4-4 in those games.