For the first time in NHL history, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks will battle for the Stanley Cup. It also marks the first time since 1979 that two Original Six teams will meet in the Final.
Both teams enter their series having easily eliminated worthy opponents in their respective conference finals. The Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, limiting the offensively loaded top seed in the Eastern Conference to just two goals. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks put an end to the Los Angeles Kings' title defense in five games, snapping L.A.’s 15-game home winning streak in the process.
However, the Bruins and Blackhawks also found themselves on the brink of disaster earlier in the playoffs.
The Bruins dropped two straight games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and trailed, 4-1, in Game 7 with just over 10 minutes remaining in their first-round series. That’s when their dominant run began. The Bruins scored three straight to tie it and Patrice Bergeron scored at 6:05 of overtime to complete an amazing comeback. The Bruins have gone 8-1 since, led by their strong team defense and remarkable goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
The Blackhawks' biggest test came in Round 2, when they found themselves down 3-1 in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks, however, had little trouble in beating the Wings in the next two games before winning an epic Game 7 showdown in overtime on a goal by Brent Seabrook.
With that in mind, here is a complete preview of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Game 1: Wednesday, June 12, at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Game 2: Saturday, June 15, at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC
Game 3: Monday, June 17, at Boston, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC
Game 4: Wednesday, June 19, at Boston, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Game 5*: Saturday, June 22, at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Game 6*: Monday, June 24, at Boston, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Game 7*: Wednesday, June 26, at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Goals: Bruins: 3.12, ranked second; Blackhawks 2.76, ranked sixth.
The Blackhawks have plenty of offensive stars while the Bruins have a less famous, but equally effective, group of forwards.
Boston’s David Krejci leads the playoffs in both goals (9) and points (21). Nathan Horton is second in playoff scoring with 17 points and his plus-21 rating leads all players by a significant margin.
With Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic bringing a physical edge and Patrice Bergeron’s defensive abilities, Boston’s top lines have been nearly unstoppable of late.
Their biggest advantage should be in the faceoff circle, where they’ve won 56 percent of their draws in the playoffs. The only question is how well they will deal with the loss of Gregory Campbell (broken leg), who has been one of their most underrated players.
The Blackhawks have received consistent contributions throughout the playoffs from Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are finally producing, having combined for six points in their last two games.
Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus should continue to rack up the hits while making timely contributions on offense.
If the Blackhawks are going to be successful, their top lines will need to wear the Bruins’ defense down with their speed and by consistently generating second and third chances off rebounds.
Goals Against: Bruins: 1.88, ranked first; Blackhawks 1.94, ranked third.
Led by the NHL's biggest Norris Trophy snub in Zdeno Chara, the Bruins’ defense has been solid throughout the postseason despite having just three players appear in all 16 games.
At age 36, Chara is playing some of the best hockey of his career, averaging nearly 30 minutes of ice time with 53 hits and 33 blocked shots to go with 11 points.
Boston’s blue line has also benefited from the sudden rise of Torey Krug. The 22-year-old Michigan native had played in just three NHL games prior to being called up for Boston’s semifinal series with the New York Rangers. Since then, he has collected six points in nine games and has played smart hockey.
It’s been business as usual for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in Chicago since they were reunited against the Red Wings. After struggling early on, Seabrook netted the overtime winner in Game 7 versus the Wings and has played better since.
Keith is logging almost 25 minutes per game and has 11 points and 21 blocked shots. Seabrook leads the team with 57 hits and has 22 blocked shots.
Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival both stepped up in Game 4 against the Kings when Keith was suspended. Chicago’s blue line has been solid, but will need to do an even better job of limiting turnovers and clearing the zone against the Bruins.
Tuukka Rask: 12-4, .943 save percentage, 1.75 GAA, two shutouts.
Corey Crawford: 12-5, .935 save percentage, 1.74 GAA, one shutout.
Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have made fans in Boston and Chicago forget about Tim Thomas and Antti Niemi.
Both goaltenders were good in the regular season, but have elevated their games in the playoffs.
Rask had limited playoff experience coming into this year, having played 13 games for the Bruins back in 2010. He is now considered by many to be the favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, even ahead of teammates David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
Crawford also had limited playoff experience, as he and the Blackhawks failed to make it out of the first round in each of the past two seasons. Few could have predicted Crawford would play as good, if not better, than Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick this postseason.
As for their weaknesses, both goaltenders have been beaten blocker side on a few occasions in the playoffs.
Power Play: Bruins: 15.6 percent, ranked 10th; Blackhawks: 13.7 percent, ranked 12th
Penalty Kill: Bruins: 86.5 percent, ranked sixth; Blackhawks: 94.8 percent, ranked first
The Bruins and Blackhawks have produced offensively at even strength, but on the power play, both have struggled.
It’s hard to expect much will change for the Bruins, whose top power play scorer is Torey Krug with three goals. They didn’t score a single goal with the man advantage against the Penguins, but their penalty kill didn’t allow any goals either. That included killing off two penalties in overtime of Game 3.
Marian Hossa has been a bright spot for Chicago’s power play, registering three goals thus far. The Blackhawks' penalty kill has been among the best in the NHL throughout the year, working efficiently to get in shooting lanes and tie up players along the boards.
After ending Stanley Cup droughts of 49 years (Blackhawks in 2010) and 39 years (Bruins in 2011), the two traditional powers have returned to the Final once again.
These are two of the NHL’s best teams from top to bottom, thanks to GMs Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman. They also have two great coaches in Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien, one of whom will become just the 15th coach in NHL history to win two or more Stanley Cups.
It’s hard to give either team an edge in any area and you can expect this series to feature tight-checking, low-scoring games. There should still be plenty of excitement and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if two or more games go into overtime.
In the end, Chicago’s offensive stars should do what the Penguins couldn’t and score just often enough to give them an advantage.
The Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup in seven games and Corey Crawford will become the third consecutive goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.