Through 16 playoff games, the Boston Bruins have run through the competition. After grinding out a Game 7 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, the Bruins took out the New York Rangers in five before sweeping the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Now the Chicago Blackhawks are all that stand in the way of the Bruins and the seventh Stanley Cup in team history, and their second in the last three seasons. Both of these teams, and head coaches Claude Julien of Boston and Joel Quenneville of Chicago, know what it takes to get to the top of the mountain, as each have hoisted Lord Stanley within the last four seasons.
But while the Blackhawks were the early season darlings of the National Hockey League, starting the lockout-shortened campaign with a league record 24-game unbeaten streak, they have now drawn the unenviable task of trying to stop a Boston team that has been building momentum ever since its epic 5-4 come-from-behind, overtime victory in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.
The biggest advantage the Bruins have is in goal. Tuukka Rask has had a great run through the postseason, going 12-4 with a 1.75 goals against average and .943 save percentage, but he was unbelievable in the Eastern Conference Final, limiting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the vaunted Pittsburgh offense to just two goals in four games with two shutouts. His stat line for the final was incredible: 4-0/0.44/.985.
On the other end of the ice, Chicago's Corey Crawford has been consistent all year, setting a career-best GAA during the regular season. Entering the Stanley Cup Final, he is 12-5 with a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage in the playoffs. But where Crawford has been steady, Rask has been getting better with every passing round.
Offensively, the teams match up very well, but the Bruins have the edge. Boston has averaged 3.1 goals per game through the playoffs while the Blackhawks have averaged just 2.7.
David Krejci and Nathan Horton have been incredible throughout the playoffs. Krejci has nine goals and 12 assists, averaging more than a point per game through 16 playoff games. His plus-14 is second on the team to Horton, who has is an astounding plus-21 for the playoffs, the highest plus-minus rating since 1984-85 according to quanthockey.com.
The Blackhawks have only one player in double-digits, Niklas Hjalmarsson at a plus-10.
Who will win the Stanley Cup?
It will be up to Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks' defense to find a way to stop to the potent Bruins attack.
Boston's impressive forwards haven't just been in the right place at the right time. According to hockey-reference.com, Horton and Krejci have combined to create 14 goals and are both shooting better than 20 percent for the playoffs.
Even with top-tier players like Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith patrolling the defensive zone for Chicago, it is hard to stop sharpshooters like the Bruins have.
The plus-minus statistics suggest the Bruins' offensive players have been chipping in on defense. Players do not make it to plus-21 without defensive contributions.
Boston's defense is anchored by captain Zdeno Chara. The veteran defenseman leads the team in ice time, averaging nearly 30 minutes per game. He also leads the Bruins defense at plus-12 for the playoffs.
Boston's defense has also shown more discipline. As a team, Boston has 155 penalty minutes, but only 34 have come from the defense. Chicago's defense has accounted for 46 minutes in the box. It's hard enough to stop Boston at even strength, but near impossible if your best defensive players are in the penalty box.
The Bruins have the edge on both ends of the ice, and Tuukka Rask is the hottest goalie in the playoffs. Boston is just a better all-around team than Chicago.
With home-ice advantage, Chicago can stretch the series to six games, but when the series is over, the Bruins will be skating with the Stanley Cup.