I thought I would start with a ‘Fun Fact’ for this preview: Neither of the teams in this game have won the cup within the last 41 years. The Leafs won it last in 1967 and the Blackhawks won it last in 1961. Now down to the nitty gritty (yes I said ‘nitty gritty’).
Team Records: Chicago: 8-4-5-21pts
Looking at the young skilful team that the Blackhawks now have, it may only be a matter of seasons until they snap their cup-less drought. Toews, Kane, Havlat, Campbell and Seabrook, along with two No. 1 goaltenders, make for a very strong team.
However, a few names from a list of 20 may not be convincing to some people. But you see the players I listed are the ones I consider to be stars.
The 'Hawks are full of depth and are a very underrated club at some times. They will look to take the NHL by surprise one day.
On the other side of the pond, the Leafs are in their re-building process, with names like Grabovski, Antropov, Hagman, their 18 year old saviour Luke Schenn, and a (lately) sub-par goaltender in Toskala. They are the only real ‘weapons’ on this Leafs Squad.
Unlike the Hawks, they hold no real depth in their lines. Looking at everything as a whole it’s hard to believe they have gotten this far. The unlikely name of Mikhail Grabovski has propelled the Leafs to where they are now.
When you look at everything as a whole for Saturday night’s game, it appears as though the Blackhawks have the upper hand pretty much everywhere, with the possible exception of the blue line.
The 'Hawks have two of the best young players in the league—Toews and Kane—and their veteran experience gives them that extra push.
Where as the Leafs have very few players capable of contributing offense and no real experience on their team. The majority of the Leafs team are still in their 20’s (much the same as the Pittsburgh Penguins last year).
The Maple Leafs skilled defense may have what it takes to shut down the Hawks crucial offensive strike.
Luke “Lockdown”/”the human eraser”/”the force”/ “the sponge” Schenn and Tomas Kaberle are the strongest Blue liners on the Leafs team. They will likely be pitted against the 'Hawks one-two punch of Toews and Kane.
However, they are only two people. The Leafs have had controversy around their top six D-men for many years and this was no different. Look for a man-man defensive style in this game.
I have already mentioned the Hawks solid goaltending, consisting of Chris Huet and Nik Khabibulin. Both are No. 1 goalies and both will shut you down on a good night.
The question is, who will the Hawks start for the game? The Leafs will have the same question going through their locker room.
Vesa Toskala has looked shaky in the last few games, especially against Boston this past Monday. Toskala was replaced by back-up Curtis Joseph who looked good in his time on the ice.
The smart move would be to start CUJO for the game and explain to Vesa that he needs to take a break and re-group for a game, so as not to break his confidence.
Game Expectation and Projected Score:
If the Leafs start CUJO and are smart about pairing Schenn and Kaberle against Toews and Kane, the Leafs should be able to shut down the Hawks scoring and pop in a couple of their own.
Pick: Toronto 4-3