By Martin Iheke
For the first time since 1979, there will be an Original Six matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins will start Game 1 of their series on Wednesday, June 12 at the United Center in Chicago. The Blackhawks entered the playoffs with the best record in the league and then proceeded to knockoff the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and the defending Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins reached the Finals by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and the Cup-favorite Pittsburgh Penguins. It was not an easy road for both teams. The Blackhawks had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Red Wings in the second round. The Bruins were down 4-1 at home in the third period of Game 7 against the Maple Leafs only to come back and win in overtime to advance past the first round.
The Blackhawks feature a star-studded lineup in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith while the Bruins are led by David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton and Zdeno Chara. Both teams have a lot of members who were a part of their Stanley Cup champion teams from the recent past. Nine members from the Blackhawks were on the 2010 championship team while seventeen from the Bruins were on the 2011 championship team so there is a lot of championship experience on both clubs. It will come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes. I like how team-oriented the Blackhawks and Bruins are. There does not appear to be any egos on either team and they are well-coached. Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks and Claude Julien of the Bruins have down a terrific job leading these teams to the Finals.
The biggest questions going into the series are: Can the Bruins shut down the stars of the Blackhawks like they did against the Penguins? Can Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford continue to play at a high level? The Bruins do not have enough speed and firepower to get in an offensive shootout with the Blackhawks so they are going to have to rely on their defense and goaltending like they have throughout the playoffs. The Blackhawks have a lot of speed so they have no problems getting up and down the ice. The Bruins young goaltender, Tuuka Rask has been outstanding in the postseason so far with a 12-4 record, 1.75 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage according to NHL.com. He had two shutouts in the conference finals against the Penguins on top of that. He has been so good that the folks in Boston have forgotten about goaltender Tim Thomas who is taking the year off. They will forget about him completely if Rask continues to play like this in the Finals in route to another championship. For the Blackhawks, they need Toews and Kane to be their best players because for most of the playoffs so far, they have struggled. Crawford needs to continue to show that he can be relied upon.
I expect this series to go the distance. Outside of the speed factor for the Blackhawks, I do not see much of a major advantage for either team. However, since I picked the Blackhawks to win it all before the playoffs I am going to stick with that.
6/12 Bruins vs Blackhawks 7:00 pm
6/15 Bruins vs Blackhawks 7:00 pm
6/17 Blackhawks vs Bruins 7:00 pm
6/19 Blackhawks vs Bruins 7:00 pm
*6/22 Bruins vs Blackhawks 7:00 pm
*6/24 Blackhawks vs Bruins 7:00 pm
*6/26 Bruins vs Blackhawks 7:00 pm
*Games played if necessary