(Reuters) – A Stanley Cup classic 86 years in the making hits the ice as Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, two of the National Hockey League’s charter clubs, faceoff in a best-of-seven final dripping with nostalgia and mystery.
The first Original Six showdown for Lord Stanley’s famous silver mug since 1979 may harken back to the days before expansion, but despite their rich histories when the series opens on Wednesday in Chicago it will mark the first time the two storied franchises have clashed in a Stanley Cup Final.
Two of America’s great sporting cities, Boston and Chicago have rarely crossed paths at any championship.
In fact, Beantown and the Windy City have only twice before met to decide a title, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox in the 1918 World Series and the Bears and New England Patriots at the 1986 Super Bowl.
The Bruins and Blackhawks, however, are no strangers to Stanley Cup celebrations.
Chicago last hoisted the Cup in 2010 while the Bruins, winners in 2011, would like nothing more than to parade the treasured trophy trough the streets of Boston that were left silent and empty following the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 that left three people dead and 264 injured.
The Final marks the finish line of a punishing two month playoff marathon and could provide a thrilling climax to a tumultuous season that nearly never was after a bitter labor dispute shortened the schedule to just 48 games.
Memories of the lockout now appear all but forgotten washed away by an intriguing playoff race that has left standing two teams that have not played each other in almost two years.
Both Boston and Chicago enter the Final on impressive rolls, the Blackhawks winners of seven of the last eight games and the Bruins winning nine-of-10, including a stunning sweep of the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.
But the road to the Cup does not come without a few bumps with each team surviving a seven-game scare, Boston against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round and Chicago against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semi-finals.
Cornered by the Maple Leafs, down 4-2 with under 90 seconds to play in Game Seven, the Bruins showed their teeth in frightening fashion scoring two late goals and another in overtime to advance.
The Bruins remained in a snarly mood crushing the New York Rangers in five games then mauling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins to get back to the Final for the second time in three years.
Chicago spent the entire campaign atop the West standings setting a record by earning points in each of their first 24 games on way to claiming the Presidents’ Trophy, as the NHL team with the best regular season record.
But like the Bruins, Chicago also needed to pull off a miraculous escape to keep their Cup dreams alive, going down 3-1 to the Red Wings before sweeping the last three games and capping the comeback with a Game Seven overtime winner from defenseman Brent Seabrook.
The Blackhawks then clinched a spot in the Final clinically dispatching the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games.
The Final also will be a fascinating clash of styles, with the ‘Big, Bad Bruins’ punishing, hit-anything-that-moves approach against the speedy Blackhawks finesse and puck possession game.
There is no lack of offensive creativity on the Chicago bench with snipers like captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were among the top five in league scoring during the regular season with 23 goals apiece.
Toews has been mired in a post-season slump with just one goal but Patrick Sharp and unheralded Bryan Bickell have picked up the slack with eight tallies apiece while Kane had a hat-trick in eliminating the Kings.
A solid Chicago defense is anchored by Duncan Keith and Seabrook while netminder Corey Crawford has the best goals-against-average in the playoffs.
For all their reputation as a surly team that relies on intimidation, the Bruins lineup also features the playoff’s two leading scorers in David Krejci (nine goals, 21 points) and Nathan Horton (seven goals, 17 points).
But stopping goals, not scoring them, has been the foundation of Boston’s playoff success.
The Bruins enter the Final with the post-season’s top ranked defense led by the giant Slovak Zdeno Chara and Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask, who posted two shutouts against the Mighty Penguins.
While the Blackhawks have the marquee names, the Bruins view themselves as a Band of Brothers, typified by fourth liner Gregory Campbell who broke his leg throwing himself in front of a slap shot in Game Three against the Penguins but stayed on the ice to finish his shift.