The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals start on Wednesday, and it is quite possibly the most evenly matched Finals in a long time. This preview piece is not easy to write because what can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks can also be said for the Boston Bruins.
Their road to the Finals were similar. Both had one tough series while the other two were relatively easy. In the first round, Boston lost a 3-1 series lead to the Toronto Maple Leafs only to win in the most dramatic way in Game 7. In Chicago’s second round the Blackhawks had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games. It was not nearly as dramatic as Boston’s comeback, but it will be talked about for years to come.
Boston owns the defense. All six of their defensemen make up the core of the team and proved they can overpower the top stars. Most predicted the Pittsburgh Penguins–with their stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Ignila, and Kris Letang–would be in the finals. But Boston’s defense managed to keep those stars pointless in the Eastern Conference Finals. They shut down the most powerful offense. Another thing to note–The Penguins were on fire going into the Eastern Conference Finals. They peaked. Chicago has yet to peak on their offense. Can Boston shut them down now that Patrick Kane has seemingly found his groove again? He was kept without a point for eight games and finished Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings with a hat trick that included the game and series-winning goal. Plus, the non-stars have picked up the pace when the stars fell behind. They have Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus. Both are forces and can cause a ruckus with the opposing team’s defense.
If Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane light it up, it will be hard to stop Chicago’s offense. Los Angeles has a top-notch defense–and they hit a lot harder than Boston—but Chicago found a way to shred them apart and score the goals.
Chicago, though, will need their own defense to help out. Boston can score, and leads all teams in the playoffs in goals scored. What makes them scarier is that they do not have one set star. All are threats, and Chicago must not underestimate any of Boston’s forwards.
Now, if Toews and Kane can stay hot the same could be said about Chicago. Since they did not produce well in the beginning of the playoffs, it forced players like Bickell and Handzus to step up to carry the load, which may actually help the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Since the case has been made for offense and defense, it is only logical to think the Finals may come down to the goalies. Both teams are evenly matched there too. Los Angeles has Jonathan Quick, who was by far the best goalie in the playoffs, but Crawford outplayed him. He gradually got better as the playoffs went on; he is not the star, but when Chicago needs him he is there to finish the job. Boston’s goalie Tuukka Rask is exactly same. He gradually got better with each game and was lights out, literally, against Pittsburgh. He had two shutouts and saved Game 4 with an amazing glove save against Jerome Ignila at the last second. Chicago leads all teams in playoffs with shots on goal. Rask will need Boston’s defense to help limit–or block–the shots.
I predict Chicago will win in seven games. I have been struggling with this since Sunday, and I finally decided based on home ice advantage.
This will be one of the most exciting Stanley Cup Finals, made more special because it is an Original Six Final. It will be close and leave everyone on the edge of their seats.