By Mike Ivcic and Alex Rajaniemi
1 Chicago Blackhawks (2/3) vs. 4 Boston Bruins (13/10)
Series Correct Score
Total Games in the Series
Mike: Perhaps it’s only fitting that in a year where every Original Six team made the playoffs and we’ve already seen three head-to-head series between those six teams, we also see a Stanley Cup Final that pits two of the historical franchises against each other. Boston took out the prohibitive Cup favorites, while Chicago dispatched the defending champions, so it’s fair to say each team has earned this Finals appearance. Alex, you’re up 13-11, which means I need to pick the right team in the right number of games to force the tie, so you get to do the honors of leading off – what do you see happening in the final two weeks of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs?
Alex: Mike, it’s been a heck of a ride so far and one of the most memorable Stanley Cup playoffs to date, and here’s how I’m going to take the first leg of our annual competition.
The Chicago Blackhawks are primed and ready to put another banner in the famed rafters of the Windy City. They got through three rounds essentially without their two best goal scorers in Patrick Kane (who decided to show up in the final two games of the LA series and did so in major fashion for game five) and Jonathan Toews. They’ve gotten back to the Finals with some odd offensive cylinders firing– Bryan Bickell almost has as many goals as he did all regular season! I still dislike Corey Crawford in net, but I said the same thing about Antti Niemi the last time the Hawks won it all, so I see a trend forming here. He does have the numbers to back his play, so I’ll keep my criticisms to a minimum. It’s not all about goaltending as it used to be in the playoffs, it’s about all around team play and finding guys who can step up in the clutch, and Chicago has that. Plus if Patrick Kane truly is back and on fire, it may be tough for Boston to match up against a team that set all sorts of records this shortened regular season.
Now to directly combat the point that I just made, Tukka Rask looks like Patrick Roy right now. He absolutely stone-cold stuffed the seemingly invincible scoring attack of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and all of the Iggy’s and Morrow’s of the world who decided to jump on for a Cup run. He looks masterful. The numbers he’s posted are silly– the dude stopped 134 of 136 shots against a third of Canada’s last gold-medal winning team. He leads nearly every statistical category in terms of goaltending in these playoffs too. I understand he has sycamores playing defense in front of him, but remember those defensive trees are mostly all young guys and they’re stepping up big time right now. I hate the Bruins, I really do just as a fan, but they are as dangerous a playoff team as any I can remember. David Krejci is a playoff monster, his linemate Nathan Horton isn’t very far behind, and those Bruins just play with a tenacity that has been unmatched so far these playoffs.
That brings me to my pick. This Original Six matchup is really intriguing and I see it going the distance as both teams are stellar on their home ice. Both teams have Conn Smythe-worthy goaltenders, both teams have role players (Krejci/Horton/Bickell) who are stepping up in the clutch, and both teams have the taste of Lord Stanley’s Cup fresh on their lips. Plus, we all know from Boston’s 2011 celebration tab and well as Patrick Kane and Johnny Toews’ well-documented partying antics that both teams would love a post-win bash. Not that they need partying to motivate them though… I see home-ice winning out here, so let Chelsea Dagger play at the Madhouse and let the Windy City flaunt Lord Stanley’s Cup once more.
Mike: Going first in a head-to-head preview certainly has its advantages, but you’ve earned them by outpacing me through three rounds. As such, I have no one to blame but myself for watching as you make precisely the prediction I would have made had I been the one to write the initial analysis. If I were betting my life savings on one of the eight possible outcomes, that would where my wager would be – Chicago in 7. So, with that in mind, allow me the opportunity to talk myself into picking the Bruins.
Let’s start with the reasons against Chicago. I don’t think we need to look much further than two weeks ago, when the Blackhawks were facing a must-win game five on their home ice against a Detroit Red Wings team that is, in almost every way, inferior to Boston. Yes, it may be true that Chicago promptly won seven of their next eight games over the Wings and the defending Cup champion Kings to get to this very point, but the fact that they were pushed to the brink so early in a second round series shows that they are, in fact, vulnerable. I agree that Crawford has been otherworldly, but like you said, Alex, he’s not what you would consider an otherworldly goaltender, so I think he’s susceptible to giving up a weak goal or two. You also mentioned Toews and Kane and their lack of production, especially from the Chicago captain. They may be super-talented and boast arguably the best line of defensemen I can recall in all my years of watching hockey, but unless number 19 starts filling the back of the net in this series, I can’t see how the Blackhawks will win four of their next seven potential contests.
Then there are the reasons for the Bruins. You say Rask, I say Chara and Bergeron. While there’s absolutely no doubt that Tim Thomas’ replacement (who?) has been phenomenal – he’s 8-1 in his last nine games since spotting the Maple Leafs a three-goal lead in game seven, which he also helped turn around with that huge breakaway save on Kessel – it’s been the combined play of their best defensive center and annual Norris Trophy candidate that have really gotten Boston to this point. Chara made life miserable for Nash and Malkin, who spent most of their time on the wings, while Bergeron drew the responsibility of stopping the face of the NHL and held Crosby off the scoresheet in four straight games. Let’s also not forget that the Blackhawks have had some power play issues at points throughout the playoffs, and Boston’s coming off a series where they held a team you just described as “one third of Canada’s gold medal winning team” to a downright stunning 0-for-15 on the power play. Sure, the Bruins sported a nice 0-for-13 themselves in that series, but Alex you know as well as I do that playoff hockey is all about defense, and Boston legitimately has the edge over Chicago in that department.
We could go back and forth all night about this – but thankfully for the readers, I set this up as a one-shot deal without any further rebuttal – so I’ll wrap up our first annual dual playoff preview with this thought: home ice matters, but both of these teams won their respective recent Cups on opposition ice. I’ll go with a split in Chicago for 1 and 2, likewise for Boston in 3 and 4, a Blackhawks home win in 5, a Bruins response with a home win of their own in 6, and the second Cup victory in three years for a Boston team on the road in game 7. After this postseason, it should come down to a winner-take-all – unless, of course, we’re talking about our competition. In that case, I’ll be quite content with a Vegas nightmare: a push.