Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Tonight’s game marks the beginning of one of the most anticipated Stanley Cup Finals series we’ve seen in quite some time. The matchup between the President’s Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks and fourth seeded Boston Bruins is the first Stanley Cup Finals to include two of the original six teams since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers. Needless to say, this year’s Finals look to be incredibly exciting, already expected to net the most view of a Stanley Cup Finals ever. To determine who will win this matchup, the Blackhawks and Bruins must be pinned head to head in each category, to see who’ll hoist the Cup this year.
Chicago: The Blackhawks goaltending has been nothing short of phenomenal this postseason, thanks to the stellar play of starting goaltender Corey Crawford. The third year starter established himself as one of the NHL’s elite goaltender this regular season, posting incredible stats, including his 1.94 GAA and .926 save percentage, good for first and fifth throughout the NHL. Crawford’s success was seamlessly carried over into the postseason, as he has actually improved during this year’s playoffs, posting a 1.74 GAA to go along with his .935 save percentage, each ranking him second among all NHL goaltenders in their respective categories.
Boston: The goaltending from the Bruins has been eerily similar to the Blackhawks, as their starting goaltender Tuuka Rask has posted numbers almost as spectacular as Crawford’s, while being just as consistent. Over the past few years, Rask has split his playing time with future Hall of Fame goaltender Tim Thomas, yet with Thomas’s departure from Boston this past offseason Rask has finally taken the reigns as a full fledged starter this year. During his first regular season as a starter, Rask too proved to be among the NHL’s best, boasting a .929 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA, good for third and fourth in each category. Rask has only improved this postseason, lowering his GAA to 1.75 (just one point behind Crawford) and bettering his save percentage to an astounding .943, the best in the NHL.
2. Special Teams:
Chicago: Throughout the season, Chicago has boasted the best special teams unit in the NHL, when given their incredible ratio. During the regular season the Blackhawks ranked just 19th in the NHL in power play percentage with 16.6%, yet they more than made up for it on the penalty kill. Chicago ranked third in the NHL in penalty kill percentage with an unbelievable 87.2%, thanks to their infamous penalty kill unit featuring electrifying defensive minded forwards and fan favorites such as Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. The Blackhawks special teams prowess has only gotten better this postseason, as they have technically allowed zero power play goals. (A goal was scored by the Detroit Red Wings when the power play clock had just ended, yet it was ruled on the ice as a power play goal, and later announced as the incorrect call by the NHL officials in Toronto.) So far in this year’s playoffs, it is literally impossible to score a power play goal on Chicago.
Boston: As well as the Blackhawks, the Bruins too hold one of the most fearsome penalty kill units in the NHL. Although they rank dead last in the NHL in power play goals scored this season with an embarrassing mere 18 goals, their penalty kill makes up for it as well as it does the Blackhawks. The Bruins penalty kill percentage during the regular season was a staggering 87.1%, just behind the Blackhawks, ranking them fourth in the NHL. Moving into the postseason, the Bruins have maintained a bit of their penalty kill prowess, yet have regressed from their regular season dominance, now garnering an 86.5% penalty kill, allowing 7 goals on 52 attempts.
Chicago: Although the Blackhawks have played some of the best defensive teams in the NHL this postseason, they have still managed to bombard their opponents with goals game after game. Against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals, the Blackhawks faced goaltender Jonathan Quick, who led the NHL in every defensive category these playoffs coming into the series. After his team was eliminated, Quick ranks fifth in GAA and save percentage this offseason, due to the fact that Chicago’s offensive attack was simply too much for the man once entitled the best goaltender in the NHL. The Blackhawks offense is centered around a team effort, as they try to include all members of their team, to form a well rounded attack. This strategy has done wonders for the Blackhawks this postseason, glorifying the team as a whole rather than individual stars, as they’ve scored an above average 2.76 goals per game. Nonetheless, Chicago wingers Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp rank second among NHL players this postseason in individual goals scored, each netting eight goals apiece.
Boston: This postseason, the Bruins have faced teams that have had defensive struggles all season long, and have taken advantage of that. Boston faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, and seemed to have trouble against a team that they should have been scoring four goals per game on, as it took them seven games to advance. In the next two rounds, the Bruins faced two teams that rank near the very bottom in defense this season, and certainly took advantage of them, earning them a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite their success, the Bruins offense is not as stellar as it appears, as they have not faced the same defensive competition as the Blackhawks have this postseason. Also, Boston has more of a selfish offensive attack, as they focus around a few key players rather than including all five skaters on the ice. Due to this fact, Bruins center David Krejci ranks number one in points and goals this postseason, with 21 points and 9 goals scored, yet this is merely because Boston’s offense is focused on Krejci.
4. Who Wins?
Throughout this postseason, defense has seemed to be more important in the final outcome of the game than offense. This is true especially in these Finals, as the Blackhawks and Bruins boast two of the best defenses in the NHL. When it’s all said and done, the Blackhawks look to be the more superior team in their matchup with the Bruins, and are certainly favored to hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in the last three years.
Final Prediction: Chicago defeats Boston in six games, Corey Crawford takes home the Conn Smythe Trophy.