Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins: These teams have taken somewhat similar paths to the Final. Both nearly stumbled in earlier rounds – the Bruins almost lost Game Seven in the first round to Toronto, having to rally from a 4-1 third period deficit. The Blackhawks trailed the Detroit Red Wings, three games to one, in the second round, and had to overcome a third period deficit in Game Six of that series (on the road). In those two series, both teams needed to win Game Seven in overtime.
Both clubs got off to tremendous starts in the shortened season. Chicago didn’t lose a game in regulation until its 25th contest. The Bruins went 17-3-3 in their first 23 regular season games.
Both teams enter the Final on a roll. The Bruins, including their Game Seven victory over the Maple Leafs, have won nine of their last 10 games. The Blackhawks, beginning with their Game Five win against Detroit, have won seven of their last eight games.
And, of course, both these teams are recent Stanley Cup Champions: Chicago in 2010 and Boston in 2011. Plenty of players remain on the rosters from their Cup wins, although the 2013 Bruins have more of their Stanley Cup lineup than do this year’s Blackhawks.
Here’s yet one more common denominator. Despite both teams’ Championship pedigree, neither Corey Crawford nor Tuukka Rask played during these respective previous Cup runs. In 2010, the Blackhawks had Antti Niemi in goal and Tim Thomas played every postseason minute for the Bruins in 2011.
So both teams are battle-tested, experienced, confident and really, really good. How can one pick a winner, then?
The biggest – and best – reason to pick the Bruins is their remarkable team chemistry. I’ve referenced this cohesiveness throughout the playoffs. When the Bruins are on their game, they play like a well-oiled machine. They are completely in synch. As the playoffs have progressed, the Bruins have gotten better and better in this regard. Their ability to play as a team flummoxed the Pittsburgh Penguins for much of the Eastern Conference Final (especially the first two games in Pittsburgh). And when the Bruins’ level has dropped just a bit, as it did in Game Three against the Pens, Rask has been terrific.
But I’d make the argument that the Blackhawks have already played – and beaten – a team with equally impressive chemistry. Like the Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings play very well as a team and display great chemistry. In Jonathan Quick, the Kings also have a top-notch goalie, one who can often prevent damage when the team in front of him makes a rare mistake. Chicago managed to defeat Los Angeles in five games.
The Bruins swept the Penguins, but both sides agreed that the series was closer than a sweep. The Penguins didn’t get much puck luck and were held to two total goals throughout the series. While it’s possible that such puck luck with continue for Boston, I expect the law of averages to even out and that the Blackhawks will generate more offense than Pittsburgh did. As a result, Chicago will raise the Stanley Cup again. Prediction: Chicago in Six.
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