On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks will host the Bruins in Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. The two Original Six franchises have never met in the Final, and two Original Six franchises haven’t battled for the game’s ultimate prize in 34 years.
The match-up should be spectacular and historic. What can fans look forward to? Let’s discuss three areas in which defensive match-ups will play a significant role in the Cup Final.
Two of the three finalists for this year’s Selke Award, given to the best defensive forward in the league, will be featured in this series. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews hopes to win the award for the first time this year, and in this series will see a lot of one of the other finalists and the 2012 winner, Boston center Patrice Bergeron.
During the regular season, Bergeron was the only center with a better faceoff percentage (62.1) than Toews (59.9). Toews finished the regular season tied with Pavel Datsyuk for the NHL lead with 56 takaways as well.
In the playoffs, Toews is skating 21:02 per night while Bergeron is averaging 20:39 per game. Toews is winning 53.1 percent of his postseason faceoffs while Bergeron is winning 61 percent. Bergeron has five goals and six assists while Toews has one goal and eight assists. Both are plus-four entering the Final.
They were teammates on Canada’s 2010 gold medal-winning Olympic team and both are supreme competitors. Fans will be treated to watch two of the finest all-around forwards in the NHL in the series.
Who’s Hottest In Net?
This series will feature two goaltenders who watched many of their teammates win the Cup in the last few years, but who weren’t the man between the pipes at that time. Corey Crawford is still trying to win respect and get out of Antti Niemi’s shadow, while Tuukka Rask is trying to help Boston forget Tim Thomas.
Now, one of them will have his name engraved on the Cup.
They are the two best netminders in the postseason, which shouldn’t surprise that they are the final two remaining.
Crawford is 12-5-1 with a 1.74 goals against average, .935 save percentage and one shutout.
Rask is 12-4-1 with a 1.75 goals against average, .943 save percentage and two shutouts.
Both have won a game in a second overtime during the postseason, and both have answered their critics in many ways. Crawford has faced two strong, defensive teams in a row and out-played both Jimmy Howard and 2012 Conn Smythe-winner Jonathan Quick in these playoffs.
During the regular season, the penalty kill units of the Blackhawks and Bruins were among the best in the NHL; Chicago ranked third (87.2 percent) and Boston ranked fourth (87.1).
In the postseason, the Blackhawks have taken their PK to another level, dominating through three rounds. The Hawks have allowed only three powerplay goals in 17 playoff games, a phenomenal 94.8 kill rate. The Bruins, meanwhile, have allowed seven goals in 16 games, an 86.5 kill percentage.
The game-changer on special teams might be the absence of Gregory Campbell, who is done for the rest of the postseason with a broken leg suffered while blocking a shot in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final. Campbell led all Bruins, averaging 2:08 short-handed per game in these playoffs.
We’ll look at the defensemen and the rest of the forwards between now and Game One.