The Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday night, and history will be made. When this series is done, either the Blackhawks or the Bruins will be the first team to win a second championship since the last lockout.
How will one team finish the series on top? Let’s look ahead at some key match-ups, and make a prediction.
During the lockout, Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin were teammates with Biel of the Swiss-A League. Kane played 20 games, scoring 13 goals with 10 assists. Seguin, who arrived before Kane, played 29 games and registered 25 goals and 15 assists.
In these playoffs, Kane has six goals and eight assists in 16 games; of course, three of those six goals came in Game Five against Los Angeles. Seguin has only one goal and three assists in 16 postseason games.
A lot has already been said about Bryan Bickell’s upcoming free agency, and he’s earned as many accolades in this postseason as he has extra dollars this coming summer. With eight goals and 55 hits, he has started to show that he can be a solid power forward at the NHL level.
But he isn’t the only bruising forward that will bring it in this series.
Milan Lucic enters the Final with 68 hits in 16 games, and his performance to bring the Bruins back in the finale against Toronto was remarkable. Lucic has only three goals in the postseason, but has added ten assists and his 13 points are actually more than he had in the entire 2011 postseason (12 points in 25 playoff games).
There are two rookies that could have a significant impact on this series.
With the emergence of Bickell as a top scorer for the Hawks, Brandon Saad has seen his role move from the top line (where he spent most of the regular season) to a supporting role. During practice on Tuesday, Saad skated on a new-look third line with Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw. The Calder finalist has only four assists in the postseason.
For Boston, undrafted defenseman Torey Krug has been a playoff revelation. With only three NHL games on this resume before the postseason began, Krug began the playoffs as an afterthought. But since entering the lineup, the Michigan State product has four goals in nine games.
Bolland has been chirping since before his back surgery in 2009, and has been able to get under opponents skin at times during this postseason. Unfortunately, Bolland has 16 postseason penalty minutes and only one point to his credit, and he is averaging just over 12 minutes per game in 12 playoff contests.
While Bolland has been underwhelming in these playoffs, Shaw continues to be a revelation. In spite of his team-high 26 penalty minutes, he has been an effective player around the net and has four goals and three assists to show for his hard work.
Boston’s Brad Marchand talks as much as anyone in the league, but has been effective with his game as he has with his words. While he has equaled Bolland’s 16 penalty minutes, Marchand has put up 13 points and is plus-seven in the playoffs.
Boston’s David Krejci leads the entire postseason with 21 points entering the Final, and Nathan Horton’s 17 are right behind him. What’s more remarkable is that Krejci is plus-14 and Horton is plus-21, and Krejci has a point in 12 of 16 Boston playoff games so far.
Chicago has only one player with a positive plus-minus in double-figures (Niklas Hjalmarsson: plus-10). And the Hawks are led by three players – Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa – with 14 points each.
While Boston’s scoring sheet is more top-heavy than Chicago’s, the difference in team scoring isn’t very different. The Bruins are scoring 1.77 even-strength goals per game in the playoffs, while the Blackhawks are scoring 1.44. And while the Bruins are averaging 3.12 per game to the Hawks’ average of 2.76, the Blackhawks bring the best penalty kill in the postseason into the Final.
The Norris Winners
Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy in back-to-back season, with Chara winning in 2009 and Keith after the Hawks’ Cup win in 2010. And in these playoffs, they have played well again.
Keith missed Game Four against the Kings, serving a suspension for whacking Jeff Carter in the face “accidentally.” As coach Joel Quenneville has been able to spread out the ice time on the Hawks’ blue line more effectively this postseason, Keith is averaging only 25:42 per game, and has 15 hits and 21 blocked shots.
Chara is averaging 29:21 on the ice per game and has piled up 53 hits and 33 blocked shots. Many have argued that Chara should have won the Norris again this year, though he isn’t even a finalist; Montreal’s PK Subban will reportedly win the award this year.
The “Other” Defensemen
While Chara and Keith receive most of the attention on their respective blue lines, there are a couple other defensemen having solid playoffs.
Hjalmarsson has been credited with only 17 hits and 32 blocked shots, but his play has improved with each game since the middle of the Detroit series. Indeed, he may have been the Blackhawks most valuable player against the Kings.
For Boston, Johnny Boychuk has had a huge postseason. After scoring only one goal and adding five assists in 44 regular season, Boychuk has flipped those numbers and has five goals and one assist in 16 playoff games. He has also piled up 48 hits and 55 blocked shots.
Prediction: This won’t be the last piece of hardware Jonathan Toews accepts this season, and I’m not referring to the Selke Trophy.
Blackhawks in 7.