The Stanley Cup Final is the ultimate fun for hockey fans and broadcasters. But when two Original Six teams are involved, things get ratcheted up a bit higher.
For the first time since 1979, two Original Six clubs -- the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks -- will compete for the Stanley Cup when the series opens Wednesday at United Center in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
That bit of history is fun for the fans, a group that includes the three main on-air talents for NBC who will be broadcasting the game: Mike "Doc" Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire.
"Original Six [teams] and wild fan bases that go back over generations, and this is going to be a thrill for us to be part of it and watch it all with you," Emrick said during a conference call Monday.
Olczyk knows well the passion that comes from being part of an Original Six team. He played for three in his 16-season NHL career -- the Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers -- and works as an in-game analyst on Blackhawks television broadcasts.
"It is super special when you can have two Original Six teams meeting in the Stanley Cup Final," Olczyk said. "I think the Original Six adds a little extra pizzazz to the Stanley Cup Final. I think these are the two best teams that have earned the opportunity to play for the greatest trophy in the world. And there is something to the selling and the luster of the Stanley Cup Final with two Original Six teams in it."
Beyond the history of the two teams, as McGuire said, “The two best teams are in the Stanley Cup Final.”
The Bruins have the stingiest defense in the postseason, allowing 1.88 goals per game. The Blackhawks are third at 1.94. The Bruins are second in the postseason in scoring at 3.12 goals per game, while the Blackhawks have the best penalty kill at 94.8 percent.
Boston has the two top scorers in the playoffs: David Krejci (nine goals, 12 assists) and Nathan Horton (seven goals, 10 assists). Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are tied for second in the League in goals (eight), one behind the leader, Krejci.
“The thing to me that's going to stand out is four-line balance,” McGuire said. “It’s going to be full-frontal assault. A huge person in Zdeno Chara who can dominate games from the back end. It's going to be matchup central. [Marian] Hossa vs. Chara. ... It’s going to be [Patrice] Bergeron against [Jonathan] Toews. It’s going to be matchups galore.”
The most interesting matchup could come in goal, where the two best in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will battle: the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford, who leads the League with a 1.74 goals-against average and is second with a .935 save percentage, against the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask, who is second with a 1.75 GAA and tops with a .943 save percentage.
“As far as Corey Crawford, I don’t want to say he's changed his style, but he's much more aggressive,” Olczyk said. “He plays much more outside the blue paint, or at the top of the blue paint. I don't want to say he's a shot blocker, but I think he relies on his angles a lot more than he's done in the past. Rask, probably much more athletic, quicker side to side, maybe plays a little bit deeper in the blue paint and relies on his athleticism.”
Though each goalie has succeeded with a different plan, Olczyk said one common thing applies: “At the end of the day, they don't care how your goaltender stops the puck -- just stop it.”
As equal as the teams are, the difference could come on special teams. The teams have struggled with the man-advantage, with Boston ranking 10th on the power play and Chicago 12th. Though it clearly didn’t affect them to this point, the closeness of the series means that one power-play goal could be enough to change the outcome.
“You’re facing two of the best penalty-killing teams in the entire National Hockey League,” Olczyk said. “To me, we might only see one power-play goal in the series and that could be the difference between winning and losing. ... You could see one power play being 0-for-16, 0-for-17 at some point. Who's going to be the team to get the one? That could be the difference in the series.”
No one from the NBC crew was ready to pick a winner; Olczyk predicted a long series -- possibly.
“I anticipate a low-scoring series,” he said. “These two teams really know how to defend. They have star power at every position, and for me I'm expecting defense to prevail in this series. It’s easily a long series, in my opinion, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was over in four or five games because these teams are so close.”
Whatever small differences separate the teams in the series, the NBC broadcast crew is ready to get the Final started.
“It’s going to be coaching star power, player star power, awesome goaltending, physical confrontations, two electrified buildings and cities,” McGuire said. “Can we play tonight?”