“The excitement is there,” said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien. “You’ve heard people say, ‘Once you’ve been there, you want to go back.’ It’s true, we really want to go back; we made it happen. We’re excited about it and we also know what kind of challenge lies ahead for us. It’s about acknowledging that and being ready for it.”
The challenge before the Black & Gold is the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks, who won the President’s Trophy with the most points during the regular season. The Final pits two of the last three Cup winners against each other (the Blackhawks took home the prize in 2010). And for the first time since 1979 (Montreal vs. New York Rangers), it will be an all Original Six Final. It also marks the first time these two teams have ever met in the Final.
“It’s been a while since the Original Six teams have met. I think it makes for an exciting story, if you want to put it that way," said Coach Julien, understanding the significance of the matchup, while also shifting his focus away from the outside storylines. "But at the end of the day, no matter who you play, for me it’s about winning the series and that’s what the focus has to be on.”
Due to the shortened campaign, the B’s and Blackhawks did not meet during the regular season, as teams did not get the chance to play outside their conference. In fact, the last time the storied franchises met was on October 15, 2011, just about a week after the B’s hoisted their Stanley Cup banner to the TD Garden rafters. The B’s took down the Hawks, 3-2, in a shootout at the United Center, with Tyler Seguin potting the winner.
While it has been over a year and a half since the two squads have seen each other, finding out a way to stop Chicago, who has was won seven out of eight after falling behind the Detroit Red Wings, three games to one, in the West semifinal, won’t be as difficult as it may have been in years past. The amount of video and scouting that is done by NHL teams will give the Bruins plenty of information about the Blackhawks - and vice versa.
But, as Lucic said, the Bruins' focus on their own game will be more crucial against a team they aren’t as familiar with.
“We’ve done a good job playing our system and believing in our system, and I think when you go against a team that you haven’t played yet this year, a lot of emphasis goes into what you’re going to do,” he said. “So we need to stay on course and what’s made us successful here this playoffs.”
The Blackhawks took down the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals in five games. Patrick Kane, who has tallied six goals and eight assists in the playoffs, scored three of those goals in the deciding game, including the winner in double overtime. Before Games Four and Five, Kane only had two postseason goals, so his hot hands are heating up at just the right time.
“I’ve been watching everything on days that we haven’t played,” said Lucic, when asked if he watched the Blackhawks series-clinching win. “I think the first round they might have been playing on the same days as us. But I’ve watched them a lot all year, and they've been a fun team to watch, with all their players, all the great players that they have and that's what’s going to make it a tough series.”
Led by forwards Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, defenseman Duncan Keith, and goaltender Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks lineup is balanced with talent.
“Well, they’re consistent,” said Lucic. “They’re consistent throughout their lineup. They've been consistent all year throughout their lineup. They play well as a twenty-man unit. They have guys who can score, they have guys who can defend, and they have a goalie who’s played well all year long. We expect nothing but their best.”
The goaltending matchup in the Final is a marquee one. Tuukka Rask, who posted an otherworldly 0.44 goals against average and .985 save percentage against the Penguins – what most consider the league’s top offense – in the Eastern Conference Final, is on a Tim Thomas-esque run this postseason (for those still comparing). Rask is 12-5 and is second in the NHL during the playoffs with a 1.75 GAA and first with a .943 save percentage.
Crawford is first in the league, sporting a 1.74 goals against average (just above Rask) and is right behind Rask with a .935 save percentage.
SPECIAL TEAMS COMPARISON
Neither the Bruins, nor the Blackhawks have lit it up on the power play this postseason, something often indicative of the desperation level moving forward in the playoffs. Boston is ranked 10th in the league (15.6%) and did not score on the man advantage against the Penguins. The Blackhawks come in at 12th in the NHL (13.7%).
The two teams are much better on the penalty kill. Chicago is first in the league, having allowed just three power play goals the entire postseason (94.8%). The Bruins are sixth on the PK (86.5%), but held Pittsburgh – who had been clicking at over 28% entering the series – scoreless on the man-advantage (0-for-15).
Torey Krug leads the B’s with three power play goals in the playoffs. Marian Hossa also has three for Chicago.
LOOSE ENDS: Six of the top 10 scorers this postseason will play in the Final. David Krejci (21 points) and Nathan Horton (17 points) are ranked first and second, while Sharp (14 points), Hossa (14 points), Kane (14 points), and Bryan Bickell (13 points) rank sixth through ninth...The top three goal scorers during the playoffs are Krejci (nine), Bickell (eight), and Sharp (eight); Hossa and Horton are tied for fifth, with seven goals each.
For the Bruins, their main matching exists in placing defensemen like Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference up against the opposition's top forwards, as opposed to matching lines.
But rest assured, we can expect to see Patrice Bergeron trying to diminish fellow Selke Trophy finalist Jonathan Toews. Both are elite two-way centers and well-respected leaders on their teams. Bergeron (5-6=11) has three more points than Toews (1-8=9), but the real battle will come in the faceoff circle (where Bergeron leads the NHL winning 61% of his draws) and in the defensive, backchecking aspect of the game. If Bergeron can control Toews the way he disrupted Sidney Crosby, some of the Hawks offensive firepower would be controlled. Though he has only scored once, Toews' best asset is his ability to find his linemate in Kane.
Another matchup to watch out for is the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Milan Lucic and Chicago's Bryan Bickell, who stands at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds. The power forward has eight goals and five assists for the Blackhawks heading into the Cup Final. Lucic, who also has 13 points (3-10), has been a force this postseason, combining his speed and physicality, especially on the forecheck, to disrupt defenders and create space for David Krejci and Nathan Horton, who lead the league in points. Can Bickell contain Lucic's power? We shall have to wait and see.
The Bruins-Blackhawks playoff history has been dormant since the 1978 quarterfinals. The two teams have met six times in the postseason, with the Bruins winning five of those series (1927 quarterfinals; 1942 quarterfinals; 1970 semifinals; 1974 semifinals; 1978 quarterfinals). Chicago’s lone series win came in the preliminary round in 1975.
The first playoff game in the Bruins’ history was a 6-1 win over the Blackhawks on March 29, 1927.
Safe to say that amidst a Cup Final, though these teams haven't faced each other all that much, a fiery Original Six rivalry will be renewed.