Blackhawks and Bruins Evenly Matched, Long Series Expected

stanleycup-2013

CHICAGO – At this stage of the NHL season when there is only one game on the docket, there tend to be more stitches in the faces of still-participating hockey players than what appears in one baseball (108 stitches on a regulation baseball, by the way).  The weather outside is more conducive to being compared to a sauna than a slushy.  But one thing feels right.  The two best teams in the world’s greatest hockey League have arrived at the Stanley Cup Final.

There is nothing like the fourth round of the NHL playoffs, nothing comes close.  Sacrifices like the one Boston’s Gregory Campbell made the other night typically only come from men with, as I heard one non-fan once put it, knives on their bottom of their feet.  As for the Boston center playing on a broken fibula for one minute to kill a penalty, are you kidding me?  Hockey players get it; it’s just part of the drill.

Toughness, determination, desire, passion and the will to do whatever it takes to win are just a few of the qualities all rolled up into one package making the Stanley Cup Final the best hockey you will ever see.  So as the Blackhawks and Bruins get set to start the Stanley Cup Final, just how does each team match-up against the other in the way of the statistics (statistics and rankings are for playoffs only)?

OFFENSE – Boston scores 3.12 goals per game good for 2nd in the playoffs while Chicago scores 2.76 goals per game, good for 6th in the playoffs.

The first goal is always important, but in this series, it will be a huge factor.  Coming into the Final, Chicago has won 7 of 9 games when scoring first, good for third in the League while Boston has won 6 of 8 games when getting the first marker, good for fourth among the sixteen playoff teams.

When leading games by period, Chicago has won 6 of 7 games when leading after one period and 8-0 when leading after two periods, good for 5th and 1st respectively.  Boston is 5-0 when leading after one period and has won 6 of 7 games when leading after two periods, good for 3rd and 7th respectively.

As for allowing the first goal, Chicago wins 3 of 6 of those contests, good for second in the League while Boston has the top ranking by winning 4 of 6 contests.

When trailing games, Chicago has come back and won 6 of 7 games in which they trailed after one period, but just 1 of 5 when trailing after two periods, ranked 2nd and 6th respectively.  Boston has come back from all five games they trailed after one period to win and is 2 of 4 in winning games in which it trailed after two periods, good for the top ranking in both categories.

As for allowing the first goal, Chicago wins 3 of 6 of those contests, good for second in the League while Boston has the top ranking by winning 4 of 6 contests.

Look for Chicago to continue to push for that first goal knowing when they trail, particularly after two periods, they are vulnerable whereas Boston just continues to roll no matter what the situation.

DEFENSE – Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara match-up well, but I think it is the impact each player has on the rest of the defensive corps that dictates who has the edge.  I give it to the Bruins.  Chara’s impact as captain is that large that as talented as both teams are, I give the slight edge to Boston entirely due to Chara.

SHOTS ON GOAL AND SHOTS ALLOWED

Shots on goal impact a game and the flow.  Chicago averages 32.5 shots per game while allowing 28 shots per game, good for 6th and 4th respectively while Boston averages 36.4 shots per game, tops in the League while allowing 32.9 shots per game, 10th in the League.

When Chicago outshoots opponents, it is 8 of 10 winning that game, but just 4 for 7 when being outshot, ranking 1st and 4th respectively.  Boston has won 7 of 11 games in which it outshoots an opponent and has won all five games when being outshot.

I give Boston the edge provided they can get continued great play from Rask.

POWER PLAY – Chicago has converted 7 of 51 power play opportunities for 13.7% and good for 12th in the League.  At home, the Blackhawks’ power play has converted 20.7% of the time converting 6 of 29 attempts while being dreadful on the road converting just once in 22 tries for 4.6% rate and 13th in the League.

Boston has converted 7 of 45 attempts for 15.6% and 10th in the League.  At home, the Boston man advantage has converted 3 of 26 situations for 11.5% and 10th in the League while having better luck on the road converting 4 of 19 attempts for 21% and 3rd in the League.

PENALTY KILLING – Chicago comes into the Final with a 94.8% penalty killing rate, tops in the League after only allowing 3 shorthanded goals on 58 attempts, two at home and one on the road.  Boston on the other hand is sixth in the League with an 86.5% penalty killing rate allowing 7 shorthanded goals in 52 shorthanded situations.

Although the Bruins killed all fifteen shorthanded situations against Pittsburgh, I give Chicago the edge with their sustained stinginess over the last six weeks.

GOALTENDER – two evenly matched goaltenders who have nearly identical statistics in wins, goals against and save percentage.  Although Crawford backstopped the Blackhawks to a 4-1 series win against the Los Angeles Kings, his goals against (1.99) and save percentage (0.927) in the series were not nearly as good as his playoff average this season (1.74 GAA and 0.935 SV%).

Corey Crawford talks about his progression of becoming a goaltender ready to start in the Final.

Corey Crawford talks about his progression of becoming a goaltender ready to start in the Final.

Tuuka Rask answers questions about his readiness for the Stanley Cup FInal spotlight.

Tuuka Rask answers questions about his readiness for the Stanley Cup FInal spotlight.

Meanwhile, Rask arrives at the Final on the cusp of a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference’s top seed  Rask held the explosive firepower of the Pittsburgh Penguins to just two goals registering a 0.435 goals against average in the series stopping 134 of 136 shots for an eye-popping 0.985 save percentage.

The slight edge goes to Boston due to the momentum after the Pittsburgh sweep and that Rask has been on a Championship despite being in a back-up role.

COACHING

Coach Joel Quenneville talks about the decision to insert Bollig in favor of Viktor Stalberg to open the Final series.

Coach Joel Quenneville talks about the decision to insert Bollig in favor of Viktor Stalberg to open the Final series.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien share a few things in common.  Not only were they both captains of the Windsor Spitfires OHL team in their expansion infancy (Julien succeeded Quenneville), but they led there teams to a recent Stanley Cup Championship, Chicago in 2010 and Boston in 2011.

Both teams are largely intact and have depth, but the role of coaching in this Final might come down to inserting key players in the third and fourth lines to fit the situation and match-ups. 

Coach Claude Julien talks about the impact Zdeno Chara has on the Boston defensive corps.

Coach Claude Julien talks about the impact Zdeno Chara has on the Boston defensive corps.

The last change awarded the home team and the second period line change situation with benches being in the offensive zone will be issues throughout the series.

I give the Blackhawks the edge and we’ll see how their decision to insert Brandon Bollig into the fourth line to start the series in favor of Stahlberg works out.

WILDCARD – Patrice Bergeron vs. Bryan Bickel.  Bergeron has several clutch goals, particularly in game seven of the first round against Toronto, a tying goal and series-winning goal.  He has 5 goals and 11 points with a +4 rating and seems to be where he needs to be when the Bruins need him.

Still, Bryan Bickell is an emerging presence on the Blackhawks, one the Bruins will have trouble containing in the Final.  Bickell has 8 goals and 13 points with a +6 rating and seems to make that third line more dangerous than Boston’s third line.

I give the edge to Chicago here.

THE FINAL OPINION

This should be the most evenly matched series we have seen in years.  Keep in mind, just because a series goes even game does not mean it is evenly matched.  Chicago and Boston are on a collision course for one great series.  I pick the Blackhawks in SEVEN GAMES and the slight edge is strictly the benefits of home ice advantage and the last change on match-ups.

One epic series……………………………coming up.  Game one begins at the United Center Wednesday night at 8:00 PM ET.

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