Can’t beat the Penguins in a 1-0 game, I said.
Can’t keep Crosby and Malkin off the score sheet, I said.
Lose in six, I said.
In all fairness to myself, I did say the Bruins would win Game 3 of the series and that if they wanted to beat the Penguins, they were going to have to go on the offensive and bring the attack to their opponent, which they did in Games 1 and 2.
I am also inclined to think there are not many out there who both called the Boston Bruins sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals and then believed it to be true. The good news is the Bruins decimating the Penguins, snuffing out the odds on favorite to win the East, if not the Stanley Cup, gives us all a chance to atone with one more series to predict.
The most important series of all.
The legend grows for the 2013 Boston Bruins. The team has now gone from being an utter disappointment, mere minutes from a horrible first round playoff loss and possible franchise upheaval, to inflicting just that on one of the best team’s in hockey en route to a bid at their second Stanley Cup in three years. A bid that, in order to be successful, they will need to take down the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that rivaled the Penguins for the “best team in hockey” title this season.
When the teams take the ice at Chicago’s United Center for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, the Blackhawks should prove a similar threat to the Bruins as the Penguins, particularly in terms of style of play. Chicago is a slightly less talented team overall than Pittsburgh, but for whatever offensive deficiencies the Blackhawks may lack when compared to the Penguins, they make up for in terms of the defense and overall toughness the Pens lacked. Collectively, they are a better unit.
The only thing most likely holding back Chicago from being the clear-cut “best team in hockey” this season is East Coast biased. They won the Presidents Trophy as the team with the best record in the regular season, playing the first half of the lockout shortened season without a loss in regulation. They had the second highest scoring offense and top defense throughout the regular season, while ranking sixth and third – respectively – in those categories during the playoffs.
While Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews may not be Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – two of the top three to five players in the world – they are both top 10 to 15 players in the NHL. Corey Crawford may not have the overall career stats of Tomas Vokoun, but he is certainly playing better right now, leading the playoffs with a 1.74 goals against average. Bryan Bickell has been a man possessed, while Niklas Hjalmarsson has been one of the steadiest defensemen throughout the playoffs.
Regardless of how the “Who’s better: the Penguins or the Blackhawks?” debate plays, thanks to the similarities between the two, the Bruins should not have to do much in order to augment their game plan from the Conference Finals.
Does that mean the world should feel better about the Bruins heading into this series than the last, given Chicago’s likeness to Pittsburgh and the Bruins dominance in the Conference Final? Though Chicago has rolled throughout much of the playoffs, they have yet to see an opponent up to the level of the Penguins, or even the Bruins for that matter, so does that make them less dangerous?
The answers being “How could you not?” and “Not at all”, respectively.
A title will be in play for the Bruins if they can play up to the level they have been the last two weeks. Given Chicago’s nature as a puck-possession team, the intent should be to go with the more up-tempo, aggressive attack they Bruins displayed in Games 1 and 2 against Pittsburgh. Maybe defense is the Bruins strength, but the more aggressive they are, the more it will take the Blackhawks out of their comfort zone, as well. The less chances the Bruins give up, will also mean that the series does not lie squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Tuukka Rask, who came heavily under fire towards the end of the conference final.
Boston did go back to their typical, pack-it-in defensive style in Games 3 and 4 and came away with wins, thanks in large part to the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask, even if Pittsburgh outplayed them in those games. As admirable as the young Finn has played throughout the playoffs, one has to wonder if the Bruins can rely solely on him to win four of the next seven games?
The norm for Stanley Cup games is they are always tight, but how many low-scoring games can the Bruins really be expected to play in a row?
Bruins boss Claude Julien’s tendency to stick to his game plan, his players and ride it out to the end, good or bad, can be both a blessing and a curse for the coach. It did help them get by Pittsburgh, but will it come back to bite them against a team that is mentally tougher?
The only safe call to make at this point is, unlike their last two series, the Bruins should be preparing themselves for a six to seven game battle before it is all said and done. A battle in which they will have to play as they did in Games 1 and 2 against the Penguins, keep defensive lapses to a minimum, a pace they will have to keep up though the duration of the series. If they do that then…
Like I was really going to be brash enough to tempt the Fates and come up with another prediction.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.