Despite the lockout, the short season and a busy schedule that went way too fast the hockey fans are getting quite a treat with the 2013 NHL playoffs which in my book have been the most exciting ones since 2010. The sole fact that all Original Six teams were part of the playoffs made it special. Besides Anaheim and Montreal exiting early not many surprises save a few 7-game exciting battles.
Two series made a big difference for both Boston and Chicago to meet in the Stanley Cup Finals. In the Eastern Conference the Bruins were as good as dead for a few minutes against the Maple Leafs until Milan Lucic told his teammates the game was not over. We know what happened and Boston has won 8 of their last 9 games since that late 3rd period comeback. In the Western Conference I thought the Hawks were dead too when they were trailing 3-1 in the series vs Detroit. They came back to win the series with the help of a variety of players while Kane and Toews were struggling.
Of course now everyone is talking about the Bruins and Rask. They were not supposed to be where they are – Pittsburgh was favorite – so it seems they can do no wrong now. Their system is working. Claude Julien is doing a great job. It can be very frustrating to play against the Bruins and they hit hard too. They can play all types of games and they have a hot goaltender. My only doubt is I thought Boston was inconsistent during the season. I have a feeling they might crumble offensively against the Hawks. Their fate will depend a lot on scoring opportunities and exceptional goaltending. I will spare you the stats as far as Chicago is concerned for GAA and shots allowed on goal per game. During the playoffs the stats don’t matter as much as how the team is playing now. Now the Hawks: They are confident and they play like a confident team. They too have lost only one game since they came back to win the series against the Wings. What is amazing about the Hawks is that they were able to get where they are without the scoring of Patrick Kane – except for game 5 vs LA – and Jonathan Toews. They have more depth than the Bruins. If Crawford, Kane and Toews play at the level they are expected to provide I don’t see how the Bruins can win a 2nd Cup in 3 years. Rask is human like Quick turned out to be. Home ice advantage is more or less of a factor for both these teams but starting the series and possibly ending it at the Madhouse on Madison will be a major plus for Chicago. My only concern for the Hawks is whether they can they match Boston with physical play or not.
Depth, confidence and coaching staff will basically make the difference. The rest will depend on the performance of some individual players.
Prediction: CHICAGO in 6 games.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner: Duncan Keith or Tuukka Rask with a finalist team.
Note: Both teams last met in the playoffs in 1978 and this is the first Stanley Cup Finals between two American Original Six teams since 1972.