The Stanley Cup Finals are finally here, and after a three day hiatus, hockey will be back on television. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins will battle for the hardest trophy to win in all of sports beginning this Wednesday in Chicago.
Here is a detailed breakdown of what you all can expect the next few days, or perhaps the next two weeks.
Since the lockout killed almost half of the season, causing the NHL to restrict teams to play only within the conferences, this will be the first time that the Western Conference and Eastern Conference will play against each other. Both teams took care of their opponents in the last round rather quickly, as the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blackhawks defeated the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. The Bruins completely shut down the Penguins, holding that dynamic offense to two goals in four games, and not allowing a single power play goal. The Blackhawks broke down the brick wall in front of them, also known as Jonathan Quick, and made the best goaltender in the playoffs look human.
Needless to say, both of these teams accomplished incredible feats, and deserve to be where they are now.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, they will not have Gregory Campbell for this round, since Evgeni Malkin broke Campbell's right fibula in Game 3 last round with his slap shot. If you haven't seen what the Stanley Cup means to hockey players, just watch this. Doesn't that remind you all of Darryl Sydor? (Also, ouch!)
Looking at goaltending, Tuukka Rask is on fire, as he posted a 0.44 goals against average (GAA) and .985 save percentage in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Penguins. Overall, Rask has a 1.75 GAA and a .943 save percentage in the playoffs. His counterpart, Corey Crawford, has been consistently solid throughout the playoffs, posting an overall 1.74 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Those numbers took a slight hit from his 1.82 GAA, .927 save percentage performance against the Kings, but they do not deviate that much from his overall stats. Given how well both of these goaltenders have performed so far, and considering how stacked the defensive units are for each team, expect low-scoring games.
Strong defense leads to strong penalty killing, and predictably enough, both of these teams excel at killing penalties. Chicago's penalty killing unit is the best in the playoffs at 94.7 percent (four goals allowed in 57 times shorthanded), while the Bruins are killing penalties at an 86.5 percent efficiency (seven goals allowed in 52 times shorthanded).
The power play units for both teams have not been great, as Chicago has converted 13.7 percent of their power plays (seven goals in 51 chances), while Boston has not fared much better at 15.6 percent (seven goals in 45 chances). Do not expect many power play goals in this series. As a matter of fact, both teams are better at even strength, and that will be discussed later in the post.
David Krejci leads the Bruins in points with 21 (nine goals, 12 assists), and he is followed closely by his linemate Nathan Horton (seven goals, 10 assists), and to round out the top line for the Bruins, Milan Lucic has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) so far.
Marian Hossa (seven goals, seven assists), Patrick Sharp (eight goals, six assists) and Patrick Kane (six goals, eight assists) have 14 points apiece to lead the way for the Blackhawks. While Jonathan Toews has scored only one goal thus far in these playoffs, he is still a dangerous offensive threat. A perfect example of this is his 2-on-1 with Patrick Kane in which Kane buried the series-winning overtime goal past Quick to send Chicago to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In terms of even strength puck possession, the Bruins and Blackhawks are similar, with the Blackhawks holding a very slight edge over the Bruins in that department (53.57 percent vs. 52.73 percent). When the score is tied, the Blackhawks generate 57 percent of the game's total shots, and this is where they will have the biggest edge over the Bruins, who account for 51 percent of the game's total shots in a tie game. (For more on Fenwick percentages, go here.)
A deeper breakdown shows that the Blackhawks have taken 53 percent of the game's total shots when trailing by one, and the Bruins have attempted almost 48 percent of the game's total shots when leading by one. Should those trends continue, the edge goes to Chicago. When the Blackhawks have trailed by two, they have lead a very aggressive attack to try to cut the lead, generating 56 percent of the game's total shots, and when Boston has lead by two, they have taken over 53 percent of the game's total shots. In that situation, the possession edge goes to Chicago as well. Now, when the Blackhawks have lead by one, they have attempted 48 percent of the total shots, and the Bruins have taken almost 64 percent of the game's total shots when they trail by one, so that situational possession edge goes to Boston. While Chicago has done a great job of keeping its foot on the gas with a two-goal lead, generating over 60 percent of the shots in the process, Boston has lead all-out attacks when down by two, attempting over 82 percent of the game's total shots in that situation, a clear possession edge for the Bruins.
The Blackhawks are a stronger home team in the playoffs than they are on the road, and that will be very important for them since they will have home ice advantage in this series. They are 9-1 at home, and that is due in large part to directing over 56 percent of the game's total shots at even strength when the score is within two goals. The Blackhawks are 3-4 on the road, however, and have not controlled the puck as much on the road as they have at home, generating just under 49 percent of the game's total shots.
In the playoffs, the Bruins have generated over 53 percent of the game's total shots while playing on the road, and as a result, they are 5-2 away from TD Garden. That is particularly interesting because home teams have the advantage of changing their lines after the road team has in order to get a more favorable matchup, and despite that, the Bruins are outpossessing their opponents. As illustrated earlier, the Blackhawks are going to be the toughest home team the Bruins have faced the entire postseason, and the series will hinge largely on who wins the possession battle at United Center. The Bruins have the edge in possession at TD Garden, as they generate almost 53 percent of the game's total shots at home. Combine that with the Blackhawks 49 percent road possession rate, that will potentially be a very favorable edge for the Bruins, and it will make it very important for them to win at least one game at United Center to begin this series.
Both of these teams are very hard-working and talented, and whoever wins the puck possession matchup will likely win the series. The Blackhawks took down arguably the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Jonathan Quick, and they will have to do it again with Tuukka Rask. Chicago has the talent and the work ethic to do what it takes to defeat Boston, and the Blackhawks will hoist the Stanley Cup when this is all over.
Prediction: Chicago in 6.