2013 Stanley Cup Final Preview

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Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

It’s just before 5pm on the East Coast, about 3 hours before game time. I’m wearing my gold Bruins t-shirt that hasn’t been washed since Game 7 of the Toronto series (almost a month). I’m still struggling to comprehend how the Bruins are still playing hockey on June 12th after how they finished the regular season. I had an article typed out late Friday night as an instant reaction to game 4 of the series, but I didn’t like how it sounded. By the time I did, the organic reaction was gone, and the series was old news.

You all know the deal by now. Boston went on a tear over the last month, going 9-1 since Game 7 against Toronto. Tuukka Rask, since that night: 16 goals allowed (305 saves) on 321 shots, for a ridiculous 95% save rate, over 10+ games. David Krejci went Sidney Crosby on Sidney Crosby, minus the whining to the referees, and now leads the league in playoff scoring. I still don’t know if that series was a great win or a historic choke job. The Bruins have not looked like a beatable team since May 12th. On the surface, I don’t know how anyone but the most diehard Chicago fan can bet against them tonight.

Speaking of which, the Blackhawks. The only team ESPN deigned to speak about all year and only then to compare them to the Miami Heat while they were on a 24 game unbeaten streak in regulation. They’ve got some players too. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, not to mention normally unheralded guys like Bryan Bickell, tied for the team lead in playoff goals. They have a guy who can also be called the best goalie in the playoffs right now, Corey Crawford. Since the Blackhawks’ wake-up call in game 4 against Detroit, Crawford has allowed 15 goals in 8 games.

I’ve been talking about these teams for almost a month on these very pages. So what’s left to say? This is the first and only set of games between the west and east thanks to the lockout. The last five games between these teams, dating back to March 7th 2009, have produced the narrowest of narrow 3-2 margins in favor of Boston. Both teams look rather similar. Some in the Boston media are suggesting a similar approach to how the Bruins took out Pittsburgh; put Bergeron on Toews and Chara on Kane, similar to how they neutralized Crosby and Malkin last round.

I don’t know if there’s much of a comparison. That Penguins team seemed to quit after the first period of game 1 when Evgeni Malkin, all-world goal scorer, picked a fight with Patrice Bergeron, or when Sidney Crosby inexplicably started challenging Tuukka Rask. Chicago is mentally stronger than that. They were the best team in hockey for the balance of the season, winning the Presidents’ Cup. They have hard-hitting wingers that are bigger than most defensemen. They are the first team that the Bruins have faced in these playoffs that is skilled in all aspects of the game; offense, defense, goaltending and special teams.

I think in any given game, whoever gets to 3 has a great chance of winning. Crawford hasn’t allowed more than 3 goals since May 18th. Rask gave up 4 in an OT loss to the Rangers on 5/23, before that, not since May 13th. This series will be a grind with puck possession at a premium. The Bruins need to get out of their own end efficiently, as Chicago’s blue line crew sure as hell will. Any soft goals will be a huge swing. I don’t think home ice plays into it as much as you’d think; both teams can win anywhere and both teams have come back from series deficits. I’ve written 6 paragraphs and I’ve already bitten off my fingernails thinking about this series.

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I believe the Bruins win this series. I think if they play at 85-90% capacity of how they’ve played so far, and Rask continues to do everything in his power to make people forget Tim Thomas’ name, I don’t see Chicago scoring enough, night in and night out. Chicago grinded down Jimmy Howard in Detroit and Jon Quick in LA; they will not do that to Rask. As of now, I think Rask is better than Crawford. If Rask’s star fades and he lets Chicago’s top six forwards in his head, Boston is in trouble. I think the Bruins will be the better team. Even without the countless motivations that fueled them to a sweep in the conference finals. You don’t need any additional motivation to win your second Cup in 2 years.

If you are looking to squeeze the last few dollars out of these playoffs before the doldrums of baseball season, I’ll get into games 1 and 2 now, follow up article before games 3 and 4 in Boston, and then we’ll see where we’re at.

The Bruins are a +130 underdog, while the Blackhawks are -150 on their home ice, with an over/under of 5 goals. I don’t like the puck line, as historically these teams play a lot of one goal games. With both goaltenders at their best, other than an empty net, there shouldn’t be many two goal wins, and don’t hang your hat on underdogs +1.5 at -245 or worse. I think the game goes under or gets to exactly 5, and the under at -145 is a little pricey but I can’t recommend the over.

I don’t bet for or against my teams, but I think Boston wins game 1 and Chicago wins game 2. No book I know of has game 2 info up set being that it’s not until Saturday, but if these odds hold up, that’s my best bet. I believe one of these games is higher scoring than you’d expect, and at least one goes into overtime. There is no doubt in my mind that right now these are far and away the best two teams left in hockey and are evenly matched. I love the value of +130 on a team that is playing their best hockey since they last won the cup. I also do not think Boston comes in and takes two in Chicago. If I want to really go out on a limb, I think Boston wins games 1, 3, 4 and 6, while Chicago wins games 2 and 5.

Best of luck to everyone. I will try to have another column up Sunday night or Monday afternoon before game 3. As soon as hockey ends, I will be checking back in with baseball season briefly before turning my full attention to the upcoming NFL season by the time the all-star break rolls around. As always, any criticism and comments can be directed right below, or through Twitter @DividedSky05.

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