Patrick Kane’s game winning goal in double overtime of Game 5 sent the Chicago Blackhawks back to the Stanley Cup Finals. Kane is the second player in NHL history to record a hat trick on a game winning goal that put his team into the Stanley Cup Finals. The only other player to do so was the great one himself, Wayne Gretzky.
The Blackhawks shouldn’t celebrate Kane’s historic feat for too long because their toughest challenge of the postseason awaits them on Wednesday night at the United Center. The Bruins come in as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They’ve won nine out of their last ten postseason games and completely dominated a very good Pittsburgh Penguins team. Chicago has their work cut out for them. This will be the first time since 1979 that two Original 6 teams will face one another for the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Boston is a dominant defensive team. They only allowed two goals to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Goalie Tuukka Rask was sensational all series, specifically in Game 3 when he stopped 53 of 54 shots while squashing Pittsburgh’s playoff dreams in the process. The Bruins play stifling defense in front of Rask, and those defensemen will certainly look to agitate Chicago’s star-powered offense. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and his men will be very physical with the Blackhawks, which is something that Joe Quenneville’s team has become accustomed to this postseason.
The Chicago Blackhawks offense was one of the best attacks in the NHL during the regular season putting up 3.1 goals a game. Chicago has four All-Star caliber forwards in Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews. All except one of those players – Toews – is tied for the team lead with 14 points during the playoffs. The Blackhawks star forwards are clicking at the right time and they’ll need to continue their strong play in order to come out on top. The offense has regained its regular season form after scoring an abysmal two goals in three straight losses to Detroit. Kane finally got going these last two playoff games while guys such as Bryan Bickell have provided a nice boost to the NHL’s most potent attack this postseason.
Hockey’s best offensive team is about to take on the best defensive team in the Stanley Cup Finals, something’s got to give. Chicago has been battle-tested all postseason. Teams have played a physical style of hockey against the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs. They saw a physical team that plays great defense in Round 2 against Detroit. They played and defeated two scorching hot goalies in Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick.
Now they’ll face Boston’s combination of great goaltending and defense and the only way Chicago will beat them is their electric offense. The Blackhawks have to force Boston to play at their tempo. Quenneville’s team relies on a fast-paced offense that thrives in open ice. Chicago has to force the Bruins defensemen into turnovers because it’ll trigger their transition game. Creating space and open ice is vital for the Blackhawks. If they let Boston dictate the tempo with their aggressive forechecking forwards, then it won’t be a long series. Just ask the Penguins.
Chicago’s power-play units need to perform better as well. The Blackhawks are only converting 14.3% of their power-play chances in the playoffs, and that won’t cut it against the Bruins. In general, scoring chances will be hard to come by so Chicago has to make the most of them. Expect the coaching staff to mix up the line combinations with the man advantage until they find some steady production.
This has to be the most anticipated Stanley Cup Finals since the first lockout ended in 2005. Boston and Chicago are two of the biggest hockey markets in the United States. Both have passionate fan bases and teams eager to capture their second Stanley Cup in less than five years. The intensity of the NHL playoffs is like nothing else in professional sports and this series has the makings of a classic. Both teams will be tested and pushed to the limits. There will be blood, sweat, and tears from both sides but only one team will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.