COMMENTARY | It's easy to forget that we almost didn't get hockey at all this year.
It was only a little more than five months ago that NHL fans got news from owners and players that there would indeed be a 2013 season, albeit an abbreviated one. But a 48-game regular season proved to be more than enough. Now, here we are, with the first Original 6 Stanley Cup Finals matchup in over 30 years.
The lockout? A distant memory.
In the past month, Bruins fans have watched their team recapture that chemistry that took them all the way two seasons ago. In fact, with the B's sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins to become winners of nine of their last 10 in the playoffs, one could argue this team is better than its 2011 version.
Boston, a mediocre 8th in the 2011 playoffs with 31.9 shots per game, now ranks 1st in the 2013 playoffs in the same category with a mark of 36.4. And as historic as Tim Thomas' run was two years ago, Tuukka Rask and his defense have done even better, allowing fewer shots and goals per game than the 2011 team. To put it simply, while the Cup-winning team was opportunistic, this team has put itself in a better position to win more consistently -- and it's shown on the ice.
Of course, there's still one more series to go.
Boston isn't as big of an underdog against the Chicago Blackhawks as it was against Pittsburgh, but the Blackhawks as a whole will present challenges the Bruins have faced at different stages throughout these playoffs. Whether it was the speed of the Maple Leafs, the goaltending of the Rangers or the offensive star power of the Penguins, the B's will get a dose of all these factors against Chicago.
Additionally, the Blackhawks will present the toughest defense the Bruins have seen in the 2013 postseason. Chicago boasts the league's top-ranked penalty kill (94.7 percent) and a blue line that has both star players as well as depth. Allowing only 28 shots per game, the Blackhawks are also only one of three teams in these playoffs (along with the Bruins) that have allowed less than 2 goals per game.
And the chess match between head coaches Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville will be something to keep an eye on. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Quenneville might split up his two offensive stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, in an effort to keep them away from Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron as much as possible. But facing a team as deep as the Blackhawks will come down to more than just the line matchups. The Bruins' goaltending and team defense, top to bottom, will have to be spectacular yet again.
It's interesting looking back at a previous article I wrote that outlined some of the main concerns with the Bruins as they prepared for the playoffs. They've quashed basically all of them after a close call with the Maple Leafs in the first round. There's no doubting that everyone on this Bruins team has contributed in different ways during this current playoff hot streak.
And that will have to continue for one more series if they want to close out this once jeopardized season with a Stanley Cup.
Andy Vagos majors in Journalism at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He has lived around Boston all his life and follows the Bruins on a daily basis.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Chicago Blackhawks