The Chicago Blackhawks dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in five games. The Boston Bruins only needed four to take down the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, for the first time since 1979, the NHL will have two original six teams battling for the Stanley Cup beginning on Wednesday night.
Here are five early questions about this meeting of the 2010 and 2011 Stanley Cup champions:
1. Can Bruins shut down more star players?
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, James Neal and Kris Letang combined to produce … nothing against the Boston Bruins. Not a single point. Nada. Zip. Zero.
The Bruins have the weapons to shut down any scoring units in the NHL, with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as their top D-men and Patrice Bergeron’s line arguably the best two-way group in the league.
The Blackhawks advanced past the Kings just as Patrick Kane was catching fire and Jonathan Toews was heating up. They’ve gotten solid offense out of Patrick Sharp (14 points) and Marian Hossa (14 points), along with Duncan Keith (11 points) on the blueline.
Can they do what Pittsburgh’s stars couldn’t do? Like, score a single goal?
2. Boston road warriors or Chicago home cookin’?
The Bruins are 5-1-1 on the road in the playoffs, scoring at a wicked good 3.43 goals per game and allowing just 1.86.
The Blackhawks are 9-1-0 at home in the postseason, with 3.30 goals per game average and allowing 1.70 goals against per game.
So something’s gotta give.
3. Tuukka Rask or Corey Crawford?
The two best goaltenders in the postseason – at least by the numbers – clash for the ultimate prize.
Crawford is 12-5-1 with a 1.74 GAA (the best in the NHL playoffs) and a .935 save percentage. Rask is 12-4-1 with a 1.75 GAA and a .943 save percentage (the best in the NHL playoffs).
Of the two, Rask might have earned more renown during his run to the finals, including his pimp glove save on Jarome Iginla in the final seconds of Game 4. But Crawford has been the backbone of the Blackhawks’ defense, outplaying Jonathan Quick in the conference final.
An extra bit of intrigue: Rask is a restricted free agent this summer, while Crawford has one more year left.
4. Will anyone score a power-play goal?
Despite Anze Kopitar’s power-play goal in Game 5, the Blackhawks lead the NHL postseason with a 94.8 penalty killing percentage.
The Bruins, meanwhile, blanked the much-heralded Penguins power play (0-for-15) during their conference finals sweep, and have an 86.5 percent kill percentage for the playoffs.
5. Who gets pissed off the most?
The Bruins and Blackhawks are two teams that know how to hit hard and agitate opponents. Composure might be the key in the series when it comes to the unique pest skills of Brad Marchand and Andrew Shaw; the occasional forays into illegality by Duncan Keith and Milan Lucic; and the pure checking power of the rest of the teams’ bangers.
Will we have a flashpoint moment of violence in this series? The potential is there for this to be one of the most black-and-blue Finals in recent memory.
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