A lockout-shortened season of hockey and three intense rounds of playoff action has led to this: the Stanley Cup Finals.
This season’s finals pit the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks against the never-say-die Boston Bruins for the first time in Stanley Cup Finals history. Both teams are part of the Original Six teams that founded the NHL. (The other four teams are Toronto, Detroit, the New York Rangers, and Montreal.) The 2013 Finals serves as the first Original Six matchup with the Stanley Cup on the line in 34 years.
Both teams enter not far removed from winning Stanley Cup titles. The Blackhawks took home Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2010, and the Bruins did the same a year later. Here’s a quick look at five things to keep an eye on throughout this historic series.
The Puck Stops Here
It’s no secret that teams with hot goaltenders do well in the postseason. And the 2013 Finals showcase two goalies who have been on fire. Chicago’s Corey Crawford leads the league with a 1.74 goals-against average and boasts a .935 save percentage. On the other side of the ice, Boston’s Tuuka Rask is the proud owner of not just the coolest first name in the playoffs but also a stellar 1.75 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Something has to give, and it will be interesting to see which team can apply more pressure on the other’s stopper.
Boston center David Krejci leads the league with 21 postseason points and is playing at a level comparable to his run in 2011 when Boston won the Cup. But Hawks star Patrick Kane might be the hottest hand right now. Kane put the team on his shoulders in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, scoring a hat trick to send defending champs the Los Angeles Kings home for the summer. Can Kane maintain his level of play, or did he empty his tank in the conference finals? The answer to that question might be enough to determine the series.
High-Scoring v. Gritty Defense
A question as old as sports itself: What wins championships, a high-powered offense or a brick-wall defense? The 2013 Finals might give us an answer. The championship round pits the NHL’s most prolific offensive attack in the Blackhawks against one of, if not the, toughest teams in hockey in the Bruins. Chicago’s forwards play a high-energy, fly around the rink style that occasionally hits the skids when facing an elite defense (like in the second round against Detroit), while Boston occasionally shows an inability to keep up with the league’s faster teams. But the Bruins showed in their Eastern Conference Final sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins that they can clamp down on potent goal scorers.
Playoff Bearded Behemoths of Hockeydom
Considered among the best of many traditions in hockey, everyone appreciates the value of a good playoff beard. And these Finals won’t disappoint. The Bruins have the salt-and-pepper beard on a veteran like right-winger Jaromir Jagr and the lengthy bristles that form 6’9” captain Zdeno Chara’s face-blanket, while the Hawks’s Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford boast the rugged mountainmen look.
Boston and Chicago boast some of the best fans, not just in hockey but all of sports. Playoff beards were mentioned earlier, but what about playoff lawns? One Chicago fan refused to cut his until the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs, and it would still be growing had the city not snuck in and cut it for him. And Boston fans? Over 1,000 filled the concourse in black-and-gold gear as their Bruins left the airport to prepare for Game 1.
What's your prediction for the finals? What will you be watching out for in the NHL Finals? What team will win the Stanley Cup?
Photos: Getty, AP, Cal Sports Media