The Bruins swept the offensively gifted Penguins out of the playoffs and held Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang without a goal.
The Blackhawks eliminated the Stanley Cup champion Kings in five games and lit up Jonathan Quick for 14 goals.
So what should we expect when the Bruins face off against the Hawks in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday night in Chicago on NBC?
Lots of hitting? Yes.
Lots of remarkable saves? Yes.
Incredible comebacks? Probably.
Lots of goals? Probably not.
We went 1-1 with our conference finals predictions [can we just forgive and forget, Bruins fans?] so let’s take a stab at predicting the 2013 Stanley Cup champion, who will have played almost half as many playoff games as regular season games when this thing is over.
No. 1 Blackhawks vs. No. 4 Bruins
Offense: Although they lack the star power of teammates like Patrick Kane and Zdeno Chara, the best matchup of the series promises to be Selke Trophy finalists Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins. Both players are a coach’s dream – tough to play against and talented enough to score a critical goal to win a game. Overall, the Bruins have put up better offensive numbers, averaging 3.12 goals per game compared to 2.76 for the Hawks. The Bruins have been paced by David Krejci [9-12-21, plus-14] and Nathan Horton [7-10-17, plus-21], while the Hawks have gotten most of their offense from the foursome of Patrick Sharp [8-6-14, plus-4], Marian Hossa [7-7-14, plsu-8], Kane [6-8-14, plus-4] and Bryan Bickell [8-5-13, plus-6].
Defense: If you can hold the Penguins to two goals in a playoff series you’re doing something right. The Bruins have allowed an average of just 1.88 goals per game in the post-season, while the Blackhawks have surrendered 1.94 goals per game, third overall behind the Bruins and Kings. There may not be two better all-around defensemen in the game than Chara [2-9-11, plus-12, 29:21] and Duncan Keith 2-9-11, plus-6, 25:42]. Both will play significant minutes in this series but will need help from a supporting cast that includes Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg [plus-6, 24:10], Johnny Boychuk [plus-3, 23:20], Andrew Ference [plus-3, 22:23] and Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson [plus-10, 22:13], Johnny Oduya [plus-9, 21:35] and Brent Seabrook [minus-2, 21:55]. Seabrook will need to play better in the Final if the Hawks hope to win this battle.
Goaltending: As we saw in the Eastern Conference Final, goaltending can make a huge difference in a playoff series. No one in Chicago or Boston is wondering who will be the No. 1 goalie in Game 3. Boston’s Tuukka Rask [12-4-1, 1.75, .943, 2 shutouts] and Chicago’s Corey Crawford [12-5-1, 1.74, .935, 1 shutout] have been phenomenal in the post-season, with Rask getting stronger with each series. Both goalies were forced to watch from a distance as Antti Niemi won a Cup as a starter with the Hawks in 2010 and Tim Thomas won it as a starter with the Bruins in 2011.
Prediction: The Blackhawks have taken advantage of their home ice, going 9-1 at UnitedCenter. The Bruins are 7-2 at home, including six straight, beginning with their incredible 5-4 overtime comeback victory against the Maple Leafs in the seventh game of the Conference Quarterfinals. There is something extra special going on in Boston this spring and it will culminate with a parade in a city in need of something to celebrate.
Bruins in 6.