With the Hawks and Bruins having taken out their juggernaut opponents we are down to the last two teams. The best of the best, and unsurprisingly the most balanced teams in the NHL. While the Hawks were the talk of the regular season, the Bruins are the talk of the playoffs. With the sweep of the Penguins the Bruins seem to have experts favoring them over the Hawks. While the Hawks took down the defending champs the LA Kings. This task included taking a win out of the Staples center, which no other team was able to do. Both teams had their close calls during their run to the cup final. Boston had their scare against Toronto. The Hawks came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Wings. Not only is this the first time these two teams have met all season, but it’s also the first cup final between these clubs in NHL history. To get a better idea of the matchup between these two teams you need to look at their conferences.
Western Conference: 810 points, 1909 goals scored, +56 goal differential
Eastern Conference: 792 points, 2010 goals scored, +16 goal differential
The West in general has been a more balanced conference in terms of play style. The East is more focused on offense. The balanced style of offense and defense in the West leads to a lot of close games and a lot of overtime. That also inadvertently gives out a lot of loser points to teams which inflates the point totals. The Hawks had 19 one goal victories in the regular season, and that has prepared them rather well for the playoffs. The East has a few more offensively minded teams and with that comes higher scoring games. What does all this have to do with two teams remaining you ask? Well, it gives us a better idea of each team’s chance for success. Bruins and Hawks have a very similar build and team structure. The Bruins have the arguably better blue line, and the Hawks have the arguably better offense. In net, both teams have gotten all they could ask from their goaltenders. Crawford and Rask have extremely similar stats. However, the Hawks have the play style advantage in this series; they are more accustomed to the grind out games.
With all that said, the Bruins are not the same team they were during the regular season. They have outscored the Hawks and have fewer goals against in the post season. They are also converting at a higher rate five on five which is where the Hawks rely on scoring the majority of their goals. The road to the final, while similar, seems to have favored Boston. The Hawks did breeze past the Wild, but they were supposed to beat them cleanly. The Bruins had their scare in the first round against Toronto. I view that series similar to the Hawks vs Wild series, and I really can’t understand how the Leafs gave Boston that much trouble. The Rangers were another team that I didn’t expect much from, and while they made it out of the first round, they didn’t look poised to go any further. The Penguins were the big question mark, but they ended up showing that speed and grit could easily throw them off their game. We saw the Pens lose their minds like they did against the Flyers the year before. Boston finally hit their stride in that series, and consequently, their confidence will be high in the upcoming games. The Hawks hit their stride once they started their coming back from the Detroit series. They continued on through the LA series in a fairly convincing fashion.
The Bruins come in to this series as the better team five on five (1.44 vs 1.77 F/A Ratio). They allowed more shots per game (32.9 vs 28), but outshot the Hawks (36.4 vs 32.5), which directly supports the Eastern Conference trend. These figures don’t even include the number of missed shots per team, 232 vs 172, in favor of the Hawks. Despite the Bruins being known as a defensively strong team, it’s the Hawks who are dominating in the takeaway department (144 to 100). The Hawks also give the puck away less (127 to 168), and in a series that should be a close affair, these things add up. The Hawks have faced defensive teams in rounds one and three and then dealt with the balanced wings in round two. The Bruins haven’t faced a team as finely tuned and deep on both sides of the ice as the Hawks. Once again, it looks like the balanced play style of the west will help the Blackhawks out in this series.
The keys for the Hawks
- When Toews has the same number of PIMs as Marchand, you know the captain is having a rough post season. He needs to stay out of the box, and the same goes for the rest of the Hawks. The PK has been phenomenal, but the law of averages hints that it’s due to regress.
- Face offs wins aren’t going to come easy with Bergeron taking the majority of the draws. Hawks need to improve their win percentage or do whatever they can to keep the puck in play. Off sides and icing will be problematic if they happen frequently.
- Shots from the point are something the Hawks let happen at times. Chara can tee it up, and I would love for Hjalmarsson to not have to block any of those.
- Toews and Kane need to continue their production as of late. If those two can continue to build off of their recent successes, then that takes some pressure away from the role players.
- Crow needs to continue his Conn Smythe push. On the other side of the ice, the Hawks need to be relentless around Rask. He has a temper, and we have seen him completely melt down in the Rangers series, which can be advantageous if you want to get some goals or see milk crates fly through the stadium.