Los Angeles, CA
The boss asked me to provide some hockey predictions so here goes:
With just under $12 million in cap space for next season, the Kings won't re-sign unrestricted free agents Rob Scuderi or Dustin Penner. They will need to hold onto Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin, both RFAs, and probably one of Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford. Backup goalie Jonathan Bernier will probably be traded for help on the left wing and...
What? The Stanley Cup Who? You want me to talk about hockey teams other than the Kings? Get my lawyer on the phone.
Fine. Stanley Cup Finals! Chicago! Boston! Blackhawks! Bruins! Hockey! NHL! Original Six! Best trophy in Sports! (I had to do all that for SEO reasons.)
I like to poke fun at my West Coast hockey bias, but I should point out that I did have the 'Hawks inthe Final, beating my beloved Kings, so I am nothing if not freaking awesome at the prediction game. Yes, I had the Rangers coming out of the East, which, don't laugh, might have totally happened had the Maple Leafs managed to hold a three-goal third period lead or if John Tortorella had a Magic Baby. Alas, he does not and they did not and that tiny butterfly flap affected the whole hockey universe, primarily by loosening the choke chain around the neck of the Bruins and turning them into a 20-man Wrecking Crew for the better part of a month.
The Blackhawks also started rather slowly, with an unimpressive first round win over an extremely unimpressive Minnesota club and then sleep-walking/crying like babies through the first four against a fired-up Red Wings team. They flipped the switch in time to storm back to win threee straight and carried that momentum into the Conference Final where they out-classed the Kings in five.
/pours one out for my homies
So what to make of the two finalists? It's difficult to handicap the match-up due to the simple fact the Eastern and Western conferences didn't play each other in this lockout-shortened year. My ability to compare and contrast is seriously compromised. How can I predict anything without seeing how both did against Winnipeg!?!?!
Both teams were in Juggernaut Mode in their respective conference finals, but I also have this nagging suspicion they didn't face the best the Kings and Pens had to offer. Are these teams who they appear to be now? Or the ones that nearly tripped into the off-season just a few short weeks ago?
The case for Chicago starts with their speed. These guys go from zero to 60 quicker than Patrick Kane accepts your invitation to buy him a shot. Along with that speed comes a fair bit of skill combined with self-confidence that manifests itself prominently in their breakouts. The Kings vaunted forecheck could never get going because the Blackhawks got to the puck first and then deftly moved it right out of their own zone. The ability to counter a "heavier" game, one played by both the Kings and Bruins should contribute to the 'Hawks having more possession.
Chicago also blocks a metric shit-ton of shots. If I took a shot for every shot they blocked against the Kings, I'd be in intensive care somewhere trying to stop my wife from divorcing me. The Kings weren't able to get a great deal of traffic in front of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, but, even when they did, the puck rarely got to the front of the net. The Bruins' ability to get traffic is one of their best assets, so Chicago will need to continue sacrificing their bodies.
|Seabrook and Keith: Seven-Deuce Suited|
On the Boston side of the ledger, they've simply dismantled their last two opponents. They've gotten healthy on defense and holding the Penguins to two goals in four games is just silly. Chara and Dennis Seidenberg form a formidable pair and rookie Torey Krug has been a revelation. Not to mention Johnny Boychuck has like 100 goals in the playoffs (fact check: 5). In fact, Bruins defensemen have accounted for 15 goals this post-season, nearly one per game.
The Bs are playing at a high level, rolling four effective lines, spreading the scoring around and generally making things easy for Tukka Rask. While their forwards might not be equal to Chicago's on talent alone, they certainly compare as far as results. David Krejci (21 playoff points) has been unstoppable and linemates Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic provide some physicality and sandpaper.
Patrice Bergeron will have the task of shadowing Jonathan Toews and will be looking to get into the Blackhawks captain's head, much like Henrik Zetterberg did for the Red Wings in their conference semifinal. Toews seems a little off and you know Bergeron will use his...er....personality...to try to frustrate him. And then when Bergeron gets tired or gets whacked in the face with a stick by Duncan Keith, Brad Marchand can take over the job of annoying the shit out of Toews.
In goal, I think Rask gets a slight nod over Crawford, who was solid against the Kings, but wasn't called on too often to make a huge save, as the defending champs a) didn't shoot much and b) kept hitting him right in the sternum. Rask, on the other hand, is toting that gaudy .985 save pct. against Pittsburgh around with him. He should be at the top of his game.
I picked Chicago to win it all prior to the playoffs and I'm going to stick with that, even though I had them beating the Rangers, who don't even have a coach any longer, so that was a dumb pick. I don't see much to separate the two teams, so home ice will have to be the difference as the Blackhawks have only lost once at home so far. Should be a fantastic series with both teams playing at an optimal level.
Chicago in 7.