Like everyone else, I was surprised by the quick exits of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings. It's not easy to explain why this happened. In the case of Pittsburgh, it was obvious that the Boston Bruins surprised them with their toughness and willingness to battle along the boards and in front of the nets. The Penguins didn't know what hit them until game three, where they launched a determined effort to win, but were stymied. The same happened in game four, with the confident Bruins rolling. In the case of Los Angeles, it was too much reliance on their goalie, Jonathan Quick. The Kings mounted some serious challenges to the 'Hawks, but Chicago had too many answers.
So now we come to the match-up I predicted way back at the start of the playoffs: Chicago vs Boston. An "Original Six" series, between two teams who have never met in the Cup final before.
Chicago is riding the wave of confidence that started back in January with the beginning of this strange and short hockey season. In the playoffs, they are getting stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford, who nobody counted as an elite goalie before. The 'Hawks also have sold and mobile defencemen, skill on the penalty kill and power play, and good efforts from their role-players. When their stars finally start scoring like they should, this team becomes a scary force.
But the Bruins are no slouches themselves. After their first-round scare from the Leafs, the Bruins have been gaining in confidence, poise, and skill. Tukka Rask has emerged as a front line goalie, the defence, which has been decimated by injuries, remains solid, and the forward core is tough and willing to battle along the boards. Like Chicago, many of their top forwards have not been scoring as they should, but the back line has contributed important goals.
In the playoffs, it is often the unsung players, the ones who labour anonymously throughout the season, who come to the fore. The stars are checked into the ice by the tougher grinders and get bogged down in frustration. The role players, bred for this type of competition, start scoring in place of the stars.
In this series, it is easy to hope for a long and intense competition. I expect it will be that way, Initially, I said Chicago would best the Bruins, but now doubt has crept into my predictions. I'll stick to my guns and say Chicago will emerge as Cup champions, but will add that if Boston breaks through to win, I won't be surprised. The only surprise for me will be if one of the teams loses its way and the series ends in only 4 or 5 games.
Sit back and enjoy, hockey fans. This will probably be the best Stanley Cup final in many years. Go 'Hawks !!