I’m not here to tell you the Blackhawks are a better team than the Bruins. That will be decided at the end of four to seven games. However, despite finishing the regular season with the best record in the league, winning the Jennings Trophy*, and boasting the best penalty kill in the post season at a stellar 96.4%, the Blackhawks (or at least their fans) are told they should be shaking in their boots because Zdeno Chara and company are flying in from Beantown to beat them up and take their lunch money.
“The Bruins are a big, physical team! The Blackhawks haven’t seen anything like this before! Chara is a giant! Milan Lucic eats glass for breakfast! Brad Marchand is the Incredible Hulk! I heard David Krejci could literally fly! Tuukka Rask is made of rubber and has X-Ray vision…. AND THEY SWEPT THE PENGUINS!”
Despite popular belief, the Boston Bruins are in fact human, and do not posses any unearthly super powers, besides playing hockey really, really well (I kind of consider that a super power), which the Blackhawks are perfectly capable of doing just as well, if not with more grace and finesse.
The Bruins are a physical team. This is true. But if you define “physical” by merely counting the number of hits per game, you have a very narrow definition of the word. The Los Angeles Kings were ranked number one in the postseason with 755 hits. That’s 184 more hits than the number two ranked Bruins. The Blackhawks beat the Kings in five games in the Western Conference Finals.
Sure, the Kings weren’t at 100%, but the Hawks beat them in the regular season as well. They have also won games against St. Louis, Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus and pretty much any team in the west that ranks higher than them in the hits category because, well, the Blackhawks rank dead last.
As a puck possession team, the “hits” statistic is generally skewed due to the amount of time the Blackhawks spend on offense. Sure, we all love it when Bryan Bickell or Niklas Hjalmarsson nail someone right into the boards, and while hits are integral in order to stay competitive in a hockey game, the Blackhawks are more interested in chasing, getting, and maneuvering the puck. The hitting aspect of their game is secondary to the skating, passing and scoring. What makes the Blackhawks physical isn’t their ability to hit the opponent; it’s their ability to skate through the hits they receive. The Hawks are regularly skating with guys on their backs without flinching, or losing possession of the puck. If you ask me, that’s pretty physical. Plus, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m pretty sure a hit from Lucic can’t be any more devastating than a hit from Dustin Brown, or Cal Clutterbuck, or David Backes etc.
Speaking of physical, Brad Marchand could possibly be concentrated evil in the form of a tiny man. The President called him a “Little Ball of Hate,” I don’t make these things up. But the Blackhawks have dealt with pests of his caliber before. Prior to Justin Williams of the Kings, there was Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings. Abdelkader did not make life easy for Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks top line. In fact, he was really good at making things difficult. However, the Blackhawks (eventually) rose above the cheap shots and the theatrics, and rallied to a game seven victory. Besides, the Blackhawks have their own expert(s) in agitation: Andrew Shaw and Dave Bolland, although Bolland is currently a sleeper cell.
As far as goaltending goes, Rask and Corey Crawford are neck and neck in stats. Rask has a .943 Sv% with a 1.75 GAA, while Crow has a .935 sV% with a 1.74 GAA. This series could really come down to who is superior in net. If you’re worried that Crawford has given up one or two “soft” goals this postseason, at least he didn’t do this:
Lastly, I feel the need to shatter the mystique that surrounded the 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins are not the Blackhawks and vice versa. You want to compare Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews or Evgeni Malkin to Marian Hossa? Go ahead, but to compare the Blackhawks exceptional defense and goaltending to whatever was going on behind Pittsburgh’s blue line is simply offensive.
Let’s just put it this way, the New York Rangers fired head coach John Tortorella after his team lost the semifinals to Boston. Now, the Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma, is on the hot seat for losing control of his players in an epic collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins did not break these teams, and these coaches aren’t being fired because they lost a couple of hockey games. These coaches are losing their jobs because their teams played poorly. And by poorly, I mean awful. I think at one point Sidney Crosby had 5 giveaways in a single period, and Brad Richards and his $60M contract were a healthy scratch. It’s safe to say these teams imploded from within, while Boston pushed the bulldozer.
Neither Mike Yeo, nor Mike Babcock, not even Darryl Sutter faced any criticism from the media or within their respective organizations after losing to the Blackhawks. Why? Because despite giving their best effort, despite putting it all out there, they still lost, and there is no shame in that.
Now, I am not saying it’s going to be easy. These are the Stanley Cup Finals. Anyone expecting a cakewalk on either side of this thing is a fool. I’m simply saying the Blackhawks aren’t some clown shoes that stumbled into the playoffs by accident. They deserve to be there just as much as the Bruins. And they have just as much of a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.
So, are you still scared of the big, bad Bruins?
*The Jennings Trophy is awarded to the goaltenders on the team with the fewest goals allowed in the regular season.
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