Stanley Cup Final: Tug of War

Photo Courtesy of Dailyherald.com

Photo Courtesy of Dailyherald.com

If you asked me who was going to win the Stanley Cup two weeks ago, I had only one answer: “I don’t know, man, but it’s going to go six or seven, and it’s going to be a fun ride.”

It’s not that I didn’t have confidence in the Blackhawks, on the contrary. I was one of the few people that didn’t buy into the notion that the Bruins would come to Chicago with Sidney Crosby’s head on a hockey stick and continue their raid after sweeping Pittsburgh. If you watched any national coverage leading up to game one of this series, you would have thought the Bruins were The Orc Army coming to the Shire to beat up all the Hobbitses. David and Goliath is another comparison that comes to mind. It’s a good thing that stealth and precision > brute force in that scenario, but I digress…

Here we are, at the doorstep of game six of the Stanley Cup Finals, and so far I’m two for two in my fortune cookie prediction of the series: it’s going to take at least six games, and it sure has been fun to watch thus far. The Chicago Blackhawks are only one victory away from hoisting the coveted Stanley Cup, but there is still a lot of hockey left to play.

The journey from game one to game six has been a rollercoaster ride. From momentum shifts, to overtime after overtime, to defense, to offense and then back again, to goaltending, dirty glove saves, and dirty goals. The Blackhawks and the Bruins have been playing tug of war for five games. Both rosters are loaded with talent and skill from top to bottom, and both coaches know their weapons well, and have a system that utilizes their particular skillset to their advantage.

The Bruins are known as a “defense oriented” team that can hit and score (literally, every line on that team can score), while the Hawks are defined as a puck-possession, “offense oriented” team with an excellent defensive core. They are literally each other’s reflection in the mirror. Same balance, same depth, identical goaltending, only completely opposite styles.

Wins and losses in this series have been heavily determined by face-off wins, as whichever team possesses the puck simultaneously controls the pace of the game.

The Blackhawks were lucky to walk away from game three losing only 0-2 after losing 16-40 at the dot. The Hawks were able to right the ship, and split draws 38-39 in an epic 6-5 victory in game four.

When the Bruins control the game, they don’t give the Hawks a lot of time and space, and frustrate them into turnovers in the neutral zone. When the Hawks control the game, they dance with the puck, making tape-to-tape passes, and forcing the slower Bruins to chase until they make a mistake in front of Tuukka Rask. And back and forth, the tug of war continues.

Both teams lost their face off specialists in Game Five. Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews left the game with undisclosed injuries and did not return.  Whether either one will return to action tonight is still unknown. Clearly the two best two-way centers (and most recent Selke Trophy winners) in the league are not easily replaceable, and the absence of one or the other could dramatically affect line formations, matchups, and ultimately the outcome of the game.

The Blackhawks have an opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup on Monday night, and the Bruins have an opportunity to push it to seven. They’ve done it before, just ask the Canucks. One thing is certain; no one is letting go of the rope until someone’s face is in the mud.

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