“Enough waiting. Enough talking about it. We want to go out there and play.”
With just 14 words, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews summed up the emotions of just about everyone in the Windy City, as well as for the players and fans of the Boston Bruins.
The Stanley Cup Final, which finally kicks off on Wednesday night at the United Center, will feature two teams that have been universally ruled to be evenly matched, but despite this acknowledgement of parity, every expert in the hockey world has begun to take their stances on a question that seeks to skirt around the coin-flip feel of the series:
Who ya got?
The dozen hockey writers at ESPN, including ESPN Chicago’s Blackhawks reporter Scott Powers, overwhelmingly favor the Bruins. Nine out of the 12, in fact, picked the Eastern Conference champions, with only Pierre LeBrun, John Buccigross, and Craig Custance picking the Hawks.
The Sporting News’ Jesse Spector utilized his hotel room number (1934, also the year the Blackhawks won their first championship) to justify picking Chicago in seven games.
Sports Illustrated’s four experts ended up splitting, with Adrian Dater (sorry, fearers of the Dater Jinx) and Sarah Kwak picking the Blackhawks to win the series.
The six contributors at NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk blog ended up siding with the Bruins as well, with only Mike Halford and James O’Brien picking Chicago.
Obviously, countless other publications have and will make their picks at some point in the remaining few hours before gametime, but at least for this writer, it’s finally time to make a decision.
I, in words that will ultimately make me the subject of ridicule or praise, am picking the Blackhawks to win in six games.
Yes, I am a fan of the way the Bruins play a quality brand of team hockey. They are a team simultaneously capable of beating opponents into submission with their physicality while also moving the puck quickly up ice and scoring with their group of talented forwards.
Even if both of those things break down, the Bruins have a tremendous goaltender in Tuukka Rask, who has been tested quite a bit in these playoffs, but has proven himself worthy of the praise heaped upon him.
The reason I am picking the Blackhawks isn’t because I’m willing to simply overlook all those facets of Boston’s game. Rather, I am simply that confident in the way that the Blackhawks have bounced back from the adversity of nearly losing their second round series to Detroit, and also am confident that the Hawks have enough weaponry that the Bruins can’t simply shut a line or two down and expect everything to take care of itself.
The Hawks roll out four lines that are capable of causing a ruckus in all sorts of areas. Not only can they score in bunches, but they can also play suffocating defense, thanks to both their blue line and the aggressive forechecking strategy that their forwards employ. That combination of tactical precision is exactly what has propelled the Hawks to this point in the playoffs, and is the combination that I’m confident will carry them across the finish line.
Most of all though, the reason I’m picking Chicago is because they have responded to every obstacle with the aplomb of a champion this postseason.
Down 3-1 against the Red Wings? Didn’t matter, because they came out firing in Game 5 and used the victory to propel themselves forward.
Facing Jonathan Quick, the defending Conn Smythe winner and assumed to be the best goaltender in the world? Didn’t matter, because the Hawks took the battle right to his doorstep, getting great traffic in front and ultimately knocking him out of Game 2 of the series with a barrage of quality chances.
Every time a pundit points out either a flaw in the Hawks’ game or an obstacle that they can’t possibly overcome, Chicago has proven them wrong. Yes, the Bruins are a great hockey team, but so are the Blackhawks, and it’s because of that I’m picking them to win this series.
What say you Hawks fans? Who do YOU got?