The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins may not have played each other during the regular season, thanks to the NHL lockout that ended up shortening the season to 48 intraconference games, but there are several key matchups that we can examine which will help us to size up the Stanley Cup Final, which will begin Wednesday.
Since this is a best-of-seven series, it seems appropriate to have seven different battles. Here they are:
The Selke Boys: Jonathan Toews vs. Patrice Bergeron
Both players are dynamic defensive players, as evidenced by their nominations for the NHL’s Selke Award, given to the league’s best defensive forward. Both players are also great offensive players, with Toews tying for the team lead in goals during the regular season and Bergeron finishing second on the team in assists, only finishing one behind David Krecji despite playing five fewer games.
Bergeron does have slightly better postseason numbers than Toews, with 11 points to Toews’ nine, and he has made it a point not to put his team shorthanded, with only four penalty minutes compared to Toews’ 16.
The Pests: Andrew Shaw vs. Milan Lucic
Both of these players take antagonism to a whole new level, but the slight edge has to go to Lucic for two reasons. The first is that he is the superior offensive player, averaging nearly a point per game during the playoffs, and the other is that he is slightly more adept at staying out of the penalty box despite his roughhousing, with only 14 penalty minutes in comparison to Shaw’s 26.
The Wily Veterans: Marian Hossa vs. Jaromir Jagr
Jagr set a record this postseason for making it back to the Cup Final after a 21 year absence, but it’s Hossa who has been the more effective offensive player for his team.
The 34-year old Slovak, who has seven goals and seven assists in the playoffs, will be making his fourth Cup Final appearance in six seasons when the two teams hit the ice Wednesday, a remarkable accomplishment for a player who might very well join the shoe-in Jagr in the Hall of Fame some day.
The (Not Chuck) Norris Winners: Duncan Keith vs. Zdeno Chara
While both players have two goals and nine assists in the playoffs for their respective teams, the edge goes to Keith because of how effective he has been in terms of getting the most out of his defensive partners during the postseason.
When he was paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Swede looked like a world beater. In Game 5 of the Detroit series, however, Keith was switched to a pairing with Brent Seabrook, whose game was in the pits, and Keith clearly resurrected his long-time partner’s game.
The Pay Day Club: Bryan Bickell vs. Nathan Horton
In the battle of impending free agents, Horton may have the slightly better offensive numbers this postseason (17 points to Bickell’s 13), but the edge will go to Bickell simply because of how much he has meant to the Blackhawks’ offense.
The Bruins have several players who are scoring in bunches during the postseason, but the Hawks have been struggling a bit in terms of getting their stars revved up. Because of that, a performance like Bickell’s shines even brighter.
The Guardians: Corey Crawford vs. Tuukka Rask
It seems as though we do this in every round of the playoffs, with the other team’s goaltender seeming to have a very slight edge over Crawford, and in this round, the margin is especially thin.
Rask simply has been on another level in the later stages of the postseason, helping his team limit the Penguins to only two goals in four games, so despite Crawford holding the Kings to around two goals per game, he loses out.
The Alchemists: Joel Quenneville vs. Claude Julien
Both coaches have guided their teams to multiple Cup Final appearances the past few seasons, but it is Quenneville’s golden touch that gives him a narrow edge in this matchup.
His moves in reuniting Keith and Seabrook, as well as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, have helped the Hawks from a team on the brink of elimination in the second round to one that is just four wins away from the fifth title in team history.