The 2013 Stanley Cup Final gets underway Wednesday night. Even if you're not a fan of either one of the finalists, you can't get a better matchup to decide who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
Two talented teams. Two historic franchises. Two great hockey cities. Two recent champions. This matchup has it all.
Chicago, which won the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the most points in the regular season, last won the cup in 2010 and is looking to complete a historic year after beginning this lockout-shortened season with an NHL-record 24-game start without a regulation loss. In the playoffs, the Blackhawks first dispatched the Wild in five. They were then on the ropes against Detroit, down 3-1, but came back to win in a thrilling seventh game. Finally, the Blackhawks dethroned the defending champion Kings in five games, courtesy of a Game 5 hat trick by 24-year-old superstar Patrick Kane.
The Bruins, who still have 17 players on their roster from their 2011 cup-winning team, have been unstoppable since their incredible comeback over Toronto in Game 7 of the first round. They rallied from a 4-1 third-period deficit (4-2 in the final two minutes) to beat the Leafs in overtime on a Patrice Bergeron goal. The B's subsequently got by the Rangers in five, then humiliated the favored Penguins in a dominating sweep.
The Blackhawks are fast, skilled and like to score. The Bruins are gritty, mean and wear down their opponents. Fully expect this series to go seven games, and it wouldn't be surprising if there is an overtime in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since Detroit beat Montreal in 1954.
Here's a breakdown of each position group in this year's Stanley Cup Final as well as a prediction of who will win.
Michael Smith is an intern in the news section of DeseretNews.com. A 2013 graduate of the University of Utah, he will be attending Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in the fall.
This will be the most important matchup in the series. Chicago features some of the most skilled forwards in the league, with Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. The Blackhawks also have energy guys in Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus that can counter Boston's grit.
Boston has skill too, in Tyler Seguin and David Krejci, but the Bruins rely on stout defense and checking from their forwards. Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are two of the biggest pests in the league and will try to get under the skin of Chicago's playmakers.
The matchup to look out for is Patrice Bergeron against Toews. Bergeron, a finalist for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward), was able to shut down Sidney Crosby last round, and if he can lean on Toews, it'll force the other Blackhawk forwards to step up.
Boston's 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara and his partner Dennis Seidenberg are perhaps the best pair in the league, and will have the task of matching up with Chicago's top line. Even though Chara wasn't nominated for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) this year, he's proved in the last three rounds to be the most important blue liner in the league. Rookie Torey Krug has provided an offensive spark for a Bruins' defense that is mostly known for having bruisers — not playmakers.
Chicago will rely on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya. Keith and Seabrook are known for their offense, and will need to contribute that way, especially if Boston's stingy defense frustrates the Hawk forwards. Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are true stay-at-home defensemen, but they will need to focus on moving the puck up the ice to create scoring chances for the likes of Hossa and Sharp.
In the Eastern Conference finals, Boston's Tuukka Rask only gave up two goals in four games to the highest-scoring team in the NHL. Not bad for a guy who had to replace 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) winner Tim Thomas. Rask has a 1.75 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.
Chicago's Corey Crawford has been solid all season, but has elevated his game in the playoffs. The 28-year-old Montreal native has a 1.74 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. He played great in the final three games against Detroit, but wasn't tested much against the offensively challenged Kings.
Both teams have Stanley Cup-winning coaches and captains. They both have depth and size, and the Blackhawks' skill is matched by the Bruins' physicality. It will come down to the wire.
Bruins in seven.