Monday, June 10, 2013

For Every Marble


 For the fifth time in the last six years the Stanley Cup Final is going to be a matchup between two premier franchises with only the Devils' presence last year ruining what has been a very nice run for the league after a decade of finals which usually featured clubs whose entire fanbase would barely fill their own arena.

Boston.

Chicago.

 For two long suffering franchises its an opportunity to add another Cup to one which just recently broke a long streak of futility. You know how hard it is to win two Cups? Lemieux and Jagr only won two. Sakic and Forberg only won two. Orr and Esposito only won two. Mikita and Hull only won one despite being a premier club for over a decade. Those great Calgary clubs? One. Dallas? One.

 Its really hard to do and yet here both the core guys for Chicago and Boston have a chance to do it for a second time. Its pretty amazing, especially with a thirty team league and a salary cap that saw Chicago dump the following players after their Cup win three years ago: Niemi, Campbell, Brouwer, Versteeg, Ladd, Byfuglien, Kopecky. Four top nine forwards plus Brouwer who played on their fourth line that spring after scoring 23 goals. Also a guy who is now one of the best goalies in the league and a premier defenceman. And yet they're back.

 As for the Bruins, its only been two years since they won and its almost the exact same club, with the exception of Jaromir Jagr and some spare parts. Fantastic cap management by Chiarelli.

 So ... about the Finals.

 Because of the lockout we have no head to head matchups to look at, no conference v conference data to parse. A lot of really smart guys I respect think the Hawks will run away with this and that the East is the vastly inferior conference. I tend to agree with this to a point. I generally think that the top teams on either side are pretty closely matched but that the quality runs deeper in the west all the way down the ladder. So for example before the playoffs I would say (and did) that other than Anaheim the top six teams out west would crush anyone except Boston and Pittsburgh.

 However as we have seen since the lockout once you get to a seven game series the superiority of one conference means nothing. Its gone E-W-W-E-W-E-W

 Now with that said all four Western champs have been pretty clearly top notch while the Pens barely won their Cup against a Wings' team with Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Hossa hobbled and the Carolina Hurricanes clearly were the luckiest and least deserving Stanley Cup champ of all time.

 Still, Boston is a really good team with quality and depth all through their lineup, they're no patsies.

 A few folks on the twitter pointed out to me that I was wrong to think so highly of the Pens, citing their D as a major issue and we already knew Fleury was garbage coming in. They were right but it also turned out that their quality up front after their stars was seriously lacking as well.

 So was Pittsburgh that bad or is Boston that good? The thing to remember is that except for the blowout in game two the Pens could have easily won the other three games, even game one where they hit the post twice and where Rask made a save for the ages.

 So basically the truth lies in between, as it usually does.

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 I was pretty surprised that the Penguins were almost a unanimous pick by many to win the Cup this year, by my eye they were favourites in the east with only Boston likely to challenge but would likely get run over by whoever came out of the west.

 The Bruins do present a different challenge though. In many ways they are a mirror image of Chicago and as an Oilers' fan I hope that MacTavish builds a club along these lines. Both are deep up front and on the blueline, both are puck possession teams, both have plenty of skill and speed and can play it any way you would like them to play.

 What do I think?

 I think the Bruins have the edge in goal but then again so did Detroit and LA. The fact that Rask has been lights out means very little, Quick was probably the leading Conn Smythe candidate before last series. Not to say that Rask might not steal some games and the Cup itself but what has gone before has no bearing on what is about to happen. He hasn't faced a team as deep and skilled as Chicago. Crawford has been very good for the Hawks as well.

 The difference, I think, is on the blueline and here is where Chicago has a real edge. They are six deep, unlike the Bruins' previous opponents, and the Hawks' D, for the most part, are speedy and skilled enough to avoid the forecheck, as they proved against LA. Compare Chicago's top pair to Pittsburgh's. There is no comparison. The Bruins are obviously pretty solid back there as well but I don't know how guys like Ference, McQuaid and Krug will fare. I think this may be where the Cup is won.

 Up front both clubs are deep but there are times the Bruins have trouble scoring, except for game two against the Pens they didn't put a lot up on the board and that was against Pittsburgh's pretty poor blue. I wouldn't underestimate the Bruins up front, especially with Bergeron and Krejci down the middle, whoever gets Handzus is going to eat his lunch, but the Hawks are even deeper than Boston, which is saying a lot. Their bottom six is better than Boston's imo and I think the top six is likely a sawoff.

 Chicago is bigger, faster and have the edge everywhere but in net. I wouldn't be surprised if Boston wins, not at all, but I think Chicago wins this one in six.

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