Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals Begin Tonight

Hey, long time no see! I've been quietly scratching away at some longer-term projects since the last post, but this subject material has its own particular time frame, so let's get right to it. (There's hockey to be watched, after all.)

(1W) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (4E) Boston Bruins

This really does feel like it could be a once-in-a-lifetime clash-of-the-titans affair, which is why I fear it could turn out to be disappointingly anticlimactic. (There've been some real dogs of series thoughout the history of the Finals, and it does look like we're about due.)

On paper, of course, it's fascinating; both groups feature absurdly deep forward corps, twenty-to-thirty-minute hallmark shutdown pairs on defence, a whole bunch of big dudes who will punch you if you try anything, and wildly successful if probably overperforming goaltenders. (Granting that Quick had been the best goaltender going into the last round, and, uh, yeah.)

Both teams are also as healthy and well-rested as could be considered realistically possible this late in the year; both Conference Finals went quickly, Boston's had kind of an easy ride in the last series and a half or so, and (as I'd mentioned last time) Chicago didn't actually seem to start applying themselves until game ten or eleven of the campaign.

One would normally be tempted to take special teams into consideration, but it'll be amazing if there's one god damn power play goal this whole series (however long the series lasts). Both teams have been phenomenal at penalty killing and astonishingly lousy with the man advantage, and we've hit the point in the year when you can only reliably draw a non-offset minor through procedural malarkey. Like, one team would have to specifically put too many men on the ice, and then that extra guy would have to get the puck in his own zone and shoot it out over the boards. That'd be the only way that someone on the extra team doesn't mysteriously also collect a penalty on the play, the way one does this time of year by getting punched at the side of the net or tied up along the boards on a line change.

Also: this time two years ago Boston entered the Stanley Cup Finals with a playoff power-play success rate of one in ten, just barely squeaking the eleven-per-cent mark, and then won the Stanley Cup anyway. So enough about special teams.

The Bruins have just finished dismantling what could have been considered the ideal offence, and the Blackhawks have just finished dismantling what could be considered the ideal defence and goaltending. It's a fun contrast.

Alas, while my loyalties have historically been pretty obvious -- RAY EMERY FOREVER -- I fear that this may indeed come true and bring Boston its second Cup in two years.

It'll be harder to beat the Blackhawks than the Penguins, unquestionably; it couldn't be easier, surely, at any rate. The Penguins' offensive strategy was to stand still, leave Crosby to skate into quadruple coverage, and then go collect the puck out from behind Vokoun or Fleury depending on how badly the game was going; the Pens' top scorers were Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz, because the Penguins' only scorers were Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz. So Chicago is far better poised to crack the Bruins' blue line, being able to activate defensive rushes and all, but that can only catch a team unawares so many times in a row.

Note that Detroit did as well as they did against the Blackhawks because they were able to shut down Chicago's top forwards, as Boston will surely aim to do (and did with the consensus best forward roster in the world), and because they consistently kept the puck away from Chicago, as Boston's infuriatingly strong faceoff percentage may ensure.

Shutting down forwards bears further mention because, if the previous three rounds are any indication, it's not an option against the Bruins. The top line of Lucic, Krejci and Horton -- and surely any opponent will do its best to shut down the other team's top line at all time -- the top line of Lucic, Krejci and Horton are +13, +14 and +21 through sixteen playoff games, with thirteen, fourteen and twenty-one points respectively. No no, read that again: Nathan Horton is +21 across sixteen playoff games. Which, I mean, excuse me. I beg your pardon. How is that a thing.

I could be wrong -- I hope I'm wrong! -- I wish I were wrong more often -- but I'm going with:

What I'd Want: Chicago in seven, including at least one line brawl.
What I'll Guess: Boston in six, including at least one shutout.

Hockey, everybody! I'll see you back here in a day or two, with some... unique... Winnipeg content. Until then, true believers!

No comments: