Hockey fans who endured another lockout are in for a treat that’ll cap a sprint of a season.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are set to compete for the Stanley Cup for the first time in the NHL’s first final featuring Original Six teams since 1979.
There have been seven champions in the salary-cap era, and the team that hoists the Cup this month will become the league’s only two-time winner of the new era.
Here’s a look at five things to watch when the puck drops tonight.
Speed vs. strength
Chicago has some of the fastest forwards and defensemen on the planet. Boston, though, is the toughest team in hockey. Something’s got to give. Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane had a hat trick in his last game, the third goal 11:40 into double overtime eliminated the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. But if the cat-quick Kane runs into Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, he’s in trouble. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Chara is nearly a foot taller and more than 75 pounds heavier than Kane.
Between the pipes
No one wins a Stanley Cup without a great goaltender – or at least one who is playing great during the playoffs – and both teams have goalies playing their best hockey at a perfect time for teams that weren’t counting on them the last time they won a championship. Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Boston’s Tuukka Rask are 1-2 and 2-1 in two key categories this postseason. Crawford has an NHL-low 1.74 goals-against average, just ahead of Rask’s 1.75 GAA. The Bruins are still playing in large part because Rask leads the league with a .943 save percentage and likewise, Crawford has kept the Blackhawks in it to win it by turning away .935 percent of the shots that make it to him.
David Krejci has been simply sensational, leading the league with nine goals and 21 points this postseason. When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 for the first time since 1972, he led them with 23 points. Jonathan Toews was tough to stop when Chicago ended its 49-year championship drought in 2010, scoring seven goals and leading the team with 29 points. Chicago’s captain has only one goal this postseason and has tried to make up it with eight assists and leadership.
Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien won’t play a shift, but they decide who plays when, and their choices will make for a game within the game each night. The adjustments both Cup-winning coaches make on special teams will be pivotal. Both teams have scored a relatively modest seven goals on the power play. Chicago has been the best when short-handed, killing 95 percent of its penalties.
Chicago’s Bryan Bickell and Boston’s Nathan Horton have set themselves up to cash in as free agents this summer. Bickell has scored eight times this postseason and has produced 13 points after having just nine goals and 23 points in the 48-game regular season. Horton has seven goals and 17 points – five points shy of his total from the shortened season.