The first Original Six Stanley Cup Final since 1979 is a reality.
In 1979, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers met in the Final with the Canadiens winning the last of four-straight titles with a five-game victory.
Now, the Boston Bruins, who swept the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Eastern Conference title, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who knocked out the defending champion Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, renew their Original Six rivalry in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final with each looking to add to a recent championship. The Bruins won the Cup against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 -- succeeding the Blackhawks, who defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in 2010.
Game 1 is Wednesday at United Center in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
Despite being rivals since the inception of the League, the Bruins and Blackhawks do not have much of a postseason history. This will be the seventh time the teams have met in the playoffs, and the first since a four-game sweep by Boston in the 1978 Quarterfinals that continued the Bruins' domination of the postseason meetings between the two teams.
The teams did not play each other during the 2012-13 regular season because of the 48-game truncated schedule caused by the lockout.
Chicago is the favorite coming out of the gate. The Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best team; they finished 15 points ahead of Boston (77-62), which ended up fourth in the East.
The teams have followed similar paths to reach the final checkpoint in the grueling marathon that is the march to the Stanley Cup. Each survived a seven-game scare -- Boston against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round; Chicago against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round -- but dominated in their other two seriest.
The finalists are very similar in construction. Each features a goalie playing at an elite level, a varied defense corps capable of playing both ends of the ice, and a deep fleet of forwards that features a potential game-changer on each line.
All in all, it appears to be a recipe for an unforgettable Stanley Cup Final.
The Chicago Blackhawks have four world-class forwards, and being able to move them around on his top two lines has given coach Joel Quenneville some options in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Typically, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are on one unit with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on the other.
Hossa has been the team's most consistent forward, while Sharp has provided plenty of goals. Toews and Kane have both struggled at times, though Kane had a hat trick in the conference final-clinching win on Saturday and Toews set up his linemate's winner in double-OT.
The real star of this postseason for the Blackhawks has been rugged forward Bryan Bickell. He has proven adept at playing off the stars on one of the top lines, providing a physical element and the ability to cause chaos in front of the opposing goaltender.
Michal Handzus has been a surprise since being promoted to No. 2 center in the middle of the second round. Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg have been a bit inconsistent -- impactful at times, less so at others -- on the third line, while Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger have been great on the penalty kill.
Though known as a defense-first team, the Bruins can score goals. In fact, they have the most goals of any team in this tournament.
Boston, however, doesn't really have a star system. As David Krejci said when asked if he was in the same class as Penguins superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Bruins are a team, and teamwork is the foundation of all they do.
But make no mistake, Krejci is a superstar. He leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 21 points in 16 games and has scored several big goals, like his series-opening strike against the Penguins.
He is joined by some skilled peers. Center Patrice Bergeron is a defensive whiz but also scores clutch goal after clutch goal, including in double overtime in Game 3 of the conference final.
Nathan Horton, Krejci's linemate, has 17 points and is a plus-14. Milan Lucic, the other piece of the top line, is an elite power forward and has 13 points. Brad Marchand, a wing on Bergeron's line, also has 13 points. The other wing on that line is the legendary Jaromir Jagr, who appears to be hitting his stride in the later rounds of the playoffs.
Boston is so deep up front nine of their 13 forwards have scored a goal, and 10 have three or more points.
The Bruins lost Gregory Campbell because of a broken leg sustained blocking a shot in Game 3 of the conference final. It will be interesting to see what his absence means long term.
Duncan Keith has been great, though he did miss a game in the Western Conference Final after being suspended for a retaliatory high-stick to the face of Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter. The Blackhawks got by without him because of a surprisingly good effort from Michal Rozsival, but they won't want to be forced to play without him again.
Brent Seabrook struggled in the first half of the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, but has looked like his old self since. He and Keith have been dynamic since being reunited for Game 5 against the Red Wings.
Niklas Hjalmarsson probably deserves more credit than he gets for being a strong No. 3 guy. He and Johnny Oduya have been solid as the team's second pairing. Nick Leddy hasn't had the postseason expected of him, and his ice time has been reduced on the third pair. Rozsival struggled at times, but he was great in the game Keith was suspended for.
The six defensemen are the undeniable foundation of the Bruins, who have allowed fewer than two goals per game.
Zdeno Chara might be the best defenseman in the League and was the focal point of a scheme that held the Penguins to two goals in the conference final. His work against Malkin was brilliant.
Chara's normal partner, Dennis Seidenberg, is among the most underrated defensive defensemen in the game. Andrew Ference returned from injury for the conference final, which was important for the Bruins because it evened the pairs again and allowed coach Claude Julien to match his second pairing against the Crosby line.
Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid are conscientious, stay-at-home players. Rookie Torey Krug, inserted into the lineup because of injuries, injected life into the power play.
As good as Boston's defenders are defensively, they do contribute on offense. Boston has 15 goals from its defenders, including McQuaid's game-winner in Game 4 against Pittsburgh. Every defenseman who has dressed has at least one point.
This postseason could be remembered for Corey Crawford's breakout. Crawford has been solid, and sometimes spectacular, for the Blackhawks. They don't ask him to win too many games, but he hasn't been losing them, either. He's also beaten Jimmy Howard, who was playing at an elite level, and Jonathan Quick, who might be the best goalie in the world. It is pretty tough to argue with that.
Ray Emery had a fantastic season was the No. 1A goaltender, and was a big reason why the Blackhawks earned the William Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed during the regular season. He hasn't played in a while now, but is a pretty nice insurance policy should anything happen to Crawford.
Tuukka Rask was good in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He is otherworldly now.
Against Pittsburgh, Rask stopped 134 of 136 shots for an almost incomprehensible .985 save percentage. He had two shutouts in the series and allowed one goal in the final two games. His quick glove save against Jarome Iginla at the buzzer of Game 4 to protect a 1-0 lead will be a permanent part of his individual sizzle reel for years to come.
Rask has been so good he is making Boston fans forget the brilliance of Tim Thomas, who led the Bruins to the Cup two years ago with a performance that turned him into a local legend. Rask's numbers -- 12-4 record, 1.75 goals-against average and .948 save percentage -- are better than those of Thomas after three rounds in 2011.
Quenneville has made several key adjustments to get the Blackhawks into the Final.
With Chicago trailing 3-1 in the conference semifinals against Detroit, he reunited Seabrook and Keith on the top defense pair. Seabrook, who had been struggling, picked up his game after being paired with Keith and has been one of Chicago's top blueliners since.
In Game 4 of the conference final, when Keith couldn't play because of a suspension, Quenneville smartly gave Rozsival extra ice time and he answered with a strong game. He also put Kane with Toews and Bickell in the second period of Game 4 against L.A. and they scored the game-tying goal on their second shift as a line. It was Kane's first goal in eight games.
Quenneville has shown his veteran savvy in these playoffs.
Julien has never gotten enough credit for what he has accomplished with the Bruins. Boston has won seven of its past eight playoff series, and the loss came in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals last season.
He has an implicit trust in his team and plays to the strength of his roster. His use of his fourth line before the Campbell injury was a perfect illustration; Julien allowed his grinders to play against the top lines from other teams, showing the entire Boston lineup that hard work and defensive responsibility will always be rewarded.
Julien is a master tactician who has the rare ability to get the matchups he wants, even on the road, mainly because he uses his defensemen more than his forwards in matching situations. He is unflappable, displaying a preternatural calmness that bleeds into his team, even in the most dire circumstances.
Chicago had the best penalty kill in the Western Conference during the regular season (87.2 percent). It has been more than seven percent better in the playoffs (94.8 percent).
The Blackhawks have won playoff games because of their penalty kill, which is 55-for-58 through 178 games. Frolik and Kruger are arguably the best forward duo in shorthanded situations. They're not only aggressive in the defensive zone, but they have enough skill to create shorthanded scoring chances. Chicago does a great job of getting in shooting lanes, blocking shots. Crawford has been excellent, too.
Despite the amount of talent Chicago has on its power play, it has struggled with the extra man all season. Chicago has connected on 13.7 percent it its power plays in the playoffs, though that hasn't mattered much because the penalty kill has been so good.
The Bruins power play wasn't good against the Penguins, going 0-for-the series. But it didn't have to be; Boston got enough scoring at even strength. Even with those struggles, the Bruins are better on the power play this postseason than they were when they won the Cup.
Boston is excelling when down a man. Pittsburgh was on the man-advantage 15 times in the conference final and didn't score a goal. The kill is anchored by Seidenberg and Chara. Campbell was a key part of the unit and will have to be replaced.
Brent Seabrook: Seabrook has been effective since being reunited with Keith in Game 5 against the Red Wings. The Blackhawks will need him to be one of their most physical players against the Bruins, who will try to play a similar type of style that Chicago just saw from the Kings. Seabrook can play that game. He is a take-a-hit-to-make-a-play kind of defenseman.
However, the Blackhawks will also need Seabrook's skill in order to get to their transition game quickly so the Bruins wind up playing on their heels. They want the Bruins skating backwards through the neutral zone. That will also give Seabrook the opportunity to join the rush, which can be a big part of his game.
Milan Lucic: When the big power forward is on the top of his game, he is almost unstoppable. There are few defenseman who can handle his unique mix of size and skill; Pittsburgh inserted defenseman Deryk Engelland, sacrificing offense in the process, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to do so. Lucic can wear down a team in a long series; just ask Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpick, who took a debilitating hit from Lucic in Game 3
Lucic's ability and willingness to get in on the forecheck and start the cycle allows Krejci the room required to bring his offensive wizardry into play. But when Lucic is not engaged, he is conspicuous for the lack of effect he has on the game. Therefore, he will have to be fully engaged in the Final for Boston to have the best chance to win.
WHAT IF ...
Blackhawks will win if ... They use their speed and transition game in order to get the puck deep so they can play in the offensive zone. If you've heard this before -- well, it's because you have. This is the exact same recipe for success that the Blackhawks had against the Kings. If the Bruins are better in the neutral zone, Chicago will be in deep trouble. The Blackhawks have to win that area of the ice because success there leads to the type of offensive game they have to play.
Bruins will win if ... They play like they did against the Penguins. Essentially, the Bruins played a perfect game to bounce the Penguins in four straight. Boston received opportunistic offense, played patient and conscientious defense, received elite-level goaltending, excelled at penalty killing, and kept its cool when Pittsburgh couldn't.
The experienced Bruins can do it again because all of those things are part of the foundation of the system for success, one that was validated with a Stanley Cup triumph 24 months ago. If they are hitting successfully on each one, they become a team with very few flaws that is nearly impossible to rattle or break down.
Analysis by Shawn P. Roarke, Dan Rosen and Corey Masisak
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