Two NHL franchises, rich in history, talent and star power. Two winning teams that know what it takes to bring home a title. Intrigue in the form of a schedule that kept them away from each other for an entire season.
Oh, there is plenty to love about the Stanley Cup Final.
The series starts tonight, when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Boston Bruins in the first finals matchup of “Original Six” teams that made up the league from 1942 to 1967 since Montreal beat the New York Rangers way back in 1979.
The mighty Blackhawks, winners of seven of the past eight games, have a deep roster that really found their identity when pushed to the limit by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the playoffs. Then there are the playoff-tested Bruins, who rolled over favored Pittsburgh during an impressive sweep that gave them a chance for a second NHL title in three seasons.
The matchup could not be more perfect for a league still trying to recover from a bitter lockout that wiped out 510 games and pushed the start of the season back to Jan. 19.
“The tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure, you know, the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1.”
Chicago advanced with a 4-3 double-overtime victory over Los Angeles on Saturday, using a hat-trick from Patrick Kane to eliminate defending champions the Kings in five games in the Western Conference finals. Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2010, the Blackhawks are in search of another title to pair with their six-game victory over the Philadelphia Flyers three years ago.
“Everyone has that drive to win the Cup,” Chicago forward Andrew Shaw said. “It’s going to be a long road ahead here. It’s surreal. I’ve wanted this since I was a kid. I’m excited to get started.”
Boston are rolling again after losing their spot atop the NHL’s Northeast Division in the final days of the regular season. The Bruins have won five in a row and nine of 10, boosted by a familiar group of stars who led the way when they won the championship in 2011. David Krejci scored four times in the Pittsburgh sweep, and leads Boston with nine goals and 12 assists in the playoffs.
“The excitement is there,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said on Sunday. “You’ve heard people say: ‘Once you’ve been there, you want to go back.’ It’s true, we really want to go back; we made it happen. We’re excited about it and we also know what kind of challenge lies ahead for us. It’s about acknowledging that and being ready for it.”
While Boston and Chicago have kept an eye on each other for a while now, there is no way for either team to know what to expect at the start of the series. That is because the lockout-shortened schedule included no games between teams from opposing conferences.
That’s right, the Bruins and Blackhawks have not played since Oct. 15, 2011, when Boston won 3-2 in a shootout in Chicago. There are no mutual opponents this year, not even an All-Star game to compare the players from each conference.
“I think all the information is out there for both teams to understand how we both play,” Julien said. “There’s no secrets there. Again, like I said, it’s only the head to head, how the two teams are kind of going to clash, what’s going to happen when we do. It’s as simple as that. ”
The Bruins were on the brink of elimination when they trailed Toronto 4-1 with less than 11 minutes left in the third period of Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs, but they managed to beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime.
The Blackhawks had their own great escape in the second round, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the rival Red Wings in seven games. The comeback included a three-goal flurry in Game 6 that erased a 2-1 deficit heading into the final period.