Anyway, the beloved Chicago Blackhawks face off against the evil Boston Bruins. Do I believe that? Not particularly. To be honest, I didn’t watch hockey nearly as closely as usual because I was paying so close attention to the Pacers. What I did watch was entirely Blackhawks. I bet I haven’t watched more than a real-time hour of Eastern conference hockey this year, given how the lockout schedule was set up this year. Am I complaining? No, actually. I thought it was great. It was like how baseball should be set up.
Seriously, because of the schedule, there is so much mystery and intrigue here. All the things you would typically fall back on aren’t here. There were no head-to-head meetings,* no common opponents. No, these teams existed in totally separate bubbles this year. We can (and will) compare seasons, but do take it all with a grain of salt thanks to that.
*In a twist that sure surprised me, despite being both original six teams, the Blackhawks and Bruins have never met for a Cup final before. Sure, there are reasons for this, like how for some time the original six were all in a division together and all the expansion teams were in another. There was a pretty long cup drought for both cities not long after that. But you would still think they would have faced off at least once in all those years before expansion.
First, we’ll look at the Blackhawks, since they are my favored team. Long story short, this was pretty well the dream season for Chicago. They dominated from the get, setting a new points streak record to start the season. I don’t believe there was any point of the season where they were not in first place of the conference, though they did hit a bit of a soft spot in the last third of the year. Still, if there was a juggernaught this season, Chicago was it.
The playoffs were a little more spotty. They did take care of the Wild in five games, which was good. They were a bit tougher games than they should have been, though, especially considering their starting goalie went down with an injury literally five or ten minutes before the series was supposed to start. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to see your backup goalie in the playoffs, but that really is the worst possible time for that to happen. Still, the series went more or less according to script.
Enter, then, the age-old rivalry of Detroit and Chicago. This would be the last time* these two would see each other before the finals, thanks to some common-sense realignment. I know hockey is more than a little tilted to the east coast, but there was never any good geographic reason for Detroit or Columbus to be in the West to start. I digress. This did not go to script, and quickly became the most (only?) adversity the Blackhawks saw all year. After winning the first game at home easily enough (4-1), Chicago dropped the next three, none of them particularly competitive. It really looked like the dream run was over. I know I had pretty well given up on them. But, this team showed it did have some grit to it.
*For the foreseeable future, anyway.
Back in the United Center, Chicago reasserted as much control as a team down 3-1 can with another 4-1 victory. Still, you were down 3-1, there’s only so much one game can do. Things were tough back in Detroit, but after a furious third period comeback, Chicago managed to knot the series at three with a 4-3 win. Back to the United Center, then, for an intense game seven. And, boy, was it ever. After being tied 1-1 most of the way, it looked like Chicago had the game won with a late third period goal. The only problem was the officially way back in the Chicago zone had blown his whistle thanks to a hit putting a player in the benches, nullifying the score. Was it a play that should have been whistled? I didn’t think so, personally. Especially not in game seven of a rivalry playoff series. But, replay did clearly show the officially whistling and motioning just seconds before the shot went off. It was hard to swallow, but there was nothing to be done about it. To overtime we went.
It was a back-and-forth overtime period, and I was just sure Detroit would win it after having the goal waved off. I sat and watched in dread. Thankfully, the overtime only lasted a bit under four minutes before Brent Seabrook finally notched his first playoff score to put the series away. It was an awfully close call, but the season was saved. On to the Kings!
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the Chicago-L.A. series. I really thought it would be quite a bit tougher than it was. The Kings were the defending champions, and Jonathan Quick was (and likely still is) the consensus “best goalie in the world” right now. The Blackhawks, for the most part, tore through them like paper. The toughest game was the last one, which went to double overtime. It was a game that shouldn’t have gotten that far. The Blackhawks dominated the first period as much as any team has all year, but only had two goals to show for it. That was a little worrying, but it was hard to imagine losing that game. Then came the short-handed Kings goal in the second period. You had to cringe a bit at that, but I just chalked it up to a bit of a fluke. No reason to panic yet. Then they scored on a power play in the third to tie it. Worry definitely set in after that, especially with the penalty being a pretty dumb one. I tried to keep calm, reminding myself that the Blackhawks were up 3-1, but after what just happened the Red Wings, I really didn’t want this series to go any further. Finally, Patrick Kane lit the lamp with just a couple minutes to go in the third. A big sigh of relief. Finals, here we come.
You probably know the story from here, but I’ll recount it. The Kings were trying desperately to score, but absolutely could not keep control of the puck long enough to pull Quick and get the extra attacker out there. Playoff hero Bryan Bickell iced the puck with nine seconds to go, finally letting the sixth attacker on. I didn’t think much of it. Six skaters or no, you ought to be able to hold the lead for nine seconds. There isn’t enough time for the extra skater to make a difference at that point. Cue a Kings faceoff win and quick shot later, and the score is tied, 3-3. It was probably the second most stunned crowd I’d ever seen.* The overtime periods were awfully tense, and full of close calls on both sides. Maybe it was the pessimist in me, but I felt like the Kings generally controlled play throughout both overtimes. But the Blackhawks had shown enough I didn’t give up hope. I just felt like I could puke. Finally, Toews and Kane connected on the exact same one-timer they had barely missed in the first overtime. Now, finally, stick the Chelsea Dagger into the Kings, it was time for the finals.
*First would be the Wabash crowd for the Bell game my senior year. Wabash had an early lead, but it kept dwindling throughout the second half as the Little Giant offense couldn’t get anything going. You could feel Wabash defense starting to tire and the DePauw drives going on for longer and longer. Still, it looked like the game was won when DePauw had to kick about a forty-five yard field goal. No gimme on any level, especially not Division III. And not when you saw their kicker blow an extra point earlier in the game. Little did we know this was now the backup kicker. Not that it would’ve changed our minds at that point. We thought we’d held on. But, no, it sailed perfectly through the uprights, leaving literally half of the stadium completely dumbfounded and unable to make a sound. I don’t think I said another word until we were back in Crawfordsville and I finally felt like I could eat again.
Hmm. Well, this has gone on longer than I thought it would. As I said before, I didn’t watch the Bruins at all this year. All I really know about them is Toronto had them as beat as any team could have a team beat without the final buzzer sounded, but Boston somehow came away with that game seven. From there, they pretty well blitzed both the Rangers and the Penguins. Pretty shocking, considering how the Rangers had dominated their first round series. It was bad enough now the team is going into overhaul mode. And the Penguins, well, I really don’t have any idea what happened there. They were pretty much the East’s version of the Blackhawks until they apparently forgot how to play hockey against Boston. I’ll see if I can get a better explanation from somebody closer to the situation.
As far as a prediction, well, I mean, it’s no surprise I would pick the Blackhawks here. And I am. I think it will be a tough series, but I do think Chicago is the better team here. Too much firepower for Boston to compete with. Also, it seems like the Cup has been decided on the road more often than not the past several years, so I’m going to say Chicago in six, with at least two games being decided in overtime.