Fans of the Montreal Canadiens won’t like this blog’s headline. In order for the Boston Bruins to make the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year, they’ll first need to eliminate their oldest rival, the Montreal Canadiens, in the second-round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Habs and Bruins will contend for Atlantic Division supremacy over the following two weeks. The series will be the thirty-fourth postseason affair between the two storied franchises. Montreal holds a commanding lead in most series’ won (24-9), but the Bruins have won the two most recent best-of-seven epics with a core that remains intact and boasts a Stanley Cup championship from 2011 on its resume. Boston eliminated the Canadiens in Game 7 of the first-round en route to its ’11 Cup, the franchise’s first championship since 1972.
In fact, much of Montreal’s postseason superiority over the Bruins dates back to pre-1990, when goalies stood up and hockey sticks were made from lumber. Since the 1989-90 season, the Bruins have won six of nine series’ against the Canadiens, including four straight in a five year period between ’90 and 1994.
In 1993 the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup without going-through Boston. The Bruins were upset in the first-round by the Buffalo Sabres that year. The 1993 Stanley Cup victory was Montreal’s league leading twenty-fourth, and they’ve yet to win another since.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks are off fighting battles in the faraway Western Conference — crushing dreams, ruining careers and making a case for best dynasty since the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.
The Hawks were assertive in a Stanley Cup Final-like first-round series against the physically imposing, defensively sound St. Louis Blues. It was entertaining, and over in six. The Hawks never lost a game in regulation throughout the series, and all four of Chicago’s game-winning goals were scored by Conn Smythe winners — Jonathan Toews had three and Patrick Kane chipped in with an overtime decider, as well. I wonder if that’s ever happened before?
But give the Blues credit, they played the Blackhawks well. It’s quite possible, depending on how the chips fall, that Chicago may not face another opponent of the Blues’ quality for the remainder of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, unless they meet the Bruins in the Final.
The Blackhawks won the 2013 Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins in what was a memorable Final between two Original 6 teams that unfortunately don’t play against each other enough. At this point, with one round of 2014 postseason action nearly complete, the Blackhawks and Bruins deserve recognition as favourites to return to the tournament’s final round.
Boston won the Presidents’ Trophy for orchestrating an exceptional 2013-14 regular season in which they won 54 games and recorded 117 points to lead the league. The dominance they displayed consistently during the year has carried over into the postseason. The B’s put on a defensive clinic in the first-round, defeating the once mighty Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Wings managed to score six measly goals against the Bruins, and never truly posed a threat to the defending Eastern Conference champs after winning Game 1, 1-0.
Upsets happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs — that is part of the tournament’s appeal. Thus, Bruins-Blackhawks in the Final is by no means a guarantee. However, each is the team to beat in its respective conference.
According to VegasInsider , the Bruins and Blackhawks top the Cup favourites’ list.
Vegas oddsmakers aside, a Bruins-Blackhawks final wouldn’t be surprising because they are the two best teams remaining in the tournament, as they were when sixteen clubs had life two weeks ago.
Both the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks are led by Selke and Norris Trophy finalists, plus supporting casts that are riddled with the most uniquely skilled players in the NHL. Call it a competitive advantage created by drafting and harnessing the rare talents of sought-after human assets.
For example, the Bruins ice a Lucic in their lineup. No player in the league provides his team with the effective combination of punch and beastliness Milan Lucic does his Bruins. He is basically made of titanium, unbreakable; and when players run at him they get bounced like a puck off a goaltender’s pad.
But he’s not solely freakishly big and strong — Lucic can play. He shines under pressure, too. The Bruins’ number 17 recorded 19 points in 21 games last postseason, including 3 goals in the two games in which his team faced elimination.
And the Hawks’ roster features game-breaker Patrick Kane, who is hockey’s finest at eluding opponents while carrying the puck. He puck-handles at high-speed and sees the ice in the offensive zone with as much vision as a greenseer from George R R Martin’s epic series, A Song Of Ice And Fire.
The fruits of Kane’s labour often lead to bouts of down-low pressure that baffles his opponents until a penalty is taken or red light is lit. Together with defenceman Duncan Keith, no other combo in the league plays keep-away with as much style. Their collective ability to possess the puck is a large reason why the Blackhawks keep winning Stanley Cups.
And as far as I can tell from the outside looking in, the core players on the Bruins and Blackhawks are highly motivated to see their names etched into the Stanley Cup again and again.
Boston has played in two of the past three Finals. The Hawks have smoothly won the Cup twice in a four year period, between 2010 and 2013.
Chicago proved in Round 1 that they’re every bit as motivated as they were last year. Conversely, the Bruins are miles ahead of the pack in the East based on every statistical measure available, and to the naked-eye, as well.
Sure, Boston could lose to Montreal in the second-round. The rivalry between the two clubs always has a way of levelling the playing field when one team is better than the other on paper or in the standings, especially when the Bruins are considered pre-series favourites. It’s safe to conclude that the Bruins’ toughest opponent in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs is probably going to be the Montreal Canadiens, unless Boston plays Chicago in the Final.
Whichever club they play, the Hawks are heavy favourites next round. The Wild suffer from poor goaltending and a serious lack of depth compared to the well-put-together Blackhawks. And the Avalanche — they’re probably the closest thing in the NHL to potentially becoming the next Chicago Blackhawks — but their time is not now. They lack the experience and maturity to defeat a Hawks’ team that makes a hockey game look how a Ferrari drives.
Both the Bruins and the Blackhawks will need to win two more rounds apiece before they can face-off in a second consecutive final against each other. A lot can go wrong for either club along the way. But in a perfect world where every team’s best players stay healthy and play to their full potential, Bruins-Blackhawks is as likely a Final as there is in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The last time the same two teams met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals was in 2008 and ’09 when the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins did so. Before that, the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers did a double in 1983 and ’84. On both occasions, each team won the Cup once and lost once. In this hypothetical scenario that pits the Bruins and the Blackhawks against each other in the 2014 Cup Final, it’s the Bruins turn to play the part of champion.