Ian Clark's On Hockey: Excitement building in Manchester for Bruins' Cup final
BEDFORD -- THE BOSTON BRUINS will face a team with a high-powered offense and a core of players who have won the Stanley Cup recently and that will provide a stiff challenge.
That description pertains to the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks, the team Boston will face in the Stanley Cup Final starting Wednesday night. But it could also have been applied perfectly to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's going to be a great series. I'm excited to watch it even though I'm disappointed that the (Los Angeles) Kings won't be there in the final," said Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, who participated in the Monarchs' annual Ace Bailey Golf Classic at Manchester Country Club Monday. "I'm very excited about this next series. It's great hockey and both teams look to be playing their best right now."
The Blackhawks are led by offensive threats Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The team is speedy and skilled. But so was the Penguins squad that managed just two goals in being swept by Boston.Don Marcotte was also in town on Monday for the Ace Bailey golf outing. Marcotte knows a little something about the Stanley Cup, having won one as a rookie with the Bruins in 1970 and then again in 1972.
He sees a lot of similarities between the Penguins and Blackhawks and says that the Bruins have the right approach for setting up offensive thrust through patience and careful puck control.
"Right now, the Bruins are playing well. They're making good plays coming out of their own end. A lot of teams are trying the long passes to the blue line and it's not working. By trying to get the pass, they're standing still. The Bruins are coming into the zone with control. That's the secret," Marcotte said. "It looked like Chicago is playing the same style as Pittsburgh, the long passes. If they do the same thing, it's not going to work against the Bruins."
Marcotte said that the finals will be interesting because the teams did not meet in the regular season due to the lockout. That meant that no Eastern Conference teams played any Western Conference teams so there is no way to compare the differences that always emerge between the playing styles of each conference.
Both the Bruins and Blackhawks boast deep rosters and both sputtered in the first round before finding their stride. Boston routed a Pittsburgh team that was pegged for the finals and Chicago knocked off the defending Cup champion Kings.
"They're just cresting at the right time. I think that their superstars are playing that way. Toews and Kane and (Patrick) Sharp and (Bryan) Bickel, they've all been very impressive," Morris said of Chicago. "Their depth is apparent. Their transition game is extremely good and they're very opportunistic. They've got some guys that can hurt you if you're out of position for a second. Both teams are very well coached and they wouldn't be in this position if they didn't have their ducks in line."
The Blackhawks and Bruins also share an interesting quirk between the pipes as both goalies are seeking their first Cups as starters. For Boston, Tuukka Rask is playing well and trying to establish himself as a playoff gamer. Two years ago, Tim Thomas was the Boston netminder who led the way to the Cup.
Chicago's Corey Crawford is also establishing himself as a big-game goalie. When the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, it was Antti Niemi who backstopped Chicago to glory. Crawford comes in having out-dueled L.A. all-world goalie Jonathan Quick.
If you subscribe to the notions of fate and hockey gods and all of those intangible-yet-still-somehow-believable aspects of sports, then perhaps this is the Stanley Cup final that was destined to be.
It's been an Original Six kind of playoffs and now we have an Original Six Stanley Cup Final. Despite the existence of these two franchises for nearly 100 years, the Bruins and Blackhawks have never met with the Cup on the line.
But Original Six battles have been abundant in the playoffs this season. Mathematically, the most Original Six series that can occur in the NHL playoffs is five. This playoff stretch, there have been four. Chicago faced Detroit, Boston played Toronto and then the New York Rangers and now we have Chicago and Boston left standing.
With two of the teams in the Western Conference and Detroit set to leave for the East next season, an Original Six Stanley Cup final will become even less probable. Let's hope that this potential final hurrah for Original Six Cup showdowns lives up to the legacy.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.