Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.
Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.
by Kevin Moore
The conference finals were supposed to be dramatic knockout/drag-out affairs that were going to give us nonstop excitement, but it just didn’t happen consistently in either series. Tuukka Rask stymied the Penguins and allowed just two goals in the sweep while emerging as the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe and making Pittsburgh the biggest playoff disappointment since the 1995 Red Wings – coincidentally the last time the NHL had a shortened schedule due to a work stoppage. Jonathan Quick was not the superman we thought (although he still played great, just not out of this world) and Patrick Kane woke up just in time to make everyone realize that the Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL from day one this year. What we are left with is the NHL’s first Original Six matchup since 1979 when the Canadiens beat the Rangers in five games.
1. Chicago vs 4. Boston
Forwards: The Blackhawks stars have not been consistent this playoff year but there is hope. Patrick Kane’s Game 5 hat trick could be the spark that wakes him up and has him playing up to the playoff standard he set in 2010. Patrick Sharp (14 pts) paces the Hawks with 8 goals, good for second in the playoffs, and Marian Hossa (14 pts, +8) has continued his solid two-way play. Chicago’s biggest surprise has been Bryan Bickell (13 pts) who since being inserted on their top line has contributed some big goals; he’s tied with Sharp for second in the playoffs with 8 goals. If the Blackhawks are going to win this series they are going to need Jonathan Toews (1 G, 8 A) to wake up and play like the Conn Smythe winner he was in 2010.
Boston’s forwards have played a physical brand of defensive hockey that frustrated Pittsburgh’s skill players last round. David Krejci (9 G, 12 A) leads the playoffs in points while Nathan Horton (7 G, 10 A) has been a force, leading all players in +/- by a wide margin with a +21 rating. Patrice Bergeron (5 G, 6 A) has cemented himself as the top defensive center in the NHL by logging big minutes last round against Pittsburgh’s top line and winning draws at a very good 61% clip in the playoffs. Boston’s confidence and production from all four lines should give them the edge overall in this series and be a big factor in wearing down Chicago’s top guys.
by Kevin Moore
For the first time since 1945 the NHL conference finals features the past four Stanley Cup winners: Pittsburgh (2009), Chicago (2010), Boston (2011), and Los Angeles (2012). So for the most part you can throw experience out the window since all four teams have key players with clutch experience, at least at the scoring positions. If you look in net only one team currently boasts a starting goalie who was in net when they clinched the Cup – last year’s Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, with apologies to Marc-Andre Fleury who is on the bench for the Penguins after a horrid first round. Regardless of who emerges out of this fearsome foursome it should be wildly entertaining as the Cup could go to any of the four teams.