Contrary to what some may believe, I haven’t sworn off hockey for good after the Penguins – the same Penguins who were averaging more goals than any team in the playoffs since 1990 – managed to score TWICE IN 275 MINUTES in their embarrassing no-show in the conference finals.
Rather than focusing on Pittsburgh’s ineptitude, though, don’t forget to credit Boston for controlling that series from the opening puck drop and Tuukka Rask for never allowing the Penguins the life they were so desperately seeking in the double-overtime Game 3 thriller, which was one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in a long, long time.
The Blackhawks are a minus-150 favorite in Vegas, which means they should win this series approximately 60 percent of the time. But nearly all of the experts I’ve seen throwing their hat in the prediction ring have picked Boston, and it’s pretty easy to see why after the Bruins clogged up the neutral zone, beat down the Penguins’ forwards and allowed nearly no rebound opportunities.
The Blackhawks and Penguins are both similarly skilled teams, but Chicago is faster. The Blackhawks also will not allow Boston to put up police tape in a 20×20 area in front of the net to keep everyone out of Rask’s way.
Aside from Patrick Kane’s hat trick in Game 5 against the Kings, Kane and captain Jonathan Toews had combined for 4 goals in 16 playoff games. Yet here the ‘Hawks are anyway, having had little issue against either Minnesota or Los Angeles even with that Detroit scare in between.
Boston may very well win this series. They might have gotten that massive scare from the Maple Leafs in Round 1 and then taken off like a Lamborghini. After they held the Penguins scoreless for 60 more minutes in Game 4, I was all ready to pick the Bruins in six. But if there’s ever been a stronger case of recency bias getting in the way than this, I’d love to hear it. Chicago might be similar to Pittsburgh, but it’s also a smarter, more well-coached team that will adjust on the fly. Corey Crawford will need to be stellar, as Boston has the ability to get goals in bunches – Game 2 in Pittsburgh, anyone? – but he’s proven to be up to the task. This should be a tight series featuring strong goaltending, great penalty killing and not too many goals. I’d imagine we’ll have an overtime or two to digest in the coming few weeks, and plenty of nerve-wracking finishes.
The pick: Blackhawks in 7
Conn Smythe winner: Marian Hossa