Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stanley Cup Review

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the 2013 Stanley Cup. The finals was a series of glorious, heroic, and hard fought hockey games played by athletes that epitomize the term "warrior".

My prediction was that the Bruins would win the series in 7 games. Instead, the Blackhawks prevailed in 6 games, showing resilience and the ability to counter the physical game of the Bruins with speed, talent, and scoring that came from all four lines.

To win the Cup, the Bruins needed balanced scoring from all their lines. That didn't happen. The Blackhawks were able to thwart the offensive efforts of Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, and Brad Marchand, among others. In the run up to the finals, the Bruins had been getting timely scoring from all their lines. The Hawks did a very good job of limiting those chances and shutting down the Bruins secondary scoring.

The Bruins will most likely look back on this series and say they let it slip away. There is some validity to that argument. The Bruins lost a 2 goal lead in game one, allowing the Hawks to score 2 third period goals and win in overtime. The Bruins captured the next 2 games in the series before dropping 3 straight, and missed opportunities and defensive lapses were the hallmark of those losses.

The Bruins had some uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns that cost them dearly. How much of that was the talent of the Hawks and how much was the Bruins defenders being gassed trying to counter the Hawks speed can be debated, but as the series wore on, the talented Hawks forwards were able to exploit the Bruins defense and create numerous quality scoring chances.

Early in the series, Chicago netminder Corey Crawford came under criticism for his play, and his glove hand had to be the most scrutinized glove hand in hockey. Yet at critical moments, Crawford made some big saves to keep the Hawks in the game. Crawford was a quiet virtuoso in net and his play and confidence fed his team.

Tuuka Rask was very solid if not spectacular in net for the Bruins, and kept them in every game in face of the offensive onslaught of the Hawks. Rask was coolly confident, moved well, and was in control in net. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the defense in front of Rask faded as the series wore on, and he was overwhelmed by the Hawks talent.

For Chicago, their stars were their stars, and they rose to the occasion. Patrick Kane had an outstanding series, and although Jonathan Toews didn't often find the back of the net, his leadership and play in all zones was solid. leadership doesn't always manifest itself in goals, and Toews was the consummate leader.

The Blackhawks also benefitted from timely scoring from players like Dave Bolland, who scored the game winning goal in games 6. The Hawks balance and ability to roll 4 lines that were productive was the difference in the series. The Bruins needed scoring from all their lines, and they didn't get it.

Now that the finals are over, we are learning the extent of the injuries that some players had to contend with. Warrior doesn't adequately describe the heart that these athletes bring to the rink, and that heart is what makes hockey the greatest game in the world. Broken wrists, punctured lungs, separated shoulders, and severely sprained MCL's are just the beginning of a laundry list of injuries that beset players from both teams.

Even though the season was shortened by a lockout, the hockey was superb and the playoffs were excellent. The finals were  well played and demonstrated why the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in all of sports.

And the most difficult to win.

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