The Blackhawks have been the NHL's best team all season, but will face a hot Bruins squad. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
The Stanley Cup Final will pit the No. 1 West seed Chicago Blackhawks against the No. 4 East seed Boston Bruins. Which team will hoist the Cup? How many games will it take? Who will claim Conn Smythe honors? SI.com's NHL experts Allan Muir, Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Adrian Dater make their picks. For more Hawks-Bruins preview content, check out our staff predictions, Michael Farber’s take, Allan Muir’s tactical breakdown, Stu Hackel’s series storylines, Richard Deitsch’s TV media guide, iconic Blackhawks photos, iconic Bruins photos and a look at how the two teams were built.
Stanley Cup winner: Bruins in 7. I’ve picked against the Bruins twice during these playoffs. I can’t do it again. They've answered every question, from my concerns about an ice-cold first line (where was this Milan Lucic all year?), to Tuukka Rask's ability to get past his playoff ghosts of 2010, to the team's desire to pay the incredibly high price required to get this far just two years after winning the Cup. That doesn’t mean my pick comes with a high degree of confidence, though. Every edge I give to Boston over Chicago comes with the very slightest of margins. This series is as tough to suss out as any this spring, but I think the Bruins will slowly wear down the Hawks with their forward depth, relentless physical play and some brilliant netminding from Rask.
Conn Smythe winner: Rask. It's Tuukka's time. He built a nice base for his case during series wins over Toronto and the New York Rangers, but his Ken Dryden-esque performance in the sweep of Pittsburgh, when he stopped 134 of 136 shots, established Rask as a legitimate Conn man. His boxcar numbers in that series (0.44 GAA and .985 save percentage) may go down as the most penurious in modern history and his overall playoff stats (1.75 GAA and a league-leading .943 save pct.) are better than the ones Tim Thomas rang up after three rounds of Boston's 2011 Cup run. Rask does more than give the Bruins a chance to win; he dictates the result of a game by making the sort of stops that get into the heads of the opposition. He's not unbeatable, but he plays with enough authority to make the other team believe he is. If he keeps that up against the Hawks, he'll take home the hardware.
Stanley Cup winner: Bruins in 7. Since these two teams haven’t faced each other during the lockout-shortened season, it is certainly hard to call this series. The longer the games are -- I’m talking about passes out of the zone, not overtimes -- and the more up-tempo the pace, the more I like Chicago’s chances. If the games get cluttered in the neutral zone and Chicago can’t create its fair share of odd-man rushes with its preferred stretch passes, then I like Boston’s chances. It will be up to Boston’s penalty killers to shut down Chicago’s power play, because Boston’s power play can't be expected to do much against the Hawks' PK. The bottom line, though, is that I’ll take the extremely hot goalie (Rask) over the goalie who is playing very well (Corey Crawford).
Conn Smythe winner: Rask. I’m guessing the Smythe Trophy this year will go to a goalie because scoring in the playoffs continues to be low and skaters who impact the games with great defense rarely get Smythe consideration. Crawford has played very well for Chicago, but Rask’s numbers are simply absurd. Against Pittsburgh, the team with the most explosive offense in the league, he allowed all of two goals in nearly 14 periods and held Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the board entirely. Yes, Zdeno Chara’s defense has been extraordinary. Sure, David Krejci’s offensive exploits have been a revelation. But if the Bruins win, and I think they will, give the Smythe to Rask.
Stanley Cup winner: Blackhawks in 5. The Bruins might be the talk of the NHL right now after steamrolling Pittsburgh in most convincing fashion, but this is where they’ll face the music -- namely that “Chelsea Dagger” tune they love so much in Chicago. The Blackhawks have been the NHL’s best team all season -- though not without bumps along the way, including the Detroit scare in the Western semifinals -- and that will carry through to the bitter end. Both teams have enviable depth throughout their lineups, but Chicago has gotten this far with limited production from its stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Kane scored a hat trick in the Game 5 Western Conference Finals clincher against Los Angeles, his second consecutive game with a goal, and if this is the start of his reawakening, Boston will have trouble containing him.
Conn Smythe winner: Kane. On a team that runs so deep with talent, it’s tough to pick one hero. And with the way Chicago’s postseason has gone, no one has really stood out. So, I think this comes down to which player has an excellent Final. And if Kane’s last two games against Los Angeles were any indication of his renewed confidence, he could be the difference against Boston and prove to be the team's MVP. I picked him before the playoffs started, and I’m sticking with him.
Stanley Cup winner: Blackhawks in 7. All my New England relatives will cut me off from receiving Dunkin' Donuts and Papa Gino's gift cards at Christmas, but I've got to stick with the Blackhawks. (Actually, the folks will be thrilled, since the dreaded #DaterJinx is now in play.) Chicago has been the league's best team all year, so why should it stop now? The Blackhawks and Bruins both showed their character by coming back from the dead in previous series and appear to be playing their best hockey at just the right time. But with that extra home game on United Center ice, and with all the passion that brings, I like the Hawks in the final game. The Bruins aren't going to be shutting out Kane, Toews and Hossa like they did Crosby, Malkin and Iginla. If that happens, I'll eat nothing but Dunkin' Donuts Boston Cremes for a year. At least I'd die happy.
Conn Smythe winner: Bryan Bickell.
Why not? He’s become Chicago’s Claude Lemieux/Esa Tikkanen-type playoff specialist. Can anyone else name a guy who has done more for his team lately than Bickell has for the Hawks? OK, maybe Patrice Bergeron qualifies. But I say the Hawks will win the Cup, and I say Bickell has been their most important player of late. He grinds, he agitates and he puts up big points. He comes into the series with a five-game point streak and goals in three of the last four contests. His 13 playoff points are four more than Toews has put up and one fewer than Kane.