If you are old enough to have watched the 1979 Stanley Cup Final, then you witnessed the last time two Original Six teams faced off for championship glory. Not only do we have a matchup of two clubs with storied histories, but we have two teams that are riding in as high as can be.
The Boston Bruins are 9-1 in their last 10 games and the Chicago Blackhawks are 7-1 in their last 8. That is quite the feat when you considered who they took out. Let's dig into this matchup and find out where the value lies.
Usually when you make it all the way to the finals you do it on the backs of great special teams play. The question for both of these teams is whether the glass is half full or half empty. The mind-blowing aspect to the Bruins last round was not that they swept the titans of East in the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that they shut down the scariest power play unit we've seen on the ice since the Edmonton Oilers of the 80's.
The entire hockey world was hoping for a Habs vs Leafs first round matchup, but instead we'll get to see Montreal vs Ottawa. It may not have the history or bad blood that a Toronto series would've brought, but this is as compelling of a matchup that we'll find in round one. Let's take a closer look at the key factors.
Surprised? On paper, this should be a very close duel between Anderson and Price, but I'm going to focus on Price here because I think he is the make-or-break factor of the series. I know that's not ground-breaking analysis, but no one is quite sure what this guy is made of when the spotlight is on. He won a series in his rookie season, but nothing since then. He is often heralded as the best Canadian goaltender and praised as one of the elite. Can someone smarter than me explain how that happened? By my measure, I like to know what a guy can do in the playoffs before I declare him the best anything. Putting up nice regular season stats is nice for poolies, but I'm still not sure Price is the guy who can lead Montreal to glory.
When the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins on the final day of the regular season, I was disappointed we weren't going to see a Leafs/Habs first round matchup. That said, getting to see the Toronto try to match-up against Boston might be the next best thing. This is perhaps one of the easiest first round series to breakdown and there's no question in my mind which side has the decided edge.
If you're a stat-geek, you'll know that the Leafs have dramatically overachieved in this shortened season. Not only has Reimer played well above his head, but the team's shooting percentage is also abnormally high. The result is a 1030 PDO rating, tied with Pittsburgh for the best in the league. Now which of these teams do you think is more likely going to regress to the mean? If this was a regular NHL season, I'd have fun betting against Toronto down the stretch, but due to the lockout I'll have to settle for the here and now.
Do you think the Chicago Blackhawks are goint to steamroll the 8th seeded Minnesota Wild? If so, you probably don't want to continue reading this article. Once we take a look at the betting odds, we find out that Chicago is favored by a full two games over Minnesota. This means that the Blackhawks must win this series in four or five games to make it worth a bet. Based on what I see, there is value to be had on the underdog Wild. Let's take a closer look at three factors to consider.
Put up your hand if you can look me in the eye and say Corey Crawford is capable of a Conne Smythe winning run. Crawford has put up excellent numbers this year, but this is not a guy who has proven anything to me yet. When the pressure is on, Crawford is a very mixed bag. The talent is there, but is the consistency? The benefit he has going for him is the team in front of him controls possession a ridiculously 55.8% of the time and provides excellent goal support. Does he have to be great to win this series? No. But does he need to be great to wrap this up in four or five games? Probably, and I'm willing to bet against it happening.