Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Bruce Bennett

After a solid showing in the first and second round, I managed to get both series wrong in the Conference Finals, bringing my total for the year to 10-4, and my overall record since 2009 to 46-28 (compared to 40-34 for the team with home ice advantage). Honestly, I was more disappointed that the Penguins lost than I was in missing my prediction simply because watching the Penguins and Blackhawks go toe to toe would have been incredibly entertaining. Instead, it's the Bruins taking on the Blackhawks, which will give the series a much more physical tone, and will put the onus on the referees to not let things go from physical and fun to a festival of holding and hooking (But no complaints about how things turned out in 2011!).

So which team will win? Let's begin by looking at some key statistical categories: 5-on-4 shot differential, 4-on-5 shot differential, and Fenwick percentage (shots for + missed shots for / total shots + total missed shots) with the score tied, plus the starting goaltender's even strength save percentage over the last four seasons combined (regular season and playoffs):

Finals

The Bruins, it seems, have a significant advantage with better numbers on the power play and penalty kill and only a small disadvantage in Fenwick percentage. Of course, these teams played completely different schedules, which makes it hard to compare the two, though I think we can safely say that the Western Conference is superior. How much better is hard to say, and that makes using these numbers problematic. Safe to say we're looking at two very good teams.

Looking over the lineups, both teams have excellent depth up front, which means it will be difficult to find any true cover. I expect Bergeron's line to mostly take on Toews's to start, and for Bolland's line to be matched hard against Krejci's, with Joel Quenneville hoping that Hossa and Sharp will be able to take advantage of Chris Kelly's group more than Krejci will be able to take advantage of Bolland.

I don't think it's an easy call either way in that area, but the real difficulty for Boston comes on the back end. Zdeno Chara is a dominant player, but he can't stay on the ice all of the time, which means that either the Kane-Toews pairing or the Sharp-Hossa pairing will be up against Boston's bottom two pairings on a regular basis. If I'm right about the forward match-ups above, and Chara ends up being focused on Toews's group, the Sharp-Hossa pairing could really make some hay.

Counterbalancing that is Boston's much better goaltending. Ten points in EV save percentage is enough for a one to two goal expected difference over the course of the series. The gap in PK save percentage is based on a much smaller number of shots, but the four-year total again heavily favors the Bruins (.892 for Rask and .874 for Crawford), which is probably worth about half a goal (a strange phrase, I know) in a seven-game series.

So can the Blackhawks overcome that 1.5 to 2.5 expected difference? I think they can, but if Rask (continues) to play above his four-year totals (he's .950 at EV and .911 on the PK through the playoffs so far), it's hard to see anything but a Boston win... so I suppose I'm betting against that with my pick: Chicago in seven.

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