June 11, 2013

NHL: First meeting in Cup finals for 2 of original 6

Ultimate goaltending will be needed to reach ultimate goal

By JAY COHEN/The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Corey Crawford was in the stands when Patrick Kane slammed home the goal that secured the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
A year later, Tuukka Rask was just a practice player when Tim Thomas led the Boston Bruins to the title.

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The captain: Zdeno Chara leads Boston defensemen with 11 points in the playoffs.

Associated Press Photos

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The captain: Jonathan Toews has one goal and eight playoff assists.



All games start at 8 p.m.

Game 1: Wednesday at Chicago

Game 2: Saturday at Chicago

Game 3: Monday at Boston

Game 4: June 19 at Boston

*Game 5: June 22 at Chicago

*Game 6: June 24 at Boston

*Game 7: June 26 at Chicago

*-if necessary


Jaromir Jagr, 41, makes his first finals appearance in 21 years since winning Cups with Pittsburgh in 1990-91 and 1991-92. He is tied for fifth in career playoff scoring (78 goals, 118 assists)
n Chicago forward Bryan Bickell has eight goals in 17 playoff games after scoring just nine in 48 regular-season games.

Home teams are 56-24 this postseason. Chicago has home-ice advantage for the finals and is 9-1 in the playoffs at home.

Defensemen have scored 15 of Boston’s 50 playoff goals.

Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) is nearly a foot taller and 75 pounds heavier than Patrick Kane, Chicago’s leading scorer in the regular season.

The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to overcome a three-goal, third-period deficit and win a Game 7. They did that against Toronto, scoring twice in the final 1:22 of regulation with their goalie pulled for an extra attacker and then winning in overtime, 5-4.

The Bruins lead in the regular-season series, 259-238-81.

The teams have met six times in the playoffs, with Boston winning five of those series: Boston won in 1927 (two games, total goals), 1942 (2-1), 1970 (4-0), 1974 (4-2), and 1978 (4-0). Chicago won a preliminary round series in 1975, 2-1.

Fast forward to Wednesday night at the United Center, and Crawford and Rask will be in goal when the Blackhawks host the Bruins in Game 1 of the Cup finals.

It’s been a long road, but that little taste of the Stanley Cup turned into much more for two of the most important players for this series.

Sure, it’s nice to win a championship. It’s just a little sweeter when you’re on the ice at the very end.
“Once you’ve seen it, and not being on the ice, I think everybody would like to have that chance someday,” Rask said. “For me, it came pretty early after our win, and I’m just trying to make the most out of it and enjoy myself.”

The rise of Rask and Crawford is a testament to the patience and steady approach of the Bruins and Blackhawks, and it’s no coincidence that each team is seeking to become the first franchise with two Stanley Cups in the salary-cap era.

After a slow and steady climb, Rask and Crawford have been the best goaltenders in the league during this year’s playoffs. Crawford leads the NHL with a 1.74 goals-against average, just ahead of Rask (1.75 GAA).

“It’s a process for goalies, I think,” said Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman, one of Crawford’s biggest supporters over the years. “We’ve always had confidence in his ability. I think it’s just nice to see him now getting the recognition that he deserves.

“The consistent play that we’ve had game in, game out, it’s been that way from the beginning of the year. We know we’re going to get a great performance from him every night.”

While Chicago drafted Crawford in the second round a decade ago, Rask was a first-round selection for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005. Boston got him in a trade for goalie Andrew Raycroft a year later.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli, who officially took over the team a couple weeks after the Rask deal, said it’s his understanding the Bruins decided they wanted Rask instead of center Jiri Tlusty in the deal.

“There was a lot of discussion at both ends about it,” Chiarelli said. “It was decided that it would be Rask from Boston’s end. I think they tried to come back and maybe flip that, consider the other guy, who is a good player in Carolina now. Eventually they said no and the deal was done.”

It certainly worked out for the Bruins. Rask took over after Thomas decided to take a year off. Once the 26-year-old Finn got off to a great start, the mercurial Thomas was traded to the New York Islanders.

The 6-foot-2 Rask helped the Bruins finish second in the Northeast Division, then raised his game to another level in the playoffs. He shut down Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals, allowing just two goals and recording a .985 save percentage in a sweep.

The impressive performance included 53 saves in Game 3, giving Patrice Bergeron enough time to net the winner in the second overtime of a 2-1 victory.

“He’s just, I think, fundamentally a good goalie,” Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said after the Bruins arrived in Chicago on Tuesday. “As far as positioning and his style, he has a very consistent style, so he doesn’t really get himself into, I think, too many bad situations.”

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