Anyone who is into advanced hockey statistics usually puts a lot of emphasis on even strength play because that is where the majority of the game is played and where most games are won. it's been shown in recent history that the teams who make the playoffs are those who are good at controlling even strength play and the elite ones usually go far in the post-season. Last year's Los Angels Kings were a good example of a dominant even strength team but the Chicago Blackhawks of this year might be even better. The Hawks were one of the best teams in the NHL at controlling puck-possession during the regular season and they carried it into the post-season by controlling the play against most of their opponent's, the latest victim being the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins are also one of the better teams in the league at controlling even strength play and they were getting top-level scoring and elite goaltending to back it up. That was going to make them a tough out for anyone and they certainly gave the Hawks a run for their money before being eliminated in six games. If you've been keeping up with the recaps of this series, then you probably noticed that Boston was getting outplayed at even strength in almost every game but this series seemed a lot more even than the underlying numbers indicated. Special teams and goaltending are the reason for this.
Despite getting outchanced by 15 at even strength, Boston was able to push the series to six games and stay close in the games they lost because they had superior goaltending to the Hawks and dominated the special teams battle. Sometimes that's enough to push your team over the edge even if you get outplayed at even strength, but it wasn't the case here. Chicago was just too much for Boston to handle at even strength and they also received great goaltending from Corey Crawford (aside from Game 4) which prevented Rask from stealing this series for the Bruins.
All in all, this was a very entertaining final and a well-deserved Stanley Cup victory for the Blackhawks. We'll break down the further details from this series after the jump.
Stanley Cup Final Scoring Chances
It's fairly astonishing how bad Chicago's power play was and it's even more astonishing that it didn't come back to haunt them but I guess this is what winning the battle at even strength will do for you. The Hawks were especially good at closing games out, as they dominated the Bruins in the third period in all three phases. Most teams will sit back late in games when playing with a lead, but the Hawks seem to be more effective at shutting down their opponents. Most would expect that from an elite club, though.
Blackhawks Individual Scoring Chances
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Jonathan Toews was dominant at even strength, leading all players with a +21 scoring chance differential. It was good to see him finally get rewarded for his hard work by recording five points in the final three games of the series because he was playing too well to keep coming away empty handed. Goals and points usually play the biggest factor in the Conn Smythe voting, so it's easy to see why he didn't win but it's hard to say that he wasn't one of Chicago's best players in this series. Patrick Kane was not a bad choice for that award, though since he was just as good as Toews offensively and managed to get on the scoresheet a little more often.
Most of Chicago's forward corps had great showings at even strength and Brandon Saad in particular was very impressive with a +14 chance differential. Some of that came from playing on Toews' line, but he was very good in a bottom-six role, as well. The only forward who wasn't good at controlling scoring chances was Michal Handzus, who was centering Chicago's second line for the entire series. It's a little odd that Handzus is trusted with such an important role because he looked a bit out of place (i.e. slow) and seemed to drag down Chicago's even strength play overall. The numbers of some of his linemates, mostly Patrick Sharp's, indicate that. Bryan Bickell's numbers weren't terribly impressive either but he was playing through an injury and was on the fourth line for a couple games.
Another interesting observation here is that Chicago's Olympic-caliber defense pairing of Duncan Keith & Brent Seabrook were underwater in scoring chances. Keith was barely outchanced and had a good series, but Seabrook struggled defensively. These two obviously commanded tough minutes and had some trouble handling them judging from the numbers. Niklas Hjalmarsson & Johnny Oduya were much more impressive in this department. One would think that these two would get the easier matchups, but they were playing against Chicago's top-six in every game and did a fantastic job of controlling them.
Hjalmarsson had a terrific defensive performance in a pretty tough role in Chicago's top-four. Keith & Seabrook get most of the hype on Chicago's defense corps but Hjalmarsson may have put his name on the map with his performance this series. The only drawback was that he didn't produce much offensively, but he isn't relied on for that and he can still move the puck well. Him and Oduya really did a great job of keeping the Bruins first line in check whenever they were matched up against them. Most of Chicago's players were pretty good defensively with the exception of Kane, Handzus and, strangely enough, Seabrook.
Also, Toews blew away the rest of the team when it came to producing offense and it's a wonder that he had only two goals and five points because he coudl have had a lot more.
Bruins Individual Scoring Chances
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Some of the Bruins big minute players struggled to win the battle at even strength, especially their first line. Lucic was able to make up for some of this damage with a good performance on the power play and Tyler Seguin also chipped in there. Chicago's tough-minute guys all did a good job of shutting down most of Boston's dangerous forwards though. The only forward unit that really drove the play well for the Bruins was Bergeron's and even they only had a modest performance offensively. Paille was tied with Bergeron for the highest even strength scoring chance differential among forwards, so that should tell you how Boston's offense performed. Some of their defensemen weren't much better, though.
Zdeno Chara had a "poor" series by his standards, but he still won the battle at even strength. Yes, he was on the ice for a lot of Chicago's goals but he was contributing in a lot of other ways and did not have a bad series objectively. Andrew Ference, on the other hand, was just awful. Claude Julien trusted him with a lot of minutes and I can't figure out why because the Hawks second and third lines tore him and Johnny Boychuk apart every chance they got. It was surprising to see Ference get so many minutes when Boston had some other options further down in their lineup that they could turn to. Not that Krug or McQuaid would have a lot of experience in a big-minute role, but it's hard to imagine them being much worse.
Some ugly numbers on both ends for the Bruins here. Paille & Seguin were their best forwards at creating scoring chances and latter was just dreadful defensively. Seguin wasn't the only one guilty of this, though as everyone on the Bruins first line also had poor defensive numbers and Rich Peverley was a train wreck in his own zone. Chicago will make a lot of good teams look bad, so this might not be anything to panic over but some of these numbers are just horrific. Peverley & Ference's mostly.
Bergeron, Jagr & Marchand all managed to have a good series, though despite not putting up huge offensive numbers. Their defensive contributions made upf or that and Chris Kelly also performed well in this regard. Zdeno Chara was also solid at preventing chances but unfortunately for him, the ones that he was on the ice for ended up in the back of his net. Those breaks tend to happen in a short series even if you're playing well, though.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Chicago juggled their lines a lot after Game 2, so the matchups are a little hard to figure out but one thing that stayed consistent was Toews playing against Krejci's line and it's easy to see who came out on top here. Bergeron was supposed to get that matchup, but Quinneville did a good job of keeping Toews away from him while having the last change and he had no problem handling Krejci's line. Toews also did not have much of a problem playing against Zdeno Chara, as he created a lot of offense against him.He also took advantage of Boychuk & Ference whenever he got the chance. Hossa & Sharp got in on the action there, as well.
It's pretty easy to see where the Hawks took advantage of some favorable matchups here. Kane being on the ice against Peverley & Seguin long enough to create 10-15 scoring chances is probably something that wouldn't happen if we got a chance to replay this series. Handzus' line also had a lot of success against Peverley & Boston's second defense pairing, which is saying a lot because Handzus didn't have a lot of wins this series.
Hjalmarsson & Oduya's overall numbers were likely boosted from their minutes against Peverley, but these two were very good against Boston's first line, as well. Considering how much Keith & Seabrook struggled against this line, their performance was extremely impressive. Michal Rozsival's numbers against Boston's top unit shouldn't be overlooked either, although those came in limited minutes.
So in the end, Chicago's top forwards beat out Boston's and their defensive depth was superior in just about every way. That was enough for them to overcome a bad power play and elite goaltending en route to their second Stanley Cup in four years.