CHICAGO — Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had said he would watch the Bruins’ Eastern Conference finals series-clinching game against the Penguins if he had nothing better to do Friday night.
After the Hawks beat the Kings 4-3 in double overtime Saturday night in the decisive Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, the only thing he and his teammates have time for now is thoughts of the Bruins.
Both teams enter the Stanley Cup Final after quickly wrapping up their conference finals series.
“We know that Boston is going to be real tough,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We’ve seen some of their games, especially the last series. We know that we’re going to have to be at our best and we’re going to have to play a good team game to beat these guys.”
Because of the shortened season — 48 regular-season games because of the lockout — the teams did not face each other because they only played games within their conferences.
That only adds to the intrigue between the Original Six teams. This is the first Stanley Cup Final to feature Original Six clubs since the Canadiens beat the Rangers in 1979. It’s the first all American Original Six matchup since the Bruins beat the Rangers in 1972.
Despite a shared history, this is the first time the Blackhawks will meet the Bruins in the postseason since 1978, when the Bruins won an opening-round series.
“It’s a special couple places, the tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1. It’s good for the league. It’s good for hockey. Two great hockey markets. We’re very excited to be a part of it.”
While at first glance it appears both teams glided into the playoffs — the Hawks took care of the defending champion Kings 4-1 and the Bruins swept the Penguins — both teams needed a double-overtime victory to move on. The Blackhawks also had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Red Wings in the conference semifinals.
“(The Bruins are) on an amazing roll,” Quenneville said. “They were on the ropes in one game. We were on the ropes for three (against the Red Wings). They got a lot of momentum where they’re at right now. Should set up for a great final.”
The Hawks and Bruins boast strong defenses.
The Bruins, led by goaltender Tuukka Rask, made the Penguins’ previous NHL-leading 4.27 goals per game average disappear, outscoring them 12-2 over their four-game series.
Rask stopped 134 of 136 shots he faced in the four games against the Penguins and leads the NHL with a .943 save percentage in the playoffs. He ranks second with a 1.75 goals-against average.
The Hawks follow the lead of goaltender Corey Crawford, who made 33 saves in Game 5 against the Kings and owns a playoffs average of 1.74 goals against.
The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games, including five straight, while the Hawks have won seven of eight.
“We’re excited to get back there,” Keith said of returning to the finals after winning it in 2010. The Bruins won in 2011. “These opportunities don’t come back all the time. We want to make the best of it.”