CHICAGO – Before becoming populated by far-reaching teams with names such as the Stars and Flames and Lightning and Hurricanes, the NHL consisted of a small fraternity.
The Original Six.
Not since 1979 have two teams from that elite group faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals. Thirty-four years ago, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers with a roster that included future Hall of Famers Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson.
A new chapter of NHL history will be written starting Wednesday when the Blackhawks (circa 1926) play the Boston Bruins (circa 1924) in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the United Center.
The Hawks eliminated the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday to win the Western Conference, while the Bruins knocked out the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday to win the Eastern Conference.
Both teams avoided pitfalls along their way to the championship round.
The Hawks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the semifinals, while the Bruins nearly wasted a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals before winning Game 7 in overtime.
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews spoke for everyone in the locker room when he described how difficult it was to return to hockey’s biggest stage.
“There's no such thing as just cruising to the Stanley Cup Final,” said Toews, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy 3 years ago as the Hawks won the Cup. “The guys in this room that were there in 2010 and have been there since understand that. We know what it takes.”
Then again, so do the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup one year later in 2011.
It turns out that the Hawks and Bruins have quite a few things in common.
Besides the Hawks and Bruins, the Original Six includes the Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Rangers. The Bruins captured their first championship in 1929, while the Hawks’ first championship arrived in 1934.
The Hawks and Bruins met six times in the playoffs from 1927 to 1978 before the league expanded and the Hawks headed to the Western Conference. Of their six previous meetings, the Hawks won only one – a best-of-three series in the first round of the 1975 playoffs.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he can't wait to revive an old rivalry.
“It’s a special couple places,” Quenneville said. “The tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special. I'm sure the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1.
“I think 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.”
• Bruins at Blackhawks, 7 p.m. Wednesday
• Bruins at Blackhaws, 7 p.m. Saturday
• Blackhawks at Bruins, 7 p.m. Monday, June 17
• Blackhawks at Bruins, 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 19
• Bruins at Blackhawks, 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22*
• Blackhawks at Bruins, 7 p.m. Monday, June 24*
• Bruins at Blackhawks, 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 26*