Today we're talking to a beard with a face attached to it. Hockeenight's Andrew Cieslak took my questions the other day. Here's what he had to say:
1. The Blackhawks were expected to make the finals. They certainly did, with authority. So did the Bruins, however. Where do you think the matchup most favors the Blackhawks? Favors the Bruins?
When the Blackhawks started the season with a lengthy point streak it was pretty much determined that nothing but a Cup would suffice. That said, I think the rational fans knew there were a few teams that it might be 'acceptable' to lose to in that there wouldn't be any shame in dropping a short series to a great team. The teams on my list were Los Angeles (oops), Pittsburgh, and Boston. Obviously the Kings didn't pose as much of a challenge as I feared they would. The Wild were just plain not very good. The Wings? Well, that was a cathartic experience for all of us that's been a long time in the making. I wrote about it here and here.
That said, I think this is the matchup of the two best teams in each conference. I was honestly surprised that so many experts thought the Penguins would beat the Bruins in 5 or 6 games. I didn't think they'd beat them at all and unfortunately I was correct. The Bruins are the toughest matchup out of the East by far. I think these teams mirror each other in a lot of ways and as has been the story all postseason the Blackhawks have an edge with their third line and the Bruins have the edge in how in the hell do the Hawks score when Bergeron and Chara are on the ice? I'm not sure they can unless Rask has a major regression. The Bruins also hold a major edge in face-offs and while they may not be as important as some like to think, they come back to hurt the Hawks in big situations like Anze Kopitar's game tying goal late in game five.
2. Where the hell did Corey Crawford come from? Did you guys expect him to be half as good as he has been?
Corey Crawford was handed the reigns after Antti Niemi took his Cup ring to San Jose. Stan Bowman was right not to overpay him, even with as good as Niemi was for San Jose this season, Crawford has more than done the job. His performance against Vancouver in a first round seven game series loss was exceptional in 2011. He couldn't build on that with a major dud vs. Phoenix in 2012. This was his chance to silence the doubters, a lot of whom call Chicago their home. He was very good in the regular season and has carried that form into the playoffs. At this point you figure the Conn Smythe is either his or Rask's depending on which team comes out on top. It's quite an achievement for a guy who has worked his way from a huge question mark into the Team Canada discussion for 2014.
3. Did you do a dance when Bill Wirtz died? Which one? Was it the stanky leg?
They say you shouldn't speak ill of the dead but as Dan Fielding of 'Night Court' once said if you can't laugh at the dead, who can you laugh at? Bill Wirtz was probably not the worst person on Earth to a select group of people but for Hawks fans he was the goddamn devil. He kept home games off of TV and so you can imagine there were plenty of kids like me who heavily relied on their clock radio 41 times a year for Blackhawks hockey.
My generation is defined by no televised home games, the selling off of what many people remember as the best team in NHL 94 (Roenick, Chelios, Belfour, etc.), and the end of a long playoff appearance streak. The Hawks were a joke to many in this town but those of us who stuck with them were rewarded in 2010. People are always going to have their issues with the Wirtzes and the insular, machine-like inner workings of the Hawks front office but since Bill Wirtz' death they've committed to winning and, for me, that's all I can ask for.
Bonus Question: You're not the Andrew Cieslak that played for the OPJHL Seguin Bruins, are you?
I'm always amazed when there are other Cieslaks - nope that's not me. My brother played for the Bills for a couple years - that's about as famous as my family gets.