The Blackhawks and Bruins have gotten to the last dance of the season by simply outplaying their opponents. Both have had short series, and both have had a series where they played down to the level of their competition. Both teams are laden with guys who were on their teams last winning squad. Both teams have player who will be a large part of why the team succeeds or fails.
Zdeno Chara vs Duncan Keith
Two Norris winning defensemen who are more than competent in all three zones facing off in the Stanley Cup finals has become something of a rarity. Keith is the smooth skating, slick passing, BlackHawks alternate captain who can be counted on to chip in more than a little offense. He idolized Ray Bourque as youngster and plays a similar game. Zdeno Chara is the definition of power and power projection. His slap shot has broken bones and records, his checks have sent guys spinning, and yet he’s often at his most effective simply taking away space, and swiping the puck off of an opponent from what would be well outside the reach of any other player in NHL history.
Three Zone Czars
Patrice Bergeron vs Jonathan Toews
It is unlikely either of these teams will be embarrassed to own up to their faceoff stats with these two on the ice. Puck possession starts with winning the puck, and these guys can do it at the dot, along the wall, in open ice and damn near anywhere else they want. Both players are capable of clutch scoring, and equally capable of shutting down opponents top offensive powers. Of the two Toews is better offensively, Bergeron defensively neither is going to be outside the top five two-way forward list of anyone who knows hockey.
Orkins Meal Ticket
Brad Marchand vs Andrew Shaw
This promises to be one of the more entertaining and visibly engaging match-ups of the series. Andrew Shaw is new to the leagues rank of pests and hasn’t yet developed the reputation of other players we could name. With nearly identical physical attributes, at least according to the always accurate NHL data on such, it will be interesting to see them both on the ice together. Brad Marchand on the hand made a name for himself speed-bagging an impotent Daniel Sedin, and getting away with it. Marchand is better offensively, and plays in all situations, Andrew Shaw will likely get the benefit of the doubt from officials a bit more often than his opposite number.
Purveyors of Points
David Krejci vs Patrick Kane
The All American boy Patrick Kane, friend of cab drivers and David Krejci the saint of Sternbeck are the guys most likely to put up important points at any given moment. Patrick Kane has a cup clincher on his resume along with several other equally spectacular goals in the playoffs and regular season. Krejci is for the second time in his career leading the NHL in post season scoring. He was a critical part of the winning goals in more than one series, and seems to get points almost at will.
Milan Lucic vs Bryan Bickell
The two left wings are both about half past six feet, and over two hundred pounds. Neither is shy about upending an opponent or two on their way to the net. Both are capable of standing in front of the net and making life unpleasant for defenseman and goaltenders trying to move them or see around them. While Bickell has had more goals this post season, he’s also doubled his playoff experience going from 15 games coming into the post season to 32 heading into the finals. Lucic plays about five more minutes a night, blocks more shots, and has displayed a knack for setting up goals that has him doubling up his fellow left winger.
Nathan Horton vs Patrick Sharp
Neither of these players is going to top anyone’s scouting report on their team. Yet somehow Sharp leads his team in points, and Horton is second on his team. Both players have popped in their share of game winners this post season, both play about 18 minutes a night. Both players are just one good regular season game away from their two hundredth goal, both players will hit the 600 game mark sometime early this fall. Offensively speaking there numbers are remarkably similar. In game, Horton plays the more physical game, Sharp is more of playmaker. Both have played wing and center in their time in the NHL.
Torey Krug vs Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa is one of the more dynamic forwards in the leauge moving through traffic in ways that will make you wonder if he doesn’t have some sort of cloak of invisibility, right up until he scores. Since he’s gone west he’s dropped off the radar of a lot of NHL observers, but it is highly doubtful he’ll fail to draw the attention of the Bruins defense. Torey Krug may just end up being one of those defenders, the slick youngster out of Michigan State enters the Stanley Cup Finals not just the least experienced player on either team, but with three times as many post season games as regular season (nine and three), and also three times as many post season points as regular season. His playoff pedigree isn’t as polished as Hossa’s, but it is hard to argue he didn’t tip the series against the Rangers in the Bruins favor.
This has actually been a great series to watch, as long as you aren’t a Penguins fan or hadn’t wagered heavily on them. There’s been a high scoring game, laugher goals, big hits, player tantrums, scrums, guts on display and high paced hockey for five periods in a row. Unfortunately if you do favor the Penguins they’ve come up short with a single good effort and two bad ones.
Which Penguins team shows up? If it is the version from game two, this series will be over in all but the final details of the records by the middle of the first period. If the team that showed up for game three takes the ice, there is a solid chance the Consol Energy Center will get another home game.
Is there something wrong with Adam McQuaid? He played over five minutes less than rookie Torey Krug during the 95 minute long game three and was part of the parade down the tunnel. He and Krug have been a solid pair, and if he is out or ineffective the reshuffling of pairs might result in some weak spots in the armor of the Bruins being exposed.
Do even the hardest of the blowhards believe the meltdown this series has been is primarily Dan Bylsma’s fault? He could have made some better choices, and not shuffling the lineup after game one would have, for example, shown some poise and confidence. For that matter not putting Tyler Kennedy a proven postseason performer is highly curious, but there are about 24 or 25 other people at ice level who have been a bigger detriment to the team.
Will any Penguin’s player show up and impose more of their will on the game than Deryk Engelland? The 194th pick of the 2000 draft has thrown the body with a will, passion and precision that has likely made him the best Penguin through three games. He’s the only player to even try to consistently play physically against Lucic and Horton. As one of the lowest paid players on the Penguins roster, he’s got to be the only man on the team who can look himself in the eyes and say he’s earned his money.
Will this be Jagr’s game to score? It has to happen eventually, and being the player to put his old team away would be fitting.
Which teams stars will have the biggest impact on the game? To date Crosby and Malkin have had a very poor series. Letang’s series can probably best be described with the use of two to three of the “seven deadly words”. But the Bruins stars aren’t immune to bad games, Rask single-handedly gave the Ranger game 4, the Krejci, Horton, Lucic line have been known to make horrific line changes or turnovers. Or it could be a dazzling performance from Jarome Iginla, or Zdeno Chara, maybe Tyler Seguin or Matt Niskanen is able to seize the the game and take it over?
1: Compusure, composure, composure. If they can’t stay focused on their system of hockey they may as well forfiet. Trying to be more physical than the Bruins or get into their heads just isn’t in the Pittsburgh Penguins DNA.
2: Play together. The Penguins have looked confused and disoriented for both games. Their normal flow of passing, and quick transition has been nonexistant. There is some amazing talent on the team, but no one or two of them are going to beat a playoff tested team that returned 18 of the players who won the Cup two years ago by themselves.
3: Don’t turn over the puck. When you’re playing any team this is important, when your goaltender is not playing well and the other team is firing on all cylnders, its is absolutely crucial.
For the Bruins
1: Don’t take stupid penalties. The Penguins powerplay will not continue to look like the Rangers powerplay, don’t give it any practice.
2: Press the pace early. With two bad games in the bag the Penguins can not afford to get down early, and keeping them hemmed up in their defensive zone will be the best way of keeping Iginla, Neal, Kunitz and company off the score sheet.
3: Don’t stop pushing. If the Bruins are down 3-2 or up 5-0, they can not afford to allow the Penguins even a sliver of hope, there are a fistful of guys who can singlehandedly win games and for whom a four point night isn’t all that special.
For the Officials:
1: If it isn’t life or career threatening, or a required automatical call, forget the whistles. Both teams have shown a willingness to play physical, and go at it. Let them.
1.5: Call the dives. Please call the dives or the game and the series will get out of hand.
The Red Wings extended their playoff streak for yet another year limping into the playoffs just one point over 9th place Columbus. They went up against the seemingly unstoppable Anaheim Ducks and proved they had the killer instinct the Ducks lacked.
In the second round they were exposed. There are really only two issues with the Red Wings. What’s wrong with them? The question answers itself if you put on your opposing coach thinking cap and ask which players other than Datsyuk, Zetterberg and maybe Kronwall you have to game plan for. Not just who plays a lot of minutes, but who can impact the game.
Depth, is part of the issue. They have two elite, if aging forwards, an no one behind them who can be relied upon to put up 50 points in an 82 game season, or a defenseman who can be counted on to play 25 minutes of shutdown hockey a night. The answer is simple. No one. They have a lot role players. They just don’t have anything else. After their top two players, the run off from 3rd to 12th player isn’t very steep. The defense is just as badly off. You have one player at the top of the heap, and the everyone else is almost completely indistinguishable by ice time. Almost no real difference between the best and worst by ice time at even strength, short handed or powerplay.
Identity is the other thing the team lacks. There’s almost none anymore. With Bertuzzi and Tootoo in the lineup this certainly isn’t the Yzerman era Wings, nor is it the slick skating, smooth passing version of the team that allowed them to carry Osgood to a couple cups. They still have some skill, but they just don’t have the old level. While their two skill players can still leave opponents stunned with their razzle-dazzle, the Wings just aren’t a skill team anymore. They have one or two guys who can hit and hit hard, but I don’t think anyone sees this Wings team as a Flyers or Bruins type rugged roster. The Red Wings also have a compliment of muckers, but this team is no more built to grind it out than they are to drop the gloves and beat their opponents up. The current roster is a hodge-podge, a manticore without a strong emotional center give them focus. The plus side is that Howard is a much better goaltender than Osgood was at any point in his career. But he’s not (yet?) at the elite level that would allow the team to build around him as their franchise cornerstone. He’s solid, a clear number one starter, but the word elite does not stretch to encompass his careers portfolio to date.
If the Red Wings want to rebuild for the long term, they have to scour the roster back to its foundation. That means trading Zetterber and Datsyuk for as much as can be gotten and spending a year or two in the lottery and drafting well. If they want to go for a short term buildup and try to maximise the years left in their ageing stars, they certainly have the roster spots and cap space to go after whoever they want. With just two defenseman and five forwards signed in addition to Jimmy Howard, they have half their cap free to fill the roster. That does include the need to resign Datsyuk if possible as he’ll be a UFA on July 5. With forwards like Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, and then younger players like Tyler Bozak, Bryan Bickell, and David Clarkson they can go in any number of directions.
They have the money, organisational depth is in question, but given the UFA’s they haven’t landed in the last few years, is anyone willing to go there from other markets?
Getting out of the first round of the playoffs in any sport require some skill, some grit and not just being better at being average than a few other teams. The difference between the winners and losers in the second round are a lot easier to identify than the what separates ninth and tenth place teams from seventh and eight.
For the New York Rangers there are three fundamental points where this team is lacking the elements needed to move them from the pretender to contender category.
First and most obviously, the team needs speed. Neither the Boston Bruins nor the Washington Capitals are top teir speed team. Yet the Bruins had little trouble playing around an out of reach of the Rangers. The Bruins handled them in five games and that’s surprising given how tight the games for these two teams have been over the last half decae. Nearly every regular season meeting between the two has been a one goal game. In the first round they took seven games to escape a team that dragged into the playoffs.
Second, and posssibly most important the team needs glue guys and attitude. Former head coach John Tortorella said the team lacked “stiffness”. That isn’t really surprising given that Brandon Dubinsky and Brand Prust were jettisoned during the last off season. Sean Avery was run out of town by Torts before that. Dubinsky’s last season in New York was awful, the worst of his career. There was however no real reason to expect it to be the start of a major decline. Brandon Prust went north of the border, delivered hits, dropped mitts and went on to one of his best statistical seasons. Sean Avery who was one of the most polarizing players of the last decade is no longer playing hockey, but absolutely no one fell asleep in games he was playing and he wanted nothing more than to pull on the blueshirt. Without the three of them the Rangers went from a bounce or two from the Stanley Cup finals to never really in a second round series after escaping the first round minus some skin.
And last, the team needs on ice swagger. When you look at some of the Red Wings dynasty teams, the Blackhawks when they won their Cup, or some of the Islanders dynsasty you see a team that not only expects to win, but knows their opponents know it too. I don’t see a way for the Rangers to get this until they get the first two and get them right.
Coming up the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators.
Matt Cooke is one of those players that make me wish the NHLPA would learn to police their own in the board room as well as on the ice. Players who continually endanger and end the careers of other union members should be removed from the players associastion and hence the league. The players need to step in and do this because the owners never will, it should be done even if it means the PA reimburses a team for the cost of players contract.
But that’s not going to happen. Matt Cooke will continue to make reckless, studpid and or vicious plays that might end another players career or life. His hit on Marc Savard wasn’t the first time he’d done something vile. It certainly wasn’t the last. Until he finally hangs his skates up, no player on an opposing team is safe. Just like Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke is a player who is bad for the business of hockey. Not just for the players currently in the leauge, but he’s the type of player who makes parens fear to let their young boys and girls play or even watch hockey.
Based on Cooke’s lengthy disciplinary history. Adam McQuaid turned 25 feet from the boards, while Cooke is facing Krug. There’s no question this was a major penalty, no question it is suspension worthy. The league really doesn’t have any choice but to hand out the same type of suspesnsion that it did to Torres for cleaning Hossa’s clock last year. Anything less than 10 games is going to be seen as the league taking a step back from suspending a player for a bigger market team. With all the theatrics Mario Lemuix has engaged in for years from the owners box, it won’t be a surprise if the suspension is less than 10 games. It wil however be a signal o the dirties players in the game, of which Cooke is near or at the head of the class, that you don’t have to worry about ending careers, or lives if you play for an owner who not only is never at fault, never has a player who is at fault either.
For this drinking game you’ll need two beverages. You mght want to pick drinks mathing your favorite team colors or just the two nearest things you can handle in volume.
Take One Sip:
Every time scoring chances are mentioned.
An opponent of from the previous round is mentioned.
Jarome Iginla and Matt Bartkowski are mentioned in the same sentence.
The cameras pan the crowd or the guy between the benches instead of a scrum.
You know what a coach/player is going to say in an interview before they say it.
Either team gets a five on three powerplay.
Don Cherry makes more sense than anyone else the camera has been aimed at in the last ten minutes.
If the trade deadline is mentioned.
If Jagr’s time in Pittsburg is mentioned.
If any mention is made of the number of Stanley Cup wins a players has.
If the Nathan Horton vs Jarome Iginla fight is shown.
A goaltending change is made.
A pending UFA is mentioned.
A full period passes where you don’t hear the name of the junior and or college team any player was drafted from.
Anyone says a team is or isn’t getting bounces.
The broadcast fails to show a faceoff but cuts in when the puck is already in motion.
Two commericals for the smae company play in one commercial break.
A period ends with more than a 10 shot difference between the teams.
Take One Sip:
If Chara’s size is mentioned.
If any of Crosby’s past injuries are mentioned.
If a backup goaltender is shown.
If either Coach is shown standing on the bench.
Someone on sicial media says the offials are biased.
Someone dangles so much they lose the puck with no one with no help from opposing players.
James Neal or Tyler Seguin miss high and hit the glass with a shot.
The broadcaster between the benches asks the guy(s) in the booth if they saw something going on in the game.
Someone mentiones “line shuffling”.
Any rookie is pointed out (Simone Despres and Beau Bennett for the Penguins, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski for the Bruins).
A general manager or owner is shown.
A fairly routine hockey play (faceoff win, goal, or saucer pass, etc) is described as “wizardy” or magic.
The Bruins powerplay scores in a game.
The Penguins get a shorthanded goal.
A too many men penalty is called.
A penalty is called that makes no sense.
Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard is mentioned.
Double Fist (1 sip of each)
If the playoff win total of a coach is mentioned.
Trades between the teams are mentioned.
The age of a player or players are mentioned in relation to how long its been since the teams last played in the playoffs.
The regular season series is mentioned.
Any player is mentiond for a past award or current nomination.
An obvious rule is explained for no reason.
Some says the refs have swallowed their whistle.
The compressed schedule in the regular season is mentioned.
Everytime there’s an obvious dive that goes uncalled.
If there is a fight where the combined salary is more than four million dollars.
Players or officials are said to be sending a message.
Skip a drink if:
You find yourself unable to scream coherently at a pinkhat.
You start explaining a simple rule like “icing” and take longer than two minutes.
You can’t remember which beverage to drink from.
Both fourth lines are on the ice.
A family member, girlfriend or spouse of a player is shown in the audience.
You can seriously injury yourself, destroy property, or even die even if your participation in this drinking game is nothing more than water. If you should happen to do something incredibly idiotic and entertaining during this drinking game that makes it to Youtube, TextsFromLastNight or other fun sites; do send a link. It won’t make your life better, but I’ll get a laugh too. No one is responsible for the stupid you commit but you.
The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will square off in a best of seven series for the right to earn those final four wins against a western conference foe.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Malkin, and Crosby will try and aid newcomer Neal, and grizzled veterans Iginla, and Morrow in earning there way into the history books. The offence of the Penguins is without a doubt the best left in the playoffs. The Penguins can ice three lines of players who on many teams would be the top threat. Iginla is likely a first ballot hall of fame inductee, and no one is going to name him first as the teams premiere offensive player.
The Boston Bruins are strongest at the other end of the ice. Zdeno Chara a former Norris trophy winner remains the NHL’s measuring stick for shutdown defense, and all others come up lacking. He’s aided by Seidenberg who’s journeyman career took the step up to mastery when he pulled on the spoked B. Behind them are rookie sensations Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton, and the often overlooked Masterson Nominee Adam McQuaid, and veteran Boychuk of the booming shot and shot blocking. The likely starting defense of Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid Bartkowski, and Krug is intimidating enough having dismantled the Rangers, behind them are Ference who one a Cup with the Bruins, and Reddem who was with Chara part of that smothering Senator’s defense a few years ago.
The point where both teams are likely to fail is in net. Neither netminder has played this deep in the playoffs. Last season, and the season before neither was a number one goaltender. Rask had a meltdown against the Flyers that will forever live in infamy. Vokouns previous most winning post season campaign had grand and sweeping total of two wins. Neither goalie has proven anything. If you are ranking each teams strengths from greatest to least the Penguins will have scoring, defense and goaltending in that order. The Bruins will list defense, offence and goaltending. Worse for each team is the unreliable nature of their backups. Khudobin has performed admirably as a backup for Rask, but the only reason Vokoun is playing at all is the goalie he normally backs up had a complete meltdown against the New York Islanders. The bottom line: don’t expect many 1-0, 2-1 games.
The San Jose Sharks are once again on the outside looking in. Despite years of solid regular season performances, tons of hope, lots of trades and stars who are paid quite well, they no longer have a chance of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the finals haven’t even started. The core of this team has spent half a decade proving they can’t win when it counts. Worse, unless ownership and management decide to resort to methods that’d earn disapproval from the UN committee on human rights, it is unlikely to be something that is fixable by moving those players who have failed longest.
Twenty million of the clubs sixty four million in cap space is tied up in just three players. Joe Thornton, former league MVP and team captain sits at the top of the food chain. With a cap hit over seven million, him moving out could open the door for lots of possibilities. The UFA market this year has quite a few guys with their name on the Cup who could give the team star power, depth and winning experience. With one more year on his contract, the soon to be thirty four year old is more valuable to a team like the Nashville Predators or Saint Louis Blues who need an injection of offensive flair, than the San Jose Sharks who need depth and balance. Unfortunately he has a no movement clause.
Patrick Marleau has the all time lead in pretty much every statistic the San Jose Sharks keep, including games played without winning a Cup and being called gutless on national tv by a former teammate. For another year, he failed to justify it. Fourth in post season scoring, and well under a point per game. He was third in scoring in the regular season and failed to register a point in five of the seven games against the Los Angeles Kings. If there is any man in the western conference in more dire need of relocation than Marleau, I don’t know who he is. With a year left on his contract, Marleau who can play center, or wing successfully, at least in the regular season, might just thrive on a team like The Islanders, Devils, Canadiesn, or Red Wings where he’d be about the six or seventh best known forward. Also soon to be 34, he too has a no movement clause.
It might just be time for rumors to meet reality in the case of Dan Boyle. He’s shown he can contribute under pressure, unfortunately he’s on a team that wilts when spring arrives. He’s he’s played internationally, on good NHL teams and bad, he was part of the last Olympic win. Unfortunately at 37, he’s unlikely to play much more than three or maybe four more seasons if he stays healthy and motivated. Based on what Douglas Murray brought the Sharks this year, he ought to easily fetch a first round pick and two solid prospects.
One, two or perhaps even all three of these players might believe they have unfinished business and want to stick around and win one with the guys they know and have played years with. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. The Sharks don’t have the depth or the chemistry to win a Stanley Cup. If they want to repay the fan base for ill spent support the best thing the core of the Sharks can do is waive their no movement clauses and allow themselves to be traded for the best package for the team and fans.