With three games in the history books, the Stanley Cup Finals reaches the halfway point of possible games tonight. Each team has seen the other throw the best they have out there, each team has had players head down the tunnel and not come back.

Puck Possession:

While faceoffs are a key part of this, they aren’t the only component. The Blackhawks are not winning enough battles along the boards. They have plenty of big strong guys who should be able to go get the puck from smaller Bruins players like Ference, Marchand or Seguin, but we haven’t seen that. If you lose both the board battles and the faceoff war, you’re not going to win many games unless the other team has a truly bad goalie.

Passion versus Control:

Halfway through the first Kaspars Daugavins may have taken the stupidest penalty of the Bruins post season with a flagrant elbow he’s lucky didn’t see him sent to the dressing room. At the end of the third period of game three the nasty climbed out of the alleyways and onto the ice. Zdeno Chara and Bryan Bickell locked up and exchanged some leather and lather. Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand went a little further and dropped the gloves before quickly joining them there.

Will we see a cleanly played series devolve into something where stupid penalties and reprisals break up the flow of the game. So far we’ve seen long periods of whistle free hockey, not just because of the abbreviated playoff rule book, but because both teams have played clean. If the emotional storm we saw in the fading minutes of game three continues, especially with frustration mounting for players like Toews who had a bit of a meltdown during the Red Wings series the penalty box could get quite cramped.

Rebounds and Follow Ups:

We’ve seen both goalies control a lot of the shots they face, when they haven’t that’s when we see goals. In game two, the first period goal on Rask was one that bounced off his glove twice in a sequence where he had to make five or six saves before allowing the goal. Game two didn’t see much in the way of rebounds, and even less of Blackhawks in the right spots to get to them.

Matchups:

As is often the case in the playoffs, it isn’t the star players doing most of the five on five scoring. This series has seen the Bruins new look third line of Paille-Kelly-Seguin has given the Blackhawks fit. It combines two of the Bruins three fastest forwards on the wings, and the solid passing, strong faceoff ability, and focused determination of Chris Kelly. If the Blackhawks have to pull Keith or Seabrook off of other duties to cover this line, it means they are likely opening up another can of worms.

At five on five, the Bergeron line has generated chances, but not much finish, likewise the Krejci line has had chances but little finish since Lucic’s two goals in game one. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Blackhawks relatively weak road game and perhaps send these two lines over the boards against different defensive pairs.

Injuries and Endurance:

We’ve seen Marian Hossa sit out a game, and Nathan Horton depart in overtime in this series. With thirteen periods of hard hitting, tight checking hockey played these two teams have already played more than four games of ice time against each other. We know neither of the two big bodied right wings is at 100%, we’ve also seen enough hits, bodies crashing into the boards or net, and simple fatigue to know there are likely to be two or three other players on each team who wouldn’t be playing if this were a regular season game.

The shell game Quenneville played with the Hossa injury and the Smith substitution can probably fill in one or two names for us there. For the Bruins, if we see Daugavins back in the lineup after some pretty poor play, you can’t help but wonder what type of shape Jordan Caron and the other black aces are in.

Hockey is the ultimate team sport. You play together, you stand by each other in the locker room and on the ice. Good days, bad games, great plays and long days. And the veterans look after their younger, newer team mates. Especially the rookies. Or at least most guys do.

For goaltenders the most imporant players on the ice are there defensemen. These guys are the last line of defense before the the goaltender, and the first guys in line to get the puck out of the zone. A third pairing defenseman may see as much time a top nine forward. When it comes to guys goalies should want to keep happy, after the head coach, defensemen should head the list. Most goalies go out of their way to credit their defense when they have good games. But that’s not the case for Tuukka Rask.

We all remember the game he was pulled from a few years ago when he was berating the defense and slamming his stick after a puck deflected off a defender going out to block a shot. And who can forget Rask’s heroic tantrum in the AHL where he through milk crates all over the place and carried on, and on, and on. That at least was in the heat of the moment, and was a few years ago.

Tossing Krug under the bus like he did is inexcusable. The goal he’s talking about is the second of four goals that went by him. The OT goal was a double deflection. But Rask was clearly out of position on one goal, and one other went in the place anyone who has watched Rask play goal knows to put it. There were just twelve minutes left in regulation and the Bruins still had a lead after the turnover and goal.

If Chicago goes on to win the series, I’m not sure what we’ll be saying, we won’t be talking about superior speed as when they beat the Kings, we won’t be talking about them being notably more skilled as when they beat the Blues, but we could just be talking about one set of guys in uniform playing like a real team, and the other not.

It’s time for the last drinking game of the season (unless I do one for the draft) time to empty out the closet, and make sure you remember the results of the drinking game and possibly the series until fall when hockey starts up again.

Take One Drink:

You wish your local announce team were doing the game.

More than two players go crashing into the net.

Someone finishes a game with more than five shots and no goals.

Gary Bettman is shown and booed.

In game interview questions are answered with a cliche.

The hometown of a player is mentioned.

When asked about scoring a goal or making a save a player references a teammate.

The Junior or College team of a player is mentioned.

An exterior shot of the arena is shown and it includes people who are clearly chemically altered.

At each mention of “Original Six” in game one or two.

Someone mentions the department of player safety.

Whenever Pierre or another talking head says something that makes people just a bit uncomfortable. s/t @ChrisWasselTHW #HockeyPorn

If a fight breaks out with more than 4 million dollars in salary involved.

Take Two Drinks

The Bochenski-Versteeg trade is brought up.

Every time someone is mentioned as a Conn-Smythe candidate. s/t @HockeyMand

A team scores two unanswered goals.

At any mention of someone named Espisito or Orr.

A save is called “brilliant”, “spectacular” or “larceny” when in fact it was pretty routine.

Special teams stats are mentioned.

Highlights from the teams past Cup wins are shown not counting the last one.

A former player for either team is shown.

The other teams goal song sucks.

Someone scoring drought is mentioned.

An exterior shot of an arena is shown and no one (except maybe the commentators) is

You’re so mad at your team you want them to win only so you don’t have to read their Puck Daddy Eulogy.

A ny time a side by side comparison of Tuukka and Corey Crawford is shown. s/t @RJGreenWood

An announce uses the words “good clean hit” to describe something that turned most of one fan base into frothing mouth breathers that sound like Foamy (NSFW) :

Take Three Drinks

Every time one of the keystone players is mentioned.

The officials call one side of an altercation that should be a both or neither situation.

Someone “speculates” about the NHL awards for this season.

A player is asked about their previous playoff experience.

Two players on the same team skate into each other.

Anytime the word “momentum” is used.

At any puck over the glass delay of game.

The past awards of a player are mentioned.

Someone discusses rule changes.

The captains not having touched the conference title trophies is shown.

Any top six forward finishes a game with zero shots.

At any too many men penalty.

Take Four Drinks

If there is a post whistle scrum that does not involve Marchand or Shaw.

If NHL.com fails to make a punny headline for their update in game.

Gary Bettman is shown and not booed.

Someone says the referees have “swallowed the whistles” or otherwise won’t be calling much.

A coach or player says “we just need to be better in our own end” after a bad period or game.

At each mention of Original Six in game three or later.

A faceoff is missed for yet more advertising.

You can hold your breath between the bad call and the makeup call.

The fourth lines are mentioned.

If the career records of either coach are mentioned.

Whenever a clip of a game winning or cup clinching goal is shown.

The handshake line in mentioned and it is not a close out game.

Chug

Either team goes more than four minutes without a shot on goal.

Either team is called for three or unmatched penalties in a row.

Each time an owner is shown or mentioned before the Cup is awarded.

A player gets a short handed shot on goal.

Someone specifically highlights one of the matchups in the Keystone Players article.

Either team scores two powerplay goals in the same game.

A player argues with a call that was clearly a penalty.

 

For maximum fun, enjoy a different beverage each period. Calling in sick for work for the next day is advisable in some cases. It might not hurt to have a handy bucket and or a pre arranged ride to the hospital. Maybe you can even pin a “please take me to the hospital, and put on the hockey game” note on your shirt ahead of time.

 

Disclaimer:

No one is responsible for the stupid act you commit in any chemical state. Nor is anyone but you responsible for the permanent damage you’re likely to do to your body if you follow this game faithfully.  This game might just be a spectacular way to end up on Tosh.O, Intervention or at least Texts From Last Night. If you really must blame someone, blame your parents they should have known better anyways. PuckSage, the NHL, NHLPA, The Bruins and Blackhawks take no responsibility for your actions, have a nice day.

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.

Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.

When the Boston Bruins drafted the younger brother of the Montreal Canadien’s P.K. Subban it created a tiny bit of consternation among fans of the spoked-B. First their was the question of why the team needed yet another goalie. Even with the question of how long Tukka Rask would continue to wear the black and gold left out, to some it was a curious move.

Worse, he was P.K.’s brother. For some that was unforgiveable. The elder Subban is not only a Hab, he’s a diver, a bit of a pest and worse aHab. Some fans will never get over it.

The question for Malcolm’s Militia is: What does he have to do to be playing in Boston this year?

The shortest answer for that is: A Lot.

The long version:

Currently the Boston Bruins have Tukka Rask and Anton Khudobin signed to NHL deals for this season. Rask is the presumed starter, but Khudobin looked very solid in camp last fall against NHL players. Both are signed only through the end of the season, and together they  represent 100% of the teams NHL experienced goaltenders. Niklas Svedberg has put up solid numbers in Europe, and his numbers last season for Brynäs were eye popping in the playoffs. He’s currently signed to a two year deal and has the professional experience some of the younger players lack.

Michael Hutchinson is on the last year of his entry level deal and unlike Svedberg, has played in North America pros. In less games he also put up better numbers than Khudobin in Providence last season. One third of a goal better in GAA and almost 1/1oth better sV%. That’s four goaltenders signed with professional experience. Adam Morrison was also added to the mix, he’s spent his CHL time playing for some not especially good clubs and got into a pro game in Providence last spring.

Five goalies, two Boston roster sports. Then there’s Malcolm. No professional experience of any sort. Injured for part of last season. I’ve seen one or two scouting reports pointing out a weakness that would get eaten alive if uncorrected at the NHL level.

It is entirely possible for him to come into camp and do very well. Possibly even be the best goalie in camp. That still might not be enough to get him the NHL contract he doesn’t yet have. More than one member of the Bruins management stressed during interviews at Development Camp that goalies take time to develop, need to go through a process, and that pushing them a long quickly is undesirable.

The last decade of NHL history is awash in goalies who got to the NHL young, had success and flamed out. One is still playing in Columbus. Others have dropped out of the NHL into the AHL or total obscurity. It happens more with younger goalie than older ones. It happens often enough that most people don’t expect to see goalies under 21 playing in the NHL at all, and some put the arrival date even later.

But that is only half of the non talent based issue. The other half is that as cautious as the Bruins front office and coaching staff are, there is no way they let themselves go into a season where from the goal line out they still have all but two of their Stanley Cup winning team, and have any less NHL experience than they can possibly manage. Even with Rask and Khudobin as what most will expect to be 1 and 2, that is still less than 100 regular season NHL starts combined. It would be a bit much to ask of either one to start their first season as a number one goaltender and mentor someone not much younger at the same time. And unless a trade could be made for either Rask or Khudobin if one is pushed aside, the Bruins would end up giving up one of them for free. It is unlikely Rask would last a whole half hour on the waiver wire, and Khudobin might last 45 minutes.

It is not impossible that Malcolm Subban plays in Boston in the regular season this year, it is not however very likely.

Two of the NHL’s best known goalies signed new deals today. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. and Tuukka Rask of  Boston Bruins.

The reigning Stanley Cup and Conn-Smyth winner arguably took a home town discount. His deal is reported right at $58 million for ten years. The deal will put his cap hit as the seventh highest for goaltenders in the NHL. Ahead of him from top to bottom are Rinne, Lundqvist, Ward, Miller, Backstrom, and Kiprusoff. Of all these men only Rinne has appeared in the top 7 in sv% for each of the last two seasons.

Tuukka Rask’s deal is a curious one. One year at $3.5million. Under the current CBA that would leave him an RFA after next season. With the pending boardroom show down between the NHLPA and the NHL owners the landscape just over the event horizon could be completely different. Rask has spent his NHL career sharing the crease with Tim Thomas. This year he is in many eyes the rightful heir. With the limited to non-existent NHL experience of those behind him like Khudobin, Hutchinson, and Svedberg. With the number and quality of goaltenders in the system Rask should not be resting easy.

The most asked, least answered question in regards to the Boston Bruins moves in the last four months has to be: Why do we need another goalie? The answer to that may just be that the Bruins suits lack confidence in the twenty-five year old Finn.

Why would they lack confidence in what the constellation of Boston media luminaries line up in his camp describe in terms that make one wonder if Rask might not be the perfect goaltender? Well, three reasons. First is the question of health. A twenty something who has two seasons ended by injury in row does not speak to long term health. The knee issue was the warning shot. The groin hit center of mass.

Second in performance. The first year of his expiring contract was his best. He played 45 games. He had sub 2.00 goals against average. With five to ten more games his .931 save percentage might have earned him a Vezina. It was a solid season he stepped up when Thomas was injured and did a more than presentable job. The next season? Not so much. Yes he was outplayed by Thomas. That isn’t the problem. His save percentage dropped drastically. His GAA shot up. Last season, his save percentage rebounded slightly, but he still only managed a record of 11 -8-3. Worst, is his playoff numbers. In the playoffs his career sv% is two or three notches below his regular season numbers.

Last and most telling is his confidence is indisputably not what it once was. When you watch him in games he plays far deeper in the crease, often standing with his backside thrust over the goal line. When he’s interviewed he’s very, very quiet without the sorta quips that made him a media darling when he first landed. Most of all when things go poorly, where’s the rage? When he had that monumental moment of rage in Providence that ended in thrown milk crates, and equipment strewn everywhere he had confidence. You can’t getthat upset if you don’t believe you’ve been wronged (and he probably was) you have to believe your judgement and knowledge are superior to the other sides. He did. Tukka Rask had the same breed of transcendent, coolly confident swagger you see from Patrice Bergeron and other elite athletes from time to time. It’s gone.

That confidence is gone. Like Tiger Woods, he’s just not as effective after losing his brio. As with Woods, or other players who have suffered a setback, we don’t know if Rask will ever get that natural braggadocio back. Even aside from the health concerns, this is huge.

The chances that a goalie was signed in the Spring, Adam Morrison, another was added just a week or two ago in Svedberg, and then the drafting of Malcolm (@SubbZero30) Subban, and now the development camp invitation to Parker Milner of Boston College might not be aimed at a 38 year old who had one year on his contract exists. It not only exists, it is staring everyone in the face who can see past the end of their nose. Rask is unsigned at this point and I don’t see the Bruins blinking first. The goalie market shrank when the Penguins acquired and extended Vokoun. Bobrovsky being shipped to Columbus didn’t expand the market. It got smaller again when Pavelec was signed.

Unlike Price or Pavelec Tuukka Rask has never spent even one full season as the designated number one guy. The most regular season games he’s played is 45, and that same season accounts for more than half his career minutes played. Cory Schnieder is worth more money, he’s gotten an increased workload each season and responded well. In fact his numbers are better than Rask’s. It would be foolish for Rask and his camp to take much longer in getting him signed.

Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.

If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.

The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman.  It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.

So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.

After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys.  It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.

Adam Morrison and Niklas Svedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.

So, the question to ask yourself is:  If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.