The NHL Conference Finals are upon us and we have some very interesting match ups for a good number of reasons.
Starting with the Canadiens and Rangers battling for the Eastern Conference title after beating Boston and Pittsburgh respectively. The Canadiens won their last two versus the Bruins whereas the Rangers overcame what seemed to be an impossible 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins. This series will feature the Gold medal winning Carey Price and the Silver Medal winning Henrik Lundquist. The series starts Saturday at 1PM ET on NBC and CBC in Canada. The rest of the series will be on NBCSN in the US and CBC in Canada and have 8 PM ET start times.
And then there is Los Angeles vs Chicago which starts on Sunday at 3 PM on NBC and TSN is another series that will be interesting because it is a battle of the last two Stanley Cup Champions (LA in 2012 and Chicago in 2013), what’s more is that this will be the second straight season that these teams will meet in the Western Conference finals, Chicago won last season obviously as they were the Champions of the league.
Canadiens vs Rangers
This is one for the history books, an original six battle between the Canadiens and Rangers with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals hanging in the balance. The Canadiens road here went through the Lightning in a four game sweep, and then the Bruins in what was a hard fought seven game series. The Rangers path was a little different, they knocked off the Flyers in the first round and then they came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
These teams play opposite styles, the Canadiens are more of an offensive style team whereas the Rangers play more of defensive style even though this season they have been more offensive than they were under John Tortorella and his defense first system.
I personally think the series will be a high scoring, light checking series. The key to the series will be goaltending, which goaltender does the best work for his team? Well if previous series’ are any indication than the Canadiens have the edge in net. I think the Rangers need to really pressure the Canadiens into making mistakes which is what Boston didn’t do for some reason, the Canadiens are a fairly young team and the Rangers are more experienced especially guys like Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis on that club.
My prediction is Montreal in seven games, I think the Canadiens will be the better of the two offenses, and I think Carey Price is locked in and will win the goaltending battle (again) in this series.
Kings vs Blackhawks
For the second straight season the Los Angesles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks will do battle for a chance to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals, last season the Blackhawks needed only 5 games to win the series, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the series this year will go 6 or 7 games, I expect seven to be honest.
The road to this series for both teams were tough, Chicago had a vicious six game series against the St. Louis Blues in what might end up being the series of the playoffs in terms of pure hatred, the Blackhawks then played Minnesota and that series were much calmer (actually all the second round series were pretty calm) and it was a laugher of a series, though give the Wild credit they tried their best to overcome the slow start to the series that they had.
Los Angeles on the other hand had an incredible series with the San Jose Sharks coming back from a 3-0 series hole to win the series over the Sharks and then they had another seven game series against the Anaheim Ducks (and who said California doesn’t know hockey? They got to see some great series this year) edging them out in a 6-2 game in game 7.
These teams are both very similar, they both play solid D and both are very good checking teams. I think that LA has the edge in goaltending though, Jonathan Quick is a playoff performer, he doesn’t get playoff jitters, he is as cool as it gets in the playoffs which has spelled success for the Kings making three straight Western Conference Finals and winning the Stanley Cup in 2012, you can’t deny the success of the Kings. But at the same time the Kings do not stack up against the Blackhawks who have won two Stanley Cups in 4 years and are going for a third in five seasons, one of the consistent factors is Patrick Kane who is a clutch playoff performer, he is as good of a player as it gets in these type of games, which is good because God knows Buffalo is disappointed in the rest of their sports adventures so it is nice for that city to see a local kid in Kane do well.
My prediction this series, I predict the Kings win the series in seven games. I think Jonathan Quick comes through again in the clutch, and I also predict Patrick Kane scoring a goal in the series deciding game, whether the series ends in four games or goes seven like I think it will.
Canadiens @ Kings 10:30 PM ET|7:30 PM PT (TSN-HABS|PRIME TICKET|RDS)
This game will feature two teams that play different styles, the Canadiens are more offensive minded of the two teams which makes for an interesting contrast. They typically have to rely on Carey Price to help them out, while the Kings are a strong team on defense with an Olympic caliber goalie in Jonathan Quick to help them win games. So we in a sense have a game where we will see which style eventually wins out. This is also a great test for the Canadiens because they are going to be playing two teams in a row that could make a run at the Stanley Cup finals in LA and Anaheim, and while I don’t view the Canadiens as a team that will be in the Stanley Cup finals, I do think this is a great measuring stick for the Canadiens to see where they stand, I expect them to put up a good fight.
But in the end I think the Kings will beat the Canadiens 3-1, the Candiens still suffer from being a smaller team, and they are going to have battles with a team that can be physically punishing, and mix that with a team that can score on a couple quick strikes and we’ve got a team that can and usually will smoother the opponent into defeat.
Blue Jackets @ Maple Leafs 7 PM ET|4 PM PT (FS-Ohio|SNET-Ontario)
Flames @ Wild 8 PM ET|5 PM PT (SNET-West|FS-North)
Team Canada beat team Sweden 3-0 in the goal medal game this morning to cap off an impressive last couple of games to claim the gold medal. Canada got goals from Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, all of them picking up their first goals of the tournament. Carey Price picked up his second straight shutout blanking team Sweden. The last goal Price allowed was in the first period against team Latvia. Price’s shutout streak extended to a whooping 164 minutes and 19 seconds.
Sweden was also dealt a late blow by tournament officials when they were informed that center Niklas Backstrom was not allowed to play in the gold medal game due to a rules violation having to do with a banned substance in an allergy medicine that Backstrom was taking.
Carey Price picked up his second straight shutout while making 24 saves en route to earning the award for best goaltender of the tournament as voted on by the IIHF.
Swedens Erik Karlson was voted best defenseman in the tournament by the IIHF posting 4 goals and 4 assists for a total of 8 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-5. United States forward Phil Kessel was named top forward of the tournament by the IIHF as he posted 5 goals and 3 assists for the tournament.
The NHL resumes its games on Tuesday with one game on the slate which is the Carolina Hurricanes going to Buffalo to play the Sabres.
It’s becoming apparent that the heat in the NHL action is picking up. The games over the last week or so have been fun hit filled games with a lot on the line as the season begins to make it to a near critical point of the season, which is usually reserved for February but with the Olympics being this season a lot of the ugly stuff is actually starting now rather than later in the season which to me is fine, the more the merrier, I thoroughly enjoy this type of thing.
But just because I enjoy doesn’t mean it is good for the league, especially when you have coaches trying to get in the other teams locker room, that is going too far and the NHL layed the boom down on John Tortorella with a 15 day suspension and fined Bob Hartley of the Flames $25,000 for starting his fourth line which was matched by John Tortorella’s fourth line and a line brawl broke out just two seconds into the hockey game. The rest of the game was pretty uneventful, but the opening was both surprising and really unnecessary from the get go.
A video of this incident can be seen below, video courtesy of http://www.hockeyfights.com
And then there was last night where the Penguins and Canadiens had a scuffle in Marc-Andre Fluery’s crease and Fluery left his crease to get away from the action, and the goalies started making gestures to each other and Fluery and Peter Budaj who replaced Carey Price wanted to get into a fight as the other action was going on. However the goalies were not allowed to go because of the linemen intercepted them.
If they had gotten into a fight, this would have been the 4th goalie fight in hockey since September between the NHL and AHL which is an incredible number considering the number of goalie fights haven’t been adding up much over the last decade. The last season with more than two goalie fights in the NHL was 2010-2011 when Tim Thoms fought Carey Price and Brent Johnson beat up and injured Rick Dipietro in a one punch knock out.
Overall though, I like the intensity picking up so far, this is why hockey is my favorite sport. Because between the late season games and the playoffs the NHL definitely adds some real action to its game at this part of the season. I am a hockey fan all year long but admittedly the end of the season and into the playoffs are the best parts of the year. And we’re heading there now which should ultimately mean more craziness in the coming months, and more importantly better games on the schedule.
The Montreal Canadiens have announced that netminder Carey Price will be out for the remainder of their opening round series against the Ottawa Senators. The Canadiens trail in their best of seven series 3-1, and without Price the chances of a come back appear slim. However I do wonder how well Peter Budaj plays in Prices’ absence. Montreal is already missing Lars Eller because of an injury suffered in game one.