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.
Re-Post: NHL Round Up: LA makes History; Tortorella Fired; Halak Traded; NHL Conference Semi-Finals Preview
Please head over to the new site to read this and to follow that blog because starting in a week or two I will not be using this site however I want to give people proper time to adjust to the transition.
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 Boston Bruins took a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with a 2-0 whitewash of the Chicago Blackhawks in game three of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins got goals from Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron in the win. Tuukka Rask wasn’t tested like he was in games 1 and 2 having to make just 28 saves which is a far cry from games 1 (59 saves) and 2 (33 saves) but he still saw some decent chances from Chicago but held the fort when he needed to. Game four is Wednesday night at 8 PM.
Meanwhile over in the AHL the Grand Rapids Griffins head back to Western New York to try to cap off a series win. The Griffins built up a 3-0 series lead over the Syracuse Crunch on home ice in the first of three straight home games and then lost the next two games. With the series heading back to New York the Crunch are trying to become the fourth team in AHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, and the second this season. The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins overcame a 3-0 deficit to the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to win 4 in a row the last two on Providence’s home ice.
Should the Syracuse Crunch win, game seven would be Thursday night at 7 PM ET.
The Syracuse Crunch won last night to keep their season alive, they ended up winning 3-2 and forcing another do or die game tonight (6/15) in Grand Rapids. The Crunch fell down 2-1 after one period before scoring the next two goals in the second period off of the sticks of Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik. There was an incident late in the second period where Gustav Nyquist picked up a spearing major and game misconduct, which lead to a chippy third period, which saw 8 penalties with 24 penalty minutes in it including both goalies picking up 2 penalty minutes with Petr Mrazek getting a diving penalty which also saw Mike Angelidis pick up a roughing minor, and Cedrick Desjarins got a matching roughing minors with Luke Glendening,
Also tonight is game two of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. The Blackhawks lead the series 1-0 after a game one win in triple overtime 4-3 on Wednesday night in Chicago where Andrew Shaw had the second of a double tip in from the point beating Tuukka Rask. It was the 5th longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history. The game can be seen at 8 PM on NBC Sports Network and CBC in Canada.
Gesterling: I want to start off with a little historical playoff perspective, Boston and Chicago is the first original six Stanley Cup match-up since 1979 when Montreal beat the New York Rangers, and the first playoff match-up between the Bruins and Blackhawks since 1978.
The road to the finals consisted of Boston beating Pittsburgh in a surprising upset to many. I am not terribly surprised that they got past Pittsburgh, but more so the fashion that it happened in winning it in just four games. Chicago only needed 5 games to take care of the Los Angeles Kings with game five going into double overtime.
Now onto the match-ups, in terms of offense I like Chicago, I think they are better offensively, not by a land slide like I thought of the Penguins over the Bruins, and we saw how that went. On defense I give Boston the edge, I don’t think this is a landslide either, I think the Blackhawks are a really good defense, so they will be no push overs. In net I give the edge to the Bruins, while Crawford has been in the league longer, I feel like Tuukka Rask really is the better of the two goalies, that might be a product of the Bruins defense, but I think his fundamentals are pretty much top notch when he is confident and he seems extremely confident coming into the series.
The key players for both teams will be the tougher guys like Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic on Boston and Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw on Chicago. These guys are key elements to their teams success, to me Bickell and Lucic are a wash physically and Bickell in the playoffs has 8 goals, so he is no slouch. Another key match up could be Patrice Bergeron and Jonthan Toews, will Bergeron have to smoother Toews like he did Crosby? I think the better question is that, can the Bruins contain Patrick Kane? If they can then Chicago is in trouble.
Chicago needs to find an answer for the red hot Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton line because they’ve been incredible in the post season, if the Blackhawks have an answer for that than the Bruins are in big trouble because Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin are not getting pucks in the net.
Speaking of Jagr and Seguin these guys are close to getting some pucks in the net I feel, they’ve come close so many times that is it impossible not to like what you see from them, and eventually it will pay off. I just do not want it to happen during a street hockey game in the summer time when it doesn’t matter.
So here is my prediction, I’ll go Boston in six games. I think the Bruins will pull it off because Tuukka Rask has been red hot, and the Bruins defense is better. I firmly believe that defense and goaltending wins titles. I think this is where Boston is stronger than Chicago, but if Crawford can get into a zone it could be a series of low scoring games, which again plays in Boston’s favor.
Whetstone: In my prediction, I have no doubt who will win the series since Boston Bruins made through tough times: Maple Leafs, and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Chicago Blackhawks were the hottest team this very short season, but like I said in my last couple posts, I do not want to see Chicago Blackhawks to enter the Stanley Cup Final but I have no choice and say this; I am very impressed with their performance and their hungry for the cup. My prediction that Boston Bruins will win the series because I want them to win, not because I like them, it is because of what happen in Boston due to Boston Bombing.
The Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 last night at the TD Garden in Boston, Tuukka Rask made 26 saves in the shutout win. Adam McQuaid scored the only goal from a slapper from the point that appears to deflect off of Jarome Iginla’s stick and top shelf past Tomas Vokoun’s catching glove. Vokoun was sharp himself last night stopping 23 of 24 shots that he faced in the game. With the win the Bruins punched their ticket back to the Stanley Cup Finals which is their second trip to the finals in three years, the Bruins won the cup in 2011 over the Vancouver Canucks in a seven game classic of a series.
The Bruins do not know who they will play yet, but early signs point to the Chicago Blackhawks who are up 3-1 over the Los Angeles Kings in their best of seven series with game five tonight in Chicago. If Chicago wins tonight I would think the Finals would start midweek either Wednesday or Thursday. However should LA force a game six and/or game seven then the Finals might start next weekend.
For anyone interested in watching tonights Kings-Blackhawks game you can view it on NBC in the United States and CBC in Canada at 8 PM ET.
Also tonight is the start of the Calder Cup Finals where the Syracuse Crunch and Grand Rapids Griffins square off in the first game of their best of seven series being played in Syracuse, New York. Fans who wish to watch the game can sign up for AHL LIVE at http://www.ahllive.com and sign up for AHL Live and use the promo code calder2013 to get free access to the entire series. I did this and did not have to put in any credit or debt card information, so there is no commitment beyond this point unless you pluck over money for the service next season on your own.
I am doing it for 2 reasons, 1) it gives me something to watch if the Blackhawks win tonight and the NHL has a short break before the Finals, 2) it gives me a chance to see just how good the service is, a chance that isn’t typically available most of the time for free.
My Calder Cup Finals prediction piece will be up a little later on.
Maple Leafs @ Bruins 7 PM ET (CNBC/CBC/RDS)
Series tied 3-3
Rangers @ Capitals 8 PM ET (NBCSN/TSN/RDS2)
Series tied 3-3
Texas Stars @ Oklahoma City Barons 8 PM ET (AHL LIVE)
Series tied 1-1
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.
Islanders @ Penguins 7 PM ET (NBCSN/TSN)
Series tied 2-2
Senators @ Canadiens 7 PM ET (CNBC/CBC)
Senators lead 3-1
Wild @ Blackhawks 9:30 PM ET (NBCSN/CBC)
Blackhawks lead 3-1
Oklahoma City Barons @ Texas Stars 8:30 PM ET (AHL LIVE)
#8 Wild vs #1 Blackhawks
Gesterling: I don’t think this will be a cake walk for the Blackhawks, Minnesota is a tough team and they will make it hard for Chicago. guys like Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley need to play big along with Zach Parise. I still question Corey Crawford so I am not going to give the Blackhawks an easy win this series. With that said I still take Chicago in six.
#2 Ducks vs # 7 Red Wings
Gesterling: This should be a great series between these teams, I think Detroit has the man power to knock off the Ducks, but it will need consistent play outside of defense without the aid of Nicklas Lindstrom. The Ducks to me do not have the leadership they need to succeed over anyone, so with that said I am going with Detroit in seven.
Whetstone: Ducks win 4-3
#3 Canucks vs #6 San Jose
Gesterling: This series I am on the fence with. Because I think the Sharks can win the series but that would require them to score goals and I just cannot see it being to the level they need it to be. So my prediction is Vancouver in six.
Whetstone: Sharks win 4-3
#5 Kings vs #4 Blues
Gesterling: I really like the Blues, I think the world of the way they play, and I think they will stun the defending champions. I just don’t think the Kings are up to the level talent wise that the Blues have. However if Quick can play the role of God again this season then the Kings could pull off another championship run. As I said I think St. Louis will stun the Kings, so my pick is Blues in six.
Whetstone: Kings win 4-3
#8 Islanders vs #1 Penguins
Gesterling: I think this will be a good series, I think the Islanders are a feel good story and I think they will make it a better series than people expect. It will take contributions from John Tavares down to Brad Boyes to pull off an upset. But with Crosby coming back (from what I can guess), and the firepower the Penguins have, I think it will be too much. I am taking Pittsburgh in six.
Whetstone: Islanders win 4-3
#2 Canadiens vs #7 Senators
Gesterling: The Canadiens and Senators had a good season series. And I expect it to continue here, I think there will be some fireworks, and a good amount of goals. I think goaltending will steal this series for the Senators so I am going with the upset here, Ottawa in seven.
Whetstone: Montreal win 4-2
#3 Capitals vs #6 Rangers
Gesterling: This series is interesting, because we have Henrik Lundquist who is great in the regular season but in the playoffs he is known to let in some soft goals. And then on the other end there is Alexander Ovechkin, who is also not great in the playoffs. I think the Rangers have more talent than the Capitals though on the ice so I take the Rangers in six.
Whetstone: Capitals win 4-1
#5 Maple Leafs vs #4 Bruins
Gesterling: The Bruins have over the last few seasons taken Phil Kessel out of his game when the Bruins played the Maple Leafs and that has essentially crippled the Leafs offense. But this year the Maple Leafs have secondary scoring and have been impressive. The key for Boston will be Tuukka Rasks’ play, if Rask doesn’t play well then the Bruins will lose the series. The key for the Maple Leafs will be the play of Phil Kessel, if he has a good series the Maple Leafs will have a good shot at upsetting the Bruins. I predict the Bruins win the series in six games.
Whetstone: Boston win 4-3
There is only two weeks left in the NHL regular season, and teams on the bubble are going to have a tough time making up ground in the final couple of weeks. So I will break down the current playoff picture and break it down by who is in, who still has a chance, teams that are in trouble and teams that are pretty much eliminated.
Teams that appear to be safe heading into the playoffs (*=Clinched ^Clinched Division #=Currently in playoff spot):
East: Montreal*, Pittsburgh^, Boston*, Toronto#, and Ottawa#
West: Chicago^, Anaheim*, Vancouver#, Los Angeles#, and San Jose#,
Teams fighting for a playoff spot (#=Currently in playoff spot if season ended today)
East: Washington#, N.Y. Islanders#, N.Y. Rangers#, Winnipeg, and Buffalo
West: Minnesota#, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix, St. Louis# and Columbus#
Teams in trouble:
East: New Jersey and Philadelphia
Teams that are all but mathematically eliminated:
East: Tampa Bay
East: Carolina, and Florida
West: Calgary, Nashville, and Coloardo