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NHL Conference Finals Preview

nhl playoffs preview 2

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.

Eastern Conference

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.

Western Conference

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.

Blackhawks beat Bruins 6-5 in OT to tie series 2-2

If you missed game four of the Stanley Cup Finals, then you missed a hell of a game. There were 5 goals in the second period (3-2 CHI) and 3 in the third (2-1 BOS) in what turned into the second instant classic of the series, the other being the game 1. The stand out performances came from Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane for Chicago and Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr for the Bruins. If you look at the boxscore Seguin and Jagr won’t impress but they both had good chances for the game. Bickell, Toews and Kane combined for 2 goals and 3 assists in the game and the Bruins got two goals from Bergeron. Brent Seabrook scored the winner for the Blackhawks halfway through overtime.  

The scoring started in the first when Michael Handzus scored a short-handed goal to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead, Rich Peverley scored a power play goal about 8 minutes later to tie it up 1-1.

Chicago scored the next two goals 2:08 apart when Toews and Kane scored the second and third goal respectively to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead before Boston stormed back to make it 3-2 on a goal by Milan Lucic at 14:43. But then Marcus Kruger scored less than a minute later to make it 4-2 Chicago. And at that point if you’re a Bruins fan you were very disheartened to see that. But worry not, the heart of the team Patrice Bergeron scored a power play goal at 17:22 of the second period to make it 4-3.

Surely after a 5 goal period the coaches would make adjustments, right? HA!!! Yeah, they made sure the controlled chaos continued.

In the third period Patrice Bergeron played hero again by scoring the game tying goal just 2:05 into the third period. But back came Chicago who scored one on the power-play at 11:19 of the third period to give Chicago the lead 5-4. But less than a minute later Johnny Boychuk blasted a slap shot past Corey Crawford to tie it at 5.

Having fun yet? No?! Well the good news is that we’re going to overtime, that ought to be fun.

The Bruins came out flying in overtime getting a lot of good chances for themselves, but as with game one, the Bruins had a hard time finishing their chances. Which gave Chicago a chance to come out on top with Brent Seabrook scoring stick side on Tuukka Rask.

June 9, 2013 Hockey Recap: Blackhawks clinch ticket to finals; Stanley Cup Finals start Wednesday; Calder Cup Finals Game 1 recap

The Chicago Blackhawks pose with the Clarence S Campbell bowl. Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

 

Patrick Kane scored the game winning goal and capped off a hat trick en route to leading the Blackhawks back to the finals for the first time since 2010, in a 4-3 double overtime thriller over the Los Angeles Kings. Patrick Kane’s hat trick was the first time a hat trick was scored in a series clincher since Wayne Gretzky did it in 1993 ironically for the Los Angeles Kings. Want even more history? This is the first original six Stanley Cup Finals since 1979 when the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers en route to their fourth straight Stanley Cup at the time.

The win sets up a date with the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals which will start on Wednesday June 12th in Chicago United Center starting at 8PM ET on NBC/CBC/RDS.

The finals schedule looks like this:

DATE

TIME

TEAMS

TV NETWORKS (US & CANADA)

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2013

8 P.M.

BOSTON AT CHICAGO

NBC, CBC, RDS

SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2013

8 P.M.

BOSTON AT CHICAGO

NBCSN, CBC, RDS

MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2013

8 P.M.

CHICAGO AT BOSTON

NBCSN, CBC, RDS

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 2013

8 P.M.

CHICAGO AT BOSTON

NBC, CBC, RDS

*SATURDAY, JUNE 22, 2013

8 P.M.

BOSTON AT CHICAGO

NBC, CBC, RDS

*MONDAY, JUNE 24, 2013

8 P.M.

CHICAGO AT BOSTON

NBC, CBC, RDS

*WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

8 P.M.

BOSTON AT CHICAGO

NBC, CBC, RDS

As always we’ll have more on this series in our Stanley Cup Finals piece on Wednesday.

Until then enjoy your time away from the NHL and possibly dig into the Calder Cup Finals like I did last night, it was a very good game between the Griffins and Crunch.  The game had a fantastic flow to it, it was physical, some good scoring chances, and it was fairly chippy. The game was won by the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-1 thanks to two third period goals by Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist whereas the Crunch got a goal by JP Cote which at the time cut the lead to 2-1 before Nyquist’s empty net power play goal. These goals were made to be enough thanks to Petr Mrazek’s 28 saves. The Griffins lead the series 1-0 with game 2 tonight at 6 PM ET.

NHL Conference Finals

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Gesterling:

First off this should be a great series, both teams are talented I see it going seven games, and anyone who says Pittsburgh in four or five is completely discounting the Boston Bruins entirely.

With that said that isn’t to say the Penguins can’t or even won’t win the series, because on paper they should. But to me it will come down to Bergeron and his ability to contain Sidney Crosby, if he can take Crosby’s effectiveness away then the Bruins have a good chance of winning the series.

But I don’t see Bergeron containing Crosby for an entire series, in fact he will face insane challenges in this series along with Marchand and Jagr trying to also contain Kunitz and Dupuis, That last part scares me, the fact that the aging Jaromir Jagr will have to cover either Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis, I just do not think he can skate with either of those two, I can see Chris Kelly replacing Jagr on that line in all honesty. And the other big line combination will be Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton will be countered with James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla. And the Jarome Iginla angle is already known, so that is another element that will be fascinating to watch out for.

Those top two lines for both teams will be key factors for both teams but another line that Pittsburgh might want to watch out for is Daniel Paille, Gregory Campball, and Shawn Thornton because they played great in the Conference Semis against the Rangers, if you want to talk about a real series changing line, that very well could be it.

In terms of defense I like Boston’s defense more, I think they have the better depth which should suit them well in a long physical series if need be. They might be playing with two rookies but they rookies have been amazing. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski have both been very good when called upon, with no promises that Andrew Ference will be back, these guys need to really be sharp. That isn’t to say Kris Letang, Matt Niskanan or Brooks Orpik won’t be important pieces to the series because they can get the job done themselves, but in terms of depth I like the Bruins better in this series.

In terms of goalies, I think it is an even match up. I think both Rask and Vokoun are very solid goalies and I think the goalie with the most timely saves will win the series. Which if we go by the first two rounds than that would mean Tomas Vokoun. But no one can say how this will play out.

At the end, I think defense and goaltending will prevail over the offense. So I say Boston in seven games, I think this will be an outstanding series and possibly the best series of the playoffs.

Whetstone:

Tough decision on who will win the series but I favor Boston over Pittsburgh for many reasons because Boston has a courage to win the series because of Boston Bombing. However, Pittsburgh may win the series easily because they been in playoffs for a long time and they have a lot of key players in the team (Crosby, Cooke, etc.) but if I have to decide on whom will win the series, I will say Boston to win the series.

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Gesterling:

These two teams have two different styles, Los Angeles is more of a sit at home defensive team while the Blackhawks can bring a solid offensive game. So this is a tough one, because I like LA for the same reason I like the Bruins, I think defense and more so in this case goaltending with Jonathan Quick being on another one of his incredible rolls in this years playoff. I think if Quick can keep it up the Blackhawks will struggle. I also think LA is a deeper and better team in this series. That isn’t to take away from the Blackhawks because they’re a great team, but in terms of depth I feel LA is deeper.

One thing I am looking for is how the Chicago Blackhawks top line does versus Los Angeles’ top defense because I think that match up will be critical for Chicago’s chances in this series.

For key players in this series, I think for Chicago it is Patrick Sharp, and for the Kings is has to be Justin Williams. I choose these two because they both can score, but on typically focal points to the series say like the likes of Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown for LA and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for the Blackhawks, so keep an eye out for those two players.

Goaltending I give the edge to Los Angeles, Quick has been strong again this playoffs and could steal them another Stanley Cup. But it will be very interesting to see if Corey Crawford can step in and steal Quick’s thunder.

My prediction is Los Angeles in six, I think on paper the teams are even outside of goaltending where I think the Kings have the advantage in this series, and every series down the road regardless if they move on and have to play either the Bruins or Penguins.

Whetstone:

I don’t like Chicago Blackhawks very much for many reasons but one of many reasons that they beat my team, Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, you can say that I am a bitter fan but hey, I will tell you my predication. I think that Kings have a so/so chance to win the series but this series is a gambling series because both of them are very good in their own ways. I gotta say that Kings to win the series.

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