Monday, June 24, 2013

Stanley Cup Finals: Did That Just Happen?

Even though the Boston Bruins held a 2-1 series lead at one point, some people were already counting out the Chicago Blackhawks. Many folks were saying that the series was in the bag.

They were just speaking from the heart and not from the head. 

Not only did the Blackhawks even the series at two games each, but momentum was clearly on their side. Also, they had regained home-ice advantage and this is a team who preys on playing hockey in their building. They needed that win in game four. They needed home ice back on their side.

With both goaltenders being lit up during game four, they took the ice along with their respective teams on Saturday night for the swing game.  

Carl Soderberg replaced Kaspars Daugavins on the fourth line for the B's in game five. It was his first action this postseason. Soderberg is clearly the better all-around player while Daugavins was in there just for offense. It is possible that this move was made after the Bruins allowed six goals in game four.

Saturday night definitely belonged to Chicago. The Bruins were not on top of their game, especially in the defensive zone. However, they certainly were the more physical team as they out-hit the Blackhawks 53-22. Patrick Kane beat Tuukka Rask for two goals early on in the game. Zdeno Chara pulled the Bruins within one, but it was not enough. Dave Bolland added an empty-net goal for the Hawks to seal the 3-1 victory.

Patrice Bergeron left the game in the second period via an ambulance after apparently aggravating a lower-back injury. Also, Jonathan Toews did not play a single shift in the third period after taking a huge hit from Johnny Boychuk. Both were back in the lineup for the next game.

Speaking of which, game six took place on Monday night back at the TD Garden. The Blackhawks had the chance to win the Stanley Cup on road ice, something that is never easy to watch if you are the home team.

That awful thought came into fruition late in the third period of Monday's game. With the Bruins holding a 2-1 lead with minutes remaining, the Blackhawks beat Rask for two goals in 17 seconds to steal the game and the Stanley Cup.

This was the first time in the "Claude Julien Era" that the Bruins lost a playoff series in less than seven games. At least they never go down without a fight.

Congratulations to the 2013 Stanley Cup champions: the Chicago Blackhawks. As for the Bruins, there is always next season. Let's see which players will still be here come October. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Stanley Cup Finals: Fourteen Down, Two To Go

Apparently, there is some sort of historic NBA Finals match-up taking place right before our very eyes. The hockey fans will just have to take that for what it is worth.

With the kind of hockey that is being played in the Stanley Cup Finals through the first few games, why would anyone watch anything else? Sure, whenever hockey is not on, basketball was being played and vice versa. The first two games between Boston and Chicago should have people wanting to watch highlights even on the off days. That is how good the series has been thus far.

Anyway, the Bruins and Blackhawks resumed play on Monday night for game three. This time around, the Bruins tasted home ice advantage. 

B's head coach Claude Julien discovered a new line during game three on Saturday. As the game went on, Chris Kelly was paired with Tyler Seguin and Daniel Paille. That line figured in both of the goals scored in that game. Look for that line to remain intact as the series progresses.   

Tuukka Rask has played outstanding this postseason and he looked to keep that going on Monday night. 

Prior to game three, it was announced that Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa was scratched from the lineup after injuring himself during warm-ups. It was later declared an upper-body injury. He was back in the lineup for Chicago in game four.

Also prior to the game, Zdeno Chara collided with Milan Lucic during the pre-game skate. Chara had to receive stitches above his eye, but he returned to the ice to record a team-high in ice time with almost 26 minutes. 

During Monday's game, the Bruins were all over Hawks netminder Corey Crawford. They had several early chances, but they could not capitalize right away. That all changed in the second period when the B's netted two goals. Paille put home the first one and Patrice Bergeron capitalized on the power play to give the B's a two-goal lead. 

That is how the game finished. The game also finished with a scrum involving Chara and Bryan Bickell, not to mention Brad Marchand and Andrew Shaw finally dropping the gloves, even though nothing really got going there. 

Now it is starting to feel like the Stanley Cup Finals. 

The Blackhawks did not look sharp in game three. The constant jumbling of the lines and inserting a youngster with some speed did not help at all. 

The Bruins took a 2-1 series lead heading into game four on Wednesday night. They also took with them a streak of 26 consecutive penalties killed off. 

That streak ended in game four, but we witnessed the best game of the series thus far. In regulation, five goals were recorded for each side and 21 different players recorded at least one point. Bergeron was the only skater who had two goals. For Chicago, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane finally found their scoring touch again.

The thing that stood out was the fact that the Blackhawks worked extremely hard to get their goals on Rask while the B's were beating Crawford with relative ease. Glove side will be his downfall. 

In the end, it was Brent Seabrook who netted the game-winning goal to give the Hawks the 6-5 win and tie the series at two games each.

Jaromir Jagr skated in his 200th career playoff game on Wednesday. He is only the 19th player in history to accomplish that feat. He continues to rack up assists, but he is beyond the point of knocking on the door for scoring a goal. It will happen at any point at this rate.

Game five will be on Saturday night back in Chicago. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stanley Cup Finals: The Shaw-Shin Deflection - Yippie Paille

"With all of the 'Original Six' match-ups that we have witnessed during this postseason, it is only fitting that the final series of the season features two of those teams."

The Stanley Cup Finals will showcase the Boston Bruins taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in what should be an entertaining series to say the least.

Chicago is constructed much differently than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks actually play defense and do not fully commit to offense on every shift. That all starts with their captain Jonathan Toews, one of the best defensive forwards in the game. In fact, he was the winner of this year's Selke Award. They have a solid goaltender in Corey Crawford, good blue liners, and some skilled offensive weapons. This team will be a much tougher challenge, so do not expect another four-game sweep.

However, the Blackhawks played a little over their heads throughout their historic streak that they went on earlier in the year. For all of their talent, the Penguins were the best team in the NHL. 

That is ancient history at this point. Chicago is still great from top to bottom. 

The Bruins were riding some serious momentum as they headed into Wednesday night for game one. The lineup that we all saw for game four against Pittsburgh was the lineup for the opening game of this series. Kaspars Daugavins actually played well in place of Gregory Campbell. The issue still has been the lack of production from the third line. 

You have to assume that this will be the series that Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin break out. What better way to do it than in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here we go for game one from the Windy City...and what a game this one turned out to be. 

The Bruins and Hawks entertained the crowd for the first 60 minutes. Hopefully this was a sign of things to come in the series. Milan Lucic recorded two goals and David Krejci racked up a pair of assists in regulation. Tuukka Rask did allow some goals due to defensive breakdowns, but he definitely did what he could to keep his team in it.

The B's did not test Crawford nearly as much as the Blackhawks tested Rask and that turned out to be key. For those of you who decided to stay awake for this instant classic, Chicago knocked off Boston in triple overtime by a final score of 4-3. Andrew Shaw beat Rask for the game winner as the puck deflected in off his leg. 

One thing to look out for as the series goes along is the agitator vs. agitator mind-game battle with Brad Marchand and Shaw (CHI). Each player likes to play that edgy style, but which team will let their opponent's "rat" get in their head first? 

Game two took place on Saturday night. With a two-day layoff in between games, the much-needed rest for the Bruins was vital. 

Nathan Horton did play in this one. He left game one with an apparent upper-body injury. He has been suffering from chronic shoulder subluxation ever since that fight he had with Penguins forward Jarome Iginla during the regular season. This is the time of the year where you have to play through the pain.  

The game was tied 1-1 heading into overtime when Daniel Paille netted the game winner. He also recorded an assist on Chris Kelly's goal that he scored in regulation. Paille and Kelly skated with Seguin on the third line as the game progressed. There is the production from that line we all have been waiting for.

We now have a series. Game three will be Monday night from the TD Garden.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two U's, Two K's, Two Rings?

First of all, let's just state the facts. The Boston Bruins went into Pittsburgh and took the first two games of the series from the Penguins. 

The best thing that the B's were hoping for was to earn a split with the Pens in the first two games. For them to go in there and knock off the best team in the Eastern Conference twice? That is impressive. There are probably some folks out there who claimed that they predicted that would happen. Those people are either lying or they are being incredibly naive. 

Anyway, there was still plenty of hockey to be played. The Bruins took that 2-0 series lead back home as they graced the TD Garden ice for game three on Wednesday night. The Penguins were coming into this game with every intention of getting back into this series. They had to do it on road ice just like Boston did to begin the series. 

The unstable goaltender controversy in Pittsburgh could come back to haunt them. Tomas Vokoun was back between the pipes for the Penguins. However, it has been difficult to match the performance of Tuukka Rask and that will be the case going forward regardless of who is in net.

The Bruins have a solid lineup from front to back and they are playing well. They were hoping to end the series before it had a chance to return to Pittsburgh.

In game three, the Penguins dominated at the face-off circle and out-shot the Bruins 39-25 through 60 minutes of regulation play. In double overtime, Patrice Bergeron netted the game winner that resulted from a turnover by the Penguins created by Jaromir Jagr and Brad Marchand. Rask made 53 saves in the game while Zdeno Chara logged over 40 minutes of ice time.

David Krejci and Chris Kunitz recorded the goals for their respective teams in regulation. Krejci now leads the entire NHL in postseason goals scored with nine. He also leads the NHL in points. 

Gregory Campbell broke his leg blocking a shot while on the penalty kill in this game. He did not return, but he battled through the pain to give the fans an epic shift. The fans appreciated it so much that they started to cheer his name loud and clear. He has been ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. Chris Kelly took his place on the fourth line while Kaspars Daugavins was inserted into the lineup and will be skating on the third line with Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin going forward.

Speaking of which, game four of the series took place on Friday night at the TD Garden. The B's, who held a 3-0 series lead heading into Friday, were looking for the sweep. 

They did it.

The only goal of the game came from a slap shot by Adam McQuaid, a goal that deflected off the stick of Jarome Iginla. How about that for some irony? Rask made 26 saves in the final game of this series. They will now advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sidney Crosby did not record a single point in the series.

Sometimes you take the ice to make a statement. In this case, this was a big time statement win in the series for the Bruins. 

Now we await the winner of the Western Conference Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eastern Conference Finals (Black and Gold vs. Black and Gold)

This was the match-up that fans and members of the media were hoping for. The Boston Bruins will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins with a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line. 

This Eastern Conference Finals series features two of the top teams in the league. Although the Bruins have been known over the years for their depth, the 2013 Penguins team has assembled virtually an All-Star team from front to back.

They were incredibly busy at the trade deadline, most notably for acquiring Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames just as it looked like he was set to join the Bruins. The stories will write themselves in the series from a media perspective. Just think about it; Iginla must go through the team he chose not to go to in order to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Plus, Jaromir Jagr skating against his old team for one last hoorah in the spotlight. The sports writers were already salivating over all of this once the second round concluded. 

The key for the Bruins in this series was going to be to try and neutralize Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and any other player you want to name. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will have their hands full all series long. 

Besides Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic had a great series against the New York Rangers. He did not produce the numbers, but he threw his weight around and showcased his speed by driving the puck to the net. Since the Pens have question marks about their goaltender and some of their defensemen, Boston would like to expose that by doing the things that Lucic has done so far in the playoffs.

This is fixing to be a highly skilled, highly physical series and it all started in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

With over a week off in between rounds, it allowed Andrew Ference to make a comeback for game one of this series. He started skating on his own earlier in the week and was recently cleared to play by team officials. Matt Bartkowski became the odd man out despite his solid play on the blue line this postseason. 

Game one went to the Bruins. David Krejci scored two goals while Nathan Horton recorded three points. Rask pitched his first-career postseason shutout by stopping all 29 shots he faced. Besides a scrum that took place at the end of the second period that saw Patrice Bergeron fight Malkin, Matt Cooke was given a game misconduct for hitting Adam McQuaid into the boards from behind. 

The fun stuff has already started in the series and Crosby has been front and center of it all. Did his slick extra curricular activities continue in game two? 

On Monday night, the Bruins and Penguins squared off in game two. Surprisingly, there was no real major scrums in this game. However, the Bruins went on a scoring spree that eventually chased Tomas Vokoun from the Pittsburgh goal. Marc-Andre Fleury entered the game late in the first, but that did not stop the Bruins from scoring.

Boston took this game with a final score of 6-1. Rask continues to be outstanding this postseason. Krejci added another goal to increase his point lead in the NHL while Brad Marchand netted two goals. Even though this might not be worth mentioning, but Jagr recorded two assists in this game. Take it for what it is worth. 

The series now switches to Boston. The Bruins have a 2-0 series lead as they head home for game three on Wednesday night.