What happened in Pittsburgh last Saturday has left yet another black mark on the great game of hockey. Both Shawn Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik and James Neal’s knee to Brad Marchand’s head were dirty plays which crossed the clear lines of respect all hockey players are supposed to follow, the “unwritten code” we all so often speaks of. (In case you haven’t seen it, click HERE for a video including both incidents)
It is very easy for the anti-fighting fans of hockey to twist Saturday night’s Thornton-Oprik incident into another example of fighting not having a place in the NHL. The problem is that the incident was not a fight: it was an assault. It is unrealistic to imply that this would not have happened if fighting was banned in the NHL. You can ban fights, but you can’t ban the thirst for revenge . Thornton was on a mission to avenge the concussed Loui Eriksson after he was hit by Orpik in the opening minute of the game. One could counter-argue that if Orpik had fought Thornton when he first challenged him, the incident could have just as easily been avoided. But the reality is that Orpik had no obligation to fight, and that’s where it should have ended. Thornton’s actions of slew-footing and punching a defenseless Orpik were unnecessary and uncalled for, and it’s very likely that the NHL department of player safety throws the book at him. He crossed a moral line, and there is no room for that in hockey. However, this should not be come a hill for anti-fighting groups to plant their flag. This was more about a player crossing the line than fighting.
What is being lost in all of this, most likely due to the images of Orpik being stretched off the ice, is the incredibly vicious knee to Marchand’s head, only second’s before Thornton’s attack. Neal, who has been under fire for dirty hits a few times in recent memory (such as these two incidents in the same game), had more than enough time to get out of the way and avoid hitting Marchand. No such attempt was made, and it’s clear in the replay that he angled his leg ever so slightly towards Marchand. The more I look at the video, the harder it is for me to come up with any defense for his heinous acts. A 5-game suspension for such an act I feel is getting off easy. For Neal to have such a lack of respect for a fellow player is far more disturbing than and fight I’ve seen this year.
We hope that what happened in that game will never happen again, but this won’t be aided simply by banning fighting in the NHL. Both of these incidents relate more to a lack of respect between players, something that rules simply can’t change. In a season that has been plagued by blatant head shots and other incidents which involved an intent to injure, it is the culture of the NHL players that needs to change, not the rule book. Respect for one another is the key to improving the poisoned and tainted culture of the NHL.
I’d like to begin with congratulating both the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks for making it to this year’s Stanley Cup Final. They both got there with very dominant series wins, proving that they are the two best teams in the league. I was right with both my predictions, however I did not think the Bruins would sweep the Penguins. I had them winning in 7 games. I was right on with my “Chicago in 5” pick. That brings me to 10 out of 14, which I am very happy with. Now let’s have a look at this final. I am extremely excited for this final to begin, and I think it is going to be a very hard-fought battle between these two rugged, skilled teams.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Boston Bruins
This is it. It’s the final countdown. We have the two best teams in the league now fighting to be crowned champion. This is going to be a tough battle for either team. Let’s look at both teams from top to bottom.
Goaltending – These guys are good
Both of these goaltenders have almost identical statistics, from both the regular season and the playoffs. Corey Crawford finished the regular season with a GAA of 1.94, and Tuukka Rask finished with 2.00. As for save percentage, Rask finished with a .929, with Crawford had a percentage of .926. The stats are almost identical for the playoffs as well. Crawford leads all goalies with a GAA of 1.74, and Rask is second with a GAA of 1.75. Rask leads all goalies with a save percentage of .943, and Crawford is second with .935. They both lead the league with 12 years, and Rask has only 1 shutout more than Crawford. These two goalies are clearly playing their best hockey of their careers so far, and they have proved themselves as elite goaltenders. To be honest, I don’t feel that it would be fair to give either goalie an edge in this series. They’re both so similar, and they both have good teams in front of them.
Defense – It wins championships
When it comes to the defensive corps, both teams have a superstar on their blueline: Duncan Keith for the Blackhawks, and Zdeno Chara for the Boston Bruins. Keith has been a powerhouse on the Blackhawks’ back end, and he has helped his team make it as far as they have. Chara had a slow but steady regular season, yet he has taken his game to another, almost superhuman level. He silenced one of the best players in the world, Evgeni Malkin, holding him to zero point in their four game sweep of the Penguins. Although the Blackhawks have a solid Defensive core, it is difficult to compare it with the Bruins. Boston’s blue line has incredible depth, with Seidenberg, Boychuk and Ference and McQuaid being their best defenders. That is an impressive top-5 defensemen on any teams, and yet they still have rookie sensations Krug, Bartkowski and Halmilton, ready to go. Not only have their defensemen successfully shut down some of the best players in the world, they have also contributed offensively. I realize that the Blackhawks’ defense has been crucial for their success in these playoffs, but I still believe that the Bruins have a stronger group all around.
Forwards – Firing on all cylinders?
When it comes to offense, both teams have some awesome firepower. At first glance, the Blackhawks seem to have the upper hand. They have incredible talent in Toews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp, and secondary scoring from players like Handzus, Shaw and Frolik. The biggest surprise from the Blackhawks’ lineup is Bryan Bickell, who has earned himself a huge pay raise over the summer, with many teams looking to pick him up when free agency opens up. Even with some of their biggest stars, most notably Kane, not playing up to their full potential, the team still finds a way to win, which is exactly what a championship team needs. There is always someone there to pick up the slack, and winning is more important than personal stats. This is also true for the Bruins. Although the Bruins’ first line of Krejci, Horton and Lucic have been firing on all cylinders, the whole team has contributed to their success. Even though the Krejci line has been the hottest line in the playoffs, players like Marchand and Bergeron have also been clutch. Their overtime heroics against all three teams they’ve faced so far has been key to their success, none more important that the overtime win against the Leafs. And nothing has been more of an indication of what the Bruins are willing to sacrifice then Gregory Campbell’s 80-second shift, after breaking his leg blocking a Malkin slap shot. Campbell showed the type of sacrifice and courages it takes to win it all. His team won’t forget what he did for the team, and I’m fairly certain that seeing that type of courage from a teammate makes them want to win a championship for them. Two years ago, they rallied around losing Nathan Horton. This year, they’ll rally around Gregory Campbell.
Prediction: Bruins in 7. This is going to be a tough series for both teams. It’s going to be an incredibly close one, and unfortunately, one team has to lose. When two teams are this close talent-wise, drive and passion can change a series. The Bruins will fight their way to the cup, and they’ll bang and bruise the Blackhawks on their way. I have a lot of respect for both of these teams, and I hate to pick between two such great teams. But the Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season, and they are going to be incredibly tough to handle.
Once again, I am late with my predictions. Once again, I swear that they were written before round 3 began. The reason this time was that I was having internet connection issues over the last few days at my house. As for round two, I went 3/4, with the San Jose/Los Angeles series being the only one I got wrong. That makes me 8/12 so far, which I’m pretty happy with!
Here we go with round 3. This is going to be a difficult round to predict, because for the first time in a while there are no real underdogs. These are the four best teams in the league, and they’re also the last 4 Stanley Cup winning teams. A fellow blogger, Kevin (check out his blog HERE), discovered that there are 56 players from the four remaining teams who already have their name on the cup. These are teams that have already proven that they can win it all, and I’m sure they’re all hungry to do it again. This is going to be a fun to watch.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Boston Bruins
This is going to be an amazing series. The big story everyone it talking about is the Jarome Iginla “snub” of Boston. The whole Iginla saga is really for the fans and the media, and I am quite confident that it is not being discussed in either locker room. These guys are professionals. Iginla made a decision, and Boston has moved on. No hard feelings. No bad blood. So now that we’ve covered that non-issue, let’s discuss the important details of this series.
There’s no doubt, in my mind anyway, that Pittsburgh and Boston are the two best teams from the East this season. They are the two teams that deserve to be in the final, and that makes for a tough, entertaining series. Pittsburgh has some of the most talented players in the world on their team, and they did everything they could to make it even better before the trade deadline. I’ve heard a lot of experts saying that Pittsburgh will be Boston’s greatest challenge so far in these playoffs, but I feel that people are missing something; Boston will also be Pittsburgh’s biggest challenge so far. With all due respect to the Islanders and the Senators, they aren’t exactly powerhouses in the East. Both teams defied odds by making it to the playoffs, and they played their hearts out against the Penguins. But now, Boston is going to give Pittsburgh their biggest challenge yet. Unlike the Islanders and Senators, the Bruins are solid from front to back. They are tough, they can score, they can hit, and they can defend. The Bruins also have the big, tough players that can hit the Penguins stars enough to get them off their game, much like the Flyers in last year’s playoffs. When the Penguins are off their game, they take penalties and go for the big hit, instead of focusing on scoring. That plays right into the Bruins’ advantage. However, if the Penguins can resist the urge to retaliate and take stupid penalties, then they have good odds for beating the Bruins.
The penguins’ biggest weakness is when they are in their own zone. Although they have all the talent in the world offensively, they are surprisingly bad in their own zone, especially with man-to-man coverage. If the Bruins can keep the Penguins crammed in their own zone, the chances will show up. What the Bruins need to watch out for is taking penalties, because the penguins have the best power play in the league. The Bruins also have the best penalty kill, but there is no point in tempting fate. This series might come down to Pittsburgh’s’ power play against Boston’s penalty kill. We’ll see how that works out.
Prediction: Boston in 7. A tough choice, but I think Boston is going to get Pittsburgh off their game right from the start, and the Penguins will have a tough time scoring against the Bruins’ solid defensive core.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings
Alright, last round I doubted the Kings. I felt bad doing it, because they are a good team. Unfortunately, I have to do it again. The Kings are a great team, and they have the best goalie in the league playing some of his best hockey. They have great talent up front, and a superstar in Doughty, who is just inches away from being the great offensive defenseman from last year’s Stanley Cup-winning run. But Chicago is simply too strong. They have an incredible tandem of offensive players, some of which haven’t even hit their stride yet. If Toews and Kane really get going, much like how they were in the regular season, then the Kings will really be in trouble. They’ve been winning courtesy of their other lines, and some excellent goaltending by Crawford. In reality, the Blackhawks have been able to win, even if they’re not playing to their full potential. It’s only a matter of time until that time bomb ticks for the final time, and they get going with everything they’ve got.
The Kings have had a lot of trouble scoring consistently, and they’ve been able to get by thanks to one man: Jonathan Quick. He has been phenomenal, and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise. But you can only rely on one man for so long until it comes back to bite you. Against a team like Chicago, you need more than just an excellent goaltender to get by. You also need to be able to score, which is extremely hard to do against a stingy Chicago team. Unfortunately for the Kings, I believe that this will be the end of their cup run for this year. Chicago is just to hot to handle, and Los Angeles is going to figure that out extremely fast.
Prediction: Chicago in 5. Chicago is going to make to the Cup final this year. A team that lost only 7 games in the regular season, that’s exactly where we all though they would end up.
Once again, I would like to apologize for being slightly behind schedule on this one. Spring is a very busy time of year, with getting the yard ready for summer and starting up again at my summer job at the local golf course… some days it’s tough even to get to the computer! Much like last time, these predictions were also written before round 2 started. I’m looking pretty good so far, but we’ll see how long that lasts.
As for round 1, I went 5/8 with my picks, with the worst one being VAN in 7 (ended up being SJS in 4, the complete opposite). I was bang on with CHI in 5, the only prediction where I was right for both the team and the number of games. How did you guys do?
On to round 2:
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators
Once again, I would say that this is one of the easier picks. Much like the PIT-NYI series, the penguins are just too powerful (although the Islanders did give them a run for their money, surprising many people). Like many series, this one may come down to goaltending, but from a different angle. The Senators will need GREAT goaltending to win, whereas the penguins will only need GOOD goaltending to win. The penguins can get away with less-than-stellar goaltending, simply because they can score. Craig Anderson will have to be the phenomenal goaltender he was in the regular season and for most of the Montreal series. The senators simply cannot afford to have anything less than Anderson at his best. If he is not sharp, the series will not last very long. The penguins are just too good a team to make any mistakes against.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers
This is going to be an extremely close series. These are two very tough, defensive-minded teams, who do the hard work to grind out a win. Both teams have great goaltending, with Lundqvist being slightly ahead of Rask at the moment. Lundqvist is currently on a two-game shutout streak, and there’s no reason to think that he may continue doing that. He has been phenomenal all year, arguably being New York’s best player. Rask has also played very well, but he has not been as solid as consistent as this round’s counterpart. The Rnagers, although have a couple of superstars on their team, have had scoring from almost all their lines. The Bruins relied on the Krejci-Horton-Lucic line for almost all of their scoring in the first round. Bergeron did bring his A-game for game 7, but the Bruins need more from Marchand and Seguin. I think that the Bruins, after their amazing comeback in game 7 against Toronto, will finally wake up and play more like the team that went to win it all two years ago. All lines will be contributing, and I think the Rangers will have their hands full. This series is going to be decided by a goal or two, and I would be surprised to see many high-scoring games in this one.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings
An original six match-up is almost always going to be a good series, and this one is no different. These are two teams that have gotten accustomed to winning, so both teams are going to battle hard to win. Chicago only lost seven games in the regular season, and I don’t see that trend changing anytime soon. The Blackhawks are just too solid, from top to bottom. They have some of the best forwards in the league, and their goalies have exceeded all expectations. Detroit, although still a strong team, is going to have a hard time keeping up with the Blackhawks. The Red Wings are getting up there in age, and the team still has yet to recover from losing Lidstrom.
Prediction: Chicago in 6
Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks
This is a tough match up to decide on. Both of these team played very well in the first round, and I expect that strong play to carry on into round 2. San Jose is trying to get a huge monkey of their back, by actually doing well in the postseason. They have built a reputation of being an offensive powerhouse during the regular season, only to fizzle out when the playoffs start. They weren’t the usual powerhouse this season, but they easily took care of the Canucks in four games. The Kings are trying to win back-to-back cups, and Jonathan Quick has been playing like the Conn Smythe-winning goalie from last year. Quick has to keep that up for the kings to get by the sharks. Making mistakes against the sharks is going to be very costly. However, it’s also going to be difficult for the Sharks to score on Quick if he continues to play the way he did in round 1. Like the Bruins-Rangers series, this is going to be decided by a goal or two.
Prediction: San Jose in 7
Alright, I’m going to start by saying that I wrote these predictions before the playoffs began, but I never got around to posting them on the blog. I’m telling the truth! You’ll know because a couple of my predictions seem a little silly after the first few nights of games *cough* LA *cough*. Anyways, here we go:
1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders
This is one of the easier picks in my opinion. It is difficult to argue that Pittsburgh is not the best team in the East. They have a solid goaltender, a quick defensive group, and one of the most skilled groups of forwards in the league. Even before picking up Iginla and Morrow (players who will really help a long playoff run, in my opinion), this team was still one of the best in the East. The islanders played amazing hockey to make it into the playoffs, however I think the penguins are just too powerful for the Islanders to deal with. If the Penguins shut down Tavares, the Islanders don’t have much else to answer with.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators
Unlike the first prediction, this one was one of the more difficult picks. Ottawa and Montreal are very similar teams. They both have young, superstar defensemen (Karlsson and Subban), and two of the best goalies in the league, even with Price’s recent struggles. Scoring is divided through at least three lines, with neither team have a “Superstar” forward, especially with Spezza being sidelined. In my opinion, this series will come down to which goaltender plays the best. This series will probably come down to one goal, much like the Boston-Montreal series in the 2011 playoffs. Anderson has the upper hand at this point, but if Price can play the way everyone knows he can, this series can easily go to either team.
Prediction: Senators in 7
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
This is another tough one. The Rangers have had their struggles throughout their year, with many of their key forwards under-performing for much of the season. Lundqvist was good, but not nearly as great as the Vezina-winning goaltender from last year. Rick Nash seems to have found his stride at the end of the year, but Brad Richards still has yet to find his rhythm Many are hoping he’ll excel in the playoffs to make up for his below-average regular season. Washington looked as though they would miss the playoffs altogether, until their captain Ovechkin took his game to an unworldly level, helping his team steamroll their way to third in the Eastern conference. If Ovechkin can keep his game elevated to where it was right up until the end of the season, they Capitals are going to be difficult to contain. Braden Holtby also has to be solid, but he proved last post-season that he can steal a few games for his team.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Many people are putting a lot of focus on the Kessel/Seguin story. In my opinion, that topic has been gotten waaaaaaaay too much air time in the last couple of years. I don’t really remember the last time a traded players (or traded player and the drafted player from that trade) have been compared for so long. These teams are much more than just those two players, so that’s what I’m going to talk about. Toronto have toughened up their team this year, and a few times they flexed their muscle to help tilt a game in their favour (just ask the Habs in the first few games they played). The leafs are talented, but they are still very young. The entire team has only 12 games more playoff experience that Boston’s Jaromir Jagr. Reimer has been good throughout the year, but the playoffs are a different animal, something he has never experienced before. The Bruins, on the other hands, are still made up of most of the parts from the Stanley Cup-winning team of two years ago. They are extremely deep, and can roll 4 lines throughout the entire game. Both Tuuka Rask and Anton Khudobin have been very good throughout the year, and their defense is as solid as ever. I think that the Leafs are going to have a tough time dealing with a very solid Bruins team.
Prediction: Bruins in 5
Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild
Let’s face it: Chicago is the team to beat. They were the best team in the league by quite a large margin, and they don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Both of their goalies have been incredible, all four lines have been contributing offensively, and their defense is tough and stingy. They best forwards (Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp) have been their best players. This is a complete team, and they’re going to be tough to beat. The Wild made two massive additions over the summer with Suter and Parise, but I feel that the team is simply missing two or three key players to be a contender. Until then, they’re in for a wild ride with the Blackhawks.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5
Anaheim Ducks vs Detroit Red Wings
This is going to be a great series to watch. The ducks have exceeded all expectations this season, and they were consistent all season, whereas many people though they might fizzle out towards the end of the season. They have played with great energy and determination, taking many teams by surprise. They are blessed with four or five superstars, and they have been contributing a lot this season. On the other hand, the Red Wings only just crept into the playoffs. This is a team that is used to being an elite team in the West, and I don’t think they enjoyed having to fight for one of the last spots of the playoffs. The Red Wings feel like they have something to prove, and I’m sure they want to bring Anaheim’s stellar season to an end very quickly. Both of these teams are going to battle hard, and I think it’s going to go all the way.
Prediction: Anaheim in 7
Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks
I think it’s taken a while for Vancouver to get over losing in the Stanley Cup Finals two seasons ago. This year, they want to hush all the critics, especially after being eliminated last year in embarrassing style. The Canucks are going to want to make an example of the Sharks, but they are missing one of their best goalies: Corey Schneider. Luongo is still a great goalie, and there is every possibility that he can help the Canucks win the series. The Sharks are a very talented team, especially with their top two forward lines. This team can easily score 4 or 5 goals a game, but they are a little vulnerably defensively. Niemi will have to be outstanding for the Sharks to win this series, because the Canucks have 4 deep lines that can all contribute on the score sheet.
Prediction: Canucks in 7
St. Louis Blues vs Los Angeles Kings
I’m going to admit something on this pick. Have you ever taken a multiple choice test, and gotten 2 or 3 questions in a row with the same letter answer? You feel like you’ve made a mistake, and almost try to make the next question be a different answer. Well, that’s kinda what I did on this pick. For the first three Western Conference picks, I went with the higher seed. I didn’t like the idea of picking seeds 1-4. And to be fair, this series is going to be that close. You could basically flip a coin on this one. Is Quick going to take his game to the next level like he did last post-season? Or will Elliott play the way he did last season, putting up some of the best statistics in NHL history? I feel that both teams are pretty even from top to bottom. They both have some great players, and both teams can be really stingy when it comes to goals against. Even though there might not be a lot of goals, I think this series is going to be very entertaining.
Prediction: Kings in 7
What would your picks be? Do you think there is anything I overlooked? Feel free to comment with you picks, or who you think is going to really step it up this post season!
GALLAGHER SCORES SHOOTOUT WINNER, RASK TRIES TO SHOW HIS FRUSTRATION AND FAILS
Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins has a history of post-shootout meltdowns (and by a history, I mean two incidents). When Brandon Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens scores the shootout winner against Rask, he tried to show his frustration, and failed. It’s right at the end of the video, so be patient.
Now this isn’t nearly as funny as his meltdown in the AHL a couple of years ago (link HERE), but it’s still a good one. Hockey players will tell you that goalies are a special breed. They’re usually the quiet one in the corner with the strange pre-game rituals. So when they get angry, they usually show it in a strange (and often hilarious) manner. I’m allowed to say that, cause I’m a goalie (but don’t tell my girlfriend that we’re weird, she doesn’t know yet!). I think that broadcast companies should have a camera for each goalie, just to capture their meltdowns. 99% of the footage would be useless, but that 1% of solid gold would be totally worth it.
KASPARS DAUGAVINS SHOWS GUTS IN HIS SHOOTOUT ATTEMPT AGAINST TUUKA RASK
If you ask hockey fans about the shootout, it’s pretty well divided as to whether it’s exciting or not. A lot of people think that it’s a crappy way to win a hockey game, while others think it’s a really exciting way for the team’s to decide a winner. In my opinion, what makes it exciting for me is when people try different moves or tricks to score. Kaspars Daugavins of the Ottawa Senators, tried something new against Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins.
Daugavins has been highly criticized for this shooutout attempt in the hockey world. A lot of people are saying that it’s making a mockery of the shootout, and that it’s ridiculous and cocky for him to try it. I disagree. I thought it was highly entertaining, and it took guts for him to try that in an actual shootout. This isn’t just a trick he decided to try out, he actually works on it a lot in practice. And as you can see, Rask has to come over and make a very difficult, acrobatic save. If he had scored, we wouldn’t be talking about whether it was stupid or not.
Just a side note, Rask and Daugavins are now teammates, with the Bruins picking up Daugavins off waivers earlier this month. My theory is the Bruins picked him up just so his new teammates could make fun of him even more for the shootout attempt!
CROSBY BREAKS JAW, PENGUINS LOSE TWO IN A ROW
While playing against the New York Islanders, Sidney Crosby took a puck to the face, breaking his jaw. The puck was shot by Brooks Orpik, but it took a deflection and went right at Crosby’s jaw. This is bad news for the Penguins. They won that game, making it their 15th win in a row, but the next two games without Crosby, they lost badly. First it was a 4-1 loss to Buffalo, before a 6-1 thrashing by the New York Rangers. It’s a little ironic, because everyone was ready to give the Penguins the Cup after acquiring Brendan Morrow and Jarome Iginla before the trade deadline. Since picking up both players, they’ve snapped their winning streak and are suddenly having trouble scoring. They’re still a team to be reckoned with, and I wouldn’t want to face them in the playoffs. When Crosby gets back, it will be interesting to watch this team at full capacity. Hopefully none of their other stars fall before that.