When we last visited the NHL playoffs, it was approximately one month ago and just after the end of the first round. Now we are smack dab in the middle of a highly exciting Cup final that could easily go either way. In anticipation of a winner in the next week, I'll give my thoughts on the two rounds that have led up to this series.
(Last month's disclaimer still stands: As a die-hard hockey fan, many person opinions fill this diary. If you don't like them, tough cookies.)
Again we finish below the uncleaned ice surface.
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Looking back to the conference semifinals was almost like a tale of two conferences as both series out West went the full 7 games while both Eastern Conference series ended 4 games to 1. In a departure from the last diary, Let's begin in the East.
We begin with the Sens/Pens series. After the Penguins struggled to get by the Islanders in 6 games and having to resort to their backup goalie, many people thought they would continue to struggle defensively against Ottawa. That coupled with the stronger goaltending of Craig Anderson over Evgeni Nabokov had some speculating that Ottawa could take the series in 6 or 7 especially after they easily got by Montréal in 5 games. Due to Ottawa's lack of team speed and less physicality, the Penguins easily carried play and created chances. Craig Anderson, who had performed well up to this point, crumbled under the relentless pressure the Penguins created as he was pulled in two of the five games. The Penguins special teams continue to be highly effective. The decision to continue playing Vokoun in place of Fleury also continued to pay dividends. After the series was over, the hockey world was on pins and needles as it looked like the Penguins might be unstoppable and really who wants them winning the Cup?
The other series in the East was the Rangers/Bruins series. The Rangers made it to the second round after getting past Washington by way of another epic collapse by the Capitals, who looked like they didn't even care in games 6 & 7. The Bruins advance after an epic game 7 comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs. As with almost every series involving the Rangers, this one would hinge on their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Don't be fooled by the scores of the individual games, this series was as lopsided as the Penguins series was. Boston dominated play in each and every game and only lost game 4 due to what was, unarguably, Boston goaltender, Tukka Rask's, worst performance of the playoffs. After going ahead 3 games to none, there was talk about the Bruins collapse against the Flyers in 2010 when the Bruins became on the third team in NHL history to lose a series after being ahead 3-0. History was not destined to repeat itself as Boston's strong play easily bested the Rangers in 5 games.
Out in the West, we start with the Sharks/Kings series. Another exciting series where most games came down to the final furious seconds and could have easily gone either way. With the exception of game 2, no goaltender gave up more than 2 goals in any game. The series was a classic goaltenders duel series and a highly exciting one at that. The pace was fast and the games were physical. A rare game misconduct was given to Kings' goaltender Jonathon Quick in game 3 after he vociferously complained to the refs about the officiating especially in the third period. The Kings took the series in 7 games. Each team won its home games (a rare occurrence of home ice advantage) and furthermore the team that scored first won each game. I can tell you this year the Sharks can hold their heads up high as I wouldn't call their loss a choke. The better team just won.
The Blackhawks/Red Wings series was less of a back and forth affair than the Kings/Sharks. After winning the first game easily, the Blackhawks looked like they might cruise to the Conference Finals, but things don't always work out so easily. The next three games saw the Red Wings take control and the Blackhawks struggle to put the puck in the net. When it looked the President's Trophy winning Blackhawks were done, they showed why they had the most points in the regular season. Their captain, Jonathon Toews, took the reins in a big way and led his team to 3 straight victories including a nail-biting win in overtime of game 7.
That set up the Conference Finals. The East saw the mostly hated Penguins taking on the supposed underdog Bruins. The West had the finally clicking Blackhawks against defending champs Kings. Everyone was expecting to hard fought series; unfortunately only one was.
We begin again in the East, where the Penguins took on the Bruins. The Bruins, who play a very similar style to the Islanders, showed what the Islanders could have been had they had the talent of the Bruins. The Bruins manhandled the Penguins in every aspect of every game. Tukka Rask was a wall giving up only 2 goals the entire series and finished the series with a Goals Against Average of 0.44 and Save Percentage of .985. The Penguins power play which had been magnificent in the previous two series went 0-15 and both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the best players in the world, were held pointless. Additionally, the Penguins never lead at any point of series. Penguins fans were calling for the heads of virtually everyone in their organization but especially coach Dan Bylsma. The Bruins were hoping to see the other series go a little longer to get some much needed rest before the finals. The world hockey breathed a huge sigh of relief as the dirty, arrogant Penguins were finally gone. To make the win even sweeter for hockey fans, Jerome Iginla, who screwed over the Bruins near the trade deadline, got his comeuppance as the Bruins were able exact their revenge on him.
In the West, the Blackhawks quickly disposed of the Kings in 5 games. However, unlike the Bruins/Pens series, this one more was more exciting and hard fought. Still as good as Jonathon Quick had been in the first two series, he and the Kings were overcome by a clicking Blackhawks team. The Blackhawks were lead in scoring by their top line of Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell who combined for 15 points. That's not say they didn't get scoring from other places, they did, which in the end was the big reason for them winning. Game 5 ended in an exciting fashion as Patrick Kane scored on a 2-on-1 play from a great pass from Toews in double overtime (the longest game at that time in the 2013 playoffs).
We are now in the midst of the Cup Finals with the Bruins leading 2 games to 1. While I personally have no real rooting interest, I did pick the Blackhawks as my Western Conference team this year. After their incredible regular season, I would like to see them win the Cup.
I will also give you my pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the player most valuable to his team throughout the playoffs. No matter who wins the Cup, if I were voting, my pick would be Tukka Rask hands down. No one player has had a better playoffs than he has. 5 players have won the Conn Smythe while playing for the losing team and 4 of those 5 have been goaltenders, so it's not unusual. Should my pick, the Blackhawks, win I expect Rask to be the MVP.
Enjoy the rest of the playoffs and make sure you boo Gary Bettman next week. I am sure the boos will be especially loud due to the lockout.
Today's Top Comments!!
TrueBlueMajority sent in this one after the buzzer last night, but it's too good not include:
This comment by Sirenus on blaming women for being raped.From ban nock:
If people would follow one of these links from Zen Trainer it would probably do more to save lives than any other thing I've seen on DK. It's a message none of us want to hear. (ed. note: they are on distracted driving.)Three comments from Tara the Antisocial Social Worker:
From Dragon5616:In the front-page diary "Republican Rebranding Fail, Continued: House Set to Vote on Abortion Ban," 88kathy suggests a new song title, and Lonely Liberal in PA helps with the lyrics. Read the whole thread, but be warned: you may not be able to get the tune out of your head.
In ericlewis0's diary CBO Says Immigration Bill Would Reduce Deficit by $200 Billion, blueaardvark had this excellent question.From moi:
Because I feel TC needs to cover the news of the day in some fashion, flagged by ozsea1 is this comment by greenball on secrecy in government.