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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Chicago Blackhawks: 2013 Stanley Cup Champions

17 seconds. Take a moment and think of everything you can accomplish in a mere 17 seconds; now imagine scoring two goals within in 17 seconds to lay claim to the Stanley Cup. That probably sounds like a dream that every young hockey player dreams at night, but for the Chicago Blackhawks that dream became a reality on Monday night. The Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals as they wrapped up their historic season with a Stanley Cup.

GET-171460497-620x413In an ending that couldn't have been written any better, the Blackhawks managed the unthinkable. Trailing 2-1 with just over a minute left in the third period it seemed that the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were destined to square off in a game 7 for the ages. Cue Bryan Bickell; Bickell quickly buried the puck to notch the tying goal after a pass from the corner by Jonathan Toews left Tuukka Rask tangled with his defenceman. Then just 17 seconds later Dave Bolland gained inside position in front of Rask and tipped home a Johnny Oduya point shot which won the Chicago Blackhawks the Stanley Cup.

For Toronto Maple Leaf Fans there was a sense of vengeance seeing the Boston Bruins, who tore out their hearts with a last minute third period comeback fall to the same fate. Of course the two losses' were completely different; For the Leafs it was a complete collapse, for the Bruins it was a hard fought battle right to the end and just so happened the Stanley Cup was at stake. Either way you look at it, both the Leafs and Bruins fell short of claiming the greatest trophy in all of sports and the Blackhawks proved that sometimes a hot start isn't a bad thing.

An 82 game season is so long, that that the first 10 games really aren't a huge deal; throughout the season you see multiple versions of the same team, some good and some not so good. But when you chop that 82 game season in half, the start becomes that much more important. When the puck dropped on the 2013 NHL season the Blackhawks didn't waste anytime, going 23-0-3 in their first 24 games, breaking the record for the longest NHL point streak to start a season. That start helped the Blackhawks dominate the West and win the Presidents trophy.

Heading into the playoffs, the Blackhawks were one of the favorites to end the season by hoisting the Stanley Cup. They survived a scare in round 2 and knocked off the defending champs to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Once in the Finals, the Blackhawks were set to square off against every teams nightmare; the Boston Bruins. If you're looking to see just how good the Bruins can be in the postseason just ask the Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple, all of whom are still trying to pick up the pieces from their crushing defeats at the hands of the Bruins. Needless to say, beating the Bruins- and Tuukka Rask was not going to be an easy task.

In an attempt to generate more offence Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were separated for the first three games in the Finals, but in game four the Blackhawks put the two back together and never looked back. In the next three games Toews and Kane along with Bryan Bickell combined for 6 goals and 7 assists to help the Bruins win the Cup.

Despite not having a goal in game 6, Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe for his efforts in the playoffs. Kane entered the playoffs with a slump scoring just 2 goals in the Blackhawks first 15 games, but as the Blackhawks went further Kane lit up. He scored 4 goals in the final two games of the Western Finals, including a hat-trick that helped eliminate the Kings. Kane finished the Stanley Cup run with nine goals and 19 assists and joins his partner in crime Toews having both won Conn Smyth's.

chicago-blackhawks-stanley-cupFor the Blackhawks this season was one to remember. From a record breaking start, to a comeback series victory against the rival Red Wings, to their 2nd Stanley Cup in four years. Ironically the Blackhawks closed out both their Stanley Cup victories in game 6. The Blackhawks appear to have built themselves a modern day NHL dynasty, which could reign throughout the NHL for years to come.

The final buzzer has sounded and the 2013 NHL season has come to an end. Up next is a long and painful offseason for hockey fans, but at least next season will start on time. Hats off to the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Why the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Win in 6

Before the Stanley Cup Finals began many predicted the series to go 7 games as the teams were so evenly matched. But if you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, the last thing you want is to go to game 7 against the Boston Bruins. Why? Because the Boston Bruins just know how to win in game 7 situations.

The best opportunity for the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup is in game 6. Yes, they’ll have to do so in Boston, but if they can win game 5 at home and gain momentum they’ll have a chance to close it out on the road and history is on their side.

Coming into the finals both the Blackhawks and Bruins were pretty evenly matched. The Blackhawks have more skilled players but the Bruins blue chip forwards certainly know how to get the job done. Both teams know what it takes to win the Cup, coming off recent Stanley Cup victories in 2010 and 2011.

Ironically, both teams survived major scares on their journey to the Finals; The Boston Bruins had a little more trouble disposing of the Toronto Maple Leafs than they’d like to admit. The Leafs forced a game 7 and had the Bruins trailing 4-1 before… well you know what happened. Following the hard fought battle with the Leafs the Bruins sailed through easily eliminating both he New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks got tripped up in round two at the Hands of the Detroit Red Wings and ended up down 3-1 before they battled back to win in game 7.

It’s really difficult to pick a favorite in this series; both teams know what it takes to win and have battled back from elimination in this post season. Either team could easily take home the Cup, but if this series goes the distance, the Bruins track record shows they know how to win in game 7’s.

In the last three years of playoff action the Boston Bruins have played in 5 game 7’s and have won 4 of those 5. One of those game 7 victories was their Stanley Cup win in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks, where they shutout the Canucks 4-0. Going back to the Bruins Cup win in 2011, they had to survive 3 game 7’s. Surviving game 7 three times in the same playoffs is unheard of. When everything was on the line, in a one-game winner take all- the Boston Bruins elevated their game to another level.

Then of course fast-forward to this years playoffs and take a look back at the first round. Ask the Leafs what happens when you have to face the Bruins in a game 7. Even when you’re beating the Bruins in the 3rd period, there’s still no quit in their game. Name another team in the entire league that would have been able to mount the comeback the Boston Bruins did in game 7 of the first round.

There is just something about the Bruins and game 7’s. To win a game 7 a team needs solid goaltending, physical play and depth; the Bruins possess all three of those things. They trust in Tuukka Rask, have solid D to help him out, play the best brand of physical hockey and have depth throughout the line-up. There’s no hero’s on the Bruins, they don’t turn to one guy to deliver like most teams; they have a bunch of hard working players who battle hard and can become the hero at any given moment.

Another key aspect about game 7 and the Bruins is they are fantastic at drawing a team off their game plan. Both the Rangers and Penguins stopped playing their game and started playing Bruins hockey. When you’re playing Bruins hockey and you’re not the Bruins you’re going to have a bad time and the Bruins will end up winning. When the game 7 rolls around the Bruins know what they have to do to get their opponent frustrated, and off their game just long enough for the Bruins to capitalize.

toews-940Just like the Bruins had a key number when they won the Cup, the Blackhawks also had a key number; that key number was 6. The Blackhawks closed out 3 of their 4 series’ back in 2010 in the 6th game. They have yet to close out a series this year in 6 games but the Stanley Cup Finals would be a great time to do so.

The Bruins have played chicken with game 7’s and have had great success doing so: a Stanley Cup Championship. They’re not afraid of game 7’s and elevate their game becoming a much more difficult team to play against. The Blackhawks like to make quick work of their opponents and finish things before game 7.

The best shot for the Blackhawks is to finish off the Bruins in game 6. Don’t let it get to a game 7 where the Bruins can virtually do no wrong. I’m not predicting a Boston Bruins win, all I’m saying is that the Blackhawks will want to end this in game 6. If it goes 7 the Bruins may be too much for the Blackhawks to handle.

Can the Blackhawks keep their lucky streak of winning it all in 6 or will the Bruins continue their game 7 dominance?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Stanley Cup Preview: Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins

Another season, all be it a shortened one, has come and gone in the NHL once again. In January, 30 teams took to the ice with the same goal in mind: to be the last team standing and lay claim to the Stanley Cup. After 48 games and three grueling playoff series', we’re down to the final two who will leave it all on the ice for a chance to life the Cup.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins will be renewing original six rivalries when they square off in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. The powerhouses’ of the West squaring off against the underdogs of the East; it’s bound to be one heck of a series.

Before we dive into the Stanley Cup Preview, let’s take a look at each teams journey to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Chicago Blackhawks

After a late start to the season the Blackhawks stormed out of the gate getting points in their first 24 games before a single regulation loss. The Blackhawks were the kings of the hockey world and finished first in the West and also taking home the Presidents.

blackhawks-trophy_620-thumb-620xauto-303689The Hawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild fairly easily in the first round, winning the series in 5 games. But in round two they ran into the 7th seeded Red Wings, who proved the only thing that matters is what happens in the playoffs. The Red Wings gave the Blackhawks everything they could handle and looked to have the Blackhawks on the ropes, but a resilient Blackhawks team not wanting their regular season effort to be for not, battled back and forced a game 7.

In game 7 the Blackhawks outlasted the Wings as Brent Seabrook scored the OT winner that sent the Wings packing. After narrowly defeating the Red Wings, the Blackhawks had a date with the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Once again the Blackhawks made fairly easy work of their opponents taking the series in 5 games to win the West.

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins narrowly escaped their first round match with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs forced a game 7 and had the Bruins on the ropes up 4-1 with 10 minutes left in the third period. Cue Milan Lucic. Lucic put the team on his back and helped them mount a comeback that will go down in history as not only one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history but also as one of the worst collapses in NHL history. The Bruins tied the game to force OT and Patrice Bergeron scored the OT winner that drove the dagger into the hearts of Leaf fans everywhere.

74107961The second round proved to be much easier for the Bruins as they disposed of King Henrik and the New York Rangers in 5 games. If not for a rough outing from Tuukka Rask a sweep may have been order in the second round.

In round three the Bruins met up with the talented Pittsburgh Penguins. At first glance this series seems like a talent mismatch but the Bruins proved that depth and character can beat talent and no leadership any day. The Bruins finally earned their sweep as they easily dismantled the Penguins in 4 games.

Teeing up the series

Due to the shortened 48 game season the Blackhawks and Bruins didn’t meet in the regular season. This is the first time since 1979, the Stanley Cup final will be between two original 6 teams. Despite their rich history, this is only the 7th time the Blackhawks and Bruins have met in the postseason and the first time since 1978. The Blackhawks finished first in the West and want to prove their historic start wasn’t just a fluke and bring home the Cup to validate their effort. The Bruins came into the playoffs in 4th place and since clawing back from the ropes of defeat in round one, have picked up steam each round appearing nearly unstoppable.

Key Factors:


Statistically speaking Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask have been the two best goalies throughout the playoffs. Perhaps that’s the reason the Blackhawks and Bruins are the final two-left standing.

Earlier this postseason I wrote about how I hadn’t been impressed with Tuukka Rask through he first 2.5 rounds. He barely outdueled James Reimer and his team was more responsible for the wins than he was. But in round three he proved just how good he is and why he is an elite goaltender. Through the first 3 rounds Rask is 12-4 with a 1.75 Goals Against Average and a .948 Save Percentage, those numbers are even better than Tim Thomas’ after the first 3 rounds in 2011.

Corey Crawford is a goalie that always seems to fly under the radar. No one gives him any credit and no one is sure if he’s good enough to win the Blackhawks the Cup. Heck before the playoffs started people were hoping Ray Emery would get the nod. The Finals could be a breakout for Crawford, a chance to prove that he can perform in the playoffs. He’s outdueled Jimmy Howard and arguably the best goalie in the world in Jonathan Quick, so Crawford isn’t off to a bad start.

Can the Bruins continue to shutdown stars?

Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game FiveIt’s no easy task to shutdown the offence the Pittsburgh Penguins boast. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal coming full tilt that’s enough power to make a team run and hide until the onslaught is over. But the Bruins managed to stop the Penguins big three as all three were held without a point in the series. Jonathan Toews has been rather quiet so far in the playoffs scoring just 1 goal. Now would be a good time for Toews to step up and join Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in scoring goals. Can the Blackhawks big players step up and beat Tuukka Rask? Or atleast score a goal?

Special Teams

Not only did the Bruins do the unthinkable by keeping Crosby, Neal and Malkin off the scoreboard, they also kept the lethal Penguins powerplay from scoring. The Bruins killed off all 15 penalties they took against the Penguins and have an amazing 86.5% penalty kill through the playoffs.

The Blackhawks also haven’t done too poorly while down a man. They have a near perfect 94.8% penalty kill and the defence blocks almost everything making life on Crawford pretty easy.

One of these teams will let their penalty killing guard down, even a little, and it may well cost them.

Players to Watch

Brent Seabrook

Since being reunited with Duncan Keith, Seabrook has been on fire on the blueline. The Blackhawks will need him to match the Bruins physical play but also to help spark the offence.

Brian Bickell

The reason the Blackhawks are having success without Toews scoring is in large part due to Brian Bickell. The upcoming free agent has 13 goals through 17 games and is looking to cash in on a major payday. If Bickell can keep up his play the Blackhawks should be just fine on offence, even without Toews.

Torey Krug

T-KrugHeading into the season all eyes were on rookie defenceman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton showed flashes of brilliance and had times were he certainly looked like a rookie. Through the first three rounds of the playoffs the Bruins have been getting production from a young defenceman, but his name isn’t Hamilton, it’s Torey Krug.

Krug has 6 points in 9 playoff games and has become a key member of the Bruins blueline as he’s climbed up the depth charts. Krug isn’t the type of player who carries a team but it the type of player that all championship teams have. He finds a way to contribute while flying under the radar and steps up when his team needs him. Torey Krug is the biggest X-factor in the Stanley Cup Finals.

David Krejci

Has there been a player throughout the playoffs who has elevated his play more than David Krejci? In 47 regular season games Krejci recorded 10 goals and added 23 assists. In the first 16-playoff games Krejci already has 9 goals and 12 assists.

He’s become a key component for the Bruins offencive success. If Krejci can keep scoring and helping Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton find the back of the net, the Bruins offence will be nearly unstoppable.

The Blackhawks and Bruins have arguably the two best coaches in the NHL in Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien. Both coaches have a Stanley Cup to their names and have been put through the paces in the NHL and despite both coaches remaining with their teams for at least 5 years, neither coach has lost his players respect or attention. Just ask John Tortorella how well that works.

The two best goalies in the playoffs, two of the best and most respected coaches and arguably two of the best-built hockey teams in the league. From the first line scorers to the fourth line role players, everyone knows their role and they work together to fill any holes.

The Blackhawks and Bruins will kick off their battle on Wednesday night and this may turn into one of the closest Stanley Cup Finals we’ve seen. Both teams match up so evenly.

hawks2010Prediction: These teams are so evenly matched it’s difficult to give a leg up to either team. It will likely come down to whichever goalie can remain hot or make that key save. My Pick- Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games. Remember what happened last time the Blackhawks finished 1st in the central?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins Lack Leadership

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team filled with veteran leadership. From Sidney Crosby to Jarome Iginla, the Penguins are filled with players who have been to the dance and learned all the moves. Yet somehow in that room full of leaders there is a lack of leadership and it's costing the Penguins in the playoffs.

For a team that technically has three captains on the roster; Crosby, Iginla and Brandon Morrow, the Penguins aren't playing with veteran experience and need someone to step up and calm the team down.

It was a lack of leadership combined with mental mistakes that saw a completely different Pittsburgh Penguins team take to the ice in games one and two of the Eastern Conference Finals. They got away from their game plan and led by their captain, started playing Boston Bruin hockey.

There's a reason it's called Boston Bruin hockey, because the Bruins are the best at it. They know how to play physical between the whistles, how to get under opponents skin and most importantly what they can get away with. The Bruins like to get involved physically to draw their opponents off of their game plan and strike while their opponents are trying to play "Bruins" hockey. If you're trying to beat the Bruins at their own game you're not going to win period.

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game SixIn the first two games the Penguins were annoyed. You saw Evgeni Malkin wrestle Patrice Bergeron to the ice and Crosby take a shot at Tuukka Rask. Crosby wears the "C" and is the leader of the Penguins, he also happens to be the best hockey player in the league. But Crosby isn't playing like the best hockey player, we should be talking about his sick goals and great passes to Chris Kunitz.

Instead we've seen Crosby whine and complain to the refs, commit an awful turnover in game 2 and attempt to take on Zdeno Chara in game 1. This is not the Crosby or the captain the Penguins need to lead them to a Stanley Cup, this is the Crosby who is being completely shutdown and frustrated by the Bruins.

What makes matters worse is the fact Crosby doesn't even have a point in this series and has been virtually invisible. In the regular season Crosby is virtually the best player on the ice every game, he has no problem scoring goals and elevating his game to the next level when he wants to. But the playoffs are a different story. In the playoffs, especially in the later rounds everything gets's tighter. There's less space and time and Crosby is forced to make decisions much quicker than in the regular season. Throw the Bruins into the mix and not only do you not have any space or time, but you're also getting hit every time you touch the puck.

The Physicality in this series has thrown Crosby off his game and hasn't given him a chance to be Sidney Crosby. Since the Penguins aren't winning and Crosby is frustrated the frustration goes throughout the entire line-up. What the Penguins have right now is a team that has too many superstars. It's great to have the likes of Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla in the line-up, but what happens in a situation like this is players take it upon themselves to save the team. The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't playing like a team while the Boston Bruins are.

Crosby needs help. He may be the best player and have a solid character but that's not helping the Penguins win right now. What everyone forgets is Crosby is still a rather young player. Iginla or one of the other veterans needs to take Crosby under their wing and teach him how to get through a rough series because he doesn't know how. Crosby knows how to score goals but does he know how to play when the goals aren't coming? The rest of the team is following the example Crosby is leading and right now it's not a great example.

Now as much as people want to flog Crosby to death it's not all his fault. He needs to step it up, but so do other players. Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow have turned out to be major disappointments and Kris Letang has looked lost on the backend. Crosby, Neal, Malkin, Iginla and Kunitz all have a combined 0 points in this series and the lethal Penguins powerplay is a dismal 0-12.

The Penguins offence has been shutdown on every level, even when they're up a man they have failed to capitalize. Someone in the dressing room needs to step up. Tomas Vokoun has fixed their goaltending issues; now it's time for someone to step up score goals, show the team discipline and how to win.

The Pittsburgh Penguins backs' are up against the wall, it's now or never. We're about to see the character and leadership of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Why Tomas Vokoun Should Start Game 3 For the Penguins

After a 6-1 loss in game two, in which neither Tomas Vokoun nor Marc-Andre Fleury could stop a beach ball, the Pittsburgh Penguins are at a crossroads with what to do with their goaltenders. Do they go back to Marc-Andre Fleury who has won them a Stanley Cup but is showing more recently that he can’t handle the playoff pressure or continue down the road with the veteran Tomas Vokoun?

8466092The goaltending decision ahead of game three is the biggest decision of Dan Bylsma’s coaching career. If he chooses the wrong guy, the Penguins’ hopes of lifting another Stanley Cup will end at the Conference Finals.

Going into the Conference finals, no one expected this series to be high scoring. Sure the Penguins have superstars that when they’re on can make any goalie look like a house league call-up, but they were facing the hard-hitting, physical Boston Bruins who have a stellar goalie in Tuukka Rask between the pipes. And oh yeah, Rask is playing for a new, multi-year contract.

Remember last time the Penguins faced a physical team in the playoffs? They were eliminated in the first round because they got coaxed into the physical play. After game one it appeared that would be the case again.

Heading into this series all questions surrounded the goalies. Would the Penguins continue with Tomas Vokoun and would he be good enough to lead them to a Stanley Cup? Would Tuukka Rask be able to withstand the Penguins offence?

With 9 goals in the first two games, it’s clear the Penguins goaltending isn’t getting the job done. While all the blame isn’t just on Vokoun or Fleury as the whole Penguins team needs to be better, the Penguins also need a goaltender in net who is going to come up with a big save to keep them in the game.

Penguins goalie Vokoun makes a save against the Senators during the first period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in PittsburghWhile it wont be an easy decision naming a starter for game three, considering neither goalie stopped anything in game 2, the Penguins need to keep going with Tomas Vokoun.

The time to put Fleury back between the pipes has long passed; this is Tomas Vokoun’s Penguin team right now. Not saying the Penguins will go forward with the 36 year-old veteran next season, but this is turning into a similar situation that the Canadiens went through in 2009 with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.

This is the second straight post-season where Fleury has faltered, he arguably played himself out of the starters role and Bylsma chose to run with Vokoun. It’s too late for Bylsma to run back and catch the Fleury bus while he’s riding full speed ahead on the Vokoun train.

The time to put Fleury back between the pipes was immediately after he was pulled in round 1 or the beginning of round two, not when you’re down two games in the Conference Finals. The Penguins have asked Tomas Vokoun to step up and carry the Penguins; he’s done that and now deserves a chance to get the Penguins out of this hole. If not for Tomas Vokoun the Penguins would have been eliminated in round 1.

Going back to the fragile Fleury for game three would be a major mistake. It doesn’t matter how good he’s looked in practice while riding the bench; that’s practice, against his own teammates, not a playoff game against the Boston Bruins. Fleury has proved he doesn’t have what it takes to perform in the playoffs lately. The Penguins need to go with the goalie that gives them the best shot at winning and that goalie is Tomas Vokoun.

There’s no question the Penguins offence needs to step it up in game three. Just three goals through the first two games with all the star power they have is inexcusable. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal all need to be better, they’re counted on to lead the Penguins and right now they’re not doing that. For whatever reason Crosby isn’t living up to the “C” on his chest and the Penguins are lacking some serious leadership.

While the offence needs to pick up the slack, the goalies need to make key saves. Throwing Marc-Andre Fleury into game three reeks of desperation, Tomas Vokoun has been fine since he took over, he had a rough game but so did the rest of the team. If you’re going to replace Tomas Vokoun with Fleury in game three you may as well put Matt Cooke on the first line instead of Sidney Crosby because Crosby had a rough game.

The Penguins have made their bed with Tomas Vokoun, now it’s time for them to lie in it.