The first question: Will the San Jose Sharks ever reach the Stanley Cup Final? After the thrashing they gave Vancouver in the first round, I figured maybe this would be the year. Then they lost in seven games to the Kings and their star goalie, Jonathan Quick. San Jose was stacked offensively with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, and finally had a truly sharp goalie in Antti Niemi, but for reasons I’ve yet to figure out they can’t seem to get past that final barrier. I’ve asked fans of all sports which is worse, having a team that never makes it far in the playoffs, or one that is consistently right there but comes agonizingly short every time? The consensus was that they both are terrible, but the latter is a lot more painful. It must suck to be a Sharks fan right now.
The Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final matchup has storylines galore. It’s an Original Six matchup, the first games between an Eastern and Western Conference team all year, and pits the season-long favorite from the West against the gritty underdogs from the East.
Here’s a look at how the two teams got here, how they stack up, and what to watch for.
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The NHL season has reached its most exciting point, down to the final two teams. This year’s Stanley Cup Finals can already be called a success on many levels. It involves two Original Six teams (last time this occurred: 1979), lots of superstars and two rabid fanbases, which should provide a big ratings boost for NBC.
Chicago and Boston have traveled similar paths on their way to the Finals. Both have had a blowout series win, a series that went seven games, and one series that required a dramatic comeback. The Blackhawks and Bruins are also two of the three most recent Cup winners and have struggled in the playoffs after winning the title before breaking through again this year.
The matchup most expected for the Eastern Conference finals came to fruition as the time zone’s deepest squads, Pittsburgh and Boston, clash with a berth in the Stanley Cup finals on the line.
Much like the East, the Western Conference finals between Chicago and Los Angeles should be awesome to watch.
Here’s how they stack up, and who we think will reach the Finals:
Asked directly, general manager Glen Sather told reporters on a conference call: “It wasn’t one thing, and I’m not going to speculate or start to criticize what happened with Torts and give you a lot of reasons why we decided to do this.”
Let’s try this from another angle.
In the first round, we predicted six of the eight series correctly. The two we were most unsure about were the two incorrect picks – no surprise at all that New York or Los Angeles won.
Now that the second round is here, the picture becomes a little more clear. Only one of the four series will go the full seven games. Which will it be, and who will move on?
The playoffs have been interesting so far. Some teams have surprised me. Others haven’t at all.
The biggest surprise was the play of the New York Islanders. I thought Pittsburgh would wipe the floor with the Isles and that they should feel lucky if they pick up one game in the series. New York ended up staying with the Penguins in almost every game, and lost two heartbreakers at home in overtime. I never thought I’d say this, but the Islanders look as if they are finally turning things around. (Just in time for their move to Brooklyn!)
Another surprise was the performance of the Minnesota Wild. I’m not surprised that they lost to Chicago, but because they got bounced in only five games. Losing their top goaltender didn’t help, but Minnesota’s offense was stagnant the whole series. The Wild also looked terrible in Game 4 as they got shut out at home and handed the Blackhawks all the momentum in the series. Nevertheless, Minnesota looks stable and if they can add another scorer and fix their inconsistency in the net, they should be a force next season.
Speaking of net consistency, here’s Vancouver. The Canucks’ first-round sweep didn’t surprise me at all. They looked flat-out awful against the Sharks. Roberto Luongo started the first two games in net and didn’t look that bad, but then he was pulled for Cory Schneider, who wasn’t an improvement. Vancouver needs to fix its goaltending problem next season, or else they can kiss their fading Stanley Cup hopes goodbye.
Anyway, we’ve said goodbye to eight teams and are now off to the Conference Semifinals. Here are my predictions for the second round.
That’s a reach … or is it?
Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa’s comments criticizing San Jose Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Logan Couture of “embellishing” contact in order to draw penalties in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. Here’s exactly what he told the media after the Canucks lost the game 5-2:
May is my favorite time of year. College hockey wrapped up a few weeks ago, the AHL playoffs are under way and most importantly, the NHL playoffs have begun.
Just a few months ago, amidst the constant bickering and endless debate over a new labor agreement, I didn’t think any of us would be watching playoff hockey. Now that it has begun, I have a feeling it’s going to be just as unpredictable as last year. Did anybody see Los Angeles and Phoenix battling for a bid in the Stanley Cup Finals, or New Jersey getting on an impressive roll at the right time? As I write this, six of the eight opening NHL playoff series have begun, so I’m a little behind. So before Game 2 starts, here are my first round predictions.
Where I live, beards are fashionable. A record store, restaurant, grocery store and boutique knickknack shop that sells bearded garden gnomes were among the local businesses that recently donated a trove of prizes for a moustache/beard contest at my library. Among the contest winners was an international beard-growing champion1. The reality TV series “Whisker Wars” paid attention. By the way, there’s a reality TV series called “Whisker Wars.”