Day-32 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
INKTIME on RINKTIME Observations and Random thoughts by Chris Madsen:
DID YOU KNOW? OK, I’m going to start off today’s column with a very “Cliff Clavin-esque” stat of the day…have you realized that the final four teams vying for Lord Stanley’s Cup represents the last four Stanley Cup winners?
And for those of you too young to know who Cliff Clavin is, here is a brief education on the genius of the man:
I’m sorry, but I just never get tired of that clip! BTW, the last time this quirk in the NHL Post-Season occurred was 68 years ago, in 1945.
TRYING TO BUILD ON PERFECTION: After going (4-0) in my Conference Semi-final selections, it is time to breakout my Conference Finals picks.
The first one to me is relatively easy.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL: PENGUINS V. BRUINS–Both of these teams have taken similar paths to get to where they are now. Both the Bruins and Penguins got S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D in their Opening Round series by unlikely sources–The B’s by the Leafs and the Pens by the Islanders. Then both teams hit their stride in Round-2 with Boston bouncing the Rangers in 5 games and Pittsburgh needing just 5 games to dispatch of the Senators.
The problem for the Bruins though, is that the Penguins are well…the Penguins! With the usual suspects, Crosby , Malkin, Kunitz, Neal, Iginla and Dupuis…not to mention that this club is so deep that Brenden Morrow–a former Captain in Dallas–is a third line winger on this team!
But more importantly, Coach Dan Bylsma did what HE HAD TO DO in Round-1 and remove struggling, sentimental favorite in goal–Marc Andre-Fleury–and replaced him with solid veteran Tomas Vokoun. And the results have been notable. Vokoun has not lost a game in Regulation since (6-1) and he sports a very stingy 1.85 Goals Against Average, to go along with a .941 Save Percentage.
My advice to Marc is to buy a good book and a box of Snickers bars and get comfortable on the bench, because barring injury it’s “gonna be awhile” before you see action again. And you can book this:
MY INKTIME ON RINKTIME PREDICTION: Pens in 6
The second selection is a bit more complicated. Way back when we started, I predicted that the Blackhawks would make it to the Stanley Cup Final. However, trends could say otherwise.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL: KINGS V. BLACKHAWKS–Both of these teams are a lesson in stick-to-it-tiveness.
The Kings started off horribly with back-to-back-losses at St. Louis, including a Game-1 where Goalie Jonathan Quick literally handed the game over to the Blues in Overtime. But to Quick’s credit, this adversity seemed to light a fire within and the Kings have been blazing an interesting trail ever since. They went on to stymie St. Louis 4-games-to-2. Then, like a a pair of Heavyweight Champs, went toe-to-toe with the sizzling Sharks, while prevailing in a 7 game Series.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks manhandled Minnesota in 5-games in the Opening Round, only to fall behind Detroit 3-games-to-1 in the Semi-Finals. All but written-off, they finally got Captain Jonathan Toews off the goal-scoring schneid and with Patrick Sharp as sharp as ever, rode the hot-hand of Goaltender Corey Crawford to 3-straight victories and a dramatic Game-7 victory in Overtime.
But the Kings story remains the same as a season ago…and that story is Jonathan Quick. In fact, this year–thus far–the storyline gets slightly better for the Kings. In 2012, Quick’s Post-Season consisted of a .946 Save Percentage. This year, he’s at .960.
Now if the Playoffs are a place where Heroes are made, then it is time for Corey Crawford to step forward. His numbers, thus far, are note-worthy by any measure…(8W-4L-1OTL, 1.70 GAA, .938 PCT.)…but in order for the Hawks to get past the Defending Stanley Cup Champions, Crawford MUST find another level.
Offensively, I give a slight edge in the skill department to the Blackhawks.
Defensively, I believe the Kings have the best defenseman overall going in Playoffs right now in Drew Doughty…but…Chicago has the more mobile core and they transition as well as anybody going.
Physically, it is no match…the Kings are bigger and stronger and they MUST find a way to inflict pain without penalty.
And, in goal, Quick is quick and presently, there is none better.
However, the one other item that isn’t getting much ink is the schedule. And remember, the Kings had to travel 2,500 miles over two time zones and will be forced to play back-to-back in Chicago tomorrow and Sunday. Furthermore, the road has not been kind to LA. And IMHO, the first two games of this series are critical.
Add it all up and my INKTIME ON RINKTIME PREDICTION: Blackhawks in 7.
If you agree, disagree or just wish to chime in on all things RINKS. Please do so in the COMMENTS box below.
UNTIL THE NEXT TIME WE LACE ‘EM UP AND HIT THE ICE!–Chris Madsen