NHL PLAYOFFS – I BLINKED AND MISSED THE CONFERENCE FINALS

10Jun13

Okay, so I know I’ve got a real busy schedule coming up.  One that won’t allow me to sit down and write for about a week or so.  I think to myself, “Self – Don’t worry about it.  The conference semis just finished.  There are four very good teams remaining.  A week from now, both series will be tied at two games apiece.  Record the games and you can get caught up then!”

Wow, what a great plan!

Here we are, a week later, and the conference finals are over.  I’d love to say that the two teams that I thought would be heading for battle over the Stanley Cup are there, but that wouldn’t be quite true.

Going into the Eastern Conference Finals, I was pretty confident that one team would dominate the other, winning in five games max.  Heck, they might even sweep their way into the finals!  Pretty good call, huh?

Unfortunately, it was Pittsburgh I had pegged to win the Eastern Conference!  Oops!!  That one didn’t quite work out, did it?

Not only did Boston come out on fire, the Penguins forgot to show up.  They didn’t even begin to play until game three in Boston.  By then, it was too late.  After being completely outhustled and outplayed at home in the first two games, they now had to find a way to win at least two games in Boston.  Not an easy task!

Oh, they gave it a good shot, but in the end, the Bruins did what they do…they protected their home ice and skated away with a sweep of the top dogs, or Penguins in this case!

Over on the western side of the continent, I was having a difficult time committing to one team over the other.

After watching the Kings march through the playoffs without a hitch last year, it began to look like they were on their way to doing it again this year.  After losing the first two games to St. Louis in round one, they looked like the 2012 Kings, winning six in a row and eight of their next eleven to find themselves in the conference finals for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks began the playoffs strong, taking out Minnesota in five games.  They gave me no reason to doubt my pre-playoffs inference (okay — PREDICTION) that they were the team to beat.

Then the Red Wings came to town.  After taking game one at home, the Blackhawks took a nap and quickly found themselves down three games to one.  Uh-oh.  Looks like the prediction was in trouble!

They took care of business at home in game five, and then came from behind on the road to win game six.  They had to go to overtime to put it away at home in game seven, but dug deep enough to pull it off.

So which team would show up to do battle with the defending champs?  The President’s Cup winners or the snoozing Hawks from the second round?

Quite honestly, I was changing my mind on a daily basis for several days, but ultimately would have stuck with the Blackhawks (if I had been able to actually put pen to paper last week – or fingers to keypad!)

Fast forward one week.  Boston sweeps Pittsburgh in four games, while Chicago takes five games to knock off the Kings of LA.

So which red-hot team do I go with for the whole enchilada?  I mean, both teams simply cruised through the conference finals, right?

Not so fast!  Sure, both series were won in short order, but the two series looked nothing at all like each other.

Boston

The Bruins went into Pittsburgh and embarrassed the Penguins on their own ice, winning 3-0 and 6-1.  They out-hustled, out-hit, out-shot, out-defended, out-scored, out-everything their opponents.  When things got tight back home, they clamped down even more and found ways to win both games, taking game three 2-1 in overtime and game four 1-0.

In case you’re counting, that means they outscored the high-powered Penguins 12-2 over four games.  Can you say dominate?

Chicago

Now let’s look at the Western Conference Finals.  If you look at the box score, it appears that Chicago had control the whole way.  However, it didn’t feel that way while watching the games.  Sure, the Blackhawks outshot the Kings in the four games that they won, but that’s no surprise.  That’s how they played all season.

What jumped out at me was the fact that Chicago seemed to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes more than the Kings did.  With the exception of game two, where the Blackhawks clearly had control of the game, the Kings were never more than one opportunity away from grabbing a victory instead of defeat.

And how about the grit they showed in game five.  Instead of rolling over and dying when trailing 3-2 with seconds left in regulation, and their season, they gave it their all and scored a game-tying goal with ten seconds remaining.  It took another half a game for the Blackhawks to put the puck in the net and close things out in the second overtime.

So here we are, ready for the Stanley Cup Finals.  We’ve got the 2011 champs taking on the 2010 champs.  Although both teams are members of the “original six”, they have never faced each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Chicago comes in as the reigning President’s Cup winner and the number one seed from the west.  They have a high-powered offensive machine that can score in a heartbeat if you let your guard down for a second.  They can counter a hard hitting defense with their speed, which is of the blazing type!

Boston is the hottest team in the playoffs right now, which is ironic, considering they were nearly eliminated in round one!

They made the mistake of taking the Toronto Maple Leafs too lightly, out shooting them but not out-hitting them and not blocking shots.  As a result, they had to score twice in the final minute and a half of regulation in game seven in order to take the victory in overtime!

They didn’t make the same mistake with the New York Rangers or the Penguins, taking the next two rounds in nine games total, only losing one game to the Rangers along the way.  After shutting down Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense, they certainly must feel that they can do the same to Chicago.

I’m not so sure.  Granted, the Penguins had a very good offense.  However, the Blackhawks have been the cream of the crop all season, holding the points lead from day one to the final buzzer.  They have great talent and don’t miss very many opportunities to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes.

Still, Boston’s defense has been stifling since their narrow escape out of round one.  Goalie Tuuka Rask has been lights out against some very good offensive lines, while backup Anton Khudobin has been no slouch himself.

Then again, the Blackhawks just took down one of the best playoff goalies in the game in Jonathan Quick, so they know all about top notch goalies.

But then again…….Okay, I’ll stop!!

When all is said and done (I had to get at least one cliché in there), I’m sticking with my pre-playoff prediction.  It will be an exciting, hard fought series, but ultimately the best team will win.

Chicago brings home the Stanley Cup, winning it in six games!

And this time, I’m not blinking!!

Stanley Cup

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