Grand Rapids Griffins defeat Syracuse Crunch four games to two. Grand Rapids is the Detroit Red Wings farm club and Syracuse belongs to Tampa Bay. This was a series where Grand Rapids ran out to a 3-0 lead and then had trouble closing out the series. On their third try tonight they beat Syracuse by a score of 5-2. Tomas Tatar led Grand Rapids in scoring with 21 points. Jan Mursak and Luke Glendening also made solid offensive showings. Chad Billins led their defence. Petr Mrazek did all of the goaltending for Grand Rapids. Syracuse was led offensively by Ondrej Palat, who with 26 points led the playoffs. Tyler Johnson also was a significant offensive player. Mark Barberio led their defence. Cedrick Desjardins was their goaltender.
Tomas Tatar wins the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP. I think it is an example of the MVP being given to a player on the winning team despite the fact Ondrej Palat had a better playoff. It is very rare that a position player from a losing team wins playoff MVP - it has only happened once in the NHL.
Chicago's offence seems to have dried up. They haven't scored a goal since the first period of game two. This was the highest scoring team in the West Conference this season. It appears that their best scorers are hurt or injured. Marian Hossa missed game three as a late scratch. Neither Jonathan Toews nor Patrick Kane have looked like the stars they usually look like. I believe this is because both are playing hurt. If Chicago cannot get top performances from any of those three players, they are really in a tough situation.
I think this is a direct result of the travel that Chicago had in the "hurry up" shortened schedule. While Boston has only left their time zone to play Winnipeg and to play in the Stanley Cup finals, Chicago has been travelling all over all four time zones the NHL covers all season long.
Tuukka Rask has been the best player in the finals without any clear rival. I argue that David Krejci has been the best player in the playoffs, but I cannot make much argument for him being a standout in the finals (at least not yet). I think that makes Rask the Conn Smythe favorite at this point even though Krejci has been the playoff MVP. The voting media members have short attention spans and may not have bothered to watch Boston in the early playoff rounds. Officially the Conn Smythe goes to the most valuable player in the playoffs. It would be interesting to see a player win it who didn't make the finals (after all players have won the playoff scoring race without making the finals). I cannot imagine the voters letting that happen even if it was deserved. If there is a clear MVP in the finals, he gets the Conn Smythe even if someone else deserves it in the other three rounds.
I didn't comment on game two of the Stanley Cup finals yesterday because of the NHL award announcements. It is a case of poor marketing that both the awards and a game in the Stanley Cup finals are reduced in importance by being run at essentially the same time.
Game two was another overtime game. Boston won 2-1. Although this game was not a three overtime game like game one, I think it\s clear that stamina will play a big issue in these finals. The ice time of leading players was a lot more balanced than in game one with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson all over thirty minutes. That is two players per team. This is unlike game one where the Bruins had four of the top players by ice time. I still believe that Boston has the edge if it's a stamina issue because of the easier travel they had in the East Conference, but it looked in game one like they might squander it.
Chicago could easily have won the game and some argue should have. They put the puck in the net twice in the first period but Marian Hossa's was disallowed because the referee intended to blow his whistle before it was scored. That is a problematic rule that the NHL needs to address. If the puck is in and the whistle hasn't been blown yet, it should be a goal.
Tuukka Rask had a strong game. While I still support David Krejci as Conn Smythe winner, Rask is making his case. Should Chicago win the cup it is hard to argue that they have a more valuable player in the playoffs than either of those two. At this point, Boston players have been the most valuable players in the playoffs, but I imagine that a Chicago cup win would mean a Chicago Conn Smythe winner despite that.
Due to the lockout the NHL Awards have become an afterthought that is shoved in during the Stanley Cup finals and that is a real shame. Worse, the media reported the winners before they were announced officially for many of the significant awards. We still haven't seen an announcement of the first and second All Star Teams and at this point I have no idea when that will occur. If you know, please drop a line in the comments.
Here is who I would have voted for (on the awards i see as interesting) if I had an award ballot and here are my comments when the nominees for the awards were announced. With the possible exception to all star teams, my votes would not have changed any nominees or winners. They would have made some minor differences. The most significant is my vote would have moved Zdeno Chara from 5th to 4th place in the Norris standings.
Calder Trophy - Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers. The right guy won this award. I think they missed the boat with the other two nominees, but happily neither Gallagher nor Saad won an award they shouldn't get.
One question that interests me is who is the worst player who gets a regular shift in the NHL and why is that player continues to get a shift. Usually in the playoffs it is hard to identify such a player because a team playing an ineffective player regularly usually soon gets eliminated but this year there is a clear choice. That man is Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins.
Kelly is a "typical" worst player in that he is known for his hard work. He is a popular player who is well liked because of his work ethic. The problem is he works hard and is still ineffective. In this year's playoffs he has played in every game and averaged over fifteen minutes per game. He has scored a total of zero points and his -9 +/- rating is the worst of any player remaining in the playoffs. He is hard working and ineffective. He just isn't a good enough player.
Kelly has one other thing in his favor that is overrated. He is a good faceoff man. He has won 56.1% of his faceoffs in these playoffs. That is roughly one in sixteen faceoffs more than 50%. I have written many times that faceoffs are an overrated skill. In Kelly's case it keeps him in the line-up despite being ineffective in general.
Boston is playing Chris Kelly regularly in the playoffs so far this year. He isn't accomplishing anything with that ice time. He has been a liability for his team and yet he keeps getting to play tomorrow. His story is more common than we would like to admit. Hard working ineffective players often get regular shifts.
There is a lack of top goalies from Canada right now. It is so bad that names like James Reimer, Corey Crawford and Mike Smith are being tossed around as potential goalies for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics. A change being made to "fix" this problem is the misplaced idea of keeping European goalies out the CHL. The 2013 Import Draft will be the last chance teams have to pick goalies from Europe and they can only be selected in the first round of the draft. In 2014 and into the foreseeable future, teams will not be allowed to pick European goalies anymore.
The "logic" behind this theory is that European goalies taking roster spots in the CHL are preventing Canadian goalies from developing and that American goalies are not. The theory is that the CHL would be producing top goalies if only they didn't have Europeans taking their roster spots. This theory doesn't hold for any other positions. Position players are not being held back by Europeans. I argue that the CHL is poorly set up to develop goalies and removing Europeans will not change this. All it will do is reduce the quality of goaltending in the league.
Goaltending is notoriously a slow developing position. Rarely does a goalie establish himself as an NHLer in his teens. Many do not make the league into well into their 20's. Despite the slow start many of these goalies become very good NHL players and often become stars.
The longest game of the 2013 playoffs so far is over. Chicago wins 4-3 in triple overtime after 112:08 of game play. Andrew Shaw was credited with the game winning goal on a deflection. I have always been a big fan of long overtime games like that.
I think the biggest we saw in this game that could be important comes to the way Boston managed their bench in a poor way. One of the biggest advantages Boston holds is that of travel. In a shortened season the Bruins game in Chicago was their first outside the Eastern Time Zone since a March 19th trip to Winnipeg. Meanwhile Chicago has played games in all four major North American time zones this year. Thus Boston has an advantage in terms of their rest status and it is probably a significant advantage. The problem is they are throwing it away by shortening their bench in a long first game of the finals. While one Blackhawk played more than 40 minutes (Duncan Keith), four members of the Boston defence played over 40 minutes today (Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference). They are voluntarily giving up this advantage. Both teams have until Saturday to recover from tonight's marathon before going at it again on Saturday.
Today the media inductees for the Hall of Fame were announced. The broadcaster inducted is longtime Hockley Night In Canada and current Buffalo Sabres analyst Harry Neale. He wins the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. Jay Greenberg, a much travelled writer, best known for his time as a Philadelphia Flyer writer, is the sportswriter inductee. He wins the Elmer Ferguson Award.
Harry Neale was a coach. He coached the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the WHA for over three years until they folded in 1976. He then coached the New England Whalers for two seasons before leaving the WHA to coach in the NHL in Vancouver. He coached the Canucks for almost four years until late 1982 wheh he was suspended for ten games for fighting with a fan at a game in Quebec (imagine that happening today). Assistant coach Roger Neilson took over as coach and did such a good job that he took over the job permanently. Neale was promoted to general manager of the Canucks. He returned to coach the Canucks for two short periods when he fired coaches before being fired as Canuck GM in 1985. Neale was largely unsuccessful as a general manager but tried to return to coaching. Detroit hired him, but he was a flop and was fired after only 35 games. During his coaching career, Neale showed he had a charismatic television presence and made a few appearances in Hockey Night In Canada on CBC during playoff runs when his team didn't qualify for the playoffs. That was a bigger success than his coaching and after his coaching career flamed out he joined Hockey Night In Canada permanently in 1986. He was best known for working Toronto Maple Leaf games with Bob Cole. In 2007 he left Hockey Night In Canada to jin the Buffalo Sabres broadcast team. In 2012 the now 75 year old Neale decided to take a step back and he no longer works play-by-play and is now only involved as a pre-game and intermission analyst.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were considered the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup this year according to the Las Vegas odds. They lost in the semi-finals to the Boston Bruins. This isn't an unpredicted result in my mind. If you asked me before the playoffs, I would have agreed that Pittsburgh was the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup. I certainly would not have told you that they were anywhere near 50% likely to win the Stanley Cup. I would probably have estimated that they had a 20-30% chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. Hence Pittsburgh probably was not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. The same thing can be said for any other NHL team. Somebody is going to win the Stanley Cup, but it probably isn't going to be you. In that way it is kind of like the lottery. The best you can do is build a good team that has a serious chance, but there will be several other teams with approximately the same shot that you have. Ideally you can build a team that remains a contender for a period of several years and you may win in one or more of them.
Pittsburgh has essentially done this. They won the 2009 Stanley Cup and remain a top contender today. In fact they probably took a bigger run this year than they did in the last few years by adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray at trade deadline time and that is more than they did in previous years. If we assume there are five or six teams with solid shots at the Stanley Cup in any given year, then any team should win once every five or six times they are a serious contender on average. Pittsburgh has done this. Essentially they have lived up to expectations, but many fans have over-inflated their expectations and believe that they have failed.
I have one final prediction to make for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. That of the finals is still outstanding. I went 1-1 with my semi-final predictions, which makes it the worst success rate of any round to date at only .500. I picked Pittsburgh over Boston. Who would have predicted Sidney Crosby would be held with no points in the semi-finals? Was he healthy? I suppose I can have a worse success rate in the finals if I get it wrong. Adding that 1-1 to my 4-0 record in the second round and my 6-2 in the first round, I stand at 11-3 so far in the 2013 playoffs.
I have two contradictory opinions in my finals prediction. The East Conference has had a much easier time in terms of travel as I have written a few times. This gives the East team an edge in the finals. On the flip side, Chicago is a better more talented team than Boston. The question is will the talent difference likely be bigger than the travel advantage and I think it will.
Chicago Blackhawks defeat Boston Bruins. My biggest concern regarding Chicago is that their best offensive players have not been their best offensive players in the playoffs so far. Jonathan Toews has been limited to one goal - who would have predicted that? Patrick Kane may have finally came alive with a hat trick in game five on Saturday (that is half of his playoff scoring in one night). Even without their dominance, it is quite possible that Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp could be the top offensive player in this series - just as it is possible that for example David Krejci could be the top offensive player - but Chicago has more top candidates - especially Kane and Toews. Neither team is an elite team but they are above average teams that are the kind of teams that should make the Stanley Cup finals in this salary capped era where the best have been weakened. This could make for a solid series. The kind we used to see in the 2nd or 3rd round 20 years ago.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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