The AHL playoffs concluded yesterday and I haven't had the chance to write about it until now. This post will be a summary of the Calder Cup finals. Here is my first round post, here is my second round post and here is my third round post.
Manchester Monarchs defeat Utica Comets four games to one. Manchester is the Los Angeles Kings farm affiliate. Utica is the Vancouver Canucks affiliate. This was a strong serious for Manchester. They clearly showed that they are the best team in the AHL. Manchester was led by the three highest scorers in the AHL playoffs in Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal and Brian O'Neill. Vincent LoVerde led their defence. Jean-Francois Berube gave way in goal during this series to Patrik Bartosek due to injury. Cal O'Reilly and Alexandre Grenier led Utica offensively. Bobby Sanguinetti led their defence. Jacob Markstrom was their top goaltender.
Five games into the Stanley Cup finals and no team has led any game in the series by more than one goal. That is a close series. Chicago won 2-1 tonight to take a 3-2 game lead in the series.
I think a lot of my comments in previous games could be made today. Ben Bishop was back in net. He looked like it hurt to get back up on several occasions. That hasn't been something Chicago has been able to take full advantage of in this series. Nikita Kucherov left this game in the first period with an injury. That cannot help Tampa Bay.
Patrick Sharp finally got on the scoreboard in the first period. Patrick Kane hasn't. Steve Stamkos hasn't.
I still leave with the opinion that we haven't seen the best of the Chicago Blackhawks at any point in the finals so far.
The Arizona Coyotes financial difficulties have been chronicled for the last several years. The team went through bankruptcy and found ownership who is willing to run the club as long as their financial losses are covered by revenue sharing, the city of Glendale (where they play) and any other source they can find. It isn't clear that the longterm plan is to stay in Arizona. Relocation might be where the money is as long as much of the short term losses are covered by other people.
The city of Glendale pays the Arizona Coyotes $15 million a year for 15 years (a total of $225 million) to manage the arena where they play. I never understood why they would be willing to pay that kind of money. Other cities do not pay NHL teams millions of dollars to stay in their city as an "arena management" deal.
The Coyotes are losing money in Arizona. Sooner or later that must end. Glendale no longer wants to pay for some of the losses. They voted to cancel the arena management deal and hence the lease with the Gila River Arena.
Chicago wins tonight 2-1. This is the fourth one goal game in the series. The series is tied two games each. At this point there is no clear leader in the series.
Chicago won tonight despite only taking 19 shots on goal. Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of the finals. He now has two points in the final series. Patrick Kane is yet to score a single point in the finals. One has to imagine that the best is yet to come. These players are too talented to be kept from playing a dominant game.
Tampa Bay can make a similar argument. Steve Stamkos hasn`t scored in the finals either. The problem in Tampa is likely goaltending. Ben Bishop was unable to play tonight. He was clearly in pain when he won game three. It isn`t clear if he can be back before the series is over. Andrei Vasilevskiy made the start in goal. He wasn`t well tested but we had a game where Tampa Bay clearly outshot Chicago and lost. What happens if Chicago plays a more dominant game in the future? Could we see a more one-sided game in game five? At this point, there is no clear leader in the Stanley Cup finals.
I have to give Ben Bishop a lot of credit. He is clearly playing hurt. He faced 38 shots and stopped 36 of them. That was enough to be the winning goalie in a 3-2 Tampa Bay victory in game three. This gives Tampa a two games to one lead in the finals series. I cannot imagine that this is a trend that will continue for the remainder of the series. A hurt goalie is not a good thing. It hasn't stopped Tampa in one game but I find it hard to imagine that you can win repeatedly with a hurt goalie.
If I told you that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would not score any goals in the first three games, it probably wouldn't be a big surprise if Tampa would be leading at that point. I have to imagine that they are too talented to keep from making a significant impact in the remainder of the series.
At this point, all three games have been one goal games. This series has been remarkably close. Will that continue? I think that it is likely that Toews and/or Kane play a big game and Bishop's limited mobility is exploited.
We are clearly seeing how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. Tampa has Bishop and Tyler Johnson playing hurt. There have been questions about Steve Stamkos health earlier in the playoffs. Chicago took a hit on their defence when Johnny Oduya seems to have an arm or other upper body injury. With Michal Rozsival also out this puts a significant strain on the Chicago defence.
This is the second straight one goal game in this series. Tampa won it 4-3. The series returns to Chicago tied 1-1.
I called Chicago a possibly elite team before the series. The doubt comes largely from their goaltending. Corey Crawford may not be an elite goalie but he is better than many give him credit for. In a one goal game any goal could be the one that won the game. The Tyler Johnson goal that slid up Crawford as he didn't have the post was a bad goal. Without that goal, the game would have gone to overtime.
Goaltending may become a bigger issue for Tampa Bay. Ben Bishop left the game (twice) for Andrei Vasilevskiy. It isn't clear what the problem is yet, but if it is an injury that keeps him out of upcoming games that won't be a good thing for the Lightning.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are yet to have dominant games in the series. They are too talented for this to continue. If they break out look for Chicago to play a more dominant game.
Yesterday the Hall of Fame media inductees were announced. Bob McKenzie won the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for hockey writing and Nick Nickson won the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for hockey broadcasting.
Bob McKenzie is a familiar face to many hockey fans. He was the editor-in-chief of the Hockey News from 1977 to 1986. Then he joined TSN and was quickly known as the "hockey insider". He has been seen on TSN's hockey coverage since that time. With the advent of the internet he has written many pieces for the internet. He appears on the radio in weekly segments in many Canadian cities sports radio. In 2014, he joined NBCSN. It isn't clear if Bob McKenzie is better known as a sports writer or as a TV/radio broadcast personality. He is clearly worthy of the Elmer Ferguson Award. He is also a candidate for the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. Probably he would have won one of these awards earlier if he hadn't crossed the line between hockey writing and hockey broadcasting and it wasn't clear which of these awards he was best suited for.
Tampa Bay lost game one. Chicago did not win it. Tampa made the mistake of not playing their game once they got a one goal lead. If it is successful to play a certain style of game to get a lead then it will remain successful to continue to play the same style of play once you have the lead. Tampa stopped playing their speed-based offensive game. They tried to hold onto a 1-0 lead through two plus periods and they couldn't.
Chicago is a better team than the New York Rangers. Maybe Tampa could get one goal and shut things down to beat the Rangers but that won't work against a team like Chicago. I argue this is a coaching mistake to attempt this. Joel Quenneville outcoached Jon Cooper.
Losing game one on home ice is a significant blow to the Tampa bay Lightning. Can they overcome it?
Manchester Monarchs defeat Hartford WolfPack in four straight. Manchester is the Los Angeles Kings farm affiliate and Hartford belongs to the New York Rangers. This series was never particularly close. Jordan Weal leads the playoffs in points at this point. Michael Mersch and Brian O'Neill have also made significant offensive contributions. Vincent LoVerde has been their top defenceman and Jean-Francois Berube has been their goaltender. Chris Bourque and Oscar Lindberg have been their top offensive players. Mat Bodie has been their top defenceman and Yann Danis has done their goaltending.
I have one final prediction to make in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the first round I went 6-2, in the second round I went 3-1 and in the third round I went 1-1. This gives me an overall 10-4 record in playoff predictions so far. The third round was tough in that both series went seven games. I think that anyone who went 2-0 or 0-2 was either lucky or unlucky. One series correct and one series incorrect is the most probable result when the series are that close. I was correct with Chicago but I picked the New York Rangers to come out of the East Conference. Of my four incorrect predictions, I have twice picked Tampa Bay to lose. I thought Montreal and the New York Rangers were going to beat them.
Onward to my finals prediction:
About The Puck Stops Here
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