The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup win a 3-2 win. This gives them a four games to two victory in the Stanley Cup finals.
My playoff predictions have done remarkably well this season. I picked 12 series right of the fifteen playoff series. That gives me a 12-3 record (or 80% success rate) for the playoffs. You can look back at my predictions in the first, second, third and final rounds. I think one of the biggest surprises in this year's playoffs was how predictable they were.
My biggest thought on today's game is how quickly it went from a Boston 2-1 lead to a 3-2 Chicago victory. With time running out I had prepared myself for a game seven. With 76 seconds left it was a tie and I started thinking about overtime but only 17 seconds later they took the lead.
The Conn Smythe Trophy was a problem. Chicago won the cup and voters wanted to give the Conn Smythe to a Blackhawk. Problem is the best forward in the playoffs was David Krejci, the best defenceman was Zdeno Chara and the best goalie was Tuukka Rask. None are Blackhawks. Patrick Kane was the best player in the Stanley Cup finals, so he was given the award. The problem is he did not play particularly well until the late third round. Nevertheless he was the Blackhawks top playoff scorer.
When I posted on (most of) the NHL Award recipients, there were a few awards that I noted would need further discussion. One is the Norris Trophy that was won by PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. Subban was the highest scoring defenceman in the season with 38 points. He put up a solid +12 +/- rating which led the Montreal defence. Statistically he is a strong choice for the Norris Trophy. The problem is he wasn't playing against a particularly tough opposition. In fact he was sheltered from the big minutes that a typical Norris Trophy winner. His slightly over 23 minutes per game was 35th among defencemen in the NHL. This was because he is not as trustworthy in all circumstances. Of the top Norris Trophy candidates, Subban is the least reliable defensively.
The other two Norris nominees Kris Letang and Ryan Suter were more reliable in more situations. Letang scored as many points as Subban and he did it in only 35 games played. He also did it while playing more than two minutes a game more for a strong Pittsburgh team with more competition for ice time. Letang was more reliable defensively and scored at a higher per game rate. That made him a better Norris candidate.
Chicago is a game away from winning the cup after a 3-1 win with an empty net goal to make the margin of victory look larger than it should have been. This series is clearly a battle where stamina and health play a big role in the eventual winner. Three games so far have gone to overtime. Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron both missed the third period today and it is uncertain how available they will be in the remainder of the series. Many players are playing hurt. One notable example is Marian Hossa who missed a game due to undisclosed injuries in this series.
Boston is better able to survive a war based on stamina and health because they had a much easier regular season playing in the East Conference than Chicago did playing in the much larger West Conference, with much less travel. Chicago is the better team and that appears to be a more significant factor - at least so far. Let's see if they can close out the series.
One interesting question that I wonder about is the Conn Smythe Trophy. I assume a Chicago win would mean that they would like to give the Conn Smythe to a Chicago player. There isn't a Chicago player who has outplayed the equivalent Boston player at this point in the playoffs. I take this to mean that Chicago is winning despite the fact their best players have been beaten up. Chicago has more depth and more recently, Patrick Kane has been the best player on the ice. There is no argument that Kane has been on his game throughout the whole playoffs but he may be MVP of the finals.
When the NHL Awards were (mostly) announced, I promised to write a few pieces about the awards that were most poorly decided. It was given to Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
The first thing that needs to be discussed is how the Hart trophy should be decided. I will do this by analogy. Imagine there are two boxes. One contains a $2 million diamond and several other $1 million diamonds. The other box contains a $1.5 million diamond and several worthless shards of glass. Now which diamond is most valuable to its box? The $2 million diamond clearly is. It has a value of $2 million and that is more than the value of any of the other diamonds. Now some people like to argue (and vote) for the $1.5 million diamond. They argue that its box would be totally worthless without it and the other box has value without the $2 million diamond. The problem is they miss the fact that $1.5 million is less than $2 million.
When we look at the Hart Trophy voting we see that it was a tight race between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin was named at the top of more ballots. He had four more first place votes than Crosby. Crosby was named more times on ballots overall. He was named two more times than Ovechkin. Nine voters did not place Crosby in the top five on his ballot. Eleven voters did not name Ovechkin on their ballot. The main reason for not picking Crosby was that he only played 36 games. He missed 12 games. In the 36 games he was clearly the best player in the NHL but he obviously had no value in the 12 games he missed. The main reason for leaving Ovechkin off the ballot was that he didn't play very well for the first part of the season and he significantly inflated his point totals by playing in the weakest division - the Southeast Division.
Game four was the highest scoring game to date in the finals. Chicago won 6-5 in overtime. Not coincidentally it was the game with the best ice surface in the series so far. I find it hard to imagine that these teams could score eleven total goals on the bad ice of a couple earlier games. It was a defensively sloppy game which went a long way to showing that neither team has an elite goaltender. This is especially true of Corey Crawford who may have won but he only stopped 28 of 33 shots for a .848 saves percentage tonight. Chicago's offence came alive for the first time in the series. Patrick Kane had a good game and Jonathan Toews scored a goal. If this keeps going, Chicago will be hard to beat. I am still supporting David Krejci as the Conn Smythe leader. He only scored one assist in this high scoring game but his top rival Tuukka Rask allowed six goals and that re-opened some space between the two in my mind. Should Chicago win the Stanley Cup, I still support Krejci as the playoff MVP but I recognize that voters are likely to want to pick a Chicago player. If I had to pick a Hawk player as their playoff MVP, I would pick Duncan Keith their defensive stalwart but that pick is questionable as Zdeno Chara has been a better a defenceman but on Boston. It will be interesting to see what the voters do with the Conn Smythe Trophy if Chicago wins the cup.
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.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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