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Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Boston Bruins

In Hockey on May 30, 2013 at 8:55 pm

As if the first two rounds of the playoffs weren’t awesome enough, now comes the matchup that everyone east of the Mississippi has been waiting for. Two teams that don’t like each other will meet with storylines dripping all over the series. I haven’t watched a whole lot of the Eastern Conference this playoff season, but you can bet I’ll be tuned into what should be a slugfest between the Penguins and Bruins.

After making the switch to Tomas Vokoun against the Islanders, the Penguins have been on cruise control, and it showed in a beating of the Senators in round two. Offense has been the story for the Penguins, especially on the power play where it looks like me playing NHL 13 against someone with no arms. The Pens have been lethal no matter who is on the ice, and for a sport that has been criticized as of late for a lack of offense, the Penguins have silenced those critics by lighting up the scoreboard. No question the talent offensively favors the Pens, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Jarome Iginla, Kris Letang, etc. on board. My only knock is that Pittsburgh has played against some pretty miserable defensive teams on their way to hockey’s final four.

But don’t discount the work the Penguins’ defense did. They held a talented, yet depleted team in check in the win, and this team has been given a boost by Vokoun’s play in net. The Penguins trust the veteran netminder, and that stability in goal allowed everyone to do what they’re best at. Which is scoring a butt-load of goals.

But the Bruins should slow down the potent Penguins attack, with Crosby seeing a steady diet of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. Not that it matters, because Sid is at the top of his game and Malkin will have a chance to match up against the Bruins’ second line, which favors Geno.

After their first round scare with Toronto, the Bruins got their act together and throttled the New York Rangers, who had clearly given up on their coach. Yes, the Bruins defense was nasty in their five-game victory. But they were also up against a team with a major deficiency. In this case, that was the Rangers’ horrendous offense, which the B’s successfully shut down.

But what surprised me about the Bruins is that their offense finally came around. Milan Lucic rounded into the beast that the NHL should fear and the Bruins got a nice boost from young defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, with Krug lighting up the Ranger for four goals from the point. Tyler Seguin finally got on the board against the Rangers, and that needs to continue because of how important he is to any success tied to the Bruins’ offense. Also, if the newly crowned “Merlot Line” of Shawn Thornton, Greg Campbell and Dan Paille continues to cause havoc, that only helps the B’s.

That offense is going to need to take some of the pressure off of Tuukka Rask, who has the unenviable task of facing the Penguins’ shooters all series. Boston can’t try to turn this into a track meet, because they’ll get burned. Expect lots of clogging the neutral zone from the B’s who do that as well as any team in the league.

Pittsburgh Will Win If…
The offense continues to be balanced. Chara and Dennis Seidenberg can’t play against both Sid and Geno. But the Penguins’ depth with Brandon Sutter, Brenden Morrow, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke all capable of scoring on the third and fourth lines. If those lines can cause problems for the Bruins’ bottom defensive pairing and neutralize the Merlot Line and Chris Kelly’s line, Pittsburgh is going to cause the Bruins headaches.

Boston Will Win If…
They can stay out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh dines out on the power play, and for a team that plays as physical as the Bruins, that means that power plays are going to happen. You can get away with that against a PP unit as bad as the Rangers. Not here. Yes, Tuukka Rask is the most important player for the Bruins in shutting down the Penguins. But his mates are going to have to help him out a little bit by staying the hell away from the sin bin. More play at even strength improves the Bruins’ chances to win.

Prediction
This series should be a blast. With another series putting a lot of focus on Matt Cooke (for ending Marc Savard’s career), not to mention what these two teams did at the deadline involving Iginla and Jaromir Jagr was captivating. Now it gets to play itself out on the ice. Speaking of Jagr, will someone please look for him at any of New England’s finest casinos? The guy has been a non-factor thus far in the playoffs, but he should be jacked up for this series given the way he performed against Pittsburgh last year as a Flyer.

Pittsburgh is better on offense. Boston has the edge on D and in goal. Something has to give, and I’ll take the two-headed monster of Crosby and Malkin. Penguins in 6.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I’m proud of myself for actually trying on an Eastern Conference preview. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22, and we can make fun of the NBA playoffs in unison.

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Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #4 Boston Bruins vs. #6 New York Rangers

In Hockey on May 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Yet another Original Six matchup rounds out the second round of the playoffs, with the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins set to meet each other in the playoffs for the first time since 1973. Wait, 1973?!?! That can’t be right.

*Checks Wikipedia*

Yeah, it really has been that long. Well this series should be the better of the two in the Eastern Conference, if you like low scoring games. But they’ll be competitive and close games all series, and I pray that one of these teams is able to score more than three goals in one game.

The Bruins looked to be dead in the water before pulling off the most ridiculous comeback that I can remember seeing to down those poor Maple Leafs. So despite sleep walking through most of the Toronto series, Boston enters this series with momentum and their forwards need to continue to play with the tenacity they showed in the last 15 minutes of that game. The one area that the Bruins could be in trouble is on defense, as Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden are all questionable to return for the series. That means heavy minutes for Zdeno Chara and an increased role for Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton. If the kids have trouble, Tuukka Rask is going to need to bail his team out, which is something he did several times to help the Bruins beat Toronto.

The Rangers haven’t allowed a goal in two straight games, and they appear to be firing on all cylinders heading into tonight’s game. No, they didn’t score a ton against the Capitals until exploding for five in a game 7 rout. But just like the Bruins, it came at the right time against a team that’s much better defensively than the Leafs are. Rick Nash is going to likely draw a matchup with Chara, meaning contributions are going to need to come from everyone in the lineup. The Rangers’ D and Henrik Lundqvist give New York a decided advantage, and for a team that struggled to score on James Reimer, the Rangers should frustrate the B’s attack for this series.

Boston Will Win If…They are patient with their shot selection. Yes, the Rangers employ one of the game’s top goaltenders. But the Rangers are well-known for their shot-blocking prowess. Boston can’t be looking for the perfect pass, but they need to make New York’s shot blockers make the first move before letting one rip. Pucks on net are always a good thing, and the more the Bruins can get on net means the more opportunities that Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton will have to use their size to punch home some rebounds.

New York Will Win If…They can get their power play going. The Rangers were atrocious with the man advantage against Washington, and Boston isn’t exactly known for staying out of the penalty box. New York will need to get Brad Richards and Nash going and on the PP could be the best spot for those two to get some momentum going. Being inept on the power play nearly cost the Rangers against Washington, and if they can’t get that area figured out, it will do so against Boston.

Prediction
No one scores through the first six games, all of which are decided by sack races featuring all members of the team. Just kidding. Offense will be at a premium and we’re looking at plenty of 2-1 games. That favors the team with the healthy defense and better goalie. Rangers in 7.

Thankfully, we don’t have to listen to Pierre McGuire cream himself every time Dougie Hamilton is on the ice this series.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I’m glad this round’s previews are done. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22, because what better things do you have to do?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Detroit Red Wings

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm
Who would want Martin Havlat on their team after a hit like this? Oh wait...

Who would want Martin Havlat on their team after a hit like this? Oh wait…

Just like old times, the Blackhawks and Red Wings are matched up against each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But just their last meeting in the 2009 West Finals, this particular post-season match up is going to be a special one as it could be the final playoff series for the Wings as members of the Western Conference.

Chicago did nothing to give anyone a reason to believe they aren’t the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in the first round, squashing the young Minnesota Wild in five games. While that isn’t a shock, what is a shock is that superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews didn’t score one goal during the series. That’s a testament to just how good and how deep the Hawks are. Expect Chicago to keep rolling out four lines to give the Red Wings fits.

After his rough first round series against the Coyotes last year, Corey Crawford looked a lot like the guy that nearly backstopped the Hawks to a comeback against Vancouver in 2011, surrendering a mere 7 goals in those five games. He’s going to be tested much more in this series than he was against a Minnesota team that was offensively challenged all year. To keep this series short, Crawford needs to stay sharp from the opening whistle of game one.

In a year in which lots of people (myself included) left the Red Wings for dead, Detroit responded by not only making the playoffs, but downing a team that represented the Pacific Division worse than Phoenix did as champion. It would have been easy to say the Wings would have been done quickly against the Ducks, but we got to see an old school Detroit playoff performance in games 6 & 7 as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard put the team on their backs.

To keep their success going, the Wings are going to need those three to elevate their games to an even higher level. Yes, the Red Wings depth players contributed to the upset. But those two horses, as well as the defensive pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, can’t be on the ice for 60 minutes. Detroit’s bottom six is going to have to elevate their game and Jimmy Howard needs to stand on his head every single night if Detroit wants to win.

Chicago Will Win If…
They carry over their play from round one. If it worked against an 8-seed, then it should work against a 7-seed. The addition of Dave Bolland to the lineup gives the Blackhawks someone to irritate either Datsyuk or Zetterberg all series. There’s no way that Toews and Kane go another series without scoring a goal. Keep in mind that Chicago also won the season series 4-0. So yeah, you could say the Hawks are heavy favorites.

Detroit Will Win If…
Jimmy Howard goes Jonathan Quick. A goalie can make or break how well their team does in the playoffs, and Howard is going to have his hands full against a very talented roster. Howard hasn’t exactly been a closer in the playoffs, but he looked very good against a dangerous offensive team in the Ducks. For the Wings to win, Howard will probably need to steal three games. Good luck, young Jedi.

PredictionThis series won’t be a blowout like the Chicago-Minnesota series. Detroit has had a great run but they’re going to be sent away to the East by a team that they dominated for the good part of two decades. Chicago in 6.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I’m terrible about getting these done in a timely fashion. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22  to yell at me for this half-assed preview.