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PIKE LAKE… The NHL Conference Finals have commenced and on Saturday afternoon at 2:29pm (before this round kicked off!) I sent out my predictions by text to five family members. I kind of looked at this round from a standpoint that there were two “power” teams left in the tourney with Los Angeles in the West and Boston in the East, and that there are two “skill” teams left in the tourney with Chicago in the West and the Pittsburgh Pengwah in the East. It was my feeling that one of the power clubs would advance along with one of the skill teams. Who would those two clubs be?
In the lockout shortened regular season the two Eastern clubs met three times with the Pens going 3-0. They were all one goal games. The third game took place in late April and was actually postponed a day due to events surrounding the capture of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Can you read anything into that? At this point I believe all four clubs left are most likely on their games as much as they are going to be. In all likelihood there are no more “gears” left. These four teams are in high gear with the pedal shoved through the floor boards.
Prior to Game 2 versus the Bruins the Pens to date have played one less game then Boston and have scored 6 more goals. The Pens though have 3 more goals against them in those same 12 tilts then do the Bruins in 13 games. The Pengwah have the most penalty minutes left of anyone in the tourney at 230 versus the B’s 154. As a result the Pens have given up 9 power play goals to the Bruins 7. The Pens are 3rd in penalty kill percent at 90.7 and the Bruins are 8th at 82.9. The Pens Tomas Vokoun has replaced Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes. However, Vokoun did not have a good outing against the Bruins in the opener of this series losing 3-0. I expect Vokoun to play in Game two though.
I have considered what Bruins net minder Tuuka Rask brings to the table. Rask has some limited playoff experience in the NHL with a 7-6 record in 13 games played for the Bruins in the 2010 playoffs. However, Vokoun is in the same boat with a 3-8 record in 11 games when he was with Nashville. Both have considerable big game experience in international play for their respective National teams. I thought Vokoun didn’t have a good Game one in the 3-0 loss but I am sticking with my prediction of a 6 game series win for the Pens. It won’t be defense that will win the series for Pitt.
In the West matchup with the Kings and Blackhawk’s this one is interesting. The Kings are a huge, bruising power team and while the Hawks can play that a little bit too, that edge goes to the Kings. But when it comes to team scoring the Hawks have netted 35 goals in 13 games while the Kings have scored 27 times in 14 tilts. The Kings have allowed only 22 goals in 14 games, the Hawks 23 in 13. Neither power play will instill fear in their opponent, the Hawks have scored 6 with the advantage, the Kings 7. The Hawks PK leads the tourney at 97.7% and the Kings are at 87.2%. The Hawks have 124 PIM’s and the Kings are at 116. How would I handicap this one?
The Kings don’t score as much as the Hawks but they are machine like on defense. I look for the Kings net minder, last years Conn Smythe winner, to outplay the Hawks Corey Crawford providing his defense continues strong play in front of him. Both clubs have 8 players with multiple goals. The Hawks went 2-1 in the short version regular season with the Kings.
I believe this is the series where the power will overcome the skill. The Hawks won a tightly contested Game one yesterday in the Windy City and they are ahead in Game two 2-0 early in the second this eve. However, I can recall St. Louis winning Games one and two in the Gateway city before the series went Westward. The Kings then rattled off 4 straight victories. I have predicted Kings in 6, but seriously this series could go seven.
No matter who makes it through, I think we are in for another heckuva Cup Finals. If you are in Chicago and going through the Union Station/Amtrak go upstairs to the Food Court and go to the Gold Coast hot dog stand and have a “Chicago Dog”. Awesome!
THE NEW YORK RANGERS have fired Head Coach John Torterella. Personally I liked “Torts” no matter how much refinement he could have used. He was generally rude to most of the media, although the NY media may have very well asked for at least half of what he served up. He was quite the hard driving taskmaster with his players and for the life of me he could not figure out a workable power play for his personnel. I think he may have got more out of his roster then they actually had and GM Glen Sather, it could be argued, didn’t really provide him with the type of roster he could be successful with, high priced free agents notwithstanding.
As a kid who used to go to St. Paul Ranger (CHL) games at the old auditorium in the mid-sixties, I have always had a soft spot for the parent club. Some of my favorite players ever were on the big club in that era. Guys like Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin were stars in the original Six NHL and after expansion as well. They had an exciting coach at the time too in the fiery, former net minder Emile “the Cat” Francis. If the NorthStars first Coach ever, Wren Blair was what you would call “colorful”, the Cat was a veritable painters easel.
I believe the St. Paul farm team played their last game there in the 65-66 season and that was it, they were done. That was OK with me though, that fall the National Hockey League moved into town and stayed for 26 years and between my buddies and I, whether on TV, radio or with a printed ticket in hand, we saw some of the best hockey anywhere on arguably the best sheet of ice in the league and it was spectacular… PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.