Blackhawks trade Bolland, Frolik; Sign Bickell

1297434232923_ORIGINALJust 6 days after the Blackhawks fourth line scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, two of the three players on that line have been traded. Today, Stan Bowman sent Dave Bolland to the Maple Leafs in exchange for the 51st and 117th picks in today’s draft, as well as a 4th round pick in next year’s draft. He also traded Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for the 74th and 134th picks in today’s draft. While these moves are definitely disappointing for Hawks fans, they are smart moves. On the bright side, it was just announced that Bryan Bickell signed a 4-year, $16 million contract with the Blackhawks.

Okay, so a lot to digest here. Let’s start with the trades.

By moving Bolland and Frolik, the Blackhawks gained about $5 million in cap space for next season, increasing their total cap space to over $13 million according to nhl_blackhawks_23CapGeek.com. With the signing of Bickell for a reported $4 million per year, that cap space now drops to around $9 million for next season. Obviously, people are going to be upset seeing the names Bolland and Frolik being traded. However, you need to look at the numbers in this trade.

Bolland and Frolik were a combined $5 million cap hit next season, which is an awful lot of money to be spending on 2 fourth line players. The Hawks knew that in order to sign someone like Bryan Bickell, they needed to free up some cap space. Trading Bolland did just that, and the Hawks wasted no time in extending Bickell. By trading Frolik, the Blackhawks have gained even more cap space to re-sign a guy like Nick Leddy. There have been talks of the Hawks trading Leddy, but I now doubt that will happen. Leddy is due to become a RFA this summer if the Hawks do not extend his contract.

So, now what do the Blackhawks do with their remaining $9 million?

They could do a number of things. My best guess is that they are going to re-sign Nick Leddy, and maybe even Ray Emery. They will also do what they did last year and sign some role players and depth players. I am not so sure that they will make a big splash by signing someone like Briere or any other big name, although that is not out of the question. It is no secret that they need a true number 2 center, and with their now high cap space, they could acquire a decent center.

Brandon-Pirri

Brandon Pirri

One thing is for sure, however. Guys like Ben Smith and Brandon Pirri are going to get their fair shot at becoming impact players on the Blackhawks next season. Ben Smith will most likely be on one of the Hawks’ bottom 2 lines to start the season, and Pirri could even find himself as the second line center. Personally, I don’t think it is a good idea to put a rookie into that much important number 2 center position. I believe that going out and acquiring a good, veteran second line center would be the better option.

A lot can happen now with the Blackhawks. They have a ton of money to spend, even after signing Bickell. The question now is whether or not they will spend all of that money, and if they do, how will it be spent? On role players, or on a big name or two? Either way, Stan Bowman has really been working hard here the last 24 hours, and I am confident he’ll make the right decisions moving forward.

CHAMPIONS

CT hawks-bruins55.JPGAfter nearly 2 months of grinding out every second of every shift, sacrificing blood, sweat, and broken bones, the Blackhawks can once again call themselves Stanley Cup champions. It is only fitting that they would clinch the Cup with one of the most dramatic endings to a game in Stanley Cup history. This team was presented with challenge after challenge over the course of this postseason, and they came out on top each time.

Think about everything that the Blackhawks had to overcome in these playoffs to win the Cup. They were down 3-1 in their series with Detroit and battled back to win the series in a crazy 7th game. They were without Duncan Keith in Game 4 in L.A. and found a way to win without him. In Game 1 against Boston, they were down 3-1 in the third period and scored 2 goals to tie the game before winning it in triple overtime. Even in Game 6, the Blackhawks found themselves down 2-1 with less than 2 minutes to go, and somehow scored 2 goals in 17 seconds to tie and win the game, and the Cup.

All year long, the Blackhawks have proven people wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not think this team was built to win a Stanley Cup. So many times I have criticized Stan Bowman for not doing more at the trade deadline. So many times I have stated that the Blackhawks “are too small” and “not physical enough” to win the Stanley Cup. I was wrong. This team had too much heart to lose. Regardless of what challenge was thrown their way, they found a way to overcome it. Whether it was a major deficit in a series, or a relentless physical pounding from Boston, the Blackhawks battled through it all and can now call themselves champions.

This team plays like its captain. Jonathan Toews is the most competitive player in hockey 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Sixif you ask me. He does anything he can to will his team to victory. Maybe the best example of this was when he scored short handed from his knees to tie Game 7 against Vancouver in 2011 with about 2 minutes left in regulation. He never gave up on the play and wasn’t going to be denied. Last night, he displayed this same effort in the final seconds of the game.

With Boston trying to get the puck into the offensive zone, Jonathan Toews was all over the ice making plays on the puck. As the final seconds ticked away, it was Toews who was sprawled out on the ice clearing the puck back into Boston’s own end. Watch it here:

Aside from Toews’ efforts in Game 6, Duncan Keith was all over the ice as well. He played maybe his best game of the playoffs, and it paid off.

dave_bolland.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoI said coming into Game 6 that the bottom two lines for Chicago are what would win them the game, and I was right. It was the fourth line for the Blackhawks that got the winning goal with 58 seconds left in regulation. Johnny Oduya’s shot made its way to the net, and Dave Bolland knocked in the rebound for the game-winner.

While Game 6 started out in Boston’s favor, it was Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that kept them in this game. Crawford came up with number of huge saves, and the PK unit was 4-4 in killing off penalties.

This Blackhawks team should go down as one of the greatest in NHL history. They started the season by going 24 straight games without a regulation loss, and finished the season by winning the President’s Trophy with a record of 36-7-5. Yes, it was a shortened season, but this team dominated from start to finish like no one has before.

Looking forward, you can’t help but think that this could be the beginning of a dynasty. The Blackhawks already have 2 Cups in the last 4 years, and if their core can stay intact, who knows what they could do down the road.

I can’t wait to find out.

Blackhawks on the verge

nhl_g_toews1x_576Tonight is the night that all of us Blackhawks fans have been waiting for since the end of the summer of 2010. Tonight, the Blackhawks could win their 5th Stanley Cup in franchise history with a win against the Bruins in Boston. Winning the fourth game of a playoff series, let a lone the Stanley Cup Final, is always the toughest win to get. For some players, it is hard to stay focused on going out and playing the game while knowing that they could win the Cup with a victory. For others, knowing that they’re just one win away provides even more motivation to go out and play with every ounce of energy and focus that they have. This is the type of player that I believe the Blackhawks are made up of.

A big deal is being made of the theory that the Blackhawks might be distracted by what they could potentially accomplish tonight. I’m not buying into that. While only 8 of the dt.common.streams.StreamServercurrent Blackhawks have won the Cup, this is a group of players that won’t lose their focus. When you are on a team led by players such as Toews, Keith, Sharp, Seabrook, Hossa, and so on, it is hard to lose focus on the task at hand. The leadership on the Blackhawks is incredible, and it is a huge reason as to why this team has been so successful this season. The guys who have been in this situation just so happen to be great role models to the younger, less experienced players on the Hawks. For that reason, I am expecting to see the Blackhawks more focused than they have been all season tonight.

As well as the Blackhawks have played and as much effort as they have given over the course of this postseason and these last 2 games, I am confident that tonight will be their best effort yet. They know the Bruins are going to give their own best possible effort to avoid elimination, so they will have to match Boston and probably play with even more effort than the Bruins.

Jonathan Toews said today that he will for sure be playing tonight, which is a very good thing for the Blackhawks for obvious reasons. Patrice Bergeron, however, is still not quite sure whether or not he’ll be playing tonight. Claude Julien said after the Bruins’ morning skate today (Bergeron did not participate) that Bergeron will take part in the warmups tonight, and he hopes that Bergeron will play. So while it sounds like both players will be on the ice tonight, the status of Patrice Bergeron is a bit more up in the air.

So how do the Blackhawks finish off the Bruins tonight? Well, they need to continue doing what they’ve done over the last 2 games. In Games 4 and 5, the Blackhawks really used their speed to their advantage and were able to create a lot of offensive chances by doing so. The Bruins’ biggest weakness in 5-on-5 play is defending fast teams like the Blackhawks. If the Hawks can come out of the gates and dictate the way this game will be played, they should win. If they sit back and let Boston play their own game, then the Bruins will most likely win. In the end, it all comes down to which side wants it more and brings the best effort.

While guys like Kane and Toews have really stepped up this series, I think that tonight may come down to which ever team gets more production from their bottom lines. The Blackhawks are the deeper team and over the course of this series, they have gotten the better production from their depth players. I see no reason as to why this shouldn’t be the tumblr_mobhobDwqu1qj5er8o1_500case again tonight, and it could prove to be the difference. Guys like Saad, Shaw, Bolland, Frolik, Stalberg, and Kruger all need to be at the top of their game tonight and continue providing offense for the Blackhawks.

This is going to be the toughest game of the year for the Blackhawks, and they know it. They are going to have to come out as the more desperate team, and they are going to need to play with 110% effort. The Bruins are not going to go away easily. They will fight until the final horn blows, win or lose.

Like I already said, I am very confident in the Blackhawks and I think they will win tonight. They have that cold-blooded, killer instinct in them that all the great teams in history have had. When your captain is Jonathan Toews and you are one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, you are going to be prepared and you are going to do everything you can to win that game. That’s just the type of mentality that Toews instills in his teammates. He is the ultimate competitor, and tonight, I’d expect the Blackhawks to be the ultimate competitors.

Blackhawks take crucial Game 4

stanley_cupgm4It was a must-win game for the Blackhawks, and they stepped up to the challenge and won Game 4 by a final of 6-5 in overtime against the Bruins. For me at least, that was about as uncomfortable as I have felt while watching the Blackhawks play this year. It felt like no lead was safe, and in fact that’s just how it was. Every time the Blackhawks scored, the Bruins had an answer. Twice the Hawks had 2-goal leads of 3-1 and 4-2, but they couldn’t hang on to either of them. I feel like if they would have played 5 more minutes of overtime after Seabrook scored, the Bruins would have tied the game. That’s just the way things were going.

Many people were saying that the Blackhawks wouldn’t win this series unless Jonathan Jonathan Toews, Patrick KaneToews found the back of the net. Well, he scored his second goal of the postseason in Game 4 and played one of his best games yet during these playoffs. Patrick Kane, who had been held scoreless since Game 5 against L.A., also scored in Game 4. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Kane and Toews both scored after being reunited on the top line. Those two simply have a chemistry between them that is at times unparalleled by any other duo in the league.

As for the lines last night as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that Quenneville will be sticking with them from here on out. The Blackhawks scored 6 goals last night, which is impressive, but they did it against arguably the league’s best defensive team, which is even more impressive. At the same time, however, the Bruins did score 5 goals against the Blackhawks, who are not a bad defensive team in any way, shape, or form.

Corey Crawford is being blasted today by many people from sports radio show hosts, to TV analysts, to NHL writers. Some people, and they are ignorant people, are even suggesting that Joel Quenneville should bench Crawford for Game 5 in place of Ray 170887798_slideEmery. I love how so many people are over-reactionary. Corey Crawford had a bad game. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s probably the main reason as to why the Blackhawks are this far into the playoffs. Name one other game this postseason in which you can confidently say Crawford played bad. Name one Blackhawks’ loss this postseason that you can blame on Crawford. My guess is you can’t. The guy had a bad game. That stuff happens. And you know what? The Blackhawks still won Game 4. It’s not like he gave up 5 goals and the Hawks lost 5-1. If you are going to blast Crawford, then you should blast Tuukka Rask as well.

All anyone has been talking about since Game 2 of this series ended is how Tuukka Rask is the hands down Conn Smythe winner if the Bruins win this series. Sure, he’s played good, but he hasn’t done anything that we’ve never seen before. Part of the reason why his numbers were good through the first 3 games of this series is because the Blackhawks were terrible offensively in games 2 and 3. Rask gave up 6 goals in Game 4 and the Bruins lost the game (on home ice). Why isn’t that getting more attention than it is?

Moving forward, the Blackhawks do need to be a lot better defensively. There were too many instances in Game 4 where they didn’t clear the puck when they should have, when they didn’t have anyone boxing out in front of Crawford, and when they allowed Boston’s point-men to have open looks at the net (for example, Johnny Boychuk’s goal). Crawford did give up a few bad goals, there’s no denying that, but the Hawks’ defense also hung him out to dry on a couple of those.

One thing that has me a little worried right now is the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. This was possibly their biggest strength during the regular season and first 3 rounds of the playoffs, but now it looks like a weakness. The Bruins already have 4 power play goals through the first 4 games of this series, and the Blackhawks don’t seem to have an answer. While I’d like to think that the PK will turn itself around and that the Bruins’ season-long bad PP will return, part of me thinks that the Bruins found a weakness in the Hawks’ penalty kill and that they’re exploiting it. One solution for the Blackhawks is to stop taking penalties.

Marcus+Kruger+Boston+Bruins+v+Chicago+Blackhawks+RhnZy62kcoUlAside from the penalty kill, I am pretty confident looking ahead to Game 5 back in Chicago. This is now a best of 3 series with 2 games being at the United Center where the Hawks have played well all year. In Game 4, the Blackhawks were the clear-cut better team. The only reason that game was close was because A) Crawford had an off night, and B) the Bruins had some lucky bounces. You could also say that the Blackhawks played their worst defensive game of the postseason, and I’d bet they won’t do that again. The Blackhawks controlled much of the puck possession and dominated in shots-on-goal. They played their game instead of letting Boston play their own game. They used their speed to a major advantage, and they’ll need to keep doing so. In Game 5, I hope to see the Blackhawks come out again and play like it’s another Game 7. They need to give everything they’ve got until there is no more hockey left to play.

Like I said before, I am pretty confident right now about the Blackhawks’ chances in this series. They’ve got 2 of the remaining 3 games on their home ice, and they have proven that they can beat Boston. They got their worst defensive effort out of the way, and yet they still won that game. If the Hawks really want to win the Cup, then they need to continue playing like it. When they do that, they are almost unbeatable.

Blackhawks must win Game 4

170770455_slideThere have only been a couple of times this year when the Blackhawks have faced some major adversity. The first being when they fell into a 3-1 hole against Detroit in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and the second being right now at this very second. Currently, the Blackhawks trail the Bruins 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, which probably doesn’t seem like a huge deal to a casual fan. However, I am here to say otherwise. Tonight’s Game 4 is a MUST win for the Blackhawks.

After losing Game 2 at home to the Bruins, the Blackhawks’ main goal heading into Games 3 and 4 in Boston was to win at least one of them. Even though they lost Game 3, they can still achieve their goal by winning tonight.

With a win in tonight’s game, the Blackhawks will even the series up at 2 apiece and regain home-ice advantage in the series heading back home for Game 5. What more could you ask for at this point? If they lose tonight, however, they will go down 3-1 to a Boston team that will almost certainly finish off the Hawks in one of the next 2 games and not let them back into the series, unlike Detroit. That is why this Game 4 is a must win.

Tonight’s game will say a lot about the Blackhawks’ character and what they’re made of. They absolutely need to play all 60 minutes like it is Game 7. They need to give 110% 170770149_slideevery second of every shift. They need to go all-out and win the board battles, win the foot races to the puck, win the area in front of the crease, and win the battle of desperation. They have done this before against Detroit when they went down in the series 3-1, and they did this in the third period of Game 4 against the Kings, in L.A. If they cannot do these things tonight, they will lose. Boston plays like the best team in the NHL when on their home ice, and therefore you must play a nearly perfect game of hockey to beat them at the TD Garden. They will be going for the “kill” tonight against the Blackhawks, and the only way to stop them is by playing the way I just described a few sentences ago.

Obviously, the Blackhawks know the situation that they’re in, and they know that they have to win tonight. Joel Quenneville stated yesterday, “Very important game tomorrow night. We have to win tomorrow night.” You don’t often hear him say those words. When faced with this type of situation in these playoffs, the Blackhawks have stepped up and answered the bell. Hopefully they can do it again tonight.

LINE CHANGES

170769196_slideWith Marian Hossa being absent from the lineup in Game 3, Joel Quenneville put Ben Smith in his spot. This set off a chain reaction of line changes throughout the game, and subsequently the Blackhawks never looked comfortable the whole night. They were playing with guys that they normally wouldn’t (Kruger-Toews-Frolik as an example), and they seemed out of rhythm.

This morning, Marian Hossa missed the team’s morning skate, but Coach Q stated afterwards that Hossa is “fine,” and they expect him to play tonight. That is a very encouraging sign for the Hawks and us fans.

As for the what the lines may look like tonight, here you go:

Bickell-Toews-Kane

Sharp-Handzus-Hossa

Saad-Shaw-Stalberg

Kurger-Bolland-Frolik

These were the line-rushes at today’s morning skate, minus Marian Hossa. Finally, Quenneville has apparently opted to reunite Bickell, Toews, and Kane like he did late in the series against L.A. That line was dominant. The second line of Sharp, Handzus, and Hossa was pretty darn good too. Sharp and Hossa have always had some chemistry, but Hossa and Handzus seem to have generated some as well over recent weeks.

170197762_slideWe will now get to see how Boston will try and handle the duo of Toews and Kane. Kane is much better with Toews as his center because of Toews’ speed, and Kane is a lot more effective with fast line mates than he is with slow ones like Handzus. These line changes should also benefit Bryan Bickell as well, because now a lot more focus will be placed on his two line mates rather than himself.

I am confident that the Blackhawks will play a much better game tonight than they did in Game 3. This team has stepped up when they have needed to all year, and I don’t anticipate anything different tonight.

SCF Game 3 preview

170634379_slideTonight, the Blackhawks and Bruins will play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final with the series tied at 1 apiece. After winning Game 1 in triple overtime, the Blackhawks dropped Game 2 in just the first overtime. So far, this series has been as advertised: epic. Hopefully the rest of the series will provide us with more great hockey. I would expect nothing other than that.

Because they lost Game 2 on their home ice, it is imperative that the Blackhawks win at least one of the these next two games in Boston. They cannot afford to go down 3-1 again like they did against Detroit. The Bruins are not the Red Wings. Winning in Boston as the visiting team is one of the toughest things to do in the NHL, but the Blackhawks must find a  way to get the job done. It’s that simple.

While the Bruins look like they are going to throw their usual lines out on the ice tonight, the Blackhawks have made one change to theirs. Viktor Stalberg is back in the lineup in place chi_u_viktor_576of Brandon Bollig on the fourth line. While Bollig provides a physical style of play to the Hawks’ lineup, he isn’t very useful in doing anything else. Stalberg, on the other hand, is one of the fastest skaters in the league and is a constant threat to create odd-man rushes because of that speed. It has been clear over the first two games of this series that the Blackhawks’ biggest advantage over Boston is their speed, so Stalberg has been placed back into the lineup to add to that advantage.

Tonight, the Blackhawks need to keep their foot on the gas pedal if they have a good first period. In Game 2, the Blackhawks outshot the Bruins 19-4 in the first period. They only came away with one goal out of those 19 shots, but they just completely dominated that period. From the start of the second period on, it looked like the Blackhawks were suddenly scared of getting hit and got away from the style of game that they were playing in the first. That led to Boston controlling the puck more often, and eventually 2 Bruins goals that won the game. If they Blackhawks start to control the game at any point tonight, they need to keep the pedal to the metal and ram the puck down Boston’s throats.

The power play for the Blackhawks needs to start scoring. If they aren’t going to score on the power play, then the Hawks need to at least generate some shots on goal and gain the momentum in the game. Their lack of success with the man advantage killed them in Game 2, and almost killed them in Game 1.

When they have the puck in the offensive zone, the Blackhawks need to quit trying to make the “pretty” passes and instead just get the puck to the net. I can’t tell you how many times in Game 2 the Blackhawks passed up open shots and tried forcing passes across the ice that got intercepted. In a series like this, just throw the puck at the net and clean up the rebounds. It’s a lot harder said than done, I understand that, but you can’t keep turning the puck over in the offensive zone by trying to force passes and make cute plays.

I have confidence that at some point soon, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are going to 061113_linesget their games going. Those two have way too much talent to be held scoreless for so long, especially Toews. Honestly, If I were Joel Quenneville, I would place Kane and Toews on the same line again like he did late in the series against L.A. Those two seem to ignite one another when on the same line and they become one of the best duos in the game. If the Hawks are having trouble scoring at any point in this series moving forward, look for Quenneville to place Kane on Toews’ line.

The TD Garden is going to be an extremely tough place to win. It gets extremely loud there, and the Bruins feed off the energy in that building very well. It is easily one of the best home-ice advantages in hockey. Having said that, at the time of Game 4 between the Blackhawks and Kings in L.A., the Staples Center was arguably the best home-ice advantage in the NHL. The Blackhawks won that Game 4 and took control of the series by doing so. They have proven multiple times that they can win in hostile environments, and I expect them to win at least one game in Boston.

Again, look for Joel Quenneville to start the line blender if things aren’t going well tonight. He is one of the best coaches, if not the best, at effectively switching up the lines mid-game.

This should be a good one.

Blackhawks-Bruins Game 1 thoughts

170398894_slideWell, what a way to start the Stanley Cup Final. Everyone was predicting this to be an epic series that would likely go at least 6 games, possibly 7, and it looks like everyone could be right. It took 3 overtime periods to decide the winner of Game 1, and in the end the Blackhawks came out on top by a final score of 4-3. After watching just one game of this series, we now have a much better feel as to how these two teams match up.

One game doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how the Bruins and Blackhawks compare to each other, but considering the uncertainty of this subject prior to Game 1, we now know a lot more than we did. Here’s what I took away from Game 1:

  • Boston’s top line is incredibly good.
  • Chicago’s speed is already giving Boston problems.
  • The Blackhawks have more quality depth.
  • Both goalies are on top of their game.
  • Special teams has already been, and will be, very important.
  • Turnovers could determine the winner of this series.

Milan Lucic was a force in Game 1. He scored Boston’s first 2 goals, and threatened a number of times to get a third. That line of Lucic, Bergeron, and Horton has a lot more offensive talent than they get credit for. However, Nathan Horton left the game in overtime last night after an apparent shoulder injury and did not return. His status as of today (Thursday) is day-to-day according to Claude Julien. Boston cannot afford to lose Horton for more than a game in this series. While they lost him from Game 3 on in the Cup Final 2 years ago and still won the thing, they do not have the same depth as they did then to effectively replace him. Back in 2011, they had the option of bumping Michael Ryder up in the lineup, Rich Peverley, or dressing Tyler Seguin (he was a rookie and a frequent scratch in the lineup then). Now, their depth is not like it used to be, and losing Horton for more than a game is a big loss.

The speed of the Blackhawks was talked about a lot heading into this series. Many, myself included, thought that this was Chicago’s biggest advantage over Boston and that it could be what puts the Hawks over the top in this series. After Game 1, it looks like we were right. The speed of the Blackhawks in the neutral zone after getting a takeaway was giving Boston fits in Game 1, and their speed coming out of their own end and up the ice provided problems for the Bruins as well. Also, and maybe most importantly, the speed of the Blackhawks on the back-check killed Boston’s odd-man rushes up the ice. I can’t begin to come up with the exact number of odd-man breaks that the Bruins had last night, but none of them resulted in well executed shots on goal. Whether it was a two one one chi_g_hjalmarsson_b1_600for Boston, a three on two, or a breakaway, the Blackhawks always had someone coming back on defense to breakup or disrupt Boston’s chance with great back-checking. The speed of guys like Leddy, Keith, Oduya, Hossa, Saad, Toews, and even Hjalmarsson was very evident last night on the defensive end and gave Boston’s offense a lot of problems.

Depth is always a key factor in winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks and Bruins have prided themselves on their depth throughout the season, but last night proved that Chicago has more of it. Boston’s “depth” players of Peverley, Kelly, Thornton, etc. did not do a whole lot offensively last night. Quite frankly, they haven’t done a whole lot the whole postseason. As for Chicago, they got 3 goals from their third line last night. Bolland and 170400482_slideSaad both scored their first goals of the postseason, and Andrew Shaw got his fifth with the game-winner. That third line was probably the best line for the Hawks in Game 1, which is exactly what they’ll need moving forward. I’m not saying that those guys need to be the best line every night, but when you’re top lines are being held scoreless, you need your bottom two lines to step up and score. That’s how the Blackhawks have been so successful all season long. The fourth line was real good too I thought. Bollig, who was inserted into the lineup for the first time since round 1, was very good. He had 9 hits in just 14 minutes of playing time and was smart when he had the puck. Kruger was 54% at the dot and was again big on the PK in overtime. Frolik had a bit of an off night, but still was effective on a couple of shifts in which the fourth line put sustained offensive pressure on the Bruins. Game 1 proved to me that the Blackhawks have the better depth in this series, which is very important.

Both goalies were good last night, but Corey Crawford was outstanding. He made a countless number of game-saving saves in the third period and all 3 overtimes. I have more confidence in him right now than I ever have. Tuukka Rask played well, but didn’t have to make nearly as many huge saves as Crawford. All the hype about Tuukka Rask leading into this series went out the door last night if you ask me. The guy is good, but he’s not God like many people made him sound.

Special teams played a big factor in Game 1. The Blackhawks had an extended 5 on 3 in the second period and only managed to get one shot on goal. That is unacceptable. They were 0-3 on the power play in total. Boston, meanwhile, got a power play early in the third to give themselves a 2-goal lead. They were 1-3 on the night with the man advantage, and 0-2 in overtime. I said it before the series that one power play goal could be the difference as to who wins the Cup and who doesn’t. Last night, I was proven wrong as Boston got what looked to be a game-clinching PP goal. They went on to surrender their 2-goal lead in the third and obviously lost in triple OT. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill did give up that big goal in the third, but they then stepped up and went 2-2 in the overtime periods to keep the game at a tie. Call it a wash in Game 1 between Boston’s specialty teams and Chicago’s if you want, but they are going to continue playing a big part in this series.

Turnovers are already playing a big part between these two teams. Look no further than Torey Krug’s giveaway at his own blue line that led to Dave Bolland’s goal in the third. Tuukka Rask called it a “horrible turnover” after the game and said that those plays cannot happen. He’s right. The Blackhawks turned the puck over as well last night, but none of them directly resulted in a goal for Boston. They can’t expect that trend to continue.

A couple areas that people thought Boston would kill Chicago were hits and faceoffs. The hit totals last night actually favored the Blackhawks. They outhit the Bruins 61-59 and proved that they can be a physical team. Faceoffs, which most people thought Boston would dominate, were 58-56 for the Bruins. Yes, they won more than they lost, but only by 2. That is an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks is they can keep that up.

Shot totals were relatively close as the Blackhawks outshot Boston 63-54. However, the Blackhawks directed a total of 132 shots towards Tuukka Rask, while Boston directed 85 at 170403475_slideCrawford. That is a very disturbing stat if you are a Bruins fan or player. Chicago dominated in offensive zone play and demonstrated their ability to get shots off at will, regardless of Boston’s defense. Another startling stat for Boston is the fact that the Jonathan Toews line for the Blackhawks directed over 40 shots toward the net during 5 on 5 play, while Boston’s top line only had about 15. Yes, 2 of those 15 were goals by Lucic, but you could make the case that Chicago’s top line can and could shut down Boston’s over the course of this series.

170403372_slideAnyone who didn’t watch the NHL on a regular basis before watching Game 1 probably thought Zdeno Chara was the best defenseman in NHL history with all the hype he was getting. Yes, he is very good, but he isn’t going to single-handedly shut down the Blackhawks’ offense! The hype he has been getting since Boston won the Eastern Conference is sickening and way too much. He was alright last night, but not great like so many were saying he would be.

There are two ways of looking at Game 1. For Boston, you could say that they played a pretty good game and hung with the Hawks on Chicago’s home ice, but lost in triple overtime. In other words, the Bruins were one bounce away from winning that game. From the Chicago perspective, you can say that you played a not so good first half of the game, and even most of the three overtimes, but you still won. You withstood Boston’s game, which was a good one for the most part, and battled back from a 2-goal, third period deficit to win the game in a third overtime period.

As the series progresses, I’m sure there will be more and more to talk about. But for now, these are the telling stories from Game 1. History has proven that the winner of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup goes on to win the series over 70% of the time. Take that as you would like, but it’s a telling stat. Game 2 will be a big one.

How the Blackhawks can win the Cup

play_wip_15I already posted my prediction on how the Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Bruins will end. I said the Blackhawks will win in 7 games. While I am sticking with the prediction that the Hawks will win the series, who knows how many games it may take… Logic just says it’ll be 7 games based on how good both teams are. In that write-up in which I have my series prediction, I also threw some stats out there and gave a few opinions on both teams. Here, I will give my take on how I think the Blackhawks can win this series and bring the Cup back home.

Let’s start with my keys to success for the Blackhawks.

  1. Chicago’s top 2 lines. The Bruins absolutely shut down two of the world’s greatest forwards in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while sweeping the Penguins in the Conference Finals. They limited Pittsburgh as a whole to just 2 goals in the series. If the Blackhawks’ top 2 lines of Bickell-Toews-Kane and Sharp-Handzus-Hossa can continue producing in this series, and if Kane stays hot and Toews gets hot, Boston will be in trouble.
  2. Corey Crawford. He has been great through the first 3 rounds this postseason and 169382078_slidehas arguably been the MVP of the Hawks. His 1.74 GAA is the best of any goalie this postseason, and his .935 save percentage is second best. Boston has averaged the second most G/G during these playoffs (behind Pittsburgh), and therefore Crawford will need to be great again in this series.
  3. The power play. Neither Boston nor Chicago have a good power play, but both have stellar penalty killing units. One power play goal by either team could prove to be the difference in this series. While that sounds a little extreme, it’s not. The Blackhawks could really afford for their PP to get going and get a goal or two.
  4. Dave Bolland. Where has he been this postseason? He missed all of the first round due to a lower body injury, and maybe that’s still bothering him. Regardless, he has been rather ineffective over the last two rounds, which for him is very rare given his great postseason track record. It would be huge for him to finally get going against Boston. That doesn’t mean he needs to be averaging a point per game, but if he can get under Boston’s skin and create some chances for the 4th line, good things will happen.
  5. Win at home. The Blackhawks need to take care of business on their home ice. CT blackhawks-kings38.JPGSince 2010, Boston has the best home record in the playoffs of any team in the league. It will not be easy to win at the TD Garden. Therefore, winning at the United Center is imperative for the Hawks if they are going to win this series. While the Blackhawks have been really good on the road, they can’t count on winning in Boston. Grabbing games 1 and 2 would be huge for the Hawks before heading out east.

To build off of my first “key” of the top 2 lines producing for the Blackhawks, let me say this. Yes, Boston is one of the league’s best defensive teams. That is not a question. However, I don’t believe that they are as good as they may have appeared to have been against Pittsburgh. Holding a team to just goals in a 4-game sweep is unheard of. While the Bruins did play great defense against the Penguins, I think Pittsburgh had a lot to do with how that series played out as well.

The Penguins got away from their game plan and the style of play that they were using all season long. Instead, they tried becoming enforcers and tried to get into the heads of the Bruins by being a physical team, which they’re not. There was no better example of this than Sidney Crosby going after Zdeno Chara in Game 1. That is not the Crosby we know. In trying to change the way they played against Boston, the Penguins did just that. They got away from their smart, offensive-minded game plan that got them to the Conference Finals in the first place, and it cost them. They shot themselves in the foot that series, which led to poor play and a sweep. Yes, the Bruins were good defensively, but they got some help from the Penguins as well.

tumblr_mnr55hVBeD1rmzsm8o1_500I honestly do not think that Boston will be able to hold Chicago’s top guys scoreless in this series. In fact, I don’t think they will shut them down like many are predicting. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing their best hockey of the postseason right now since being reunited on the top line (along with Bryan Bickell), and I don’t see the Bruins stopping them. If they do limit the Hawks’ first line, then there is the second line of Sharp, Handzus, and Hossa to worry about.

Patrick Sharp is tied with Bickell for second place in goals-scored this postseason with 8, while Marian Hossa has 7. Sharp and Hossa have been arguably the two most consistent players for the Blackhawks this postseason, and they are as dangerous of a second line as you will find. Michal Handzus has become a key player for the Blackhawks on the second line, and he has seemingly found some great chemistry with Hossa. If Boston does find a way to slow down the Blackhawks’ first line, they still have the second line to be concerned about. I haven’t even mentioned Chicago’s third and fourth lines.

The Blackhawks’ third line of Stalberg, Shaw, and Saad is a huge reason as to why the Blackhawks have made it this far. Andrew Shaw, while he has only 4 goals this postseason, has been a very valuable asset to the Blackhawks’ offense. He is physical, he’s an agitator, he’s fearless, and he is getting better and better at camping in front of the Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw celebrates his first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of their NHL Western Conference finals playoff hockey game in Chicagonet on the power play. Viktor Stalberg has been disappointing up to this point and often receives the lowest playing time on the team, but his speed makes him a constant threat. Lately, he’s been getting more chances to produce, but hasn’t converted. As for Calder Trophy finalist Brandon Saad, his statistics are misleading. He has just 4 points (all assists), but is one of the best play-makers in the lineup. He often looks a lot like Toews and Hossa with his ability to maneuver through the defense with the puck to get to the net.

The fourth line of Frolik, Bolland, and Kruger is at times the best defensive line for Chicago. They will most likely play against David Krejci’s line in this series. As I stated earlier, look for David Bolland to pick up his game this series. He has been invisible for far too long, and it’s time for him to show up. If this line and/or the third line can get a handful of goals against Boston, the Blackhawks should be in good shape.

Defensively, Keith and Seabrook will have their hands full going against Boston’s top line. I am confident that they will get the job done. However, I will say again that the Hjalmarsson-chi_g_hjalmarsson_b1_600Oduya pairing will have a big impact on how this series plays out. Niklas Hjalmarsson is playing his best hockey of the year right now, and he’ll need to continue doing so. Johnny Oduya has looked good at times as well, but he has made way too many turnovers at others. He needs to be smarter with the puck in his own end and the neutral zone. If he can do that and be where he needs to be on defense, and if Hjalmarsson continues his hot play, I again like the Hawks’ chances.

I briefly eluded to this in my series prediction, but I’ll say it again. Boston has not played a team with as much speed as Chicago. They have not played a team who can use the stretch pass as effectively as Chicago. The Bruins will need to respect both the Hawks’ speed and stretch pass capabilities in this series by playing a conservative defense, which should open up some other chances for the Blackhawks. Chicago will need to have a good forecheck in this series, as Boston will most likely clog the neutral zone on defense.

The Blackhawks’ biggest weakness right now besides their power play is their ability to win faceoffs. They have won 47% of their draws this postseason, while Boston has won 56% of theirs (that’s the best of any playoff team). This is the biggest difference between the Bruins and Blackhawks. While the Hawks were able to win games against L.A. despite their inability to win faceoffs, they’ll need to be at least a little better against Boston. Not many teams can still be as good after losing the faceoff as the Chicago, but they can’t count on losing that many draws and being successful in this series.

There are so many different aspects of this series that can be discussed, but these are the biggest ones for the Blackhawks. If they can play the way they did against L.A., which I think they will, I like their odds. Boston is going to be the toughest challenge for Chicago since maybe the Red Wings in the ’09 playoffs, but this Blackhawks team is more than capable of winning.

Game 1 can’t come soon enough.

Stanley Cup Final prediction

First off, I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 11 of the 14 playoff series’ this postseason after the Conference Finals. I had Chicago over L.A., but Pittsburgh over Boston.

I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better final series than this one. Two major hockey cities, two Original Six teams. Boston and Chicago, the Bruins and Blackhawks. NBC couldn’t be happier, because the TV ratings for this series will probably be higher than any Stanley Cup Final in the past. Maybe the only person upset about this matchup is Gary Bettman, who probably would have liked it if Phoenix and Florida met in the Cup. But who cares what he wants, right? On to the prediction.

STANLEY CUP FINAL

56 vs. Boston-Bruins-Logo

The President’s Trophy-winning Blackhawks and the 4th seeded Bruins are two very similar teams, but also different at the same time. Both are tremendous defensively, but they each have their own way of scoring goals. After their incredible Game 7 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, Boston has been an unstoppable force in the East. The went on to defeat the Rangers in just 5 games, and now they are coming off of a sweep of the number 1 seeded Penguins in the Conference Final. A lot of people, myself included, didn’t think Crosby, Malkin, and the rest of the Penguins’ offense could be stopped. Man were we wrong. In their series with Pittsburgh, the Bruins allowed just TWO goals against. Now remember, the Penguins were the best team in the NHL at scoring goals this year, and yet they only had two in four games against the Bruins. That is a remarkable statistic for Boston. Credit Patrice Bergeron and his line, as well as Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask for shutting down the Penguins offense. What Boston did against Pittsburgh is what they’ll most likely do against Chicago in terms of defense. They had Patrice Bergeron’s line play against either the Crosby or Malkin line, while Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg played against the other line centered by either Crosby or Malkin. Against Chicago, they will probably have Bergeron playing the Toews line, and Chara playing the Handzus line (or vice versa). Bergeron is a Selke Trophy finalist, which is awarded each year to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Chara is constantly in the Norris Trophy discussion, although this year he is not a finalist. The bottom line here is that the Bruins, led by Bergeron and Chara, are an incredible defensive team from top to bottom. In net, Tuukka Rask has been phenomenal as well. He ranks second in GAA this postseason (behind Corey Crawford), and first in save percentage. He had two shutouts in the four games against Pittsburgh. Offensively, Boston has 6 guys with over 10 points this postseason, led by David Krejci who has 21 (most in the NHL). They have been getting contributions from everyone on offense, including their defensemen. Unlike the Blackhawks, Boston gets the majority of their goals on shots from the point, or rebounds in front of the net. The Bruins are also one of the best teams in hockey at winning faceoffs, and Chicago is not. This could be a key to any success the Bruins might have in this series.

The Blackhawks have had an interesting postseason. They knocked out the Wild in 5 games in the first round, but never really played with a playoff-like intensity. In the second round, they fell into a 3-1 hole against Detroit after the first 4 games. It was at this point that the Hawks finally started to play like it was the playoffs. They won 3 straight against the Wings to advance to the Conference Final, and rolled over the Kings in 5 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final. I thought that the Blackhawks would have had a lot more trouble against the Kings than they really did. The Kings were a big, physical, and fast team that liked to throw their weight around. They were the exact type of team that the Hawks have had trouble against all season. However, all that went out the door in this series, and the Blackhawks never seemed fazed by L.A.’s physicality. Corey Crawford was the MVP of this series. He came up with a number of massive saves, especially in the two overtimes of Game 5. Prior to the Conference Final, all anyone was talking about was Jonathan Quick and how amazing he was playing. Now, I think Crawford is beginning to get the respect that he deserves. He is first in the NHL in GAA this postseason, and is second in save percentage. Defensively, ever since Joel Quenneville reunited Keith and Seabrook, the Blackhawks have been really good. Niklas Hjalmarsson had arguably his best playoff series of his career against the Kings, and the Hawks will need him to continue playing well against Boston. I said before the Conference Final that the Hjalmarsson-Oduya pairing would be a key component of the Blackhawks-Kings series, and I was right. Jonathan Toews, a Selke finalist, and Marian Hossa are two of the best defensive forwards in the game and have the ability to really disrupt any team’s offense. Offensively, the Blackhawks have really turned it up over the last 4-5 games. They chased Jonathan Quick in Game 2, and put up 14 goals over 5 games against L.A. Bryan Bickell has arguably been the Hawks’ MVP this postseason, as he has 8 goals and 5 assists. Patrick Kane hadn’t done much prior to Game 4 of last series, but scored 4 goals in the final two games, including a hat trick and the winning goal in Game 5. If he stays hot for the Hawks, look out. Jonathan Toews has played a lot better lately even without lighting the lamp. Hossa and Sharp continue to get great chances and are converting more often than not.

This is going to be an excellent series. While Boston was able to completely shut down Crosby and Malkin, I am not so sure they can do that again against the Blackhawks’ top guys. Chicago has 2 all-star caliber lines, and a third and fourth line that can be dangerous as well. The stretch pass that the Blackhawks use is unlike anything Boston has tried to defend in the East this year, and they will need to respect that in this series, which will open up other opportunities for the Hawks. Also, the speed of Chicago on the backcheck and forecheck is better than any speed the Bruins have seen so far. The Blackhawks are possibly the fastest team in hockey, and they know how to use that to their advantage. Having said that, this series will be one for the ages.

-Chicago wins series, 4-3.

Angel Stadium review

DSC00322I honestly had no idea what to expect before taking in a game at Angel Stadium. It has always looked like a nice park on TV (at least since it was renovated), but it is also the fourth oldest stadium in the big leagues. I didn’t know if I should expect it to look as old as it is, or if I should expect it to be as nice as it looks on TV. As it turns out, the stadium is kind of in between the two.

Angel Stadium is located right next door to Disneyland and right near some neighborhoods, which is different than most stadiums nowadays. The parking lot is rather large compared to the newer parks, and the architecture on the outside of the stadium is much different than today’s new stadiums.

Right outside the home plate entrance, there is a little plaza where the famous two Angel Helmets are located. In this plaza, there is also a mini baseball diamond that is cemented DSC00312into the ground. At each position around the diamond, the names of the Angels’ opening day starters, dating back to their first year of existence, are listed at that specific position in the cement. This was pretty interesting to look at, and it was also something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium.

When you enter the park, you enter into a concourse that is closed off from the field of play. There are walls on either side of you. On these walls are many murals and pictures that showcase the history of the Angels. On one wall, there was DSC00313a glassed-in display that had the Angels’ World Series trophy and other memorabilia in it. I don’t know of another park that has a World Series trophy permanently on display. From this concourse, you can enter your seating section just like you would at any other park.

There is another concourse that takes you around the entire stadium, and this one is not closed off from the field. Except for when you’re behind home plate, this concourse allows you to constantly see the field of play. What was odd was that there were 2 main level concourses. The one that allows you to see the field is located above/behind the lower level sections, while the closed off concourse is located at ground level and under the grandstand. I was a little disappointed that you cannot see the field while walking behind home plate along the concourse. Often, this is the best location to get a great view of the park at most stadiums.

The food here was nothing to write home about. They have your typical selection of hot dogs, burgers, brats, etc. One unique item on the menu was a Barbecue Dog. I did not order this, but I am assuming it is a hot dog with BBQ sauce.

DSC00331Behind the left field stands, there is an open area with tables where people can sit and eat their food. You do not have a good view of the field from here, however. There is a nice bar located beyond right-center field, but this is completely closed off from the field of play. There are a number of TV’s inside the bar that show the Angels game, as well as other sporting events.

Maybe my favorite part about this stadium was their Budweiser Patio above the right field stands. This is a big, open area for people to stand and watch the game while eating and drinking. There is an outdoor bar located up here as well with TV’s. I would recommend taking a trip up to the Budweiser Patio if you have the chance.

The seating at Angel Stadium was its biggest weakness. My seat was in the second row down the right field line. Maybe it was just that location, but out seats were not angled towards home plate whatsoever. Because of this, I constantly had to have my head turned to the left to see home plate, which led to some major neck-discomfort by the 5th inning. Also, a lot of people down the aisle had to lean forwards to try and see home plate, which blocked the view of anyone to their right. I felt like the whole game I was trying to see around the people to my left, and this got pretty aggravating. With all modern parks, and even the older ones that have been renovated like Wrigley and Fenway, the seats are all angled towards home plate so that you don’t have to constantly have your head turned in one direction. I don’t understand why the Angels couldn’t figure this out.

As for the appearance of Angel Stadium, it is definitely an attractive park. The rock formation in left-center with the water falls/fountains is a very nice touch and is a unique feature to the park.

Behind the left field stands, there is a small video screen that shows videos/replays and statistics throughout the game. The main scoreboard is in right field, which shows those same things, plus some more statistics because it is larger and has more space.

DSC00334One thing that I found interesting both here and at Dodger Stadium were the sky boxes. At both stadiums, there is only one level of sky boxes. Nowadays, most parks have at least two levels of boxes, if not more. Seeing as how Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are located in L.A. with a ton of celebrities, I thought there would be a lot more sky boxes than there really are.

The atmosphere at Angel Stadium was not great. I saw the Cubs play the Angels, and the Cubs fans in attendance were just as loud as the Angels fans, which is saying something given the Angels to Cubs fans ratio. The fans here attempted the wave a number of times, and there were beach balls bouncing around the whole game. I don’t understand why people can’t just watch the game. Isn’t that why they came in the first place?

While I wouldn’t classify this as a top-notch stadium, this is a very nice park, except for the seating arrangements. If you enjoy in-game entertainment, then this is a place for you.

For my MLB stadium rankings, click here.