NHL Western Conference Finals Preview


Honestly, who would have thought that THIS would be our Western Conference Finals matchup heading into the playoffs? After the first round of play, I think everyone’s original predictions had been pretty torn apart, but even then, I don’t think many people would have predicted that these two teams would meet in the Conference Final. I had L.A. beating St. Louis in 7 games, so I partially got that one right. The Kings didn’t waste any time in ousting the Blues. As for the other series in the Western Conference, I said that Nashville would prevail in 6 games. Obviously I mis-fired on that one. Either way, here we are with the Coyotes and Kings ready to square off with the chance at playing for the Stanley Cup on the line. Let’s start with Phoenix.

After their first round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, I get the feeling that many people felt that was as much damage as this team was capable of doing. I felt that same way. Well, I, and some of you, were proven wrong. In their series with Nashville, the Coyotes played phenomenal defense and held the Predators to just 9 goals in the series. A lot of that is due to the play of Mike Smith in net, but I’ll get to him in a little bit. We saw it in the first round against Chicago, and we saw it again against Nashville. The Coyotes are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL. Because of the fact that they do not have a ton of fire power or superstars, each and every player on that roster is forced to give 110% effort every second that they are on the ice to make up for their lack of fire power, as previously mentioned. Their defense has really stepped it up in the playoffs as well. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is turning into a superstar on the blue line. The kid is just 20 years old, but he is playing like a 10 year veteran. On more than one occasion, he has been referred to by hockey analysts as a “future Norris Trophy winner.” That’s how good he has been for the Coyotes in these playoffs. Him, along with Keith Yandle and Rostislav Klesla, have been playing some of the best defense that we have seen this year, which has led to 2 straight playoff series victories. Now, how about the play of Mike Smith in net for the Coyotes? He is third among active goalies still in the playoffs in goals against average, and leads all playoffs goalies this year with 2 shutouts. Without him, Phoenix would not be where they are right now. If they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, they need to keep on doing what they have been doing. Their defense needs to stay strong (currently second in goals against per game), and Mike Smith has to continue his hot play in net. Offensively, they cannot rely on getting many “pretty” goals against Jonathan Quick. They will have to find a way to score some ugly goals against L.A. if they want to advance.

The Kings have pretty much rolled through the playoffs thus far, knocking out the number 1 seed Canucks in 5 games, and now the number 2 seed Blues in just 4 games. Jonathan Quick is 8-1 in net for L.A., and ranks first in goals against average. Heading into the playoffs, many people questioned whether the Kings’ offense would be strong enough to beat Vancouver in the first round. Well, it was. Heading into the second round, the same question was asked: “Will their offense continue to produce enough goals against St. Louis’ defense to beat them in a 7 game series?” Again, the Kings proved that their offense is good enough to beat one of the best defensive teams in hockey. Through all of this, no one has really questioned whether or not Jonathan Quick is good enough to beat these teams, and rightfully so. He is a Vezina Trophy finalist, and most people expected him to play that way in the playoffs, which he has more than done. Offensively for the Kings, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have led the way, with 11 and 10 points respectively in these playoffs. Brown also leads the team in hits, with 39. The L.A. captain has really stepped up his game through the first two rounds, and they will need him to continue doing so moving forward. If the Kings want to continue their winning ways and eliminate the Coyotes, they need to out-work and wear down Phoenix. Right now, the Coyotes have a ton of confidence heading into this series coming off of their first 2 playoff series victories since moving to Phoenix. The Kings need to come out in Game 1 on the road and play a great game to take away some of the Coyotes’ confidence. If L.A. can continue to produce offensively against yet another top goalie in the league in Mike Smith, they should be just fine in this series. With Jonathan Quick playing the way he has been playing lately, goals will be tough to come by for the Coyotes, who are already somewhat of an offensively challenged team. Along with Quick, the defense in front of him has been playing excellent through the first two rounds (ranked first in goals against average), making it that much tougher for the opposition to score. This team has been firing on all cylinders through the first two rounds, and I don’t expect that to change. This is going to be a very defensive series with not a lot of offense, so special teams will play a huge role in the outcome of this series.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-2.


NHL Western Conference Semifinals Predictions

Well, I got 2 of my 4 predictions right coming out of the Western Conference after the first round of play. I had both St. Louis and Nashville advancing, and they did. I was pretty surprised that neither the Blackhawks, nor the Canucks advanced, especially the Canucks. But that just goes to show you how important goaltending is come playoff time. All 4 remaining Western Conference teams got through the first round thanks to their goalies. I can’t remember a time when all 4 remaining Western Conference teams were based on defense and goaltending, rather than offense, although one could argue that the Kings are an offensive team.

So having said that, lets take a look at who I think will be moving onto the Conference Finals.



If you want a low scoring series, then this should be a good one for you to watch. The goalie matchup here is phenomenal, with Brian Elliott of the Blues going up against Jonathan Quick of the Kings (I believe Quick will be named as a Vezina Trophy finalist tomorrow, along with Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Smith). Let’s start with the Blues in this matchup.

St. Louis is coming off of a great first round victory over the San Jose Sharks that took just 5 games. In those 5 games, the Blues held the Sharks to just 8 goals. Defense was the name of the game for the Blues in that series, and it worked about as good as they could have asked. All year long, St. Louis has been a defense-first team. Some people wondered, myself included, if that style of play would be able to get the job done in the playoffs. I didn’t think it would. Much like they did all season, the Blues proved me wrong. Even though I had them advancing to the second round, I had them doing it in 7 games. I honestly believed that their style of play would come back to haunt them in a playoff series. It didn’t, however, and they rolled over the Sharks to advance to the second round for the first time in 10 years. If they are going to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they need to step it up offensively. Yes, they averaged just under 3 goals per game against the Sharks and have the second best powerplay in the playoffs so far, but Jonathan Quick is one of the toughest goalies to score on in all of hockey. The Blues are going to need their powerplay to continue producing goals. Also, they are going to need to score a handful of sloppy goals off of rebounds. Jonathan Quick stops just about every shot that he sees, which means that the Blues MUST put bodies in front of the net to screen Quick as much as possible. This will also help create rebound opportunities.

As for the Kings, they need Jonathan Quick to continue his incredible play. Not many people thought that L.A. would upset the Canucks in the first round, let alone in just 5 games. The biggest reason for that upset was the play of Jonathan Quick in net and their team defense. The Canucks were one of the best goal-scoring teams this year in the regular season, but were held to just 8 goals total in the first round. That’s really saying something about the Kings’ defense and goaltending. We’ve known all year long that the Kings have the potential to score a lot of goals with the offensive firepower that they possess. Their problem throughout most of the regular season, however, was their inability to produce goals, which didn’t seem to make sense. They ranked second to last in the NHL in goals per game this year, just ahead of the Minnesota Wild. If you look at some of the names on the Kings’ roster such as Kopitar, Richards, Brown, Stoll, Doughty, and Carter (who they acquired at the trade deadline), you would think that this team should have been one of the best at scoring goals. Well, they decided to pick up their game in the first round against Vancouver, and it paid off. If L.A. can get their top forwards to keep producing goals and points, and if their defense and goaltending plays the way it did against the Canucks, this is going to be a very tough team to knock out of the playoffs from here on out.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-3.



I was shocked that the Coyotes were able to knock out the Blackhawks in the first round. I really did not believe that their offense would be good enough to get the job done. I also underrated the skill of Mike Smith. He put on one of the best performances I have ever seen in Game 6 against the Hawks. Nashville, on the other hand, did not surprise me with the way they played against Detroit. Their defense was simply too much for Detroit’s offense to try and score on, not to mention the play of Pekka Rinne in net. That guy is a star.

So, what does Phoenix need to do to win this series? It’s actually a pretty simple concept, but not an easy one to complete against the Predators. They need to outscore Nashville. The two goalies in this series are two of the best in the game right now, and it is going to be an extremely low scoring series because of that. The Coyotes do not have a ton of offensive firepower, but they do have a group of guys who know how to score some ugly goals. In their series with Chicago, the majority of the Coyotes’ goals came on deflections, or plays that started from behind the net. They are a very good team at winning battles along the boards, especially in their offensive zone, which lead to a handful goals against the Hawks. In Game 6 specifically, they won a few board battles behind Corey Crawford, which lead to one-timer goals with the passes coming from behind the net. Another thing that Phoenix needs in this series is for Mike Smith to stay hot. He ended the first round with maybe his best performance of the season in Game 6. If he can carry that type of play over into the second round, and if the Coyotes can muster up some ugly goals, they will have a decent chance at advancing. Another thing that Phoenix has going for them is their ability to win on the road. They were 3-0 in Chicago during the first round, which is a HUGE factor in winning a playoff series.

For Nashville, they need to keep on playing the way they have played pretty much the entire season. Even though they don’t have the big scorers like Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Detroit, they still find ways to score. They ranked 8th in the NHL this season in goals per game, which surprised a lot of people. They also ranked 1st on the powerplay this year, which again had a lot of people caught off guard. Even with those impressive offensive numbers, this is still a defensive-minded team. They have the top d-pairing in the league, in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and a top 5 or 6 goalie in Pekka Rinne. They shut down opposing offenses by clogging the neutral zone and shutting down the passing lanes. If their defense ever does get beat, then Pekka Rinne has been there to bail them out all year long. Simply put, this is NOT an easy team to score on. Against Phoenix, the Predators need to be good on their faceoffs. The Coyotes beat up the Hawks pretty good in the first round at the faceoff dot, which helped them especially on the penalty-kill. With Nashville entering the playoffs as the number one powerplay team in the league, they will need to win the key draws on the powerplay. If they can outscore the Coyotes on the powerplay in this series, they should definitely win. Phoenix’s powerplay is one of the worst in the league, so by scoring powerplay goals against them, Nashville would be giving themselves that much more of an offensive advantage in the special teams department. While we’re on the topic of special teams, let me say this: The team that wins the special teams play in this series will end up winning the series. 5 on 5 scoring is not going to be easy for either team, which means that powerplay goals are going to decide the outcome of most of these games. With that said, Nashville has a major advantage over Phoenix in terms of their powerplay’s effectiveness.

-Nashville wins series, 4-2.



Coyotes Eliminate Blackhawks in Game 6

Last night’s Game 6 between the Coyotes and Blackhawks marked the end of the season for the Hawks, while the Coyotes earned their first playoff series victory since moving to Phoenix. This was a tough series for each team that featured some heated moments and many overtimes, but only one side could advance.

The Blackhawks played probably the best first period they could have asked for. Right from the opening puck drop, all the way to the final whistle of the period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the play. It seemed as though the puck never even left Phoenix’s defensive zone. The Blackhawks were getting shots off left and right, peppering Mike Smith from every angle. In total, they out-shot the Coyotes 16-2 in the first period. Those are ridiculous numbers. Yet, even with all of the good chances that the Hawks had, Mike Smith wouldn’t budge. He played the best he had played the entire series. After the first period, the game remained scoreless.

The beginning of the second period started a little bit slower for the Blackhawks, but they ended up picking up right where they left off in the first period. For about the first 10-12 minutes of the second, they once again were bombarding Mike Smith with shots, and good ones too. Then, with just over 12 minutes gone in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for interference, leading to the Coyotes second powerplay of the game.

With a little over a minute remaining on the powerplay, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Corey Crawford with a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead.

The rest of the second period featured a few more scoring chances for the Hawks, but they still couldn’t score. The shot totals in the second period were 12-6 in favor of the Hawks.

In the third period, the Blackhawks came out giving everything that they had left in their tank, knowing that they needed to win the game to stay alive. Unfortunately for them, only 2:24 into the period, Gilbert Brule scored his second goal of the series to increase the Coyotes’ lead to 2.

With just under 9 minutes played in the period, Jimmy Hayes of the Blackhawks was given a 5 minute major, and game misconduct for boarding. This sent Phoenix to a 5 minute powerplay, where they would score with just over 7 minutes left in regulation to make it 3-0.

By this point, most, if not all hope was lost for the Blackhawks. To make matters worse, Kyly Chipchura added Phoenix’s 4th goal of the game with about 6 minutes left in regulation. The final score would be just that, 4-0.

Mike Smith was unbelievable in this game, stopping all 39 shots that he faced.

For the second consecutive year now, the Blackhawks have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. Last year, they had the excuse that they had to completely dismantle their Stanley Cup-winning team due to the salary cap. We all understood that and somewhat gave them a break for backing into the playoffs as the number 8 seed and losing in the first round. This year, however, is a bit of a different story.

Heading into this season, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said a number of times that he believed this team was capable of winning the Stanley Cup. To his credit, the Hawks did look like they were good enough to win it all for about the first 2-3 months of the season, but then the 9-game losing skid came up. After that streak ended, it was clear that this team had too many holes that it needed to fill if they wanted to win the Cup. Most people thought that they might try to fill those holes at the trade deadline, but we were wrong.

It was no secret whatsoever that the Blackhawks badly needed a second line center heading into the trade deadline. Paul Gaustad, Jeff Carter, and Antoine Vermette were all names that most hockey experts expected the Blackhawks to go after. Instead, they traded for defenseman, Johnny Oduya. Yes, this was a hole that they needed to fill, but acquiring a good, second line center would have had a bigger impact on this team than Johnny Oduya had. This was especially made evident in this series with the Coyotes, who dominated at the faceoff circle from the get-go. I’m not saying that Johnny Oduya was a bad acquisition (he did a lot of good things for the Hawks, although not so much in the playoffs), but the Blackhawks could have, and should have made a better trade than the one they made.

After the game ended last night, I was thinking to myself, “The Blackhawks really could have used Brian Campbell in this series.” Campbell was a key component to the Blackhawks powerplay while he was still on the team before getting traded to the Panthers. He was/is a great puck-moving defenseman, and he made entering the offensive zone much easier with his speed. If the Hawks had converted on their powerplay more frequently throughout the regular season, and especially this series with Phoenix, they would have been a much more successful team, and that’s a fact. If you really think about it, what did the Hawks really get by trading Brian Campbell? By getting rid of his salary, they were able to sign Steve Montador, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Sean O’Donnell, and Sami Lepisto, as well as re-sign Corey Crawford and Patrick Sharp. Now, not all of those signing were due to getting rid of Campbell, because the Hawks did have some money before making that trade. But how much did Carcillo really help this team? He got hurt and didn’t even play half the season. Montador had some good stretches, but he was nothing to write home about before he also got hurt. Brunette was an underachiever this year, and O’Donnell and Lepisto were in and out of the lineup on a daily basis. Corey Crawford had a disappointing season this year, to say the least, and Patrick Sharp did what everyone expected him to do by scoring 33 goals. By not trading Campbell, they would have had 5 solid defenseman this year, and their powerplay most likely would have been a bit better.

Stan Bowman has A LOT of decisions to make this offseason. Should he look for a new goalie, such as Jonathan Bernier out in L.A.? Or should he trade for/sign a top 4 defenseman? Also, how is he going to address the issue of the nonexistent, number 2 center on this team? There are a lot of questions surrounding the Blackhawks heading into the summer months. I would expect some changes to be made.

Toews Lifts Blackhawks to Game 5 Victory

Heading into last night’s Game 5 against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Blackhawks knew what they were up against. Either win, or go home. The Hawks were facing elimination for the first time in this series, and they knew that Game 5 was a must-win.

I’ll be honest with you right now. I had a good feeling heading into last night’s game that the Hawks would prevail and send the series to a sixth game. You know why? After yesterday’s morning skate, Jonathan Toews kept all of the players on the ice for a players-only meeting. This was the first time all year that this had happened. As we all know, Toews is one of the best captains in the game, and so when he decides to take matters into his own hands, good things usually happen. Well, guess what? The players responded to Toews’ message, and the Blackhawks turned in maybe their best game of the series last night.

The first period went pretty much the same way that every other first period has gone in this series. The Hawks out-played the Coyotes by a wide margin. They out-shot Phoenix 12-4, but weren’t able to get one past Mike Smith for a goal.

Much like every second period these 2 teams have played, the Coyotes out-played the Hawks. The shot totals were even at 10 apiece in the second, but Phoenix was able to score to take the lead. Gilbert Brule found himself with the puck on a 3 on 1 rush, and decided to take a slap shot rather than pass, which ended up being the right decision as he beat Crawford for the goal. This made it 1-0, and it stayed that way heading into the third period.

Just under 10 minutes into the third, Nick Leddy scored on a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line to tie the game at 1. This was Leddy’s first goal of the series, and a big turning point in this game.

As the period progressed, both teams found themselves with decent scoring chances, but neither team was able to score the go-ahead goal. This meant that for the fifth straight game in this series, overtime would be necessary.

Both Phoenix and Chicago were just getting themselves situated in overtime when Jonathan Toews grabbed a loose puck near the left boards, skated in on Smith, and fired a nasty wrist shot over Smith’s right shoulder to win the game only 2:44 into overtime. This was Toews’ second goal of the series, and maybe the biggest goal by either team in this series.

With the win, the Blackhawks have forced a Game 6, which will be played in Chicago on Monday night at 8 PM CST.

The Blackhawks had to turn in their best game of the series last night in order to win the game, and they did just that. Their defense as a whole was very good, they got good goaltending from Corey Crawford, and they doubled the Coyotes in shots, 39-18. Even though this was a great game for the Hawks, there are still some issues that they need to work on.

Chicago is just 1/17 on the powerplay in this series, which simply needs to be better. I know that their powerplay in the regular season was ranked 26th in the NHL and they still ended the year with 101 points, but in the playoffs you need to step it up and score powerplay goals. Luckily for the Hawks, Phoenix is a meager 2/15 on their powerplay chances so far in the series. With that said, if the Hawks can start to get some more goals with the man advantage, that will really put the pressure on Phoenix to not only score on the powerplay as well, but to score more 5 on 5 goals.  Each game in this series has been a winnable one for both the Blackhawks and the Coyotes, and so if one team can start clicking on their powerplay in Game 6 or 7 (if necessary), odds are that they will win that game.

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times now throughout this series, but the Blackhawks MUST start to play better in the second period. They cannot continue to let the Coyotes dominate the play. The Hawks have been fortunate so far in these first 5 games that Phoenix hasn’t really capitalized on most of their scoring chances that they have been given during the second period. If I’m the Blackhawks, I can’t rely on only allowing 1 goal while being completely outplayed during the second period. They need to step it up and play a full, tough 60 minutes of hockey.

Lastly, the big stars of the Blackhawks have to get going. Yes, Toews scored the game-winner last night, but him, along with Sharp, Kane, and Stalberg need to become more productive and put more goals on the board. In this series, Toews has 2 goals, Sharp has 1, and Kane and Stalberg both have 0. Kane especially needs to start thinking shoot more than pass. Too many times throughout this series has Kane skated with the puck into the offensive zone and tried to make a “pretty” pass, rather than take the open shots he has been given. When he does try and make the “pretty” pass, he ends up turning the puck over, which has lead to a few scoring chances for the Coyotes.

With the series now shifting back to Chicago, the Hawks need to take advantage of playing on their home ice and win Game 6 to stay alive. Game 5 has put a lot of momentum back on the Hawks’ side, but now they really need to use it. They were unable to ride the momentum that they gained after Game 2 heading home for 2 games, so let’s see if they capitalize on it this time. I think they will.

Raffi Torres Gets 25 Game Suspension

Brendan Shanahan delivered a stern message to the rest of the NHL today by suspending Raffi Torres 25 games for his illegal hit to the head of Marian Hossa. It is clear that the league is fed up with guys taking cheap, and dangerous shots at other players.

Most were speculating that Torres might get 7-10 games, but I don’t think anyone expected 25. The 25 game suspension means that Torres is not allowed to play in the next 25 playoff games for Phoenix, if they even play that many. If 25 more playoff games are not played by the Coyotes this year, then the suspension will carry over into next year’s regular season. If the suspension does go into next season, which it most likely will, then he is also ineligible to play in the preseason, but those games do not count towards the 25.

Odds are that no one around the NHL will be complaining about this suspension except for those in the Coyotes’ organization. Torres is a well known, repeat offender that has no respect for, or from his peers around the NHL.

A number of different factors played into determining the length of this suspension. Torres violated 3 rules in delivering the hit itself, all of which should have been penalized, but weren’t. Also, he is a major repeat offender, having received supplemental discipline from the NHL 5 times already in his career.

For those interested, here is Brendan Shanahan’s video explanation for the suspension:


Blackhawks Lose in OT, Again…

For just the second time in NHL history, the first 4 games of a playoff series have gone into overtime. The Blackhawks and Coyotes played their fourth straight overtime game tonight, and for the third time this series, Phoenix prevailed. In fact, for the second straight game, Mikkel Boedker scored the game winner in OT.

The Blackhawks came out on fire to start the game, and pretty much dominated the first period. They out-shot the Coyotes 11-5 and generated a number of decent scoring chances. Mike Smith, however, was on top of his game and did not allow a puck to get past him.

The second period seemed to favor the Coyotes, but not in terms of shots. The Hawks out-shot the Coyotes again in the second period, this time 12-5. Most of the shots by the Blackhawks were weak shots on goal that stood no chance of going in. Heading into the third period, the game remained scoreless.

About 7 minutes into the third, Shane Doan picked Johnny Oduya’s pocket from behind in the Hawks’ defensive zone, and fed Ray Whitney with a perfect pass for the one-timer. Corey Crawford was able to make a huge save on Whitney’s shot, but Doan grabbed the rebound and shot it past Crawford to give Phoenix the 1-0 lead.

Less than a minute later, Antoine Vermette made a fantastic pass to Taylor Pyatt from behind the net for a great one-timer that beat Crawford. This gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead, and seemingly the game. The Blackhawks, however, would not go quietly.

With 9 and a half minutes left in regulation, Brendan Morrison beat Mike Smith with a slap shot from the left circle to put the Hawks on the board. This was also Morrison’s first goal as a Blackhawk.

Then, with just a 1:26 left in the third, Dave Bolland backhanded a shot on goal that either hit the post, or hit Mike Smith. The puck dropped behind and to the right of Mike Smith, leaving Michael Frolik with a wide-open net to tap the puck in. This tied the game at 2 apiece, and sent it to overtime for the fourth straight game.

Just 2 minutes and 15 seconds into overtime, Mikkel Boedker grabber the puck around center ice and skated in towards Crawford on a partial breakaway. Boedker was only able to release a weak, backhanded “tap” of a shot, but it somehow found its way in past Corey Crawford to win the game giving Phoenix a 3-1 lead in the series.

Tonight’s game just about sealed the deal on this series. Game 5 will be played Saturday night in Phoenix, with Blackhawks facing elimination. I should probably be careful with my words, however, considering the fact that the Blackhawks were able to send their first round series against the Canucks last year to a seventh game after trailing 3-0 in the series.

After watching all 4 games in this series, I just can’t seem to figure out what the Blackhawks are doing. In each game of this series, the Hawks have played a great first period. They scored the first goal of the game in the first 3 games, with each of those goals coming in the first period. Tonight, they came out the same way. They dominated the first period, but for the first time in this series weren’t able to get a goal.

The second period has been a nightmare for the Blackhawks through the first 4 games. After playing so well in each first period of this series, they have done the exact opposite in each second period. It is almost as though they lose all energy and motivation during the  first intermission. They look lethargic and careless once the second period comes around.

The third period for the Hawks in this series has been mostly like their second periods, except for the last minute of regulation. Up until there is about a minute left and they are down by one goal, they flat out look bad and have zero energy. Once they pull the goalie, then they’re a completely different team. They begin playing with 110% effort. The Hawks now have 3 empty-net goals in the 4 games that have been played. Why does it take having to pull the goalie to get these guys energized and to get them to play at a high level!? It makes no sense!

Sure, Corey Crawford has allowed 2 terrible goals in the last 2 overtime periods, but if the Hawks would play with 110% effort from the start of regulation time, all the way through to the end of regulation, then maybe these games wouldn’t be going into overtime to begin with.

I said heading into tonight’s game that this was a MUST WIN for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately for them, and for all of us die-hard Hawks fans, they fell one goal short yet again and now face a 3-1 deficit in the series. If they want any hope at making a comeback, they are going to need to play the way that they have been playing in the last minute of regulation, but for the entire game.

Thanks for reading.

Brandon Saad in for the Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks’ 19-year-old rookie forward, Brandon Saad, was placed on the Blackhawks’ active roster following Tuesday night’s Game 3. He was called up from the OHL to take the place of Marian Hossa in the lineup.

The end of Saad’s OHL season could not have come at a better time. His team’s playoff run came to an end this past week, thus allowing the Blackhawks to bring Saad up to join the NHL team for the remainder of the playoffs. Most were not expecting Saad to get any playing time, but rather to simply be around the NHL guys and get some playoff atmosphere experience. However, most people were also not expecting Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa.

Due to the injury(s) that Hossa suffered from the hit by Torres, he has been forced out of the Blackhawks’ lineup. This left one spot open for the Hawks to fill. Rather than going with Jimmy Hayes, who has played a handful of games this year in the NHL for the Hawks, they have decided to dress Brandon Saad. Their reasoning? Well, Saad is more of a skilled player and a scorer.

In just 44 regular season games in the OHL this year, Saad recorded 76 points (34G, 42A). In the OHL playoffs, he recorded 8 goals and 9 assists in 12 games. Those are some staggering offensive numbers, especially for a 19-year-old.

The hope is that Saad will bring some much-needed offense to the lineup that was lost when Hossa left Game 3 with what appeared to be a head injury. Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville has not disclosed his lines for tonight’s Game 4, but odds are that Saad will be placed on one of the top 2 lines for the Hawks. His style of play fits the play of those 2 lines better than it does on either the third or fourth line. My guess is that Saad will be on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. By placing him with the two most talented players in the lineup, Saad is bound to find himself with some scoring opportunities. Also, with the way that Sharp, Kruger, and Stalberg finished up the season together, it would be hard to imagine Quenneville splitting up that line. I am very excited to see what Saad will bring to the table for tonight’s game.

The Blackhawks are going to need their top 2 lines to produce points on a consistent basis from here on out with Hossa being out of the lineup. Even though he hadn’t been scoring many goals of late (0 in his last 10 games), Hossa is still one of the most dangerous players in the NHL, not to mention his skill on defense as well.

Tonight is a must-win game for the Blackhawks. They do not want to go back to Phoenix down 3-1 in the series.

Blackhawks Lose in OT

I am not going to get into too much detail about last night’s Game 3 between the Blackhawks and Coyotes, because to be quite honest with you, I’ll get too upset if I think about it that much.

Around half way through the first period, Raffi Torres sent Marian Hossa to the hospital with a completely illegal hit to the head. A perfect example of what the NHL is trying to take out of the game. Less than a second after the puck left Hossa’s stick at about center ice, Torres launched himself off his feet into Hossa, sending Hossa down to the ice while possibly unconscious. Hossa stayed down on the ice motionless for about 5 minutes before the medical staff was able to get him onto a stretcher and wheel him off the ice.

With around 30 seconds left in the first, Patrick Kane’s wrist shot hit off the body of Andrew Brunette and made its way past Mike Smith to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

The second period featured a few scoring chances from each team, but no goals were scored. At the end of the period, Jonathan Toews shot the puck at Mike Smith right after the horn had blown, thus leading to a big confrontation between every player on the ice, including the goalies. Only Toews was assessed a 2-minute roughing penalty.

In the third period during a 4 on 4 for 2 minutes, 3 goals were scored! Rostislav Klesla scored the first one that tied the game with a slap shot that beat Crawford. Just over half a minute later, Michael Frolik scored to give the Hawks a one-goal lead. Then, just 32 seconds after that, Ray Whitney added another goal for Phoenix to tie the game at 2. At the end of regulation, the game remained tied and it headed to overtime for the third straight game in this series.

In OT, Mikkel Boedker scored from the goal line to Corey Crawford’s right to win the game and give Phoenix a 2-1 lead in the series. Crawford admitted after the game that this was a terrible goal to give up.

Now, let me say a few words about Raffi Torres.

This guy is a disgrace to the game of hockey. He has zero respect for any of his opponents, and now he has no respect from the fans. He simply goes out onto the ice head-hunting, looking to literally knock guys out. In fact, it was exactly a year ago last night that he put a violent hit to the head on Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in Game 3 of the Canucks-Blackhawks first round series. Torres has been suspended twice in his career, with the first one coming on April 11, 2011. He committed a violent head-shot on Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers, and was suspended 4 games, including the first 2 games of playoffs against the Blackhawks. Then, this past December 31, he was suspended 2 games for charging Nate Prosser of the Minnesota Wild.

There is no doubt that Torres will receive a suspension for his hit last night on Hossa, but no one quite knows how many games he will receive, and that is why the NHL’s disciplinary system is so messed up. On a hit like the one last night, most people familiar with the game of hockey should at least have some idea as to how many games Torres will be suspended. Unfortunately, Brendan Shanahan and his crew have been all over the place this year with their suspensions, making it virtually impossible to predict their decisions.

I’ll just say this. If Torres gets 3 games or less, then this whole thing is a complete joke. My reasoning? Andrew Shaw was just given a 3 game suspension yesterday for his hit on Coyotes goalies Mike Smith. Smith was not injured on the play, and Shaw had no previous history of suspensions or fines. Torres on the other hand, does have a bad history, and Hossa was injured on the play.

Aside from the announcement of Torres’ suspension, look for Hawks coach Joel Quenneville to possibly get fined today for his comments last night about the referees. He said that they “were a disgrace,” among some other words.

Game 4 is Thursday night at the United Center. This is now a must win for the Blackhawks, and it is going to have to come without one of the best players in the world in Marian Hossa.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Torres’ hearing with the NHL has been moved to Friday. The meeting will take place in New York. Also, because it is an in-person meeting and not over the phone, the NHL can give Torres a suspension of 5 games or more if they choose to.

Andrew Shaw Gets 3 Game Suspension

Well, just when you thought Brendan Shanahan couldn’t be much more inconsistent with his handling of suspensions, he pulls this out of his hat. Shanahan announced today that Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw has been suspended 3 games for his hit on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith on Saturday night.

Here is Shanny’s reasoning:

  • It was a charging penalty.
  • Smith was not injured on the play.
  • Shaw has no history of illegal hits.

That kind of makes you scratch your head, doesn’t it? Smith was NOT injured on the play, and Shaw has NO history of suspensions or fines. So is Shanahan saying that if Smith was injured, or if Shaw did have a history that Shaw would have been suspended basically the rest of the playoffs? This is an absolute joke!

In Game 1 of the Red Wings and Predators series last week, Shea Weber of the Predators punched Henrik Zetterberg in the head, and then grabbed the head of Zetterberg and slammed it into the glass as the third period ended. He received a $2,500 fine, which is basically a tiny slap on the wrist. Isn’t the NHL trying to eliminate head-shots? Isn’t what Weber did as clear of a head-shot as they get? Yet all he got was about as small of a fine that the NHL could possibly hand out, and nothing else.

In Andrew Shaw’s case, he skated in behind the net at full speed to try and get to the puck before Smith could play it, but ended up colliding with Mike Smith. If you watch the replay, Shaw had his head down looking at the puck the entire time. When he got to the puck, his shoulder hit the head of Mike Smith knocking Smith to the ice. Smith stayed down for a couple of minutes before getting back up to play the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Shaw was given a 5-minute charging penalty, a game misconduct, and now a 3-game suspension.

After the game, Mike Smith made a statement through the Coyotes PR department that he was “100 percent.” However, Smith was held out of Monday’s practice for undisclosed reasons, and wouldn’t talk to the media. In the NHL, the only time that a player is allowed to avoid speaking to the media is when the player is under “extreme circumstances.” In this case, the Coyotes made it seem like Smith was having concussion symptoms after all even though they said he was “fine” after Game 2. Today, Smith was back on the ice for practice and is listed as a “game-time decision,” leading most to believe that he will in fact play. The bottom line here is that it seems as though the Coyotes have been milking the system the past few days to try and make it look like Smith did in fact get hurt on the play, all in an attempt to increase Shaw’s suspension length. With that said, Brendan Shanahan stated that “Smith was not injured on the play,” and that factored into the suspension of Andrew Shaw. None of this adds up or makes sense.

Here is my question:

Are players now supposed to stand by and simply watch as goalies go to play pucks in behind the net? Based on the suspension of Andrew Shaw, that sure seems like what Shanahan and the NHL want. Players are going to be scared of trying to play pucks behind the net while the goalie is back there with the fear that they might get suspended if they touch the goalie. Basically, goaltenders are now going to have free reign of the area in behind the net whenever they would like.

Brendan Shanahan has handed out a number of questionable suspensions this year, but none of them have puzzled me more than this one. He better have a new job next season, or else there will be a lot of angry people in the NHL.

Here are the replays of Weber’s “head smashing” and Shanahan’s explanation for his suspension of Shaw:


Shanahan’s explanation video

Blackhawks Win Game 2 in Dramatic Fashion

The Blackhawks’ victory last night in Game 2 against the Coyotes in Phoenix was one of the most improbable comebacks I have ever seen in the NHL, let alone the playoffs. After scoring with 14 seconds left in regulation to tie Game 1 at 2 apiece, the Hawks outdid themselves in Game 2.

The scoring all began just over 3 minutes into the first period when Bryan Bickell beat Mike Smith to give the Hawks their first powerplay goal of the series, and a 1-0 lead in the game. After Dave Bolland’s wrist shot bounced off of Mike Smith, Bickell batted the puck into the net out of mid-air from about 3 feet in front of the net. This was just the start that the Blackhawks were hoping to get.

About 4 minutes after Bickell scored, Raffi Torres beat Corey Crawford with a missile of a wrist shot to tie the game at 1. Shane Doan deserves a ton of credit for this goal after he battled for, and won the puck from Duncan Keith in behind the net before he fed Torres with a beautiful pass to set up the goal.

Then, just over 12 minutes into the first period, Jonathan Toews was called for goaltender interference, which led to a Phoenix powerplay. This was easily one of the worst penalty calls of this year’s postseason so far, as Mike Smith is the one who initiated the contact between him and Toews. On the ensuing powerplay, Antoine Vermette redirected Keith Yandle’s shot from the point past Corey Crawford to give the Coyotes the one-goal lead.

About 7 minutes into the second period, Brandon Bollig scored his first ever NHL goal on a hard wrist shot from the right circle to tie the game at 2. However, this lead would not last long.

Less than 20 seconds after Bollig’s goal, Andrew Shaw was given a 5-minute charging major, and a game misconduct. As Mike Smith went to play the puck behind the net, Andrew Shaw, who was also trying to play the puck, collided with Smith sending him down to the ice holding his face/head. After seemingly waiting to see if Smith was injured or not, which he wasn’t, the refs decided to give Shaw the 5-minute major and game misconduct. By rule, this play will automatically be reviewed by the league to see if Shaw deserves a suspension. On their 5-minute powerplay, the Coyotes were able to get another goal from Antoine Vermette. They now had a 3-2 lead, and it stayed that way heading into the third period.

For most of the third period, the Coyotes played spectacular defense and did not allow the Hawks any quality scoring chances. They were stacking 4 players along their own blue line, which made it very difficult for the Hawks to enter the offensive zone. Then, in what seemed like a flashback to Game 1, the Blackhawks were able to work yet another miracle.

With just over a minute remaining in regulation, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford to get the extra attacker onto the ice. They got a few decent shots on goal in the first 30 seconds or so, but nothing great. Then, with around half a minute left on the clock, all heck broke loose. Jonathan Toews had a great scoring chance after a nice pass from Kane found Toews breaking to the net. Smith gave up a rebound on Toews’ shot, which led to multiple bodies flying through the crease, some ending up flat on the ice. Then, somehow the puck found its way to a wide open Patrick Kane about 15 feet in front of the net. He fired a wrist shot that just missed the right post. With about 10 seconds left now, Marian Hossa had the puck along the boards to Smith’s right. He sent a pass to Patrick Kane, who was standing in front of the boards to Smith’s left. Kane waited a second or two, then fed Brent Seabrook with a perfect pass for the one-timer slap shot that was redirected by Patrick Sharp and into the net with just 5 seconds left on the clock. They had done it again.

In overtime, both teams had some quality scoring chances, but neither side could beat the opposing goalie. With about nine and half minutes left in overtime, an attempted clear by Adrian Aucoin hit Viktor Stalberg along the right boards and deflected right to the stick of a wide open Bryan Bickell in the slot who’s wrist shot beat Mike Smith to win the game and tie the series at 1 game apiece.

Game 2 was nearly a carbon-copy of Game 1, except for the fact that the Blackhawks won this game. In both games, they tied the game with under 20 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime. As I said before, this is something that I don’t think I have ever seen before. Last night’s win reminded me a lot of the Hawks’ victory in Game 5 against the Predators 2 years ago in the Conference Quarterfinals. In that game, Patrick Kane scored a shorthanded goal with 13 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, where Marian Hossa would eventually score the game-winner just after exiting the penalty box following his 5-minute major for boarding.

The victory in Game 2 for the Hawks has the potential to give them a ton of momentum in this series heading back to Chicago for the next 2 games. After tying both of the first 2 games of this series with less than 20 seconds left on the clock, and then winning the second one in overtime, they have to have a ton of confidence moving forward.

The unsung hero of Game 2 has to be Corey Crawford. He came up with some HUGE saves, especially in the last 5 minutes of regulation to keep the score 3-2. It was no secret that in order for the Blackhawks to be successful in the playoffs that Crawford needed to be really good in net. Well, so far he has been, and that’s a great sign for the Hawks.

Moving ahead to Game 3, the Hawks MUST play better when they have a lead in the game. I said it after Game 1, and I’m saying it again now. Lately it would seem as though they take their foot off the gas pedal once taking the lead in games. They cannot afford to do that and expect to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Once they have the lead in the game, they have to continue to put heavy pressure on the Coyotes and wear-out their defense.

As for the fate of Andrew Shaw, we shall wait and see what the league determines. I don’t think he will be suspended. The league looks at whether or not the victim on the play was hurt or not, and in this case, Mike Smith was not injured. He even said after the game that he is “fine.” However, should Shaw get suspended, expect to see Michael Frolik take his place in the lineup. I don’t think that the Hawks have enough confidence yet in Jimmy Hayes to dress him for a playoff game.

The Hawks are right where they want to be in this series heading back home for Game 3. They had the third best home-record in the NHL this season, which obviously bodes well for them.

Thanks for reading.