Time to take a look at the final four.The final four are here, let’s take a look at each series thus far. But first, let us hand out an apology.
Only one apology from the last round and it’s from the Washington Capitals to all of their fans. I mean I didn’t have you winning, but blow a 3-1 series lead? Shame on you! Wasn’t The Continental awesome? Who doesn’t love them some Walken?
Tampa Bay vs NY Rangers
HOW WE GOT HERE
Believe it or not, up until May 17, the Rangers had played all 1 goal games and each of there wins except for 1 had come by way of a 2-1 score. Then they dropped the puck on May 18 and got punched in the mouth by Tyler Johnson and the Lightning. To their credit New York did their best to keep it close, for the first 2 periods at least. Then the bolts took off with a 3 goal third period. The aforementioned Johnson scored goals at even strength, short handed and on the power play, registering the first play off hat trick in Tampa Bay history. The sophomore forward has truly put the charge in the Lightning, leading the team and the league in playoff goals (11) as well as overall points (16), tied with Corey Perry. He’s so energized right now, he could probably turn this Death Battle into a triple threat and win it easily.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
If there was ever a series in which you would expect 1 guy to be an enormous emotional x factor for his team, it would be St. Louis against Tampa. That’s Martin, not the city St. Louis…..you get it! Anyway, it was just a season ago in which St. Louis (again, Martin) forced Tampa GM Steve Yzerman to trade him after he felt slighted for being left off the Canadian Olympic roster. Yzerman relented and dealt the 15 year vet to the blue shirts. St. Louis is ultra competitive and wants to win another cup in the worst way. One would think that he would need no more motivation than his old team and GM standing in between himself and another chance at glory. Yet the closest he has come to scoring, not only in this series but also the whole playoffs, was nearly helping the puck into his won net during Johnson’s shorty in game 2. He’s still a tremendous emotional leader, but any forward averaging over 17 minutes a game has to start scoring. Speaking of lot’s of ice time for little reward, we can’t forget to heap some blame upon the broad shoulders of Rick Nash. An offensive juggernaut (BITCH! Ha-Ha) in the regular season, Nash has scored only 1 goal in each of his two pervious series, and none thus far in the first 2 games of the CF.
Steven Stamkos started the playoffs slowly, but has now notched 9 points in his last 7 games. That’s good, but I can’t help but think that his goals haven’t been as timely as they could be. Johnson and Kucherov have anchored the Tampa offense so the absence of reliable scoring from Stamkos hasn’t been too noticeable for most of the playoffs. Still, imagine how much more potent the Lightning would be if Stamkos becomes the threat he was most of his career.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The goaltending form both Bishop and Lundqvist has been top notch. Henrik hasn’t had much choice, when your team wins nearly every game 2-1, you kinda have to be damn near perfect. Bishop had an up and down series against Detroit, but bounced back nicely against Montreal, lowering his gaa by nearly a point while giving his coaches and fans fewer heart stopping moments. The net minders are separated by only 0.02 in terms of gaa, while both power plays and penalty kills are also relatively even. But the big question for both teams is who is healthier, and the answer appears to be Tampa Bay. Dan Boyle appears to be playing through an injury while Mats Zuccarello has officially been upgraded to day to day, but isn’t expected to return until at least game 5 if at all. The bolts are a little banged up themselves. Brian Boyle is dealing with an upper body injury while Ryan Callahan returned in game 1 following an emergency appendectomy just 5 days prior…..because he’s a hockey player. Despite both teams stinging from the injury bug, Tampa has at least found some roll on OFF, while New York seems content just lighting those tiki torches and hoping they keep the pests away. In my experience, those things never work. But with 2 teams this evenly matched and playing well heading into the conference finals, this just might be what tips the scales. In addition, I just am not sure how New York will keep up with Tampa if they ever score more than 2 goals. The results of the 1st two contests is reminiscent of the opening round for TB, a tight game here and a blow out there, but that’s a series New York loses. The Rangers have to keep the scores down and win all of those close ones as they have up until now, and honestly, that just isn’t how I see this series playing out. Prediction before the series: Tampa in 7 —– Prediction after 2 games: Tampa in 6
Chicago vs Anaheim
HOW WE GOT HERE
This series has been very entertaining thus far. Well okay, game 2 at least, no so much game 1. But game 2 was like two games in one. Besides, there haven’t been nearly enough triple over time thrillers in these playoffs and this particular one had a little bit of everything, great goals, nice saves, a header! In the end though, Chicago was able to pull out the win legitimately and even the series at 1. While Anaheim might be a bit more talented (yes I said it) than Chicago, I have a feeling that this series moves forward a lot more like game 2 rather than game 1. Yet game 1 was very important for Anaheim whom have had to shrug off some playoff underachieving labels as of late. Game 2 was important for both teams. Despite the loss it displayed that Anaheim is a very different team this post season. They’ve come to play every game and, although I still feel as if they toyed with Winnipeg a little, they showed no mercy to Vancouver and kept up a steady barrage of pressure and shots through the 6 periods that was game 2. Chicago needed game 2 for the obvious reason of evening up the series, but beyond that I think they’re proving that they are once again the class of the Western Conference. If you wanna get to the finals, you still gotta go thru them. Or through them. However you want to spell/say it. Here, let Eddie Izzard explain it.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Any sport is always more exciting when the big name stars are playing well, and you couldn’t really ask for all world players in the zone than what you have in this series. If guys like Corey Perry are going to be 2nd overall in playoff goals (8) and points (16), you need to match them with a Patrick Kane, who himself has 7 goals and 13 points. If Ryan Getzlaf is gonna lead the playoffs in assists (12) while tied, with Perry I might add, for a 2nd best + 8, you gotta have Duncan Keith tied for 2nd in assists and averaging over 30 minutes of ice time per game! Not to mention guys like Toews, Sharp, Kesler and Silfverberg, all of which have nice point totals and have provided a lot of quality minutes for their teams even when not finding the score sheet.
If you had to pick on one guy from each side to ask a little more out of, I guess it would be Matt Belesky for the Ducks and Marian Hossa for the ‘Hawks. Yet even the soap box to stand on to hurl insults at them would probably hold fewer marbles than a piece of wet tissue paper. Remember that game? Let me guess, you preferred Ker Plunk? Anyway, Belesky seems to be back on track now, working on a 6 game point streak, while Hossa has 2 goals in his last 3 games, perhaps a sign that he too is starting to turn it around.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s funny how no matter how well they play, the two guys that seem to get the least amount of love from their fans are the goalies. I would say that most people would tab Corey Crawford and Frederik Anderson as being the potential weak links in their respective team chains. Now you have to remember that game. I mean it was only popular for about two weeks, but that damn line would have been trending all over Twitter had it been a big deal back then. Anderson may have a been a risky choice at the start of the playoffs, but his leading playoff gaa and save % amongst his still active peers prove that he was the right one. Crawford has been diligently fighting to get his stats back up to snuff following his brief hiatus when Scott Darling temporarily replaced him. Since then though he’s been more than reliable, most recently stopping 60 of 62 shots during Chicago’s game 2 win. But if there is a series in which a poser goalie could be exposed it would be this one. There’s enough fire power on both of these squads to make the French surrender out of sheer intimidation. Essentially, if one of these guys shows a sign of weakness, they might just get consumed.
Another factor might be the fact that Chicago is the only team yet to lose a game at home. Following the game 2 loss Anaheim will now have to take one at “The Madhouse On Madison”, which is obviously easier said than done. I still think it happens though. Why? Kessler is the final component this team has been looking for. He’s been a man reborn since leaving Vancouver and he’s the missing component the Ducks needed to give them the resolve to make it back to the finals. Prediction before series: Ducks in 7 —– Prediction after 2 games: Ducks in 7
That’s all for now. See you in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Until then, you have been warmed.