Three original six teams plus LA and their snarky Twitter.  Should mean fun for any hockey lover.Time to talk about the conference finals.  But first, it’s time to hand out the apologies.

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Conference Finals

Team I owe an apology to: Montreal

How good has Montreal looked in these playoffs thus far?  Seriously, they absolutely embarrass Tampa in the 1st round, then follow that up with a 7 game series win over Boston, whom many consider to be the best team in hockey.  I myself don’t necessarily agree with that, but I did believe they were the best team in the east.  More impressive to me is how far they’ve come from last season.  I mentioned it before, but it deserves repeating, they were outplayed and outclassed last season by Ottawa, but have responded brilliantly this year.  Last playoffs PK Subban was busying berating officials as well as his own teammates, now he’s putting up great numbers and kissing Pierre Lebrun.  I’d could probably do without that last part though.  Unless you were able to deliver a kiss like this.  That would be doing us a huge favor.

Team that owes myself and the world an apology:  Boston

It’s not because you lost.  It took 7 games and Montreal looks damn good right now.  It’s because of how you looked while doing it.  Thugging it up while Montreal skated circles around you, then embarrassing yourselves further with your actions, or rather Lucic’s actions, in the post series handshake line.  You looked tired, slow and not at all ready for the Habs after game 5.  It’s as if you just expected them to quit once you went up 3-2.  They didn’t.  They did to you what Ottawa did to them last season, frustrating you to a boiling point, then beating you with skill and class.  Oh well, at least Lucic can get to work early on his new anti-bullying kids book.  Yes, I’m serious.  He’s part of an anti-bullying campaign.  It’s okay to laugh hysterically.

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Remember kids, bullying in school isn’t cool.  That’s what handshake lines are for.

New York vs Montreal

I have a confession to make.  With the grind of my daily life I try to get any series done first that I know are going to start before the article gets released.  That way I don’t have the luxury of watching a game in the series before I’ve made my pick.  However, I’ve been extremely busy this past week, and I wasn’t able to finish this section until after game 1 and yes, the Price injury.  Do the Canadiens have enough to do it without their Olympian netminder?  Will the Rangers continue to score on a power play that has suddenly sprung to life?  Why did they kill off Bryan Cranston and his wonderful over acting within the first half hour of the new Godzilla?  Perhaps we’ll uncover the answers below.  Well probably not to that last one.  Oh, that reminds me……..spoiler…….sorry.

The Good

The Canadiens continue to score, and own the leagues 2nd best goal per game average in the playoffs, just over 3.  They averaged 4 goals per game in their 4 game drubbing of TB, scoring under 4 just once, and continued their impressive offensive display  in the 2nd round, scoring 20 goals in 7 games against Boston.  No easy feat considering the B’s stout D and top notch goalie.  Nearly all of their regulars have 4 points or more and their power play has the highest percentage of all remaining playoff teams.

The Rangers had a top 4 defense during the regular season and they have the best defense thus far in the playoffs.  Limiting Philly to 16 goals in 7 games (not too bad), they improved against the Penguins and their offense featuring Crosby and Malkin, allowing just 14 goals in their 7 game triumph, which included the allowance of just 1 goal in each of the teams last 3 wins.  Lundqvist has been terrific for New York, and owns the leagues best save percentage per games played in the post season.  His final 3 games against Pittsburgh were masterful, making 103 saves on 105 shots, finishing with a 0.98 save %.

The Bad

Well this is easy, Price is hurt.  Without their Olympic champion the Habs will have to turn to back up Peter Budaj and his 7 career playoff games.  Budaj has an alarming 5.13 playoff gaa and a putrid .843 save %.  Then again, what if the Canadiens choose to go with rookie Distin Tokarski, who mercifully relived Budaj during the 3rd period of game #1.  Either way, Montreal is stuck between a goal tending Scylla and Charybdis, in desperate need of a hero.

Up until game #1 against Montreal, the New York power play was anything but powerful.  They have the lowest pp% of any of the final four teams and are over 5 percentage points behind the next closest team, Chicago.  Certainly their 3 pp goals in game 1 are a step in the right direction, but if that’s all they get the remainder of the series, it might not matter whether or not Price plays, Montreal will at least be in every game.

X Factor

With 12 points, 8 assists and averaging over 26 minutes per game, all team leads, PK Subban has propelled himself from solid player to top NHL defenseman in one season.  Perhaps more impressive however, has been his attitude during these playoffs.  He’s taken some penalties, sure, but if you recall last season, he was screaming at just about anybody within ear shot, including his own teammates.  I lost a great deal of respect for him last year, but I’m happy to say my faith in him as both a player and leader have slowly been restored as the playoffs wear on.  And, I’m absolutely certain that my opinion is of great significance to him.

Well hello!  Where have you been?  I can’t believe I can’t find a clip of Prince Valium from Spaceballs!  Well, here is one of my other favorite quotes.  Anyway, hey somebody woke up Rick Nash, as the power forward finally earned his first goal of the post season in game #1.  He did have several assists heading into the conference finals, and I hesitate to say that he had played awful, he did create some havoc in the offensive zone and create some scoring opportunities for his teammates, but they need him to score.  Maybe this miniscule sign of a goal scoring pulse will be enough to get him going, much like the Ranger power play.  For the blue shirts sake, I hope so.  He makes a little too much money to go through the playoffs with just a single tally.

Verdict

I’m an admitted hypocrite.  I would have picked Montreal before the Price injury, but I just don’t know how I can do that now.  I love the way they’ve been playing and they have shown terrific heart during these playoffs, plus I can’t over emphasis how impressed I was with their Boston win, but Price was a huge part of their series triumphs.  Subban and company have enough to take a few games, but unless Lundqvist gets injured as well, I don’t see how they take this series.  I hope they don’t take any steps backwards and I think this team is something for the people of Montreal to be excited about next year.  For now though, they will have to discuss a woulda, coulda, shoulda story, given the Price injury.  NY in 6.

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Interesting…….I guess the Rangers are on to something after all.

Los Angeles vs Chicago

The defending champs will face the former champs for the second straight year in the playoffs.  One team looks like the most dominate team in the league, while the other simply refuses to lose an elimination game.  As the late, great Gorilla Monsoon would say, it’s the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.  Something’s gotta give……

The Good

I was just reading an article the other day making an argument that Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has surpassed Crosby as the best hockey player in the world.  Comparing their stat lines in these playoffs, not to mention the clutch nature of some of Patrick’s goals, it’s hard to argue with the articles conclusion.  Like Subban, it’s impressive how Toews has bounced back in these playoffs after having some mental issues last year.  Sure, he worked out a lot of these last year during the playoffs, they wouldn’t have gone all the way if he hadn’t, but he hasn’t seen any lapses this year.  Speaking of clutch, you have to mention Patrick Kane.  All this guy does is seem to score game winners, whether they be late in games or in overtime.  And yes seemingly clueless reporter, I do believe Kane had scored an NHL OT winner before this season.  I’d like to think most people also remember it.

Speaking of clutch scoring, who would have thought that the worst offensive team heading into the playoffs, would boast the league leaders in goals, assists and points heading into round 3?  Anze Kopitar, whom I called perhaps the most underrated center last season, leads all playoff teams in assists with 14 as well as overall points with an impressive 19.  Much of that production is the direct result of his bro-mance with last round’s x factor, Marian Gaborik.  Gaborik currently leads the league in goals with 9 and is second in total points with 15.  You couldn’t have found a better match for the two if you used e-harmony.

The Bad

The Blackhawks have spent a fair amount of time on the pk these past 2 rounds.  In fact, they’ve spent nearly 25 minutes more on the pk than on the pp.  Most disturbing perhaps is the amount of penalties the “Hawks have taken on the road.  They spent over 47 minutes killing road penalties, a difference of over 17 minutes from their road pp time.  To be fair, they do have the highest pk rating, but it might not be so high if they weren’t short handed so much.  LA has scored the 2nd most goals on the power play this year, just 1 behind the team they just eliminated, so staying out of the box might be something the ‘Hawks wanna key on in this series.

I wonder how beat up the Kings are.  They just survived 2 grueling 7 game series against talented and physical teams, and one has to question their health heading into a series against another talented and physical team.  Keep in mind also that Chicago did have to play a very good, but also very hurt St. Louis team, and then followed it up with a 6 game series against the somewhat mediocre Wild.  I know LA has traveled this tough road before, but it just seems as if Chicago is a little more fresh right now.  A freshness that might provide a bit more energy and fight, and a freshness that will take more than just popping a few Mentos for LA to match.  Oh blond haired 90’s guy, you sure should that stuffy white business man.  It could have only ended better if he would have showed him the Mentos, then asked if he had any Grey Poupon.

X Factor

Don’t look now, but Marian Hossa has quietly taken the Chicago lead in both assists (11) and points (13).  Hossa is another underrated player that does a lot of great things on the ice that don’t end up on the stat sheet.  He has a great shot, he opens things up for his line mates, and he’s perhaps the most un-heralded defensive forward in the game.  Don’t think of him as a defensive stand out, well he’s 2nd on his team in +/- with a +5, and finished the season +28, incidentally the greatest total of his career.

How do you finish the Kings?  They are currently 6-0 in elimination games and they don’t seem to ever be out of a series, even when down 3-0 (CHOKE-SAN JOSE-CHOKE).  Seriously, it’s like the Highlander, they’re playoff immortals and Chicago is gonna have to find a way to cut off their head to get back to the finals.  A feat nobody has been able to do and a fact that the Kings seem to relish.  They have a confident aura about them, like an NHL gingerbread man.  They’ve beat up on Ducks, Sharks, been down 3-0 in a series, won 6 straight elimination games and they can beat you too.

Verdict

How does one pick against either of these teams?  Chicago is probably the best team remaining, not that they were any less of a team at the start of the playoffs, but LA just can’t be killed.  I still think there is something to history not favoring the ‘Hawks chances to returning to the finals, but I’m more afraid of the Kings perhaps finally running out of steam.  Which ever way fate unfolds, I think it will go the true way of LA hockey and end in 7, but it might just be time for a team to finally get back to the finals.  Chicago in 7.

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Doc Darryl and Johnny McQuick!  I just hope they aren’t “outta time”.

Well, that’s all for now folks.  Enjoy the cf’s and I’ll see you again in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Until next time, you have been warmed.

(Note from the author:  Sports incite great passion and emotion in all of us, which is why they are so popular the world over.  I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook, but please do it responsibly.  I have no agenda with Bench Warming other than to share my love of sports and perhaps get a few people to grin from time to time.  Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading this column as much as I enjoy writing it.)

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