The Eastern Conference Finals are set in the NHL playoffs, while the Western Conference has Game 6s ahead in both of its second-round series. Here’s the rundown on how Pittsburgh and Boston advanced, how Chicago survived and what’s ahead…
Boston beat the New York Rangers 3-1 yesterday to clinch their series in five games. This was a tense game throughout—shots were mostly even (31-29 Boston), and with shot volume being low, the defenses seemed to be in control. The Bruins weren’t safe until an empty net goal with 31 seconds left finally ended it.
As this game unfolded, I had the sense that if New York would have played like this the entire series, we’d be going back to Madison Square Garden for a Game 6. The Rangers executed on the power play, scoring a first period goal with the man the advantage. They seemed quick to the puck—the Bruins were as well, but weren’t able to dominate the flow of play the way they had in previous games. And Ryan Callahan got six shots on net. The one big disappointment, a recurring them in the postseason, was the lack of activity from Rick Nash who only took two shots.
Boston’s rookie defenseman Torey Krug continues to be the find of the playoffs and he scored a power play goal in the second period to tie the game. For goaltender Tuuka Raask, this was a monkey-off-the-back win. Rask has had his problems in clinching games—Boston was 2-8 in previous chances to close out a series with Rask in goal—and they not only win, but the goalie plays a great game in the process.
Pittsburgh closed out this series on Friday night with a 6-2 win in Game 5. Those who have been reading TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis through the playoffs know how much I love Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, but in the end he proved to be like Kevin Durant in the NBA playoffs once Russell Westbrook got hurt. Just a man with too heavy a burden to carry against good teams. The Penguins put on a dazzling display of offense, and for the second straight game not only beat Anderson but broke him.
James Neal scored a hat trick, but I still think balance was the dominant theme to Pittsburgh’s success. It was the first two periods, when Pittsburgh built a 4-1 lead that demonstrated this. Four different players scored the goals, six different players were in on the assists and Pascal Dupuis—one of the better offensive players and a hero of the first-round series against the New York Islanders—was not even a part of it. That’s depth. Neal then finished the job with his two third-period goals.
A bit of a concern for Pittsburgh is that Tomas Vokoun has slowed down a bit after his blazing start, coming off the bench to secure the Islanders series. Giving up two goals is certainly no big deal, but Ottawa got only 31 shots and they aren’t exactly loaded with offensive talent. It’s not like Vokoun has come down to earth, but he is slowing up a bit, with the two toughest legs of the Stanley Cup journey still ahead.
Chicago played like a desperate team last night in the Windy City. Trailing 3-1 in the series, the Blackhawks stayed on the attack from the outset. They took 12 shots in the first period, 16 in the second and 17 more in the third, breaking open a 1-1 tie with two goals in the latter part of the second period.
The defense deserves a big thumbs-up all the way around. Let’s start with the fact they limited Detroit to four shots in the final period in spite of the fact the Red Wings had to be aggressive since they were in a two-goal hole when the period begin. The Chicago defenseman were also a part of the scoring—Brent Seabrook assisted on the game’s first score and Duncan Keith was a passer on both of the game’s key goals in the second. Chicago got a clinching goal in the third to seal the 4-1 win.
Jonathan Toews lit the lamp as the Blackhawk center continues to be the team’s most consistent offensive performer in this series and Andrew Shaw also scored twice. It’s going to be up to Detriot to match this level of intensity when the series heads back to Motown for Game 6.
San Jose and Los Angeles haven’t played since our last installment of NHL analysis, and the Sharks and Kings play Game 6 tonight (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). Los Angeles is looking to clinch on the road. Then on Monday night, to wind down your holiday weekend, tune in to Chicago-Detroit. It’s an 8 PM ET start and the network is yet to be announced, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t NBC Sports Network as well (though it could be the parent NBC or CNBC).
I thought we might be doing some Eastern Conference Finals previews here this morning, but with the schedule for those games still unannounced, I’m going to hold off. It’s possible the NHL might wait until both conference finals are set, and the current series in the West could go as late as Wednesday. Waiting to have both finals run in unison is a good idea and makes sense, which is why I’m a little taken aback that the league office would consider it.
In any event, TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will be back on Tuesday to update developments in the West and possibly look ahead to the conference finals. In the meantime, be sure and check out our NBA commentary and MLB coverage.