Thursday, May 15, 2014

Three Teams Ousted, One More Game Seven

No matter which way you cut this result, it was an upset. The New York Rangers went into the Consol Energy Center and dispatched of the offensive powerhouse, Pittsburgh Penguins, in Game Seven.

The Rangers carried some serious momentum into the deciding game, coming all the way back from being down 3-1 in the series.  The Blueshirts also have some players who have some incredible records in Game Sevens, Henrik Lundqvist winning his last four and Brad Richards who won his last six deciding games.

Wouldn't you know it?  Both Lundqvist and Richards were the two biggest players for the Rangers in this one, as the King stopped 35 of 36 Pittsburgh shots and Richards pounced on a loose puck in the slot in the 2nd period to score the eventual game-winner.  The Rangers had to withstand some serious pressure in the 3rd period, but they didn't break, holding a 2-1 lead going into the final frame, all the way into making it a final.

The Rangers now go on to face the winner of the Boston/Montreal Game Seven from Wednesday night, which we'll touch on shortly.

With the elimination of the Penguins, 130 total selections were flushed down the toilet, as they were significant favourites to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals.  Sidney Crosby, taken 21 times, was one of the most popular forwards in the pool, taken away.  Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Brandon Sutter, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were all double-digit picks in the pool.

Marc-Andre Fleury led the Penguins in points on the hockey pool sheet, with his 7 wins and 2 shutouts, he was good for 18 points.  Jussi Jokinen led the way in bonus points, netting 3 game-winners.

A Conference Finals preview post will go over the Rangers accomplishments before the round starts on Saturday.

On Tuesday night, the Minnesota Wild had the chance to keep their playoff heartbeat pounding with a win at home in Game Six of their series against the Chicago Blackhawks, continuing the trend of home team wins in the series. It looked as though that everything was going to plan for the Wild, who were playing their brand of tight-checking hockey at home, but it was something that they couldn't plan on that sunk them in the end.

An early goal in the 1st by the Blackhawks and an early goal in the 2nd for the Wild was the only scoring in regulation, as the shots were 30-22 for Minnesota, heading into the overtime period.  Unfortunately for Minnesota, an unlikely bounce off a stanchion in their own building, fell onto the stick of Patrick Kane and he made no mistake, sending it upstairs and sealing Minnesota's fate in these playoffs.

It was another 2-1 scoreline, with Corey Crawford making 34 stops for the win and Kane was the only other notable player, with his third game-winner of these playoffs.

Chicago now awaits the winner of the California Freeway series in the Western Conference Finals, which is now scheduled to start on Sunday.

Minnesota was the least popular team in the Division Finals, with only 12 selections in total from the whole pool.  Very few teams made a sprinkling of Wild players, as five players led the way with two selections each.  If the Wild had made it through, it would have devastated a lot of pool teams.

Of the players that had a selection, Ilya Bryzgalov, taken once, only managed 3 wins and 1 shutout for 8 points.  Zach Parise, who was in Box 1, finished with 15 points in the pool, including a bonus point, which would have made him an attractive pick in the end.

Call it what you will, the culmination of amount of hockey the Boston Bruins had played in the last four years or just a sub-par effort, but the Eastern Conference favourites, according to the hockey pool selection numbers, didn't look the part in Game Seven against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.  I don't think there would be much of an argument from many, but if the Bruins played the way we all know they can, this series may have had a much different result.

Let's not take away any credit that the Habs earned in this series, because they do deserve a lot.  Montreal stuck to their system and had the benefit of a determined goalkeeper, especially in Game Seven, as the Canadiens came away with a 3-1 win and a date with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Montreal held Boston to only eight shots on Carey Price in the 3rd period, when the home team should have been getting pucks through desperately, which says a lot about what the Canadiens are capable of.

In total, Price stopped 29 shots for his 8th win in these playoffs, while Max Pacioretty scored the eventual winner in the 2nd period and Daniel Briere sealed the deal with a 3rd period brace, adding an assist on the team's 1st period opening goal.

With the defeat, the most popular team in these playoffs has now been eliminated, as the Bruins held 138 selections in the pool and they are now all gone.  The most popular player in the pool, Tuukka Rask, taken 32 times, will count as a devastating loss to the pool going forward.  David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara were all double-digit selections in the pool, which made for a great number of combinations in the pool... all of them, gone.

After Wednesday night in the pool, Rask was also leading the pool in points with 19, coming from 7 wins, 2 shutouts and an assist.  Iginla and Dougie Hamilton (not taken at all) led the Bruins with 2 bonus points as well.

Well, that's three series down and the Anaheim Ducks had the chance to make it a clean sweep of series-ending games in this playoff pool post, but that wasn't the case.  The Los Angeles Kings had other ideas, beating the regular season Western Conference leaders, 2-1, on Wednesday night to force a Game Seven, which will go on Friday night, concluding the Division Finals.

The Kings played their brand of hockey, a physical counter-attack game and that gave them the edge early on, as they had a 2-0 lead, shortly after the midway point in the game, holding on for a 2-1 win.  Jonathan Quick only had to make 21 saves for the win and the offense was spread out to players that were not in the hockey pool.

If Anaheim is to win at home in Game Seven, the Conference Finals will start at the Honda Center with the Chicago Blackhawks travelling West for a visit, but if Los Angeles is to prevail, they will travel to the United Center for the start of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.  Either way, we should be in for a heck of a match-up to see who will play the East winners for the mug.

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