Cup finals questions: Can Chicago break through Boston’s ‘layers’?

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The defensive system the Bruins used to reduce the Pittsburgh Penguins to two goals in four games isn’t complicated, according to Boston head coach Claude Julien.

What it takes to be successful is a complete team effort.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that we have layers,” said Julien. “Our guys are committed to come back and just making sure that there’s layer after layer that make it hard for them to get to our net.”

Of course, it helps that the Bruins have the following key players in their “layers”:

—- Patrice Bergeron, one of the best defensive forwards in the game.

—- Zdeno Chara, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game.

—- Tuukka Rask, entering the Stanley Cup finals with a .943 save percentage in the playoffs.

And that’s the challenge that awaits the Chicago Blackhawks — a team, it should be noted, that just defeated a pretty good defensive side in the Los Angeles Kings.

“We’ve seen some of [Boston’s] games, especially the last series there,” Chicago d-man Duncan Keith said. “Sweeping Pittsburgh, I think, says it all right there with the amount of firepower Pittsburgh had, what they were able to do to a team like that.”

Prior to the Western Conference finals, ‘Hawks forward Marian Hossa said the key to winning would be to use their plethora of speed and skill.

“They play a physical game,” said Hossa. “We play a quick game, and we know how we can beat them. We just have to use our quickness.”

The same should hold true versus Boston.

Arguably Chicago’s quickest and most creative player, forward Patrick Kane, struggled at times versus Los Angeles, but he broke out in a big way during Saturday’s clinching victory, potting a hat trick that included the overtime winner.

“Yeah, he stepped up,” said ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “He took on the responsibility of leading the team. Proven he’s a top player in the game, he made special plays over the two games. [It’s] nice to see him finish it off in a real positive way for us.”

Quenneville will have his work cut out, too. Can he draw up a better game plan than Dan Bylsma did for the Penguins?

Perhaps Quenneville can glean something from watching tape of Boston’s first-round series versus Toronto in which the Maple Leafs used their speed to score 18 goals in seven games.

Also worth mentioning: five of Toronto’s 18 goals came on the power play, an area of Chicago’s game that will almost certainly need to improve if the Blackhawks are to hoist the Cup.

Against the Kings, the ‘Hawks scored just once on 14 man-advantage tries and still managed to advance; however, that was against a banged-up group that had struggled to score all postseason.

The Bruins, for all everyone is talking about their defense, have averaged an impressive 3.12 goals per game in the playoffs.

 

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.