Cup finals questions: How are the ‘Hawks different from 2010?

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Three years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks snapped a 49-year drought by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup.

Many thought that championship would kickstart a potential dynasty, led by head coach Joel Quenneville and a core group featuring Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Dave Bolland.

Fast forward to 2013, and not all’s gone according to plan.

Those coach and core guys are still in place, but the role players have been dramatically turned over.

As a result, the trip back to a Stanley Cup final took longer than expected (with a pair of first-round exits in between).

For brevity’s sake, let’s list the significant departures from the ’10 Cup-winning team:

Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Brian Campbell, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, John Madden.

The biggest challenge Chicago faced over the last three years was finding comparable depth players. Comparable, because finding equal ones would’ve been nearly impossible — Ladd, for example, was a third-liner during the Cup run.

This year, he was Winnipeg’s captain and leading scorer.

GM Stan Bownman deserves high praise for not just finding replacements, but grooming them from within.

Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger are all Blackhawks draftees than have climbed through the ranks and are now paying dividends. Bickell in particular — a bit player during the ’10 run, he’s turned into a force this postseason, reprising the big-body Byfuglien role to tie for the team lead in goals, with eight.

The other significant change from the ’10 team is in goal, where Corey Crawford inherited Antti Niemi’s job and, after some shaky moments, has solidified his grasp on it.

Crawford’s postseason numbers — 1.74 GAA, .935 save percentage — are significantly better than the ones Niemi posted three years ago (.910 save percentage, 2.63 GAA). The Finnish goalie struggled at times and was largely seen as Chicago’s weak spot, whereas Crawford has been arguably the team’s most important player.

(On that note: Online sportsbook Bovada currently has Crawford as the favorite to win this year’s Conn Smythe trophy for playoffs MVP.)

The interesting thing about Chicago is despite all this turnover, the club’s identity has remained largely the same. Three years ago, Quenneville implemented a creative, attack-oriented, puck-possession offense — and today, it looks largely the same.

Forwards still have the liberty to criss-cross, weave and make plays; defensemen still have what seems like a constant green light to jump up and join the rush.

Toews is still Captain Serious, Kane is still a magician with the puck on his stick, and Keith can still skate like the wind.

In the end, that’s why the Blackhawks seem so similar — despite being so different.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.

 

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: