2013 Stanley Cup Final: PHT staff picks

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None of the six PHT staffers accurately predicted this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Everybody — Mike Halford, Jason Brough, Joe Yerdon, James O’Brien, Ryan Dadoun and Cam Tucker — picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Eastern Conference finals over the Boston Bruins which, as you may have heard, didn’t happen.

Things were a little better in the Western Conference.

Halford, Brough and Tucker all nailed the ‘Hawks over Kings — though they all had them winning in seven games, not five — bringing the overall postseason totals to…

Halford: 1-1 (4-0 in Round 2, 8-6 overall)
Brough: 1-1 (3-1 in Round 2, 11-3 overall)
Yerdon: 0-2 (3-1 in Round 2, 8-6 overall)
O’Brien: 0-2 (4-0 in Round 2, 10-4 overall)
Dadoun: 0-2 (3-1 in Round 2, 9-5 overall)
Tucker: 1-1 (4-0 in Round 2, 10-4 overall)

As for the commenters?

Buffalomafia, devilsarethebest, jhuck92, govtminion and hockeydon10 all deserve major credit for being the only people to pick the Bruins.

(Of course, nobody picked the B’s in four.)

But hey, that’s the past. Let’s move onto the future and take a look at PHT’s staff picks for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

Halford: ‘Hawks in 7

For the record, this pick featured more waffling than the Denny’s breakfast menu. I went with Chicago on PHT Extra, then started talking up the Bruins on NBC Radio, but am now going back to my original choice, Chicago. (I think.) No, definitely Chicago — I like the fact the ‘Hawks have home-ice advantage (9-1 at the United Center this postseason) and some important scorers rounding into form. Patrick Kane in particular — he has five points in his last four games, the same number of points he had over his previous 10 games.

Brough: Bruins in 6

I’m going to do what I should have done the previous two rounds, and that’s pick the Boston Bruins. Everyone knows about their defense and goaltending; that’s been talked to death. But the B’s are scoring, too, with 3.12 goals per game in the playoffs. I also have to wonder if this is going to be the series that Chicago gets exposed for having Michal Handzus as its second-line center. Maybe that’s unfair, since he’s been better than expected since coming over from San Jose. The importance of that second-line center role can’t be understated though, especially with the attention the Bruins will be paying Jonathan Toews.

Yerdon: Bruins in 6

It’s almost impossible to pick one team over the other but when you look at them, it’s the little differences that pile up. Tuukka Rask has been better than Corey Crawford. Patrice Bergeron makes for a slightly better second-line center than Michael Handzus. Brad Marchand is a more effective pest than Andrew Shaw. Throw in Zdeno Chara’s dominating presence and I think this is made for the Bruins to win. That said, I’ve been pretty bad at predictions in the playoffs so Chicago proving me completely wrong wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

O’Brien: ‘Hawks in 6

Joel Quenneville nailed it when he said this series is “good for hockey.” And not just because it features two big, history-rich markets. In this salary cap era, you won’t find many teams that are as balanced and skilled as the Blackhawks and Bruins. Both boast multiple scoring threats, Norris-quality top blueliners and underrated No. 1 goalies. Boston proved it could take down a star-studded team, yet Chicago didn’t deal with Pittsburgh’s roster instability and uncertainty. It’s a tough call, but the Blackhawks were easily the best team of the 2013 regular season, so they get the nod.

Dadoun: Bruins in 7

Really, you could go with either team and have just as much of a chance of being right. They both have star players with a proven track record of success in clutch situations while still sporting four strong lines. On top of that, nothing they’ve done this year is easily comparable because the condensed schedule has kept the East and West separate until now. That said, I like the Bruins shutdown defense, the consistency they’ve gotten out of David Krejci and Nathan Horton, and the fact that they’ve succeeded thus far without Tyler Seguin breaking out. He’s the best player on either team due for a hot streak.

Tucker: Bruins in 7

Last round, the Bruins once again demonstrated a naturally ability to shut down and frustrate the big guns — in that case, it was Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Look for the Bruins to do the same to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as this Stanley Cup series progresses. They’ve also shown an ability to wear down the opposition with that physical style and they’ll do the same thing in this series. Tuukka Rask has been exceptional in net, as has Corey Crawford. If Rask continues his form and outplays Crawford, the Blackhawks will run out of answers.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.