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.

Nasty hits, fights, and a blowout in Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens

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First, the Edmonton Oilers fell 6-3 to the Dallas Stars. Next: the Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely throttled the fledgling Montreal Canadiens in a game that was ugly even beyond the 6-0 score.

It’s been a bad day for embattled GMs of teams who’ve made polarizing moves in hopes of solidifying Stanley Cup contenders. The Oilers (7-11-2) and Canadiens (8-11-2) even finish the night with nearly identical records, just to really hammer home their parallel pains.

You almost wonder if something is in the air this week (spoilers: not love), as nastiness has really ratcheted up since the Calgary Flames – Detroit Red Wings line brawl. The Canadiens and Maple Leafs boast one of the NHL’s richest and bitterest rivalries, and it showed on Saturday.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Nazem Kadri played a major role in one of the most explosive moments, taking his frustrations out on Shea Weber. Weber and Jordie Benn wasted no time in going after Kadri.

(Criticisms of the hit are totally fair, but it seems strange to go too heavy on “turtling.” Who would be able to stand up to both Weber and Benn? In the heat of the moment, I’d wager most people would go with flight over fight.)

That was the most bombastic moment, but there was also this seemingly unlikely bout between Nikita Zaitsev and Paul Byron:

This absolute dismantling comes after Claude Julien was steaming mad from a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. It’s tough not to read all of this as an indictment of the moves Marc Bergevin has made, especially considering the fact that their rivals dominated them for their sixth win in a row. If you’re the type to draw big conclusions from about a month of a season, you’d look at it as how to build a contender vs. how to waste Carey Price‘s prime.

That’s a little harsh … but either way, these are tough times for Bergevin.

Auston Matthews was definitely part of the fun for Toronto in his return from injury, including scoring this goal:

(You almost wonder if Mike Babcock was rolling the dice even having his star players out there amid all that carnage, but that goal was a sweet reward.)

[MORE: Why Toronto needs Matthews back for a tough stretch]

Yes, this is an 82-game season, and we’re only at about the first-quarter-mark. Still, teams like the Oilers and Canadiens came into 2017-18 with big expectations and big questions, and so far fans and management can’t like the answers.

By the way, asking for a well-dressed GM: what’s the opposite of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Yikes.

Ovechkin returns after being badly bloodied by puck to face

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It’s still relatively early on Saturday night, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals could eventually provide further updates that derail this optimism.

With that out of the way, at the moment, the theme of the night might just be teams dodging big injury bullets, even if the star players in question can’t dodge actual damage.

In the case of Corey Crawford, he bounced back for the Blackhawks after Evgeni Malkin‘s thigh area clipped him in the head. Maybe it looked worse than it was?

Now, any time you see people scrape blood off the ice, you get a reminder of how dangerous – and yeah, occasionally strange – hockey can be. That only becomes more disturbing when that blood is coming from a player as important as Alex Ovechkin:

Remarkably, Ovechkin is returning for the third period of the Capitals’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

So:

  • This is a reminder that Ovechkin is tough, in case you foolishly think he isn’t because … his teams have lost in big games or something? Considering how recklessly he often throws his body around, and how infrequently he misses games due to to injury, you’d think that debate would have died a long time ago. Moments like this make it seem that much sillier.
  • Ovechkin must really want to help the struggling Capitals turn things around.
  • Maybe he wants to hang an L on his old boss Bruce Boudreau?

Anyway, PHT will keep an eye on these situations. Sometimes there are more answers the night of events, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

Right now, it’s reasonable for Capitals fans and Blackhawks fans to feel some relative, even if it’s only in the interim.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Corey Crawford seemingly OK after contact by Evgeni Malkin

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been up-and-down so far in 2017-18, but Corey Crawford has been brilliant almost every night he’s been in net. It’s to the point that he might be a little underrated, as people assume that Chicago will keep finding ways to win, possibly missing how big a part he’s playing in its successes.

Crawford’s been able to clean up a lot of messes, so Saturday brought a scare, as he seemed to take head contact from Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

You can see the contact in the video above. It seemed like quite a collision, as part of Malkin (thigh? middle-boy) seemed to connect with Crawford at a fairly high speed.

The penalty call drew at least some complaints from Penguins fans, but the important thing either way is that the Blackhawks took a look at Crawford before allowing him to return to the game.

Now, we’ve seen players return to action only to miss games in the future, so it’s still worth monitoring Crawford. Considering how important he is to the Blackhawks, they have to hope that it was one of those plays that looked more painful than it actually was.

Also, with some justifiable complaints about players not going through concussion protocol lately, a lot of people are pleased with Chicago for at least assessing Crawford. We’ll see if anything changes, but right now, this seems like a dodged bullet (but not a dodged Malkin).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes are (gasp) on a winning streak

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As of this writing, the Arizona Coyotes have the least standings points in the NHL (11) despite playing a league-leading 22 games.

Things could change for this young team, but for now, it’s about small victories, which makes actual wins that much bigger. Perhaps what they really needed was this road trip through Canada?

After losing to the Jets in Winnipeg 4-1 on Nov. 14 (no real shame, really, as everyone’s losing to the Jets lately … just ask the Devils), the Coyotes left Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens fuming by getting their first regulation win of 2017-18 by a score of 5-4.

Arizona couldn’t make it consecutive wins in regulation, but when Anthony Duclair completed a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, they did something rare: the Coyotes won back-to-back games. Yes, gang, those scrappy kids now have their very own winning streak after today’s 3-2 OT win against the Ottawa Senators.

They wrap up this run of Canadian games by facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday.

Just like any self-respecting sports team, the Coyotes get to participate in a ceremony after wins.

One would guess that Zac Rinaldo got the “championship belt” stemming from the rough stuff between the Coyotes and Canadiens, which included a Rinaldo fight (no surprise) and Tomas Plekanec‘s first NHL bout (in his 941st career game).

The Coyotes want to bounce back from their bad start, while Duclair hopes to shed the weight of a lousy 2016-17 season.

At 4-15-3, Arizona might already be in too big of a hole to make any waves. Even so, they can gain some respect, and show that they’re not as bad as their record indicates. Heck, a win in Toronto would give them an undeniably successful road trip, something that’s not always a layup even for established, contending teams.

Now, now, all of that aside … it might be a little too early to take them seriously.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.