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.

PHT Morning Skate: 12 teams will reportedly alter their uniforms next season

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–Adidas will become the official outfitter of the NHL in 2017-18, which means that some teams will make some tweaks to their current jersey. 12 teams are reportedly going to make some type of alteration to their uniform. The Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Oilers, Panthers, Wild, Predators, Devils and Senators are the teams making changes. (Sportsnet)

–NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley was working the Cavaliers-Celtics game in Boston last night, but even he admitted that he’d rather be watching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (The Score)

–The Anaheim Ducks went on a nice run to the third round of the playoffs, but for them to take another step forward, they’ll need someone other than Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler to make more of an impact, per beat reporter Eric Stephens. (OC Register)

–Not many Oilers fans were happy with the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson swap, but Larsson’s play this season some fans forget about Hall, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy. He writes: “One surprise was how well the Oilers scored with Larsson on the ice, the best of any defenceman on the team and behind only the first line forwards. That went a long way to explaining his splendid +21 on the season, this after his +15 the previous campaign with a weak Devils club was largely achieved through stingy defensive outcomes.” (Edmonton Journal)

Chris Kunitz scored two goals, including the game-winning goal in double overtime to send the Pens to their second straight Stanley Cup Final. Check out the highlights from Game 7 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Here’s a pretty interesting stat via PHT’s Adam Gretz regarding Pittsburgh’s playoff success in the Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr era vs. the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin era:

–It’s been a tough year for Craig Anderson and his wife Nicholle, but she Tweeted a nice message after the Senators dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary

Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

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The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

An unforgettable night for Kunitz

Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

Plenty of twists and turns

After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.