Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara

An Original Six showdown, Jagr and more to love for Game 1

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An Original Six matchup for the Stanley Cup Final and Jaromir Jagr back in the Final is just the start of the Game 1 storylines.

NATURAL RIVALS FORM RARE FINAL OPPONENTS

The postseason that featured all six Original Six teams for the first time since 1996 will culminate with the first Stanley Cup Final featuring Original Six teams since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers in five games.

The Bruins and Blackhawks will meet in the Cup Final for the first time, leaving Blackhawks-Rangers as the only title matchup between NHL founding clubs that has not happened. In fact, the historically sports-mad cities of Chicago and Boston will go head-to-head in a championship final in one of the four major professional sports for only the third time. In 1918, Babe Ruth’s Red Sox defeated the Cubs in six games, and in 1986 (the 1985 season), William “the Refrigerator” Perry and “da Bears” dismantled the Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.

Perhaps neither the Bruins nor the Blackhawks feature such an iconic player as the ’18 Red Sox or ’85 Bears, but both teams experienced iconic Game 7 moments versus Original Six opponents in reaching the Cup Final. Boston rallied from 4-1 down in the final 10:42 to shock Toronto in overtime (Patrice Bergeron) in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, while Chicago rallied from three-games-to one down to eliminate Detroit in overtime (Brent Seabrook). It is believed that two teams as deep as the Bruins and Blackhawks could create the same type of drama.

DID YOU KNOW?

Joel Quenneville (CHI, 84) and Claude Julien (BOS, 52) are the first head coaches with more than 50 postseason wins to go head-to-head in a Stanley Cup Final game since Game 7 of the 1994 meeting between Mike Keenan (NYR, 80) and Pat Quinn (VAN, 50).

“Q” NOT SATISFIED WITH STATUS QUO

The Blackhawks made a dent on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the Western Conference Final series, twice getting four pucks past the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner and sending him to the showers early in Game 2. The reunion of center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane on the top line, with Bryan Bickell on the left side, worked wonders for all three, as they combined for seven goals and eight assists in five games. However, judging by the Hawks’ skate on Tuesday, head coach Joel Quenneville may decide to juggle his top two lines for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, moving wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa up to Toews’ flanks, and bumping Bickell and Kane to the second line outside center Michal Handzus. During media day, Quenneville stated he was looking for “balance” to offset the dominating presence of Zdeno Chara, but that the look could “evolve over the course of the series.”

The bottom two lines could also see slight makeovers, as Brandon Bollig – who has played three games this postseason – is expected to replace Viktor Stalberg on the left wing of the fourth line, while Dave Bolland moves back to the third line alongside Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.

One lineup spot that will not change is goaltender. Corey Crawford, who has won all three Game 1s this postseason while allowing only one goal in each of them, will make his 18th straight start between the pipes for the Blackhawks.

GOALTENDER “TALE OF THE TAPE”

The Stanley Cup Final will feature two goaltenders who have not played in the Cup Final before: Corey Crawford (CHI) and Tuukka Rask (BOS). Rask was the backup to Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ championship run of 2011. Here is a brief look at the goaltender comparison:

TALE OF THE TAPE

Corey Crawford

 

Tuukka Rask

0

Cup Final starts

0

Two or fewer goals allowed in seven of last nine games

Trends

one or fewer goals allowed in last five games (two shutouts)

3-2, 1.49 GAA, .945 save%

Game 1s, career

4-1, 1.64 GAA, .941 save%, shutout

3-0, three goals allowed

Game 1s, 2013

3-0, three goals allowed

1 GP, 0-1, 3 GA, 31-of-34 saves
(Mar. 29, 2011)

Goals: Chara, Boychuk, Horton

vs. opponent, career

1 GP, 0-0, 1 GA, 11-of-12 saves
(Jan. 7, 2010)
Goal: Duncan Keith

JAGR HUNTING FOR ANOTHER TITLE AFTER 21 YEARS

One of the stars of the show on NHL media day was the Bruins’ 41-year-old right winger Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr will make his first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1992, when, as a member of the Penguins, he won his second Cup in successive seasons. The 21-year gap between Cup Finals is the longest interval between championship game or series appearances for an athlete in North American professional sports history.

Jagr came to Boston from the Dallas Stars at the April 3 trade deadline. (He is the only Bruins player who has played against the Blackhawks this season.) The outside consensus was that the 19-year NHL veteran was “Plan B” after a trade to acquire Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames fell through. Jagr scored two goals for the B’s in 11 regular-season games (both game-winners), but has not found the back of the net this postseason, despite playing on a line with playmakers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. (He is currently riding a 25-game goal drought in the postseason, dating back to 2011-12.) However, he has contributed seven assists, including helpers on four of Bergeron’s five goals.

If the Bruins win the Cup, Jagr will join the late Lester Patrick, as the player with the longest gap between pro hockey titles. Patrick, a defenseman by trade, won the Challenge Cup – which became the Stanley Cup in 1915 – with the Montreal Wanderers of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, one of the regional pro hockey leagues that helped form the NHL, in 1906 and 1907. He returned to the Cup final with the Victoria Aristocrats in 1914, but lost to the Toronto Blue Shirts. In 1928, while serving as head coach and general manager of the N.Y. Rangers of the NHL, Patrick replaced injured Lorne Chabot in goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, because teams did not usually suit up backup goaltenders, and the Rangers won the first of two Cups in six seasons under Patrick.

PLAYERS WITH MOST SHOTS THIS POSTSEASON, BUT ZERO GOALS

Player Team Shot attempts Shots on goal Goals
Jaromir Jagr Bruins 82 45* 0
Brandon Saad Blackhawks 57 35 0
Nick Leddy Blackhawks 45 25 0
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks 44 21 0

*Since the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs, only the Carolina Hurricanes’ Joni Pitkanen has registered more shots on goal in an entire postseason without scoring a goal (46). That happened in 2009.

MEDIA DAY QUOTES

“When I had long hair … there were a lot of guys – maybe not that long – but a lot of guys wearing long hair. Now it’s a different style. But it’s going to come back…. 10 years later, you’ll see a lot of guys with long hair.”
Jaromir Jagr

I wore No. 68 when I was playing summer hockey a couple of seasons, I guess. I had his Koho Jagr stick, so I really looked up to him. I was probably 9 or 10, and here I am getting a chance to play against him in the Stanley Cup final.”

Jonathan Toews, on Jagr

“You guys still surprised I am alive? Well, I am. I’m alive.
– Jagr

CONNECTIONS WITH JAGR

  • Michael Frolik (CHI) grew up in Jagr’s hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. There, as he was working his way up through the HC Kladno club system, he became known as “Baby Jagr” … he was Jagr’s teammate on the Czech bronze medal-winning team at the 2011 World Championships
  • Czechs Frolik, Michal Rozsival (CHI), David Krejci and Jagr (BOS), and Slovaks Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus (CHI) and Zdeno Chara (BOS) were all born in united Czechoslovakia.
  • Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook (CHI) & Patrice Bergeron (BOS) are, like Jagr, members of the Triple Gold Club as winners of the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship gold (as members of Team Canada)
  • Jagr and Rozsival (CHI) were teammates on the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-2001), N.Y. Rangers (2005-07) and gold medal-winning Czech Republic at 2010 IIHF World Championships
  • Pittsburgh natives Matt Bartkowski (BOS) and Brandon Saad (CHI) grew up as Penguins fans during Jagr’s 11-year stint (1990-2001) with the team
  • Three active Blackhawks (Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Saad) and three active Bruins (Torey Krug, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton) were not even born when Jagr made his NHL debut (Oct. 5, 1990).

 GOVERNORS SUBSTITUTE FEAST FOR PHILANTHROPY

 Title-game wagers between politicians have become the norm these days, but Governors Pat Quinn (Illinois) and Deval Patrick (Massachusetts) have substituted the usual feasting on local culinary delicacies for philanthropy. Following the outcome of the Blackhawks-Bruins series, the loser will volunteer at a food bank of the winner’s choice. If the Blackhawks win, Patrick (who was born in Chicago) will help out at the Greater Chicago Food Depository; if the Bruins win, Quinn will be at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

 

Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

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‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

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For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.

Penguins, Lightning prepare for the ‘roller coaster’ of Game 7

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby is in no mood to get caught up in his own personal narrative, the one eager to attach whatever happens to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday against Tampa Bay to the superstar’s legacy.

Forget that Crosby has the game-winning goal in each of Pittsburgh’s victories in its entertaining back-and-forth with the resilient Lightning. Forget that he hasn’t been on the winning side of a post-series handshake line this deep into the playoffs since his glorious night in Detroit seven years ago, which ended with him hoisting the Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.

Yes, he’s playing well. Yes, his dazzling, imminently GIF-able sprint through the Tampa Bay zone late in the second period of Game 6 added another signature moment to a career full of them. Yet lifting Pittsburgh back to the Cup final for the first time since 2009 does not rely solely on him so much as the collective effort of all 20 guys in his team’s retro black and Vegas gold uniforms.

Related: Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Depth has carried the Penguins this far. Crosby insists Game 7 will be about the team, not him.

“You give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping it simple and not putting too much emphasis on kind of the story line around it,” Crosby said.

Even if it’s easy to get lost in those story lines. The Lightning are on the verge of a second straight berth in the final despite playing the entire postseason without captain Steven Stamkos and losing Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in the first period of the conference finals when he twisted his left leg awkwardly while scrambling to get into position.

Yet Tampa Bay has stuck around, ceding the ice to the Penguins for significant stretches but using their speed to counterattack brilliantly while relying on 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevski. The Lightning are hardly intimidated by having to go on the road in a series decider. They did it a year ago in the Eastern final against New York, beating the Rangers 2-0 in Madison Square Garden.

“You’ve got to go back to a tough environment, just like the Garden was last year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And you’ve got to have your A-game.”

The Lightning hoped to avoid revisiting this spot. They could have closed out Pittsburgh at home but fell behind by three goals and didn’t recover, fitting for a series that appears to be a coin flip as a whole but not so much night to night. The team that’s scored first is 5-1 and there’s only been a single lead change in 18-plus periods spread out over nearly two weeks: Tyler Johnson‘s deflection in overtime that gave Tampa Bay Game 5.

“You always want to play with the lead, and always the first goal is big,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-0 in Game 7s. “But, again, we were down 2-0 in Game 5 and came back from that. So it’s not cut in stone, the outcome of the game, no matter if you’re down a goal or two.”

Maybe, but it’d be cutting it pretty close. Tampa Bay’s rally in Game 5 was Pittsburgh’s first loss when leading after two periods all year. The Penguins responded by going back to rookie goaltender Matt Murray – who turned 22 on Wednesday – and putting together perhaps their finest hockey of the postseason. Their stars played like stars while Murray performed like a guy a decade older with his name already etched on the Cup a few times.

The Penguins will need to rely on Murray’s precocious maturity if it wants to buck a curious trend that started well before Murray was born. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Game 7 on home ice since Mario Lemieux and company beat New Jersey in the opening round of the 1991 playoffs to escape from a 3-2 series deficit and propel the Penguins to their first championship. The Penguins have dropped five straight winner-take-all matchups since then, including a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round in 2011, a series Pittsburgh played without either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who sat out with injuries.

They’re healthy now and showing extended flashes of the form that seemed to have the Penguins on the brink of a dynasty when they toppled Detroit. And the Lightning, who are 5-1 in Game 7s, are hardly comfortable but hardly intimidated as they play on the road.

“I think it’s a roller coaster,” Cooper said. “But Game 7 is Game 7. There’s no two better words than that.”