Jonathan Toews

Playoffs Tonight: Bruins-Blackhawks – It’s finally time


Chicago Blackhawks host Boston Bruins (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC/Live Extra)

It begins tonight. Everything the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have accomplished up to this point, every win, goal, save, and hit only matters to the extent that it got them this far. One of these teams will be immortalized as champions while the other will only be remembered as the final hurdle that had to be overcome.

We’ve had three off-days in a row and in that time these teams have been scrutinized from every angle, but if you just want the short version, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews summed it up best:

“They have guys all over their lineup, top to bottom, role players, score goals all season, understand what it takes to win. They don’t have a lot of holes in their game. We feel like we’re the same team. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”

Both of these teams have won the Stanley Cup recently, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re desperate want to see their season end in triumph.

MORE: What are the big questions heading into tonight?

“The excitement is there,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told Boston Globe. “You’ve heard people say, ‘Once you’ve been there, you want to go back.’ It’s true, we really want to go back; we made it happen. We’re excited about it and we also know what kind of challenge lies ahead for us. It’s about acknowledging that and being ready for it.”

Plus there are players that are relatively new to their respective clubs or just weren’t able to contribute when the Blackhawks and Bruins previously won it all. Guys like Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who is getting ready for his first Stanley Cup finals game.

“I dreamed about it my whole life,” Crawford said. “Worked hard, so it’s nice to finally get there after all the work. But there’s still a lot to do so we’ve got to be ready.”

Then there is the other thing that’s at stake in this series: Consideration as a dynasty. By the end of this month, Boston will have either won two Cups in the span of three years, or Chicago will have claimed the prize twice in four seasons. While everyone will have their own feelings about what makes a genuine dynasty, that is at very least a big step in that direction.

It’s also incredibly impressive given the degree of parity in the modern NHL. Nine different teams have won the Stanley Cup over the previous nine seasons. One way or another, that streak will end.


Video: PHT Extra – Previewing the Stanley Cup finals

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”