Author: Mike Halford

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews

Kane, Toews may have toughest assignment yet in Hedman, Stralman


TAMPA — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have gone up against some pretty formidable defensive pairings in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fitting, because they’re about to face another one — possibly the best so far.

Prior to Wednesday’s series opener, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that Kane and Toews can expect to see a lot of his ace pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman in the coming days.

“Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best players this league has seen in a long time,” Cooper explained. “But we feel Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, we go down our list and think, maybe we’re not too bad ourselves. Let’s prove to everybody you can play against these guys.

“In saying that, they’ll probably see a high dose of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.”

Cooper admitted that while line matching is important, getting the right defensive pair out against forwards is imperative. So it’ll be interesting to see the chess game that unfolds with Kane and Toews — assuming Joel Quenneville keeps the pieces together.

There has been talk of possibly splitting up Kane and Toews, who starred in the Anaheim series while playing together; Toews finished with five goals and two assists, Kane three and four. Quenneville was non-committal about his plans earlier this week — saying “we’ll see” and “it’s nice having some flexibility” — and, of course, his penchant for firing up the ol’ line blender is well-documented.

“Joel changes lines quite a bit,” Cooper noted. “We’ll just have to see how things go, how things start. I can’t predict what he’s going to do.

“I’m fairly certain the lineup he starts with won’t be the lineup he finishes with. He’ll move things around.”

Hedman and Stralman are superior to any of the pairings Anaheim put out in the Western Conference final. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Hedman brings tremendous physicality while the cerebral Stralman, lauded for his ability to read the game, always seems to be in the right position to make a play. Both of their skill sets will come into play if they’re tasked with Toews and Kane, who can beat opponents in a variety of ways.

“Their hockey IQ is combined as good as they come,” veteran Bolts forward Brenden Morrow said. “You put them together, they’re pretty tough. [Toews] wins all his one on one battles, and Kane is the setup guy, playmaker with quick hands.

“They’re both tough to contain as individuals, but you put them together, that makes it that much tougher.”

Coyotes’ Bolduc signs in KHL

Detroit Red Wings v Arizona Coyotes
1 Comment

Veteran forward Alexander Bolduc has signed with KHL club Traktor, the team announced on Wednesday.

Bolduc, 29, has spent the last four seasons with the Coyotes organization, shuttling between the parent club and its AHL affiliate. Last year he appeared in three games for Arizona, but failed to register a point.

Taken by St. Louis in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, Bolduc has played in 65 career NHL games and had his best spell with Vancouver during the 2010-11 campaign, posting career highs across the board while appearing in three games en route to the team’s Stanley Cup Final appearance.

PHT’s Stanley Cup Final picks, once again featuring The Coin


If you’re still not familiar with The Coin thing — a 1972 Eisenhower Dollar that we used in the opening three rounds — click here to get up to speed (and bask in all its coinly glow.)

The Coin continued its dominance in the conference finals, accurately predicting that the Bolts and ‘Hawks would advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Coin improved to 10-4 overall this postseason. Other staff members (of the animate variety) to pick Tampa Bay-Chicago were Brough, Dadoun, Tucker and O’Brien. That leaves our records at:

Jason Brough: 9-5
Mike Halford: 8-6
Ryan Dadoun: 10-4
James O’Brien: 10-4
Cam Tucker: 11-3
Dhiren Mahiban: 9-5

Onto the Final…

Brough: Bolts in 7 (Preseason pick: Tampa Bay)

Easy pick for me. I chose the Lightning in October, and I don’t see any reason to abandon them now. Okay, maybe I see one reason: the Blackhawks. That’s a pretty good team they’ve got in Chicago. And I guess I haven’t been entirely impressed with the Lightning, who’ve been blown out four times at home in these playoffs and were, frankly, lucky to escape the first round. So that’s two reasons. But I’m a stubborn man and I truly do believe the Lightning have all the necessary pieces to upset the favored ‘Hawks.

Halford: Bolts in 7 (Preseason pick: Pittsburgh)

While I love a good narrative, I’m not fully buying into the “inexperienced Bolts will eventually succumb to the veteran Blackhawks” thing. Why? Well, a big part of the reason Tampa Bay’s here is because its young guys have defied expectations, and achieved success quicker than expected — including the coach (five years ago, Jon Cooper was in the USHL finals.) Tampa’s passed every test this postseason, including a historic win at MSG in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. The Bolt are skilled, they’re fast, they’re deep and, as the first three rounds have shown, they’re ready.

O’Brien: ‘Hawks in 6 (Preseason pick: Chicago)

Remember when the Islanders beat the Gretzky Oilers back in the 80’s, and “The Great One” remarked about the beat-up dynasty members icing themselves in the locker room rather than spraying each other with champagne after besting them for the Cup? This will be a modern version of that series: the Blackhawks will teach the Lightning how to win. Also: when in doubt, choose the West over the East.

Dadoun: ‘Hawks in 7 (Preseason pick: St. Louis)

Chicago doesn’t have the best goaltender in the NHL, but neither does Tampa Bay and at least Corey Crawford is more thoroughly battle tested. The Blackhawks’ bottom-two defensemen are questionable, but with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading the charge, they don’t necessary need to be deep to outplay the Lightning. Tampa Bay has plenty of offensive weapons, but Chicago has more proven big-game forwards.

Tucker: ‘Hawks in 6 (Preseason pick: Chicago)

The Tampa Bay Lightning have proven to be an exciting group with a promising future. But they’re facing a Blackhawks team that’s loaded with Stanley Cup champions, led by Jonathan Toews, who had his best moments in these playoffs when it mattered most in the Western Conference Final. Both Ben Bishop and Corey Crawford have gone through ups and downs in these playoffs, but Crawford has settled into a groove after the opening round, while Bishop’s struggles are more recent, and against a goal-strapped New York team. And the Blackhawks have a decidedly more dangerous lineup than the one Bishop faced against the Rangers.

Mahiban: ‘Hawks in 7 (Preseason pick: Chicago)

Chicago’s experience will prevail over the youth and inexperience of Tampa. The Blackhawks’ core pieces know what it takes to win at this time of year. The Bolts, meanwhile, are reminiscent of the 2008 Penguins when a young Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup final only to lose to Detroit. The experience served the Pens’ young core well as they made it back to the big dance a year later, topping the Wings.

Coin: ‘Hawks

/drops mic

Prized Gophers d-man Reilly to meet with teams at combine (Updated)

2014 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Semifinals

Here’s the latest on collegiate standout and former Columbus property Mike Reilly, who’s set to test free agent waters after balking on signing with the Blue Jackets:

Reilly, 21, is a pretty hot commodity. He was a Hobey Baker candidate and two-time All-American that, this season, became the first d-man in nearly 20 years to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring. Last month, he announced he was leaving the University of Minnesota and upped his professional stock by representing Team USA at the Worlds, where he appeared in all 10 games and helped the Americans capture bronze.

Taken by Columbus in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Reilly is following in the footsteps of former Boston College product Kevin Hayes. Hayes, taken in the first round by Chicago in 2010, passed on joining the Blackhawks to become an unrestricted free agent, and quickly signed with the Rangers.

Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen tried to sign Reilly repeatedly throughout the last year and, upon trading d-man James Wisniewski at the deadline, said the move opened up a spot for Reilly at the NHL level. But the wooing didn’t work — it always felt as though Reilly was going to go UFA, regardless of the situation in Columbus.

It’ll be interesting to see which teams Reilly speaks with at the combine. His dad, also named Mike, is a minority owner of the Minnesota Wild, which has led to speculation the younger Reilly could opt to sign with his hometown team.

Update: Interesting bit here, from the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo…

From everybody I have talked to, I believe that as of right now the Blackhawks are the frontrunners.

As I wrote last week, there are entry-level parameters, so it’s not like any team can sweeten offers. This will come down to which team sells their program best to Reilly and where he sees the best fit and clearest path to the NHL.

The Blackhawks could be selling to the left-shot, mobile Reilly that he’s the eventual Nick Leddy replacement.

Goalless Bickell hopes he’s ‘been saving them’ for Stanley Cup Final

Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus

TAMPA — The last two postseasons have been pretty, pretty good for Bryan Bickell.

But this year?

Not so much.

The burly power forward has no goals — zero, zilch, nada — after scoring 16 in the previous two playoffs combined, and scoring them consistently; last year, Bickell scored at least one in each of Chicago’s three series and, the year prior, scored three against the Wild, two against the Red Wings, three against the Kings and one (fairly famous one) against the Bruins.

But this spring, nothing. It’s something he wants to change.

“It’s nice to score a goal every once in a while,” Bickell said during Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Final Media Day. “Hopefully I’ve been saving them for this round.”

In the second of a four-year, $16 million deal, Bickell netted that contract — and his $4M average annual salary — largely because of his strong postseason efforts, which allowed fans and media to overlook his routinely pedestrian regular-season efforts. The thinking was that Bickell always showed up in the playoffs, and Chicago would always make them, so all good.

Well, maybe not all good.

Bickell was a healthy scratch on a few occasions this year, an indication that head coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t content to let the 6-foot-4, 223-pounder wait ’til April to start playing. But it was also indicative of the coach understanding what buttons to push; in the aftermath, Bickell acknowledged he occasionally needs motivation, saying the healthy scratch provided a spark. Quenneville admitted it was a tried-and-true tactic.

“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “Whether you get their attention or you think they’re going to be better … you want to give yourself a chance to win the next hockey game.”

Unfortunately for both, the tactic isn’t a logical move right now, what with (at most) seven games left in the year. So Bickell and Quenneville will instead rely on repeating the power forward’s mantra:

Use your size, use your body.

“[I have to] do what I’ve been doing the first couple rounds,” Bickell said. “To be physical, to wear down their down D, to get my centerman and winger more space.

“All the pieces are coming together to get to this point as team, and we’re getting our wins. Ultimately, we’re four wins away from winning again.”