Author: NBC Sports

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Can the Hawks afford to lose tonight?

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Wachovia2.jpgThis is one that the Philadelphia Flyers have to win. Obviously.

is this a game that the Chicago Blackhawks can afford to lose?

first thought is that these teams have been so good at home in this
series that it’s very likely the Flyers win tonight. Going to Game 7,
however, won’t be all that horrible for the Hawks considering just how
well they’ve played at the United Center. A loss tonight won’t be the
end of the world, especially considering the struggles of the Flyers in

Of course, logic and wisdom say otherwise.

While it
would be great to see the Hawks hoist the Cup in front of the home
crowd, you know that’s not exactly what they would prefer to do. When
you are facing the Philadelphia Flyers, conventional wisdom says to
never, ever give them another chance.

Losing tonight at the
Wachovia Center would do just that. Forget that the Hawks have yet to
lose in this series at home; we’re talking about one of the most
resilient teams in the NHL, perhaps one of the most resilient we’ve seen
in a very long time. Giving the Flyers a shot to win the series is
asking for a world of hurt.

The Flyers are always at their best
when their backs are against the wall. The team finds a way to buckle
down, to get charged up in front of their own fans and find a way to win
against a superior and more talented opponent. Is that the sort of team
you allow to head back to Chicago with a chance to actually win the
Stanley Cup?

The Flyers have already won a Game 7, doing so in
historic fashion. I’d be wary, if I were the Hawks. Win this now, on the
road, and never allow this team another chance to beat you.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Who is the new Conn Smythe favorite?


Duncan Keith.jpgBefore this series started, I felt that the obvious early choices for
the Conn Smythe resided with the Blackhawks in Jonathan Toews and Antti
Niemi. After five games, it’s tough to include those two in the

Niemi hasn’t played poorly, but after two strong
games to start the finals hasn’t exactly been as good as in previous
rounds. Jonathan Toews, after having a point in nearly every postseason
game for the Blackhawks headed into the finals, has struggled mightily
against the Flyers.

So if it’s not Toews and it’s Niemi, who
then? James and I set out to discuss our favorites for the award and
what was really odd, in a series that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s
great defense, two defensemen have risen to the top of the

James: Chris Pronger

the Flyers win the Cup or not, Chris Pronger is the most valuable
player of this year’s playoffs.

Rather than just picking the most
productive player on the Cup-winning team, I think it’s wiser for a
voter to simply close his or her eyes and ask this question: “If you
could pick any player from the finalists to lead your team to victory,
who would it be?” Unless you’re so hateful toward the often-dirty (or if
we want to be politically correct, “rule-bending”) defenseman, is there
really any way you could say that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in
the Cup finals without Pronger?

He leads the playoffs in time on
ice per game by almost a full minute with a stunning 29:01 per game,
which accounts for almost half a contest. His 17 points would be a solid
output for a forward and it leads all blueliners in the postseason. He
kills nearly two penalties worth of time per night (3:57) yet is also a
force on the point with an average of 4:27 of powerplay time per game.

it’s not the numbers that make him the greatest candidate, but rather
the psychological effects of his presence. From his smack-talking, to
his gigantic hits and even the juvenile puck stealing antics, his shadow
looms over every game both literally and figuratively. Want the best
reason why the team stayed alive while their goalies went down like
flies? It’s easy: because they have Chris Pronger, the guy who almost
helped Jussi freaking Markkanen win a Stanley Cup.

Finally, as
much as he’s worthy of karmic comeuppance, Pronger is also flat-out
overdue for a Conn Smythe Trophy. In my mind, he should already be a
two-time winner. He did everything for that Edmonton Oilers team … he
even scored a penalty shot goal. While the Anaheim Ducks got by without
him when he was suspended, Pronger set the tone for that brutal bunch
and promoted them from a solid playoff team to a dominant, terrifying

So, instead of throwing a dart at the Chicago Blackhawks
roster or a list of high-scoring Philadelphia Flyers forwards, just make
the obvious – if unpopular – choice. Pronger is the most valuable
player of these playoffs, even if he may also be the most volatile and

Brandon: Duncan Keith

The numbers
are certainly there. 16 points in 21 games, over 27 minutes of ice time a
night, plus-3 for the postseason. But picking Keith isn’t about stats
or numbers, it’s about what you see on the ice while watching him play.

had the chance to see both games in Philadelphia in person and while
neither went well for the Hawks I walked away with a completely
different view on Duncan Keith as a hockey player. I always knew he was
great, I always knew he was one of the best but I still don’t think I
realized just how magical he really is.

Watching in person I was
able to focus on Keith and not have to follow the puck and it was tough
to find a flaw in his game. He’s in nearly the perfect position every
single time he’s on the ice and there is rarely a wasted movement when
he’s playing. Seeing the way he was able to close in on a loose puck,
beating a Flyers player to a spot and making the perfect play on the
puck to stop a scoring chance was just jaw-dropping to witness.

does this have to do with the Conn Smythe? For one, he’s the anchor on
an extremely talented blue line and while the rest of his team has
faltered at times against Philly he’s always been a rock. His play never
dropped off and when the Hawks were desperately trying to win two close
games he was the one that was pushing his team forward. He may not have
been successful, but when the rest of his team was struggling he was
the one that found a way to take his game to the next level.

may not be as outspoken as Chris Pronger nor as charismatic off the ice,
but he knows how to take care of business when needed. He’s the most
important player on a team poised to win the Stanley Cup, which is
generally the definition of an MVP. He has not taken a penalty in six
games, despite playing against a very physical and speedy opponent. He
finds a way to make the perfect play nearly every chance he gets, and he
is the steadying force that has led the Hawks to this moment tonight.


I’m running this show, and since I believe the Hawks will find a way to
win tonight, then we’re going with Duncan Keith for the Conn Smythe.

Sabres halt contract talks with Zack Kassian

Kassian.jpgAccording to The Buffalo News, the Buffalo Sabres have decided to
stop talks with 2009 first round draft pick Zack Kassian, after last
week’s news broke that Kassian had been arrested for assault outside a
bar. Says
GM Darcy Regier, courtesy of John Vogl:

“It’s obviously not something we condone,” Regier said. “It’s
unfortunate. I happen to
believe Zack’s a good kid. He just put himself in a position that going
forward you can’t put
yourself in those types of positions. It’s a learning process.

“It obviously, by his own admission, wasn’t a smart thing for him to do.
It caught a wave.
They won the Memorial Cup. He was out with some of his [Windsor]
teammates, and he’s the big
guy there, getting challenged and egged on, and those are things you
have to learn to walk
away from. You’re not on the ice. You can’t take that position.

“We’re going to continue to work with him. I told him that on one hand
there’s no way we’re
going to abandon him, we’re going to help him, but he’s got some work to
do on the other

Kassian was a highly regard prospect last summer, after putting up 24
goals and 63 points for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. His
combination of size (6-3, 215) and scoring and playmaking ability,
especially as a right hander, had him very high on many scouts’ draft
charts. He eventually went 13th overall to the Sabres.

He’s been in trouble a few times this season, however, and scored
just 12 goals and 31 points this past season between Peterborough and
the Windsor Spitfires. He was in trouble with his team after missing
curfew and was suspended 20 games by the OHL for a dangerous hit.

With this latest transgression, combined with his drop off in
production, it’s perfectly understandable that the Sabres would hold off
on giving Kassian an entry-level contract. He still has one year of
eligibility left with the OHL, and there is no rush to get him signed
right away.

Of course, he could get things figured out this summer and lead the
OHL is scoring next season. Then the Sabres might not get the deal they
would be certain to get now.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5: How to get Toews and Kane productive

Kane2.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Series tied 1-1

8:00 p.m.
EDT, Sunday, June 6, 2010

Live on NBC

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have one heck of a frustrating

This was supposed to be the moment they shined, this what they have
so worked so hard to achieve. They are still very, very young but there
is no guarantee that they’ll ever have this chance again. That they are
here now and playing the worst they’ve played in a very long time is
extremely surprising.

It’s not just a matter of Toews and Kane under-performing. You have
to give credit to the Philadelphia Flyers for doing their part to stop
the high powered offense of the Hawks’ top line; what was supposed to be
a legendary matchup has fizzled into a one-way domination.

You have to put some of the blame squarely on Joel Quenneville’s
shoulders as well, as he’s stubbornly stuck with the top line all
through their struggles of three and a half games. He only resorted to
changing up things up when the Hawks were backed up against the wall,
facing a 4-1 deficit late in the third period of Game 4.

I can understand Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness.

After all, they’ve been so successful all season and for the entire
run of the playoffs and there’s no way that Patrick Kane and Jonathan
Toews would continue to struggle together. Yet for the first three
games, the top line of Kane, Toews and Byfuglien weren’t just
ineffective — they were downright bad.

Of course, Quenneville wasn’t very revealing about his thought
process behind the changes in the third period.

“Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it’s a matchup
or get some energy going in the lines,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t
like some things. Sometimes you try some things. I thought the energy

Quenneville started off by taking Dustin Byfuglien of the top line
with Toews and Kane and placing him on a bigger line with Andrew Ladd.
Once the Hawks started to roll in the third period, and once they were
able to put together three effective lines, then the Flyers started to
have all sorts of issues with the Hawks’ attack.

Until the third period, the Blackhawks had become a very stale
offensive team. Sure, there were goals being scored but this was far
from the Chicago team we thought we knew. A lot of the credit has to go
to the Flyers, who have done a tremendous job of shutting down the top
line of the Blackhawks all series long.

“[Carle and Pronger] have done a tremendous job, not just tonight
and not just this series but throughout the playoffs,” Danny Briere
said after Game 4 when asked about the Flyers defensemen. “Every team
we’ve played they’ve seemed to shut down their top guys. But we can’t
forget that Chicago also has a lot of firepower.”

Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were easily the best forwards on the
ice for the Blackhawks tonight, and Quenneville was able to start
getting them space as well when he changed the lines up and spread out
the attack a bit. With Pronger and Matt Carle doing such a good job of
shutting down Toews, the Flyers were also able to take adavantage of
their shortcomings on defense.

It’s incredibly odd to keep writing this, but the player that was so
good for the Hawks in the first three rounds and the player many
considered the favorite for the Conn Smythe has struggled mightily
against the Flyers. Kane and Toews were a combined minus-6 last night,
and it wasn’t until Quenneville finally broke them up that we started to
see some effectiveness from the two.

So the question is, will we see these changes continue? After the
game Danny Briere and Simon Gagne both acknowledged that the Flyers had
trouble adjusting to the changes the Blackhawks had made in the third
period. Obviously, Quenneville isn’t going to do the exact same thing
that worked at the end but you have to think that Toews and Kane need
to continue to be split up going forward.

With Chicago headed back home, and knowing the history of this team,
then I would venture we’ll see the two right back together to start
Game 5. However, there’s a good chance that if they start to struggle
again and the Hawks have issue rolling out a consistent three-line
attack, that Quenneville won’t hesitate to move them around again. Of
course, it’s much easier to work on those changes in practice than it
is to change on the fly in the middle of a game.

Of course, after today’s skate Quenneville hinted that they might be
switching things up. Toews and Kane were skating together with Byfuglien
like normal, but some felt that it was just a ploy to not giveaway
their plans. Quenneville wouldn’t rule out any adjustments that might be
made during the game.

“I think the last couple of games we’ve always gone along here maybe
making some adjustments based on how we’re playing or what we like and
what we don’t like.”

“But I think we have a lot of options as far
as moving guys in and out and around in our lineup. I think tonight
we’ll look at doing what we think is best.”

If Quenneville is smart, if he truly is the coach to lead the
Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, then he won’t shy away from the changes
that need to be made and proved effective in Game 4.