Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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Consider this a motivational tool for all 16 of the NHL’s playoff teams. Prove us wrong, teams. Prove…us…wrong.

New York Islanders. We’ve got a small, but loyal band of Isles fans who comment regularly on PHT. All year they’ve been talking a big game, saying how nobody should be surprised that this team is in playoff contention. Newsflash: the New York Islanders have missed the playoffs every year since 2007. They haven’t been past the first round since 1993. They’re run on a shoe-string because they play in a dump. They trade for guys who aren’t even playing to get the cap hit. They pick up every third scrub who’s put on waivers. Yes, how outrageous for anyone to doubt the mighty Islanders. John Tavares is pretty good, so they might win a game against the Penguins.

Minnesota Wild. Came oh-so-close to a choke for the ages, but pulled it out of the fire by barely beating a dysfunctional Colorado team that’s probably in the buffet line at the Luxor as you read this. Congratulations! The Wild were terrible down the stretch. They went 5-8-2 in April, with four of their victories coming over non-playoff teams. It’s actually sort of impressive that the Wild can ring up such a huge payroll and you still look at their defense and shake your head. Poor Ryan Suter was forced to play 32:54 against the Avs. These guys have no shot against the Blackhawks. None.

Toronto Maple Leafs. The worst team to make the playoffs. And in a related story, quite possibly the luckiest. The Leafs won two games this season with just 13 shots. On average, they were outshot by six shots per game, by far the worst differential of any of the other 15 playoff teams. If it weren’t for James Reimer, they’d be saved the embarrassment of getting blown away by the Bruins. The other day, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said his team is at its best when it gets over 50 hits in a game. Because actually possessing the puck isn’t important, apparently.

Ottawa Senators. Credit where credit’s due. The Sens did extremely well to make the playoffs given the injuries they had to contend with. And now that Erik Karlsson is back…well, actually, they’re still screwed. You cannot win the Stanley Cup with an offense that ranks 27th out of 30 teams. And remember, the Sens couldn’t score last year either, so you can’t just chalk up this year to injuries. One more thing: since Craig Anderson returned, he’s been nowhere near as good as he was early this season. Mostly because no goalie alive could sustain that level of play.

Detroit Red Wings. It’s kind of cruel the way Mike Babcock has Wings fans feeling good about the defense again, because it’s only going to lead to disappointment. Remember the way Flyers fans convinced themselves everything would be OK without Chris Pronger? “We’ve got Nicklas Grossmann now!” Yeah, how’d that work out? You do not lose Nicklas Lidstrom, bring in a bunch of youngsters and remain a Stanley Cup contender. There’s nothing wrong with what the Wings are doing. It’s their only option. They just have no shot at winning right now, that’s all.

New York Rangers. Did any team do less with more in the regular season? On paper, the Rangers have a pretty good team. On the ice, they have a pretty average team. Or maybe it’s just a team that’s absolutely terrified to make any mistakes because of its coach. To be fair, New York has been decent down the stretch, but everyone knows what’s coming: John Tortorella will play his best players to the point of exhaustion because he doesn’t trust his lesser guys. And then, when the Rangers are eliminated, he’ll say fatigue was never a factor, as Dan Girardi falls apart like the Bluesmobile.

The blues brothers car collapse - Created at yt2gif.com

San Jose Sharks. This will be their ninth straight postseason appearance. Not once have they made it past the conference finals. Why should it be any different in 2013? Tear down this team, Mr. Gorbachev.

Washington Capitals. Did you hear? The old Caps are back! Running and gunning, racking up pretty goals on the power play, and rolling through the regular season. That Alex Ovechkin sure loves to score. What a treat to watch. Um, everyone remembers the old Caps always choked in the playoffs, right? Not to mention, the old/new Caps got 15 of their 27 wins against Southeast Division opponents, none of which made the playoffs. Can’t wait for the “we’ve just got to learn to play the right way” comments in a couple of weeks.

Vancouver Canucks. It was so cute when they beat the Blackhawks last week and everyone in the city thought it meant something. Sorry, but this team is still broken from 2011. Whatever mojo it ever had, the Boston Bruins stole. Fast forward two years and the Canucks finished the regular season with the 19th-ranked offense. Recently, they even had the audacity to suggest they don’t try to score as much anymore. Nope, no more “blowing the zone” for these defensively responsible guys. Do people buy these excuses? God help them if Roberto “Hey coach, I’m kinda getting torched out here” Luongo has to start. At this point, Cory Schneider – he of the “body” injury and four career playoff starts – is their only hope.

St. Louis Blues. That some fans were scared of their team facing the Blues is absolutely hilarious. Fun fact: St. Louis scored 22 goals in its last 12 games of the season. Six of them came against the Avs, four on the Flames, and three on the Rockford IceHogs. What a terrifying team, indeed. The Blues are also going into the playoffs with Brian Elliott as their starting goalie. Which, on second thought, may explain why they play so conservatively. Elliott’s career save percentage in the playoffs is .887.

Boston Bruins. Take it away Shawn Thornton: “I’m a little sick of talking about two years ago. That was a long time ago. It’s a new team. It’s a new chapter. Just because we accomplished something two years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to be automatic.” No, it doesn’t. Especially considering the B’s enter the playoffs with just two wins in their last eight games. They look either tired or indifferent; probably, it’s both. And oh yeah, they don’t have Tim Thomas anymore. It’s almost like some people have forgotten how good he was in 2011. Yeah, yeah, his politics aren’t for everyone, but without Thomas, Boston doesn’t even get out of the first round that year. (Also, the power play still stinks.)

Montreal Canadiens. In case you missed it, Carey Price had kind of a bad April. On one occasion, he was pulled after surrendering three goals on four shots against Toronto. On another, he let in six goals against the Flyers. There were other bad games, too. When the regular season came mercifully to an end, Price had registered an .876 save percentage for the month and Habs fans were in a complete and totally justified panic. “Quite honestly, I like the way Carey Price has been playing this week,” Habs coach Michel Therrien said Saturday, just to lighten the mood and give everyone a good chuckle. Price’s play wouldn’t be such a concern if goaltending was the Canadiens’ only issue. Except it’s not. The forwards are still too small, the team is shorthanded all the time, and defenseman Andrei Markov looks 54, not 34.

Anaheim Ducks. The fact this team started the season 22-3-4 is testament to the role that luck plays in hockey. The fact it finished 8-9-2 in its last 19 is proof that luck eventually runs out. Bottom line: the Ducks are an average team. Early on, they scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games, but it wasn’t because they were dominating their opposition – the pucks were just going in. Seven goals on 26 shots against Vancouver. Seven goals on 25 shots against Los Angeles. Five goals on 23 shots against St. Louis. It wasn’t sustainable. And neither are the Ducks in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings. Speaking of luck, let’s talk about quite possibly the luckiest Stanley Cup champion ever. Because this isn’t talked about enough. Here’s what the Kings had to do last year: Finish eighth in the Western Conference. Beat a basket-case Canucks team without Daniel Sedin. Beat an inexperienced Blues side with no Jaroslav Halak and a banged-up Alex Pietrangelo. Beat Phoenix…which was Phoenix. And beat New Jersey…which was New Jersey. In case you missed it, the Coyotes and Devils didn’t even make the playoffs this year. No, it wasn’t the Kings’ fault they got such an easy draw. But they probably shouldn’t expect the sea to part like that again. And even if it does, Jonathan Quick has been downright mediocre.

source: Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins. The forwards are good; we’ll give them that. The defense and goaltending? Still highly suspect. As well as the Pens have played defensively at times this season (and we stress the phrase “at times”), you simply cannot ignore last year’s loss to the Flyers when the Pens surrendered 30 goals in six games. That’s not just bad – that’s horrendous. Kris Letang leads Pittsburgh on the back end, and his stat line (5 G, 33 A) is impressive. But what percentage of his production is a product of the forwards he gets to pass the puck to? Would anyone put him in the elite shutdown category? Then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury and his .904 playoff save percentage. In fact, Fleury has had a sub-.900 save percentage in each of his last three postseasons, bottoming out last year at a shocking .834 versus the Flyers. Oh, and has anyone noticed the Penguins are always getting hurt.

Chicago Blackhawks. It’s not easy thinking up bulletin-board material for a team that went 36-7-5 and won the Presidents’ Trophy by five points in a shortened season. But there’s a reason the regular season’s best team usually doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, and the reason is this: there are 15 other teams trying to win it, too. Obviously, you need the right players. But you also need a few breaks along the way. Let’s put it another way: Suppose we were to give the Blackhawks a 90 percent chance to beat the Wild, an 80 percent chance to win the second round, a 70 percent chance to win the conference finals  and a 60 percent chance to win the finals. That’s actually pretty generous, given the specter of injuries and the fact Michal Handzus is their second-line center. Multiply those four percentages and the ‘Hawks have a 30 percent chance of winning the Cup, meaning there’s a 70 percent chance one of the 15 other teams somehow flukes their way to a title like the Kings did.

Finland defeats Canada for gold at IIHF World Championship

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Marko Anttila helped lead Finland to its third world hockey title, scoring the tying and go-ahead goals in a 3-1 victory over Canada on Sunday.

Anttila tied it at 1 on a power play early in the second period and the Finnish captain made it 2-1 early in the third. Harri Pesonen added an insurance goal with five minutes to play.

Kevin Lankinen made 42 saves for Finland, allowing only Shea Theodore‘s first-period goal.

Matt Murray stopped 19 shots for Canada.

Anttila also scored Saturday in Finland’s 1-0 victory over Russia. The Finns knocked off two-time defending champion from Sweden in the quarterfinal. Draft-eligible Kaapo Kakko led the team with six goals.

Finland also won titles in 1995 in Sweden and 2011 in Bratislava.

Earlier, Russia beat the Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout for third place. Russia was outshot 50-30 through 70 minutes of play, including 10 minutes of sudden-death 3-on-3 overtime, then outscored the Czech Republic 2-0 in the shootout on goals from Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev.

Unflappable Binnington won’t be affected by Stanley Cup spotlight

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BOSTON — The question was delivered after a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in February — a victory that came after the St. Louis Blues’ saw their 11-game win streak snapped a few nights earlier.

The Blues has just played their ninth game of the month that finished within two goals. They were in the middle of turning around their season and the backbone for the change in fortune was a 25-year-old rookie goaltender who hadn’t made an NHL start until this past January. All those tight hockey games surely had to have brought out a few nerves in Jordan Binnington, right?

“Do I look nervous?”

“No.”

“There’s your answer.”

That line was put on a t-shirt, which has sold throughout St. Louis since, with even some of Binnington’s family members grabbing a few. 

That win came in Binnington’s 18th career NHL start. But way before that game at the end of February, his teammates already knew that he was pretty unflappable.

“It’s just how he is,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo during Stanley Cup Final Media Day. “He’s pretty quiet. He just goes about his business. That quote’s obviously funny but every day he just shows up, does what he has to do. For us, it’s enjoyable when he does stuff like that because we get a kick out of it.”

The quiet confidence that Binnington possesses has been an integral part in helping get the Blues to within four wins of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Even after defeats, that memory is erased from his head and he’s looking forward as “don’t look back” is a big mantra with head coach Craig Berube. The same can be said for his goaltender, who has only lost consecutive starts twice this season, both coming in the playoffs.

“If you want to be successful, you want to have that demeanor, you can’t let things affect you and nothing seems to bother him,” Pietrangelo added.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Binnington even has a tie to the Bruins organization after having been loaned to their minor league affiliate in Providence last season since the Blues didn’t have their own AHL team. While sharing one with the Colorado Avalanche, general manager Doug Armstrong was allowed to place one goaltender with the AHL team in San Antonio. That goalie ended up being Ville Husso. Armstrong then alerted his fellow GMs that if anyone was looking for an experience netminder on loan, Binnington, who rejected a move to the ECHL, was available. That’s when Bruins GM Don Sweeney reached out and a deal was made.

Binnington played 28 games last season in Providence and three more in the Calder Cup playoffs.

“They were nothing but good to me,” Binnington said of AHL Providence. “The Boston Bruins prospects are in good hands, I can tell you that. It was a great city and I’m very fortunate they took me in. Met a lot of good people.”

“It would be disingenuous to say that this was all part of the master plan, bring him in January and be here today,” said Armstrong. “But what he did do is he never quit on himself and that’s what I take away.”

After that experience, Binnington still had to continue fighting for a place in the NHL. He began the 2018-19 season in San Antonio and waited for his opportunity. 

It took 164 AHL and 40 ECHL games, but his chance came in January as starter Jake Allen continued to struggle. A 2-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers was not only the birth of the team’s victory anthem — Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” — but also Binnington usurping the No. 1 job, reaching the Cup Final, becoming a 2019 Calder Trophy finalist, and him likely cashing in this summer as he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1.

All that time waiting for an opportunity didn’t damper Binnington’s confidence.

“I realized a couple years ago I was in a situation where my back was against the wall,” Binnington said. “Got to handle it right, and I’ve just had this belief and hunger in myself to be the best I can be and make the most of my talent. I’m very fortunate to be coming to a team like this and it’s been a pretty special season so far.”

Binnington’s teammates have enjoyed being up close to witnessing his journey over the past four months. Who knew that night in Philadelphia in early January would lead to this? 

The 49 starts since have prepared Binnington for this moment as his team plays on the biggest stage. Some players who have never played in a Cup Final might be feeling the butterflies right now, but to Binnington it’s just another series. There’s no spotlight big enough that will made him prepare and execute his game any differently.

“I think that’s where experience comes in and you learn that confidence comes from preparation,” he said. “You want to be prepared for anything that’s thrown at you and that’s kind of the way I look at my life now and hockey specifically. I think that’s an important way to look at it.”

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
Who has better goaltending?
Who has the better special teams?
X-factors for Bruins, Blues

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bruins fan Matt Damon wowed by Stanley Cup

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When you think of Matt Damon’s connection to Boston, you’re most likely going to recall “Good Will Hunting,” and maybe make some bad jokes about apples and/or Ben Affleck. If forced to make a Boston sports connection, there’s likely the urge to compare him to Tom Brady, his occasional lookalike.*

Apparently Damon is also a Boston Bruins fan, or at least he came off as a one in the video above. If nothing else, he’s impressed by the sight of the Stanley Cup, which qualifies him as “human.” Damon was presented with the Stanley Cup while he was on hand for the Indy 500, which is airing on NBC (stream here).

There’s some good stuff as Damon explains that he was in Vancouver right after the town, um, handled the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup win poorly; Damon said he was going to work, which is hilarious and adorable. There’s also some old-school Stanley Cup trivia in the video, so that should be fun to watch even if you’re not a Damon fan.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final takes place between the Bruins and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET on Monday on NBC. Click here for the full TV info.

* – Dangerous observation: Damon kinda sorta looks like Sidney Crosby from certain angles, doesn’t he? /ducks

OK, maybe that comparison is a stretch. But Damon’s looking a bit less like Brady these days, right?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better special teams?
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Marchand says left hand is ‘good’ heading into Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — Bruins winger Brad Marchand says his left hand is fine heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

He sat out Boston’s practice Sunday after being given a ”maintenance day” by coach Bruce Cassidy. But Marchand showed no visible signs of discomfort and didn’t wear any braces on his hand as he met with reporters.

”I just told Butchy I wanted a day off. I’ve had enough of practicing,” Marchand said with a smile when asked about his status for Game 1 on Monday night. ”I’m good.”

Cassidy echoed Marchand’s assessment, saying ”he’ll be ready to go.”

Marchand tweaked his hand during the Bruins’ intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday when he bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net. Sunday was the first practice Marchand’s missed since the Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes on May 16 to advance to the Cup Final.

Marchand is Boston’s leading scorer in the playoffs with 18 points (seven goals and 11 assists). He had 100 points (36 goals and 64 assists) during the regular season.

He says that bumps and bruises are simply part of the game at this time of the season and is nothing he is getting worked up about.

”There’s always things that come in. Guys get hurt in practice and stuff like that,” Marchand said. ”But I think we’re feeling pretty good in the room. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. You play with what you have and you play as healthy or unhealthy as you are this time of year. At the end of the day there’s no excuses. . They have guys that are banged up, too.”

This will be the third Stanley Cup Final for Marchand. He was 22 years old in 2011 and in his second NHL season when Boston beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the franchise’s sixth championship. But he said the Bruins’ 2013 Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks sticks with him more.

”It was devastating,” Marchand said. ”It still hurts to this day. I probably look back more on the loss and what I would do differently, than the win. You lose something like this, you’re a lot closer with the hurt. It never leaves you. Hopefully we don’t feel that again.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower