In 16 postseason games this year, Boston Bruins center David Krejci has 21 points. That leads all players in the 2013 playoffs and is just two points fewer than the 2011 postseason-leading mark he made in 25 contests.
That outstanding rate might make it appear that the NHL was scared straight from the lockout that took the “2012” out of the 2012-13 season, much like the league panicked and actually decided to call penalties by the book like officials did in the blessed mirage that was the 2005-06 campaign.
Sadly, that’s not the case; instead, the latest Competition Committee meeting focused on two changes that are painfully obvious to implement (grandfathering in mandatory visors and changing icing so people stop breaking their shins) and one alteration that misses the point in almost a charming way (making goalie equipment smaller).
Instead, Krejci is just having a fantastic run as part of a line that’s easily the best of this playoff campaign (and was likely the top one in 2011 to boot). It even sports the best nickname in ages; it’s hard to top the HuLK* line, isn’t it?
While Chicago vs. Boston is as close to an ideal playoff matchup as it gets - seriously, the league hit the jackpot here, and the ratings might just make the NHL believe that nothing’s wrong - the patterns imply that top players from both squads could have an awful lot of trouble.
Unless you were suspended in hockey carbonite like Han Solo, you’re probably aware that the Bruins shut down the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top players in a downright shocking fashion during the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.
If not, take out that earring for a moment and let’s review, because it’s still pretty stunning to look at the bottom line:
Sidney Crosby: 0 points, -2 rating
Evgeni Malkin: 0 points, -5 rating
Kris Letang: 0 points, -5 rating
James Neal: 0 points, -7 rating
Jarome Iginla: 0 points, -4 rating
Now, I frequently advise against judging any team or player too harshly in a small sample size. Just look at what happened with Phil Kessel earlier this season.
Still, the Bruins deserve a round of applause despite that note. The Penguins out-scored their problems at times lately, particularly in that wildly entertaining series against the New York Islanders, but it’s downright jaw-dropping to hold Pittsburgh to two goals in four highly important contests.
MORE BRUISED BY BRUINS
Perhaps it should ease some of the criticism of Brad Richards (zero points in the second-round series before two games as a healthy scratch) and Rick Nash (one goal and two assists in five games versus Boston)? Well, I'd say it absolves Nash - who looked dangerous quite often - but Richard's one goal and zero assists in 10 postseason games is very difficult to stomach.
By that logic, a tip of the cap is in order to the wounded Toronto Maple Leafs and their suffering fans. James van Riemsdyk going point-per-game (two goals and five assists in seven contests) in that first-round series now seems borderline miraculous.
I mean, sure, any number of factors could help explain the disparity … but let’s give the Buds something to smile about, shall we?**
CLIPPED BY CHICAGO
Many probably aren’t that surprised by the scarce scoring allotted by the Bruins, but the same might not be assumed about the Chicago Blackhawks. Especially since the Blackhawks lost their 2012 first-round skirmish against the Phoenix Coyotes because of occasionally terrible goaltending by Corey Crawford.
Well, Crawford rebounded from what might end up being described as a one-year (sophomore?) slump in 2013. In a way, he has a few things in common with opposing goalie Tuukka Rask, as they’re two guys who burst onto the scene, slipped back out of the spotlight for a season and then suddenly made arguments for elite status.
(It’s not a perfect match as Rask still played very well during Tim Thomas’ final pre-bunker season, but still … )
Whether you give Crawford a lot of credit, assign a lot of it to Duncan Keith’s return to Norris-level work, put it all on high-level puck possession or follow the doctor-recommended path of combining those explanations, the Blackhawks have depleted opposing stars’ resolve in a way that - dare I say it - echoes the Bruins.
FROM HAWKS TO DOVES
Not to inundate you with numbers, but the Blackhawks practically blanked some of the most dangerous (and well-compensated) players in the NHL in the previous three rounds.
While the Minnesota Wild were justly labeled as pushovers, it’s still surprising how ineffective their big-money guys were. Zach Parise mustered a lone point (one goal) while Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu came up empty.
Henrik Zetterberg’s relentless netted him three assists, but he didn’t score a goal against Crawford until the third period of Game 7. Hockey nerd hero Pavel Datsyuk managed a mere goal and an assist in that seven-game nail-biter.
Anze Kopitar scored a goal and an assist as the Kings valiantly - and unsuccessfully - fought against elimination, but he didn’t have a point before Game 5. Drew Doughty went without a point.
This is all a long way of saying: the HuLK line and guys like Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane/etc. might have a tough go of things when the 2013 Stanley Cup finals kick off on Wednesday.
The Blackhawks’ 2010 championship run provides a possible forking path, though: maybe it will come down to supporting cast members … or simply guys who can get away from top shutdown players such as Chara and Keith.
For all the hoopla Toews generated winning the Conn Smythe that year, he was limited to zero goals and three assists against the Philadelphia Flyers in that championship round. Meanwhile, after being frustrated for two pointless games to open the series, Kane set Philly ablaze, scoring three goals (including that now-iconic baffler that won it all) and added five assists in an overwhelming four-game span.
In the end, it might be that Kane/Marian Hossa or Brad Marchand/Nathan Horton does it, or even one of the two teams’ quality depth players who tips the scales.
The Bruins really didn’t allow anyone to score, but much to the chagrin of Jeff Carter haters, the over-hated sniper did a lot of damage for Los Angeles against Chicago. Carter scored a goal and four assists in five games, which isn't half-bad for a player in a tight series. If only the guy had heart, right?
A FEW MORE THOUGHTS ON THE FINALS
I’ve been making playoff picks for a while now, and this is the first time that I didn’t have a strong instinct right away.
Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t have a gut pick (Chicago), but this one was the most baffling so far. Usually there’s confidence behind the blind dart throws, even if occasionally those picks come up lame (thanks a lot Vancouver).
There are a ton of arguments for both sides. In a sport where lucky bounces and a bad week or two means that few picks are TRULY awful (except Minnesota over Chicago this year), it’s still refreshing when two squads seem this nicely matched.
That usually only happens in about half the Western Conference’s series …
* - Horton, u to complete the acronym, Lucic and Krejci, in case you needed help there.
** - Especially since they were - for my Monopoly money - a splendid team to watch from an entertainment perspective. As my weird uncle would say,*** if you love the sport and don’t have a horse in the race, pick the prettiest one.
*** - I totally made this weird uncle up. I do have weird ones, though.
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