Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
One of the things that has been said repeatedly during these Western Conference Final games is that it feels like this is the Cup Final itself. And it's true.
The quality of hockey has been so high, in general, that one must imagine the sport's inventors smiling as they watch. Two teams of considerable depth which specialize in particularly attractive brands of hockey, with elite players front-lining their rosters who can do things with the puck and away from it that few others can. It goes without saying that the things they could theoretically do to either the Rangers or the Canadiens in the next round would not be pretty, but they would be necessary.
Such is the problem with the NHL's imbalance of power between East and West, because six or perhaps seven of the league's best teams play in the vast expanse of the country which does not enjoy maximum three-hour plane rides to face their farthest-flung opponents. The Western Conference Final feels like a Cup Final because it's the two best teams in the league facing each other.
The stat that tells you everything you need to know about these two teams is a pretty simple one, relayed by Corey Masisak: Of the six forwards on the ice for the opening faceoff Saturday night, Marian Hossa had the lowest regular-season corsi, at 57.8 percent. Only one player from either the Kings or Blackhawks who got into even a single game this year had possession numbers of less than 50 percent, and those guys (Andrew Campbell and Matt Carey) played a combined five games.
They play so fast, so fluid. The mistakes either makes are few and far between, and often end up in the back of the net, because the one thing either of these teams lacks is a truly elite goaltender. Corey Crawford is pretty much the textbook definition of average (his save percentage is about one point above the NHL average for his entire career) and Jonathan Quick is, for his part, about one point better than that. With that having been said, though, both do seem to rise to the occasion a bit more in the playoffs, for whatever reason.
Speaking of, there is something wordlessly sublime in watching Drew Doughty elevate his game every time the postseason rolls around. He goes from becoming one of the best defensemen in the league to one of the most perfect athletes in any sport today. His points per game skyrockets, he seems to become more dynamic, and there's simply no getting around him when he's hemmed into his own zone, which isn't often. If he were able to distill whatever it is that makes him so good at times like these (he was the best player at the Olympics by far) and bottle it, the Kings might never lose again.
This ability to “step up,” as it were, is rife throughout all these lineups. Jonathan Toews has been a wrecking ball in this postseason, as many have pointed out. Jeff Carter is on 19 points in 17 games this postseason, with an absurd even of them coming in the last two games, against what is probably the best team in the world. Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik have been revelatory together. Hossa has been wonderful. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are playing extremely well. You could sit here doing this all day.
All this comes counter to what's happening in the East, where the games have been ugly slogs. This is due in part to the fact that the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season (the Bruins, Rangers, Canadiens, and Lightning) play pretty stiff defensive games — if not outright defensive styles — by nature, but also because they're just not as good as the powers out West.
The fact that Dan Carcillo and Brandon Prust were even playing in an Eastern Conference Final to kick off all that unpleasantness is pretty indicative of those teams' depth overall, and what they necessarily must value in their bottom-line guys as a consequence.
(It's interesting to note that Carcillo has gotten time with both the Blackhawks and Kings over these last two seasons, but that they seemed to have little patience for what he provided; Chicago traded him to Los Angeles for “future considerations” — i.e. “please take this dead weight off our hands” — and LA gave him 26 games before determining they'd rather have a conditional seventh-round pick from New York. The Rangers welcomed him with open arms, giving him more games in half a season than he'd received in full ones in years, and he'd have undoubtedly been in the lineup last night had he not shoved a linesman like the absolute idiot he is.)
This is not the sport as it should be. It's a perversion, really. There's nothing left desired by the Kings and Blackhawks. The games get nasty for a shift or three on occasion, but no one is trying to kill anyone at this point. The coaches aren't doing all in their power to turn this into a circus. It's just two teams playing high-level hockey in a way that others simply cannot. It's not talking out of school to say that whichever club advances out of the West is the heavy, heavy favorite to win another Cup. For the Kings, it would be their second in three years. For the Blackhawks, their third in five.
Meanwhile, the Rangers and Habs still wax poetic about the mid-1990s as though anyone cares in the slightest. And they'll still be doing it next season, because with the way Los Angeles and Chicago are playing, the Eastern Conference's entry to the Cup Final is going to get run over.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Bob Murray has been a GM of the Year Finalist in each of the last two seasons. I wonder if anyone can tell me what he's done to actually improve his club during that time.
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask only gets an A- for his season, in which he led the league in save percentage among goaltenders with more than 30 appearances. Tough crowd.
Buffalo Sabres: Sabres prospect Cal Petersen, who played in the USHL this season, was named the USA Hockey Goaltender of the Year. He posted a .928 save percentage in the playoffs which seems to me to be good.
Calgary Flames: Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Flames winning the Cup, and one has to imagine that under Brian Burke they're waiting at least that long for their second.
Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes would like to have their new coach hired before the draft. Probably easier said than done in this market. Click that link to see a lot of pablum about “having a message” and “holding players accountable.”
Chicago Blackhawks: I understand Doughty was out there for this goal, but Jake Muzzin taking Jonathan Toews at the goalmouth seems like a hell of a mismatch.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are inviting a local kid to participate in their annual summer prospect camp. This kid, Landon Smith, isn't a charity case or anything, though. He put up 83 points in 58 games in the BCHL this season and will be a freshman at Quinnipiac in the fall.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Speaking of college hockey, it seems the Blue Jackets are at least somewhat interested in signing Minnesota defenseman and former fourth-round pick Mike Reilly, who was excellent for the Gophers in their run to the national title game this season.
Dallas Stars: Boy does this ever seem like a bad idea. You know, from the outside.
Detroit Red Wings: Prospect Tyler Bertuzzi, a second-round Wings pick and nephew of Todd, is playing extremely well in the Memorial Cup (five goals in three games). That's almost as many as his uncle had in the NHL this season (nine)!
Edmonton Oilers: Mark Fraser “just didn't work out in Edmonton.” Probably because of how he is terrible.
Florida Panthers: Those rumors that the Panthers might move the No. 1 pick persist. Man that would be something.
Los Angeles Kings: This isn't a case he'll have to push especially hard for.
Minnesota Wild: Nate Prosser might not be back with the Wild next season because he's a UFA and oh my god Nate Prosser is 28 years old.
Montreal Canadiens: Pretty interesting look at how the Habs decided to start Dustin Tokarski instead of Peter Budaj, which interestingly wasn't just everyone saying, “Oh hey Budaj is awful.”
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: I hope I never ever get sick of hearing about Peter Laviolette's pet turtle.
New Jersey Devils: This is a misleading headline, but Jaromir Jagr says he won't be playing any more international games for the Czech Republic. He's earned that retirement for sure.
New York Islanders: The Islanders have more holes to fill than just the goaltender position, but the addition of Jaroslav Halak could add like 12 points to their season total pretty easily. That's not an exaggeration, either. He's a career .919 goaltender, and the Isles got .898 on 2,453 shots against. If Halak plays at his career number and faces the same amount of shots per night, that's a lot fewer goals against. Figure he only plays 55-60 games (his career high is 57), and that's a major improvement, and would push them toward being a borderline playoff team.
New York Rangers: Maybe this is just going to be the way it is for everyone the Habs play while Michel Therrien is coach.
Ottawa Senators: Here's Sens prospect Curtis Lazar scoring at 2:42 of the third overtime in the Memorial Cup. That is a lot of hockey.
Philadelphia Flyers: Remember how good Jason Akeson was in the playoffs for Philly? The team still says he needs to work on a lot of stuff to be a regular NHLer.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes use a lot of analytics. When it comes to their concessions.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Prospect Derrick Pouliot was named the top defenseman in the CHL this year, which is great. It would be even better if he were a forward.
San Jose Sharks: Here's an interesting look at the Sharks' options this summer. Psst don't do anything differently. Also, don't sign Ryan Miller.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues say they're not in any big rush to get a new goalie coach. Maybe they should be, though.
Tampa Bay Lightning: You really have to like that deal for Tyler Johnson, all the way around. A very sane extension for all parties.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs getting the first overall pick. That's a laugh. What need immediate does it address?
Vancouver Canucks: “Man, why can't we get a coach who's as good as Alain Vigneault?” wonder the Canucks.
Washington Capitals: With the Caps about to sign Barry Trotz, the thinking is that the team will hire Ray Shero as general manager. Fun times to be a Caps fan.
Winnipeg Jets: Josh Morrissey is playing very well for the IceCaps in this run toward the Calder Cup. Which is a good thing, because they're gonna need someone on their side.
Play of the Weekend
Oh my, the perfect weight on this chip-ahead to Tyler Toffoli. That died exactly where it needed to. Good lord.
Gold Star Award
Yeah I guess this Carter kid is a-okay.
Minus of the Weekend
Corey Crawford hasn't had the best go of things in Games 2 and 3. Nine goals against on 62 shots (.855)? Yeesh.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Flames rebuilder” is doing a decent job.
“Your 3 is grass?”