June 23rd, 2013

by Dobber Sports on June 23, 2013 | (0 Comments)

Dobber's Monday ramblings to be up in the morning. Please enjoy Drance's ramblings below, if you haven't already...

 

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With their three-to-one victory on Saturday night, which came in another rivetting contest, the Chicago Blackhawks are a win away from hoisting the franchises second Stanley Cup in the past five years. This series has delivered in a big way with two capable teams playing fast paced hockey and playing it close. Pretty rare for a finals matchup to live up to expectations but this one certainly has.

 

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Saturday night's fifth game didn't have the goals, but it certainly had the pace. I was pretty confident going into this series that the Blackhawks would prevail, but game five was the first game that looked the way I expected this series too. The result was in doubt late, of course, but the Blackhawks controlled play throughout and looked like a buzzsaw. They even continued to carry play even with a lead late in the game.

 

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Coach Q began to sit on the lead with about seven minutes to go (this is something all coaches are criticized for, but all of them do) and the Jagr/Marchand line had a glorious chance with roughly one-hundred and fifty seconds to go in the third period. Still, that was as dominant a one goal victory (with the empty netter) as you're likely to see.

 

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I have a particular dislike for statistics or game facts like, "Zdeno Chara has been on the ice for seven of the last nine goals against the Boston Bruins" or whatever the actual stat is. If Chara were a second pairing guy who was getting bumped down the lineup (with his club still bleeding goals against when he moved from 20 to 15 minutes per night) this might tell us something. Of course, Chara isn't a second pairing guy, he's the league's foremost tough circumstances minutes muncher. For example Chara has played nearly fifty minutes more than Duncan Keith has this postseason, despite playing nine fewer minutes on the power-play. So Chara isn't just on the ice for the bulk of Chicago's goals the past two games, he's just pretty much always on the ice...

 

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How cooked are the Bruins if Patrice Bergeron is done for the series? I mean, he's clearly their best puck possession player and does far and away the most defensive heavy-lifting among all Bruins forwards. But the Bruins still have Krejci, they still have oodles of offensive talent on the wings, they still have Chara and they still have Rask. I think the Blackhawks will close this out on Monday, personally, but I wouldn't be shocked in the slightest if the B's manage to grind out a victory in game six and send this series back to Chicago.

 

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I'm a huge Nick Leddy fan, but he's played poorly and been benched regularly in this series (in favour of Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival). Leddy played fewer than five even-strength minutes in game five, and the Blackhawks were outshot five to zero (and outscored by one) in those roughly four and a half minutes. I can't quite figure out what's going on with Leddy, but his performance in the finals and the atrophying of Quenneville's trust in him can't possibly help his leverage this offseason (Leddy is an RFA).

 

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I've recently come to the conclusion that Patrick Kane's game is all in the hands. But what hands! The opening goal in game five was a marvel of opportunism, but I was slightly more impressed by his backhand finish on the game-winner. Kane pounced on a loose puck that caromed out front following a Bickell attempted wrap around, and he just absolutely buried a back-hander upstairs (where Norman keeps grandma). Kane didn't just manage to get that back-hand shot up and over Tuuka Rask, he launched it upward at a 65 degree angle.

 

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I just want to elaborate on this "all in the hands" thing. When you think of Patrick Kane, you think of those highlight reel shootout goals where he just skates slowly at the goaltender while pulling off roughly two kajillion different dekes. He essentially hypnotizes goaltenders to just get out of the way, and for the most part they do just that.

 

The Blackhawks also pull off these sort of set entries where Kane receives the puck a stride or two before his own blue-line and skates up the middle of the ice. Kane does the same damn thing to freeze defenders when he's skating through the neutral zone, he skates at about 60% pace and just repeatedly does cool looking stuff with the puck. Somehow this works for him.

 

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I feel pretty conflicted about that Johnny Boychuk hit on Jonathan Toews. On the one hand, you have to cream a guy skating through the slot like that in a Stanley Cup Final game if you're Boychuk. On the other hand, Boychuk clearly made primary contact with Toews' head. It was ultimately a dangerous hit, and to make matters a bit more complicated it was a dangerous hit in a marquee game, on a star player with a concussion history. If the NHL is serious about protecting their players from head injuries, Boychuk should get a game.

 

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With Toews out of the lineup, centreman Michal Handzus picked up a lot of the defensive slack for the Blackhawks. In game five Handzus primarily battled the Marchand/Jagr line and led all Blackhawks forwards in defensive zone starts. His performance wasn't impressive by the underlying data, but with Toews out someone was going to get thrown to the wolves and Handzus did admirably for a guy who I thought was done coming out of the lockout... The 04-05 lockout.

 

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A week from now I'll be writing my ramblings post from the NHL draft, which should be a pretty fascinating event. For a variety of reasons - a deep draft class and a weak free-agent crop chief among them - I'm expecting a frantic day of hockey news. Should be good fun!

 

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Regardless of how games six and seven turnout, and I fully expect the Blackhawks to close this out in Boston like they did in Philadelphia in 2010, you have to give Bowman the Younger a lot of credit. That 2010 Blackhawks team lost what, a top-pairing (Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien) and a first-line worth of quality forwards (Ladd, Versteeg, Brouwer) over the following season and a bit?

 

But here the Blackhawks are three years later, deep as anything again, loaded and a game away from winning the Stanley Cup. Bowman's done some quality work to fill in the gaps - the Cam Barker/Nick Leddy trade and the 2011 draft (where Bowman added Saad and Shaw) being the most impressive notches on his belt - and deserves some serious kudos for restocking the cupboard so quickly. Now he'll have to do it all over again when the Blackhawks lose Bolland, Oduya, Bickell and Stalberg this summer...

 

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