NHL Conference Finals Mid Point, What Have We Learned?

Hello hockey fans, welcome to the blog! We are half way through the NHL Conferences Finals and it is time to take a look at what we have learned so far.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning have taken a 2-1 series lead, with Game Four tonight. There were three or four main points in our Eastern Conference Preview Show with handicapper Dana Lane that we made before the series started. The first was the Rangers scoring. They have not been able to keep up with the Lightning giving up 6 goals in back to back games. That’s not Rangers hockey. Before the series started, Henry Lundqvist had a 1.6 goals against average, but four of their top six defenseman had a minus rating. That indicates that Henry had bailed them out, and that trend couldn’t continue. The Lightning goalie  Ben Bishop, was mostly being overshadowed by his opponents goalies, Mrazek, Price, and now Lundqvist. We can argue he has outplayed them all.  Then we looked at the Lightning scoring and decided they were to deep for the Rangers to contain. In the past, if a team could shut down the Stamkos line, they had a good chance at success. That’s no longer the case. The “triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov have out worked the Rangers at both ends of the ice. It is showing up on the score sheet and in their plus minus ratings as well, with a combined plus fifteen in the playoffs. With Killorn and Stamkos heating up, this poses big problems for Alain Vigneault. We talked about the coaching matchup and ended up in a draw. With Vigneault’s experience in the NHL and Coach Coopers championship pedigree at every level both making strong points. Alain Vigneault has to find answers for Tampa’s scoring depth. That was our thought going into the series, and so far that has not happened. If Tampa wins tonight, don’t look for the Rangers to win three straight against this club. The Lightning are too deep.

In the west, the Ducks and Blackhawks are playing a decidedly tougher series. With the triple OT game two, and last nights 2-1 Ducks win, this series just feels closer than the east. We highlighted the Ducks defensive scoring in our Western Conference Preview Show and that has been the difference so far, with Simon Despres netting the game winner in Game Three. Hampus Lindholm assisting on the Ducks opening goal and Cam Fowler assisting on the Despres goal, they have not slowed down a bit. In fact, nine of the Ducks seventeen points in this series have come from the blue line. Better than fifty percent.   This while still maintaining a great plus minus with not one member of the defense carrying a minus rating. Can you say dominant? We can. The forwards for both teams have been almost a wash, with the Ducks depth tipping the scales to the 2-1 series lead. If the Blackhawks could start burying the chances they are getting from Shaw, Saad, Hossa, and Sharp they can still make a series of it. But with their combined two goals, both in the Game Two classic, we continue to say more will be needed if they are to advance. Both goalies have been at the spectacular level so far, so the onus falls on the forwards, and the Ducks have the edge.

At the midpoint of the NHL Conference Finals, it looks like we are heading to an all warm weather Finals, as we predicted in our podcasts. With the league looking at a possible Rangers Vs Blackhawks ratings bonanza, we hope the refs let the teams play this out, because we are seeing a classic changing of the guard in the West and an offensive Dynamo in the making out East.

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Western Conference Finals Preview

Hello hockey fans, welcome to the blog! In this issue of the Vegas Hockey Podcast Blog, Tom and I look at the  Western Conference Finals, break them down, and pick the winners. After Mark went 10-2 through the first two rounds and Tom is sitting nicely at 7-5, you might want to listen to the show on iTunes before heading to the window to place your series wagers, that is, if you live in Nevada.

First up, we look at the Western Conference where the Anaheim Ducks take on the Chicago Blackhawks. This series looks to be a long, physical battle of attrition, especially if the Ducks are to prevail. We agree that if the Blackhawks are to advance to their third final in five years they will need to control tempo and keep the puck moving North and South, especially through the neutral zone.  If the ducks strong young defenseman can hold the blue line and make the Hawks dump and chase, that bodes well for the south landers. With home ice, they should be able to match up early in the series, and put heavy bodies on the Chicago forwards from the opening face off. Anaheim’s defense also chips in on the score sheet, tallying up 29 points in only 9 games played in this years playoffs. They sport solid +/- numbers, allowing only 2.00 goals against in the playoffs. Continuing with the stingy defensive scheme, the Ducks are killing penalties at an 87 percent clip.

The Blackhawks defense starts with Duncan Keith. Playing over thirty minutes a game, scoring at a point a game clip, both his post season goals were game winners. The first one coming in Game one against the Predators, the other in the series clincher. Also leading the team with a +10. He is having a Conn Smythe type playoff run. The rest of their D corps needs to step up now that Michael Rozsival is done for the season. Coach Q will have his hands full slotting defenseman in to replace his 17:26 of ice time after Keith. He might have to give Kimmo Timonen more ice time, something he has been very hesitant to do. Their 2.80 goals against In the playoffs is the worst of the remaining teams, and their penalty kill is an atrocious 72 percent. That alone could be their undoing against the Ducks if it isn’t fixed fast. Their overall +/- isn’t near what the Ducks are, with Oduya bottoming out at -5 and 6 other players under water. By contrast the Ducks only have 2 players under the even mark, with Matt Beleskey at -2 the low man. None of their defenseman are carrying a minus rating into this series. The Ducks defense carries a clear advantage.

Looking to the forwards, first glance would favor the Blackhawks. Elite level skill in Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa have carried this team to the Conference Finals for the third year in a row. Kane is leading the way with seven goals and thirteen points and Toews is right behind him with eleven points and seven assists. Patrick Sharp is also having a nice playoffs with four goals and five assists. Their power play is hitting at a nice 20 percent clip. They will have to shoulder the burden because after them and Duncan Keith’s points they drop off pretty quick. The Hawks only have seven  players with 5 or more points, while the Ducks have twelve. In fact of all the other forwards, only Brandon Saad has more than one goal, including Hossa, Brad Richards, and Kris Versteeg. More will be needed if they hope to match the Ducks.

On the Ducks side, the scoring comes from everywhere, averaging 3.89 goals a game, the highest left in the playoffs.   Their power play is hitting at a thirty one percent rate. Thirty one. Starting with Corey Perry, his fifteen points,(7G 8A), leads the playoffs. Getzlaf has twelve points, Jakob Silfverberg has eleven points, Ryan Kesler has nine, all at a point a game or higher. Their third and fourth line guys like Tim Jackman and Richard Rakell continue the hit parade that is started right at the top. Right now, the Ducks forward group is playing with chemistry that will be very hard to stop.

The goaltending in this series is difficult to judge. On the Blackhawks Corey Crawford is a Stanley Cup Champion goaltender. Hoever, he has only started six games in the playoffs while the “backup” Scott Darling has started four. Both goalies have been pulled during the playoffs. While Coach Q has settled on Crawford for right now, Darling has better numbers than him, sporting a 2.21 GAA to Crawfords 2.6 and a save percentage of .936 to Crawfords .916. The Conference Finals are not the time or place to be unsettled in goal. The other teams that were shuffling goalies like Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, are all off for the summer.

Frederick Andersen has played all nine games for the Ducks, and has looked very sharp. He is 8-1 with a stellar 1.96 GAA and a save percentage of .925. He has answered the question of wether he was ready for playoff hockey with flying colors.  I give the checkmark to the Ducks.

The coaching edge has to go to the Blackhawks. Coach Quenneville is a Champion twice over and has proven himself in the regular season and the playoffs time and time again. Coach Boudreau has proven his merit in the regular season with a Jack Adams and three Presidents Cups, but this will be his first trip out of the second round. This is the time to shed the regular season system tag. Show me don’t tell me Coach B.

When you look at this year only, the Ducks have been on a mission. They are playing a tighter defensive style than ever before, but have not struggled to find scoring all through the lineup, like their neighbors to the north,the Kings have. This year they make it back to the Finals, in six games.

Thanks for stopping by to share a few minutes with us. You can reach us at VegasHockeyPodcast@Yahoo.com with all your questions, complaints, and comments, we read them all so thanks for doing it !!!

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