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NHL Playoff Obserations: Backes’ Boo-Boo and Brent Burns is … Ordinary?

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • David Backes’ boo-boo could cost him plenty. A strong playoff run — he’d chalked up 13 points in 16 postseason games prior to Saturday — has been masking what’s been a bit of decline since the odometer turned 30. The better his playoffs, the better his contract come July 1. Flush.
  • One hundred and 56 minutes and 59 seconds. That’s all it took for the Blues to finally get on the scoreboard. Wow.

NHL Playoff Observations: Wookiees and Whiners

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Ben Bishop, please come back. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a fine goalie, but his tantrums are a bit much. Jon Cooper should have yanked him in the third, just to settle him down and show him that behavior is unacceptable. I’d rather have Big Ben’s low pain threshold than Vasilevskiy’s petulance.
  • Brent Burns went from pretty good to elite this season and most of us missed it. Until now. Wookiee just imposes his size and skill in all three zones. #ConnSmythe candidate for sure.

NHL Playoff Observations: Sid, Stralman and a Call to Canada

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Be careful what you ask for. Anton Stralman’s return was marked by not one, not two, but three flat-footed mistakes. They corresponded with not one, not two, but THREE Pittsburgh goals. The Pens were flying, but c’mon already.
  • Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored since Game 1 of the Washington series. Sidney Crosby finally scored Monday, almost a month after his last goal in Game 3 of the opening round against the Rangers. All while Phil Kessel continues to deliver in a Conn Smythe fashion. Ten points in his last nine games; 14 (six goals, eight helpers) in 13 this postseason. And to think Toronto is still paying part of his salary …

Western Conference Finals Preview: Sharks vs. Blues

 

How the Blues got here:

By being resilient, that’s how. And it’s still strange to say.

 

After a crushing defeat at the Madhouse in Game 6 against Chicago, it all felt much too familiar. The Blues were going to be outed again in the first round, perpetually unable to get past the hump and each first-round exit more painful than the last. Except the Blues won, and carried that momentum forward against Dallas.

 

By the time the Stars had pushed the series to seven games, the Blues had already lost any reason to panic. They polished off the reigning Cup champions in seven games, so there was no reason they couldn’t do the same to the Central Division winner, a Dallas team that still had many holes on defense and question marks in net. The Stars defense just didn’t have an answer to their size and versatility – young John Klingberg still has plenty of growing to do and Kris Russell barely moved the meter, which left 6-foot-3 Stephen Johns, who had 14 career NHL games prior to the playoffs, as the only player big enough to the handle the Blues’ size. And, as expected, neither Kari Lehtonen nor Antti Niemi were particularly sharp, showing flashes of ability but not consistent enough for Lindy Ruff to trust either one.

 

Those two weaknesses were exploited by the Blues’ depth, because if Vladimir Tarasenko wasn’t doing the scoring, it was Troy Brouwer and Robby Fabbri. Even David Backes, who posted his lowest point total in seven seasons, has six goals in the playoffs this year, after scoring just five in his previous 31 playoff games. Backes has been so good that the Blues may think twice before moving on from their long-time captain. The Stars did all they could with a young lineup that was missing key bodies, and simply just ran into a better, more experienced team.

Eastern Conference Final Preview: Lightning vs. Penguins

 

How the Lightning got here:

Victor Hedman went crazy. The 6-foot-6 tower scored four goals and four assists in a five-game dustup of the Islanders – this, after notching just one assist in five games against Detroit in the previous round. The craziest thing is that he did this while shutting down John Tavares, who was held without a point in all four losses, and finished the series-clinching game with a minus-2 rating and just one shot on goal.

 

In truth, without Tavares carrying the offense, the Islanders – even without Jaroslav Halak – didn’t stand much of a chance against a much deeper and more experienced team. This Lightning team, if you need reminding for the umpteenth time, is going to their second straight Eastern Conference Finals, and without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman to boot. The more the Lightning win, the more justification Steve Yzerman has to not pay Stamkos the big bucks. It’s not that Stamkos doesn’t deserve what he’s demanding, but more that this team is clearly capable of winning a lot of games with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov spearheading the attack.

 

Jon Cooper’s definitely right when he says Kucherov’s a big-game player. Critics will look at Kucherov’s sky-high, unsustainable 24.3 shooting percentage and figure he’ll come back to earth in a thundering crash, but his career playoff shooting percentage is 20.6 percent, and take away his current performance and he’s still got 11 goals on just 60 shots for a 18.3 percent efficiency. Kucherov’s goal-scoring talent and production is still second to Stamkos’, but Kucherov’s been remarkably efficient when the going gets tough, which is something that can’t be said for 99 percent of the players in this league, Stamkos included (career playoff vs. regular season shooting percentage is five percent lower). Just ask Alex Ovechkin how hard it is to score in the playoffs.