I must say, though the first two rounds of my playoff bracket went quite well. My picks for the last 2 rounds however, not so much!
1. Blackhawks vs. 5. Kings : Kings in 7
I had taken the Defending Champions to take it all for the second straight year. But the Kings looked beat up against the Hawks. The body check festival in the first round against the Blues did not help. And the concussion suffered by Stoll in the second round against the Sharks added to the bumps and bruises that where ailing the team, leaving them with just enough juice to finish off their California hockey rivals. When you add the concussion suffered by Richards, which cost him three games of the conference final, Drew Doughty’s cracked ankle, Dustin Brown’s and Anze Kopitar’s knee, Justin Williams’ slight shoulder separation and the absence of Willie Mitchel, this team did not look one bit like the team that powered their way to their Stanley Cup win last season.
With all of those players at less than their full capabilities, the end result was an easy 5 game series win for the Hawks. To their credit, the Kings did go out like Champions, pushing their opponents to overtime in the fifth and final game. But in the end, the Hawks were too fast and too strong for the Kings. The difference was seen in every stride taken during that series. Add to that Corey Crawford making saves by the tons and you have a team going into the finals as the series favorites.
1. Penguins vs . 4. Bruins : Bruins in 6
Bruins in 6 for one reason: the net minders. I have the outmost respect for Tomas Vokoun, who has more often than not been on my list of top 10 net minders throughout the years. But the phenomenon named Tuukka was simply fantastic and more impressive then Tomas, though the latter more then held his own after replacing Fleury in Rd 1 of the playoffs when he tended the nets against the Islanders.
The Penguins at times looked disorganised and Malkin who was their MVP when the won the Cup in 2009 seemed to be forcing the play on to many occasions. That type of play makes it much easier for an organized coach like Claude Julien, to get his players to squeeze more out of their system, thus constricting any type of space on the ice. In the end, better coaching and better goaltending is what got the Bruins past a team as deep and talented as the Pens.
1. Blackhawks vs 4. Burins : Bruins in 7
First and foremost, it was my first time seeing 2 Original Six teams in the final, which falls in line with the abundance of Original Six match ups we saw during this Stanley Cup run. In the end, we saw two teams who consistently draft well, develop their players the right way, have a great deal of depth and are well coached. Most of all, both finalists have fantastic goaltending, however, in spite of this impressive list for both teams, I had to give the edge to Tuukka and the Bruins once again but not by much.
In games 6 of the Final, Lucic scores a 3 period goal that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead. They seemed in complete control and it looked like we were all about to tune in for a game 7 matchup between both clubs. But with 1:16 seconds left, the Hawks pull Crawford out of the nets for an extra attacker and Bikell scores a goal to tie the game at 2. Shock and awe is felt 17 seconds later when Bolland put’s one behind Rask to give the Hawks the lead!! Next thing you know, that last minute had elapsed and the Chicago players were jumping all over each other as the Boston players were skating their heads down, deflated in defeat. For the 2nd time in 4years the Blackhawks where Champions once more.
The numerous Original Six match ups, the wild Sens vs. Habs dual, the Bruins game 7 comeback vs. the Leafs, and the Hawks 17 second comeback in game 6 over the Bruins: this is one of the most memorable Stanley Cup runs I had ever seen. The only thing that might top it: the 2014 Olympic tournament. And I know for a fact, it will be absolutely epic!