Well, that didn’t take long:
Babcock to the Leafs? I literally can't even.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) May 20, 2015
Yes, Mike Babcock has decided to take his talents to Toronto. I first thought this to be a hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation after game 2 of ‘Hawks / Ducks, but it turns out this was real.
Reality is telling me that Babcock is getting $50 million over eight years. He inherits a roster that blends talent with inconsistent play, awful possession numbers, and more than a few bloated contracts. But he also gets an organization a lot of resources and a highly influential team president.
Oh, and he gets the Toronto hockey media. Best of luck to the Leafs, their new coach, and their fans. Now, let us turn to four teams that have actually won the Stanley Cup in the past few decades.
Anaheim Ducks | 1 – 1 | Chicago Blackhawks
I still haven’t fully recovered from the longest game in Blackhawks’ team history, a.k.a. game 2 of this series. Both teams have provided a wealth of storylines for writers to glom onto:
How Tired Is Your Defense?: The biggest story that the media has repeated ad nauseum is the fact that the Blackhawks are working their top four defensemen harder than normal. With the injury to Michal Rozsival and the age and shortened season of Kimmo Timonen, the ‘Hawks are leaning heavily on their regular blue-liners. And fatigue can become a factor, whether we’re talking about defensive pairs or offensive lines.
But the big hullabaloo about Chicago’s victory being a Pyrrhic one (exact words from NBCSN) seems overblown. Both teams are going to be tired after playing the equivalent of a hockey double-header. Chicago’s defense might have a slight disadvantage in that the ice time was distributed more unevenly. Then again, Chicago had more time to rest between series, and their top four blue-liners are all younger than Francois Beauchemin, so I don’t see the dire straits.
Conversely, why isn’t anyone worrying about the Ducks’ forwards? Their fourth line got the fewest minutes of any line between both teams, and yet there’s not a worry about Getzlaf and Perry being exhausted? Sure, they play fewer minutes than defensemen, but defensemen are also used to playing longer minutes.
How About That Fourth Line?: That’s a very good question. The narrative after game 1 was that Anaheim’s depth players might be the advantage that gets them to the Cup. During game 2, the broadcasters gushed about the play of the Ducks’ fourth line — ironic, since Bruce Boudreau didn’t think highly enough of them to give them more minutes.
Meanwhile, the game-winning goal in game 2 came from… Chicago’s fourth line. Who was skating against Anaheim’s top line. Those of us in Chicago have known that Marcus Kruger is the kind of center they need on depth lines. He’s consistent, reliable, and dependable. He’s not an all-star, but you can put his line against any other line, and he will give you good, solid minutes.
Home Ice Advantage: Line matchups were one of my big concerns coming into this series. I felt that the “last change” advantage of the home team might give the Ducks an advantage they wouldn’t have on neutral ice. The ‘Hawks were able to battle through that and steal a road win, which gives me hope as a Chicago fan.
(By the way, I also laugh at the “this is the first home loss the Ducks have suffered these playoffs” storyline. Do you remember who Anaheim played in the first two rounds? Beating those teams at home is the minimum requirement to be a Cup contender.)
That Shaw Goal: It was disallowed (curse you, Rule 78.5!), but let us bask in the awesomeness of this non-goal from Andrew Shaw.
Also, kudos to the ‘Hawks to surviving the morale and energy hit that occurred after having the goal wiped away. My strength was completely sapped after it was disallowed, and I was just watching on TV.
Prediction Tracker: If the ‘Hawks can win all their home games, my prediction will be exact. I’m not convinced that we won’t see a game 7, but the path is open for a 6-game Chicago series win.
New York Rangers| 1 – 2 | Tampa Bay Lightning
After gorging ourselves on a 3OT game the night before, the Rangers and Lightning gave fans a more sensible dinner with only a single OT.
That’s a Lot of Goals: It’s a great time for the Rangers’ offense to show up. They’ve been getting at least two goals per game this series, and put five pucks into Tampa Bay’s net last night. Unfortunately, the Lightning have been averaging more than four goals per game, including six goals last night.
This is a mixed bag for New York. It’s great to see Jesper Fast have a breakout game. Ditto on watching their defense contributing to the point totals. Their depth players are contributing to the scoresheet. Unfortunately, Rick Nash has zero points this series. Martin St. Louis finally got points — he assisted on both of New York’s goals in a blowout loss. This is not good news for the blueshirts.
More Not-Good News: The fast & loose style of play is what the Lightning love to play. Their offense is the hockey equivalent of screaming madmen driving souped-up deathcars. New York beat them in game 1 by dominating possession when it mattered, because the Rangers excel at controlling, low-risk hockey. They have the defense, the goaltender, and the coach to do that. But if they let themselves get drawn into a vehicle-mounted shootout, they’re going to need Nash and St. Louis to contribute way more than they have been.
The King Without a Crown: I’m not buying into the “what’s wrong with Lundqvist?” narrative. Both he and Ben Bishop are good goalies, and coach Vigneault was right after the game 3 press conference — sometimes you just get into a shootout, and if both defenses are leaving their goalies exposed, you shouldn’t expect shutouts. Bishop won by default, not because he out-dueled Lundqvist in that last game.
That said, I’m sure that the Rangers wouldn’t mind if King Henrik stood on his head for a game.
Injury Worries: Last year, the Lightning exited the playoffs early because of a key injury to Ben Bishop. This year, the Rangers could really use Mats Zuccarello back in the lineup. I’d also hope that Kevin Hayes is okay after the whiplash he suffered last night. Both of these young role-players have helped sparked a New York offense that’s been without its pricey drivers.
Prediction Tracker: The way Tampa Bay has played the last couple games, my prediction of a seven-game series seems overly optimistic. Then again, New York was on the brink of elimination halfway through the last series, weren’t they? If there’s a team that can adapt and control to pull out of a dive, it’s the Rangers. They haven’t had to do it against the chaos incarnate of the Lightning, but they have the ability. New York should probably start trying that if they want to prove me wrong.
Both series have been great examples of deep playoff hockey. Teams adapt, teams persevere, and it doesn’t matter who won the last game. The ‘Hawks and Ducks look to grab the advantage tonight in Chicago, and New York hopes it can reign the Lightning in Tampa Bay tomorrow.