Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.
Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.
by Kevin Moore
The conference finals were supposed to be dramatic knockout/drag-out affairs that were going to give us nonstop excitement, but it just didn’t happen consistently in either series. Tuukka Rask stymied the Penguins and allowed just two goals in the sweep while emerging as the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe and making Pittsburgh the biggest playoff disappointment since the 1995 Red Wings – coincidentally the last time the NHL had a shortened schedule due to a work stoppage. Jonathan Quick was not the superman we thought (although he still played great, just not out of this world) and Patrick Kane woke up just in time to make everyone realize that the Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL from day one this year. What we are left with is the NHL’s first Original Six matchup since 1979 when the Canadiens beat the Rangers in five games.
1. Chicago vs 4. Boston
Forwards: The Blackhawks stars have not been consistent this playoff year but there is hope. Patrick Kane’s Game 5 hat trick could be the spark that wakes him up and has him playing up to the playoff standard he set in 2010. Patrick Sharp (14 pts) paces the Hawks with 8 goals, good for second in the playoffs, and Marian Hossa (14 pts, +8) has continued his solid two-way play. Chicago’s biggest surprise has been Bryan Bickell (13 pts) who since being inserted on their top line has contributed some big goals; he’s tied with Sharp for second in the playoffs with 8 goals. If the Blackhawks are going to win this series they are going to need Jonathan Toews (1 G, 8 A) to wake up and play like the Conn Smythe winner he was in 2010.
Boston’s forwards have played a physical brand of defensive hockey that frustrated Pittsburgh’s skill players last round. David Krejci (9 G, 12 A) leads the playoffs in points while Nathan Horton (7 G, 10 A) has been a force, leading all players in +/- by a wide margin with a +21 rating. Patrice Bergeron (5 G, 6 A) has cemented himself as the top defensive center in the NHL by logging big minutes last round against Pittsburgh’s top line and winning draws at a very good 61% clip in the playoffs. Boston’s confidence and production from all four lines should give them the edge overall in this series and be a big factor in wearing down Chicago’s top guys.
“This kingdom will be yours someday, Simba”
The past week and a half has been a whirlwind in the sports world, from intense postseason action in two sports to marathon MLB games and extra-inning heroics to crazy moves in the NFL to horses running in a circle for a couple minutes. Here’s a breakdown of the most important happenings of the past 10 days, and a brief look ahead at the future.
- The Bruins swept the punchless Penguins to advance to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. Despite the Bruins’ continued insistence that they weren’t taking the Pens for granted and were expecting a surge at any time, the dangerous Pittsburgh offense that had averaged more than four goals a game over the first two rounds never materialized against the stifling Boston defense, and the Penguins only managed two goals all series. Two goals. In four games. Only three other teams in NHL history have allowed so few goals in a series of at least four games, so yeah, that’s pretty good. Much of this was thanks to the lights-out netminding of Tuukka Rask, the Finnish goalie who watched from the bench as Tim Thomas made history in leading the B’s to the Cup two years ago. We’ve spent much of this postseason trying to figure out who’s taken the mantle from 2011 Thomas/2012 Jonathan Quick – at times bouncing between Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, and Quick himself – but it certainly looked like Tuukka in the Conference Finals. After Game 2, when most of us were still wary of Pittsburgh despite them being outscored 9-1 over two games, I was actually preparing to write that while Tuukka looked phenomenal, we shouldn’t expect him to be a reincarnation of Thomas. Then he notched 53 saves in an intense double overtime victory in Game 3 and recorded his second shutout of the series in Game 4, and I canned that article pretty damn quick (sometimes it’s good to procrastinate). Two U’s, two K’s, it’s Tuukka Time! Other takeaways from the series:
- Despite allowing six goals in four periods and getting yanked in the first period of Game 2, Vokoun settled down nicely at the end of the series, giving up only three goals over the span of nearly three full games. After allowing a Brad Marchand breakaway goal that totally wasn’t his fault in the opening seconds of Game 3, he essentially pitched a shutout for nearly the remainder of the game, giving up his next goal at the end of the second overtime period. And in Game 4 his only mistake was a third-period Adam McQuaid snipe that he lost in the various skaters in front of him. Were it not for his offense’s miserable performance, this series would have gone a lot longer than four games, and Pittsburgh better think long and hard about their starting goaltender for next year.
- Lots of credit goes to Tuukka, but an equal amount must go to the rest of defense as well. Led by captain Zdeno Chara and spurred by the return of Dennis Seidenberg, the B’s utterly neutralized dangerous weapons Sid Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bruins fan favorite Jarome Iginla – a whopping combined total of ZERO POINTS – and shut out their fearsome power play with swarming and relentless pressure. Oh, and they pitched in on offense too, scoring 15 goals from the point – one more than they scored in the entire regular season.
- Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are the heart and soul of the Bruins’ offense, hands down. In their fourth year on the same line, they appear to share one mind, and have been responsible for some of Boston’s biggest moments of the playoffs: Bergeron’s equalizer with seconds left in Game 7 of the first round and his overtime series clincher (assisted by Marchand), the OT winner in Game 1 of the next series against New York, which was a carbon copy of the Toronto winner with the roles reversed, Marchand’s two goals in the first period of Game 2 in Pittsburgh (including this incredibly satisfying play against professional dickhead Matt Cooke), and Bergy’s double OT winner, assisted by…who else? David Krejci may lead the league in points this postseason, and Torey Krug may be the favorite story, but there’s little doubt as to who’s carrying this team.
- Enough has been written to fill a Stephen King book about Gregory Campbell’s Game 3 performance on a broken leg, but it’s hard to overstate how much his gritty fearlessness meant to this team. After a Penguins power play shot shattered his leg, not only did he refuse to leave the ice – which would have put his team down two men – he disrupted a pass and even prepared to lay down his body to block another shot. As a Boston.com article scathingly pointed out, this kind of determination seems to be practically unique to hockey, though comparisons to Schilling’s bloody sock have already run rampant. Either way, Campbell’s toughness has simultaneously made him an instant legend in Boston and given his team something to play for.
- The Penguins are arrogant sore losers, and it starts at the top with their crybaby captain. Crosby disappeared when his team needed him the most and handled it by trying to fight a goalie, barking at his opponents and teammates, and getting a stupid penalty at the end of the game when his team was about to pull their netminder – and this was all in Game 1. He set a terrible example for his colleagues, all of whom let the Bruins get under their skin and throw them off their games. And when Boston had proven its dominance with a sweep, Crosby still refused to take responsibility, claiming that they had chances and the Bruins didn’t “totally shut us down.” You scored twice in four friggin’ games! With an extra period and a half thrown in!!! How is that not shutting you down? Funnily enough, the only humility came from Iginla – who, in a perfect twist of irony, had spurned Boston midseason to win a Cup with Pittsburgh – when he admitted that he “just didn’t play very well.” The culture of winning that Crosby has installed in Pittsburgh has made the Penguins stubborn and resistant to criticism. On the other hand, the Bruins’ lack of a true “superstar” and subsequent team efforts, their reality check against Toronto in the first round, and their general humility has helped lead them to the Finals. Smell ya, Sidney.
Categories: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL
by Kevin Moore
As a nod to the NHL’s Original Six, Kevin Moore presents the first installment of his Pick Six Countdown. This week: the best hockey commercials of all time.
6. In 1999 Bud Light debuted its Bubble Boys ad. Basically they took the ultimate bar hockey game and brought the players to life. Most of the ads were pretty entertaining showing the many deficiencies of being a professional bubble boy. In this particular ad one bubble boy has to endure the wrath of a pathetic pickup artist’s attempt at a group of hotties.
by Kevin Moore
For the first time since 1945 the NHL conference finals features the past four Stanley Cup winners: Pittsburgh (2009), Chicago (2010), Boston (2011), and Los Angeles (2012). So for the most part you can throw experience out the window since all four teams have key players with clutch experience, at least at the scoring positions. If you look in net only one team currently boasts a starting goalie who was in net when they clinched the Cup – last year’s Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, with apologies to Marc-Andre Fleury who is on the bench for the Penguins after a horrid first round. Regardless of who emerges out of this fearsome foursome it should be wildly entertaining as the Cup could go to any of the four teams.
Loyal viewers of Bucking Aikman’s sister show Around the Valley, now in its second season, may remember former Minutemen goalie Kevin Moore as ATV’s resident hockey guru and bowtie aficionado. Now a UMass grad, Kevin played professionally this past season for the Evansville Icemen of the ECHL, and he had an article published in The Hockey News in April. Following up on our mini-preview of the Bruins-Rangers series that begins on Thursday, Kevin dissects the remaining three series of the second round of the NHL playoffs.