Friday, June 14, 2013

Lord Stanley's Cup: Game 1 Recap

Hockey, I guess.
(Editor's Note: We finally have hockey coverage. Yes, we're about six months late, but it's better late than never. Our NHL commentator is Phil Rizzuto (not the dead Yankee shortstop), and he'll be stopping in throughout the Stanley Cup Finals to drop knowledge that neither Joe nor I are intellectually or creatively capable of. -JC)

By Phil Rizzuto

Five takeaways from Game of the Stanley Cup Finals, a 4-3, triple OT win for the Chicago Blackhawks:

1. The Bruins had the edge on special teams

One of the biggest talking points going into this year’s Cup Finals was which team could produce more on the power play, or, in other words, which team’s power played was going to suck less than the other (both are under 17 percent for the playoffs and finished in the bottom third of the league for PPGs in the regular season). For one game anyways, that team was the Boston Bruins, who produced a power-play goal in the third period and came within a whisker of the game winner in the first overtime. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, looked stagnant and disorganized on their 5-on-3 opportunity in the second period, not registering a shot despite a ridiculously long (1:23) two-man advantage.

While both sides have proven that a team can have playoff success without the advantage of a strong power play; special teams might prove to be the difference in a series that matches the two best even-strength teams in the league.     

2. Andrew Shaw showed up to play

Andrew Shaw was advertised as the Blackhawks’ answer to Brad Marchand, a pesky, high-energy player capable of both scoring goals and agitating his opponents. Last night he did both as he registered a goal and an assist to go with nine hits and a penalty drawn against the Bruins’ top defenseman Zdeno Chara (bonus points for the postgame F-bomb). While the goal was by no means pretty, it was clear from the fatigue on both sides that the game winner would likely be a tip or a redirected shot. Shaw was in the right place, directly in front of the net, and it paid off with the game-winner.

More than what registered on the score sheet though, Shaw was instrumental to the Hawks’ victory. He dug in the corners, camped out in front of Tuukka Rask and annoyed Zdeno Chara to the point of distraction on several occasions. The Hawks depth players; Shaw, Dave Bolland and Brandon Saad all stepped up in Game 1 and produced where stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could not.

3. Torey Krug’s Gaffe

Since bursting onto the scene with four goals in five games against the Rangers in the conference semifinals, Torey Krug had the feel of a player that was too good to be true. Given his small (5-9, 180 lbs.) stature and relative inexperience, it seemed only inevitable that he would eventually commit a game-changing mishap.

The dreaded moment came last night with twelve minutes remaining in the third period and the Bruins holding a tenuous 3-1 lead. Krug took a pass from near the boards in his defensive zone and committed the unforgivable sin of lazily throwing the puck towards the dangerous middle of the ice. Andrew Shaw stole the soft pass and found Dave Bolland cross-ice for a goal that Tuukka Rask had no chance on. Rask minced no words postgame, calling the turnover “terrible,” which it was. Under no circumstances should that play have been made, particularly when Krug saw his team was changing lines and had no chance to get back into the defensive zone if the pass was intercepted.

While Krug played the rest of the game without a major mishap (he was benched for the remainder of regulation), he was on the ice for the game-winner and finished at minus-2 on the night. It will be interesting to see whether or not coach Claude Julien keeps Krug in the lineup for Game 2, or elects to go with steady veteran Wade Redden or fellow youngster Matt Bartkowski, who played a very strong conference final against Pittsburgh.

4. Johnny Oduya Saves the Day

While each team had chances in the overtime periods, the best came midway through the third OT, when Tyler Seguin feathered a beautiful pass to Kaspars Daugavins directly to Corey Crawford’s right. Crawford, who was out of his crease playing a potential shot from Seguin, appeared hopelessly out of position as Daugavins cut back towards Crawford’s left looking to stuff in the winner. Instead, Johnny Oduya, from his belly, reached out and managed to bother the puck just enough to knock it off Daugavins’ stick and save the day for the Hawks.

While many questioned Daugavins decision to try to make an extra move instead of shooting the puck immediately with Crawford out of position, Oduya’s play no doubt saved what would have been the game winner for the Bruins. Oduya also scored the game-tying goal in regulation.

5. Nathan Horton’s Injury

Depending on the length of the injury, this could be a backbreaker for the Bruins. The Bruins top line of Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci had been ridiculously effective through the first three series, and the loss of Horton would rob the Bruins of a big body and effective forechecker. While his injury has been listed very specifically as “upper-body,” it is unclear how much time he will miss, leaving a tough choice for Claude Julien. The easy solution would be to slide Jaromir Jagr to the top line with Krejci and Lucic and insert Tyler Seguin back on the second line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron; however, moving Jagr up to the top unit would likely mean slightly more ice time, no easy task for a 41-year old who has struggled staying on the ice for more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time throughout the playoffs.

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