This is the best time of year in the hockey world. We are in the midst of the Conference Finals and the World Championships. A few coaching hires were made and I look into the officiating problem that is leaving a black mark on this year’s playoffs.
1. Boston Advances
Last Thursday, the Boston Bruins finished off a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes, punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s too bad this series wasn’t more competitive. The Canes were one of the best stories of this year’s playoffs. After just squeaking into the postseason, they defeated the defending champion Washington Capitals in overtime of Game 7, then swept the New York Islanders. I have no doubt this is only the beginning for them and this won’t be the last we see of this core.
I don’t think anyone is surprised the Bruins made it this far. After a tough seven-game series against the Maple Leafs, they finished strong against the Blue Jackets, and had zero trouble with the Hurricanes in the Conference Finals. Their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak played their best during the series. It’s almost impossible to beat the B’s in a series when they do.
Now the Bruins have a new opponent they have to battle: a 10-day layoff. Most would think a long layoff would be great between exhausting playoff series, and often times they are. But time and time again we see teams struggle to return to form and lose to inferior teams after too many days off. The Bruins will have to find out a way to combat the layoff and show up for Game 1. Regardless of who they play, St. Louis or San Jose, I believe Boston will host their third championship parade in the last eight months.
2. St. Louis Wins Game 5
On Sunday, St. Louis made a statement and blanked the Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5 of the Conference Finals. This was a massive win for St. Louis on the road in San Jose. Now they will get a chance to close out the Sharks on their home ice. The usual suspects were at their best in the Game 5 victory. Rookie phenom Jordan Binnington was at great, saving all 21 shots he faced. Jaden Schwartz has continued playing out of his mind, scoring a hat trick, with two goals in the third period. Oskar Sundqvist and Vladimir Tarasenko added the other two goals for the Blues, Tarasenko’s on a penalty shot.
This is bad news for the Sharks who have been great in odd-numbered games this postseason. Now they have to go win Game 6 on the road against a team that might burn down the city if they advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. This task is even more daunting now that Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, and Joonas Donskoi all suffered injuries during the game. If those guys aren’t in form, the Sharks might as well start their vacations early. I’m going to predict that the Blues win Game 6 on their home ice and meet the Bruins in the Cup final.
3. Roy to Ottawa?
Reports have recently come out that NHL Hall of Fame Goaltender Patrick Roy is expected to interview for the Ottawa Senators head coaching vacancy this week. Before I get into all of the reasons this is a terrible career move for him, I’ll speak as to why it might be great for Ottawa fans.
First, Roy turned the Avalanche around in his first season in 2013-14. He led the team back to the playoffs and was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best head coach that year. He finished his career in Colorado with a 130-92-24 record, which isn’t too bad. Roy was also one of the greatest goalies ever to play in the NHL. He is a four-time Stanley Cup winner and a three-time winner of the Vezina trophy. The accolades speak for themselves, as a player and a coach.
The Senators job has to be the worst in sports. The entire franchise is in disarray. Roy has to know there is zero chance he succeed coaching Ottawa. The only way the Senators will ever return to glory is if Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Erik Karlsson all return to the team in their primes. Even then, team owner Eugene Melnyk would probably find a way to screw that up. If you’re interested in learning all the ways the Senators have screwed up, pop some popcorn and take a look at this thread. It doesn’t disappoint.
4. World Championships Update
We are now in the second week of the World Championships. Considering most people don’t have a chance to watch the games live, I’ll highlight a few notable performances.
The 2017 World Championship MVP has shown once again why he is one of the best players in the world, especially with his national team. Nylander exploded last week and has scored 13 points in 5 games. On Monday’s game against Norway, Nylander scored one goal and added four assists helping Sweden to a 9-1 win. Nylander has been Sweden’s best player and they look like they could easily win this tournament with their +22 goal differential.
Mantha did everything to prove that last week’s performance wasn’t a fluke. He is currently fifth in the tournament in points behind a few guys named Nikita Kucherov, Nylander, Michael Frolik, and Jakub Voracek. I wanted to feature Mantha again because he scored what is the goal of the tournament thus far. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.
There are only so many teams that can compete with the Russias, Swedens, and Canadas of the world. Italy is not one of them. This is Italy’s first year back in the Championship division and it shows. Italy has the worst goal differential in the tournament at -44. They have scored only one goal in six games and have given up 45. That’s pretty astounding they made it out of Division 1 for the chance to compete with the big boys. I just hope they can add a few more goals so they don’t return to home completely embarrassed.
5. Awful Officiating
I’m sure those of you have kept your ear to the ground have heard about the atrocious officiating during this year’s playoffs. We saw the league apologize to the Las Vegas Golden Knights for granting the Sharks a major penalty which helped them take the lead after being down three goals in Game 7 of their first-round series. The Sharks would go on to win that game in overtime.
More recently, the Sharks were on the good side of another blown call. On Wednesday night, Game 3 of the Western Conference finals went into overtime. The Sharks had the puck in their offensive zone when Timo Meier batted the puck out of the air towards the center of the ice in front of Binnington. Gustav Nyquist was right there to make a short pass to Erik Karlsson, who put it on the back of the net to give the Sharks the win. The second Meier touched the puck, the referee should have blown the play dead as it was a hand pass. The Blues turned to the refs immediately and complained. Unfortunately for the Blues, the play is not reviewable and they lost the game. On the bright side, if St. Louis wins this series, that blown call won’t matter too much.
I think the NHL seriously has to implement new policies to prevent teams from losing playoff games like this. They have a review system in place, but more often than not it just allows teams to challenge offside calls and take goals off the board long after they have been scored. The league office needs to look into reviewing potential penalties and other infractions that are not already eligible to be reviewed. One goal can change the course of an entire series and it isn’t fair for a franchise to have to suffer because of a clear non-call. The league now has all the momentum they need to implement new changes to the review system so they can prevent mistakes like this in the future. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.