Blake’s Takes: Stalemates in the Conference Finals

I’m back after a week off and we’re right in the thick of the Conference Finals. Both series are nearing their end as both matchups have given us amazing hockey. This week, I’ll take a look at both matchups and the four teams that are still alive.

I’ll also share a few of my favorite stories from across the league, including two notable extensions and one fun and inclusive hire in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Tuesday!

1. Vegas Knocks Out ‘Avs, Even with Habs

The Golden Knights and Canadiens are locked in a bitter series tied at two games apiece. Other than the first game of the series, each game has been decided by one goal.

The most recent and notable storyline was the benching of Marc-Andre Fleury for Robin Lehner. If you’ve paid any sort of attention to the Golden Knights over the last year, you know that the situation in net has garnered a ton of press coverage. Game 4 could have been the turning point. Lehner started his first game of the series and stopped 27 of 28 shots, helping the Knights win in overtime. Carey Price of course has been his usual stellar self. He’ll have to raise his game to the next level if he wants to help Montreal advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since they won it all in 1993.

My favorite moment of the Knights’ postseason doesn’t even involve them. It’s the press conference Nathan MacKinnon gave after the Knights won four straight games after being down 2-0 to Colorado.

Watch it if you need a laugh.

2. Isles vs. Tampa in David vs. Goliath

I’m sorry that this header is terrible clickbait. It’s not fair to characterize the Islanders as an underdog anymore when this is their second straight appearance in the Conference Finals. Sadly, it’s against the team that knocked them out last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are every bit Goliath as they’ve ever been. The Islanders are staring down the barrel end of their season as Tampa took a 3-2 series lead last night after clobbering the Isles 8-0 in Game Five. 

Let me start by saying that I love Tampa Bay. I love their players, I love the way they play, and they’re fun to watch. That being said, I would love to see the Islanders make the Stanley Cup Finals. I don’t think a soul would watch, but I’d love it. I’ll be honest and admit I haven’t watched as much playoff hockey as I would have liked this season, but I’m into bland and out on sexy.

I want to see a team led by Matt Barzal, Josh Bailey, and Brock Nelson play on the biggest stage. I doubt most casual hockey fans can even name their numbers!

If anything, I’m rooting for the winner of this series to win it all. I’m also hoping the Canadiens make it to the Finals and lose, crushing the dreams of every Canadian who is dying to see the Stanley Cup return to the Great White North. (Editor’s Note: Ouch!)

3. Brind’Amour Extended in Carolina

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Rod Brind’Amour is having a great week. Not only was Brind’Amour named the Jack Adams award winner as the league’s best coach, but he was also awarded a three-year extension by the Carolina Hurricanes. This past season was the last year of his contract.

In his three years with Carolina, he has quickly turned them into one of the best teams in the league. The Hurricanes notched 99 points in their first season and made a surprise trip to the Conference Finals. After losing in the first round last season, this year’s team finished as the top team in the Central Division. They might have been knocked out of the playoffs in the second round by Tampa, but, they did attain the best points percentage in franchise history, better than the team that won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

I’m obviously a big fan of Brind’Amour because he played at Michigan State. I do like him because not only has he turned the Hurricanes around, he’s made them one of the most fun teams to watch. Guys like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Jaccob Slavin are must-see TV thanks to Brind’Amour. Lastly, I love that he’s a new coach. I’m sick of seeing the same coaches swap teams like your friend’s old couch that no one wants to throw away. The league needs new blood behind the bench and Brind’Amour is doing wonders. Maybe the rest of the league should follow suit?

4. Spezza Re-Ups with Toronto

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Jason Spezza will be returning to his hometown team for at least one more year. He’ll also get a nice raise! He made $700k this past season and will make $750k this coming season.

This will be Spezza’s third season in Toronto after spending the first 11 years of his career in Ottawa and the next five with Dallas. He was a valuable depth piece for the Leafs and of course, is a great locker room presence. He scored 10 goals and added another 20 assists in 54 games last season, his highest PPG since the 2016-17 season. Spezza recently turned 38-years-old and surely wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto.

Spezza notably scored a hat-trick this season against the Vancouver Canucks, his eight career hat-trick and first since the 2015-16 season.

This move won’t move the needle too much for Toronto, but they need all the help they can get. They are paying their big stars a ton of money and need to find more production down their lineup. Seeing as they’re a big market, they will need to rely on guys like Spezza who are willing to take less money to try and win a Stanley Cup. Spezza won’t be the answer, but he could be a necessary piece of the puzzle Toronto is desperately trying to complete.

5. J.T. Brown Heads to Seattle

 

 
 
 
 
 
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J.T. Brown will suit up for the Seattle Kraken next season, just not as a player. Brown, who hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2018-19 season will join the Kraken as their TV Color Analyst.

Brown played in the NHL for parts of six seasons with the Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, and Minnesota Wild. He played in 365 regular-season games, scoring 23 goals, with 49 assists. Brown last played for IF Björklöven in the HockeyAllsvenskan this past season. HockeyAllsvenskan is the second-highest league in Sweden, right below the SHL. Brown notched 12 points in 19 games with IF Björklöven.

It’s great to see Brown return to the NHL, especially in the media. He will be able to use his platform as one of the few former black NHL players to promote racial and social inequality and provide the necessary representation for POC in hockey. This is another positive step in making hockey for everyone. ■

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.

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