Blake’s Takes: Stanley Cup Final Set

The Stanley Cup Finals are set. The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning will square off against the underdog Montreal Canadiens. I’m excited to watch such an interesting matchup. If Tampa Bay wins, they’ll be the first team since 2017 to win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. If Montreal wins, they’ll be the first Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup since they did it back in 1993. Game One is tonight. Buckle your seatbelts. 

1. Tampa Advances to Stanley Cup Finals Again

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Islanders gave it everything they had but for the second straight year the Lightning pushed on. Tampa Bay defeated the Isles in a thrilling seven-game series for the ages. The Lightning will look to defend their crown and attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back Cup titles since the Pittsburgh Penguins did so in 2016 and 2017. 

I want to give credit to the Islanders. They pushed Tampa to the brink with their defensive style of hockey. Head coach Barry Trotz deserves to be hailed as one of the league’s best coaches for pushing one of the best teams of all time to the brink. It’s not that the Islanders don’t have talent, but the Lightning have an all-time group that could measure up with anyone. I’m hopeful the Islanders can keep their momentum going and we can see this matchup again next year.

Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point led the way against the Islanders. Kucherov tallied nine assists and Point scored six goals and added another two assists in the series. Andrei Vasilevskiy was his normal stellar self, posting a .940 sv% and two shutouts in the series.

If the Lightning can win it all again this year, they’ll be inching closer to the title of a dynasty.

2. Montreal Advances to First Cup Final Since 1993

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Montreal’s run has been remarkable. They knocked off the dynamic Las Vegas Golden Knights in six games and have advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. Montreal was the 18th-best team in the league based on points. They had the lowest point total of any playoff team and ousted two of the best teams in the playoffs in the Knights and Toronto Maple Leafs. This run is the stuff of dreams.

Cole Caufield has been a huge part of this run. Montreal finally decided to let him take on a bigger role and he has delivered. The former University of Wisconsin Badger led the team in points against Vegas, scoring four goals and adding one assist.

Is this the run we’ve been waiting to see since Carey Price. He hasn’t quite performed up to Dominik Hasek 1998 Olympics-level standards, but he’s been nothing short of amazing. He posted a .933 sv% against Vegas and is a massive reason Montreal has won. If Montreal is able to defeat Tampa Bay, Price will no doubt be recognized as one of the greatest goaltenders of all time.

3. Kraken Hire Hakstol as First-Ever Head Coach

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Kraken announced that Dave Hakstol will be the team’s first head coach in their history. Hakstol most recently coached the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2018-19 season and was fired after 31 games. This will be his second NHL head coaching gig. Hakstol was a great college coach, leading the University of North Dakota to seven Frozen Fours in 11 seasons.

I’m leaning towards liking this hire for Seattle. Hakstol can clearly coach but doesn’t have a proven track record in the NHL. I’m surprised Seattle didn’t hire someone completely green or go with a proven NHL commodity. An in-between was not what I was expecting. Hakstol did lead the Flyers to the playoffs twice in his four-season tenure with the Flyers.

I’m happy to see coaches like Hakstol get second chances, rather than the same few coaches getting passed around the league. I think a that will be heavy with young players from the expansion draft could use a coach that has a great track record for player development and can connect with them. Okay, I’ve talked myself into liking this hire. Great job by Seattle.

4. ‘Hawks Coach Accused of Sexual Assault

Last week, a story via TSN broke that former Blackhawks’ video coach, Brad Aldrich, had allegedly assaulted two ‘Hawks players. According to the story, the assaults were an “open secret” within parts of the organization. Two lawsuits by unnamed players have been filed against the Blackhawks for covering up the reported assaults.

Aldrich was later convicted of abusing a 17-year-old hockey player in 2013. Aldrich also resigned from his role as director of hockey operations at Miami University for sexual assault suspicions.

If these alleged acts are proven to be true, this should be the biggest story in sports going forward. I feel many who read this story will be surprised that the players who have filed lawsuits did not take it a step further. The players are typically regarded as the most important people in the organization. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if a player was able to use their influence to have a coach fired. It happens all the time. However, sexual assault is a serious crime, one where the abusers typically hold some sort of power over survivors. We must remain empathetic and understanding of why these players did not react differently.

We should condemn Aldrich’s alleged actions and the Blackhawks organization’s failure to act. As I said before, players are the most important people in an organization. It’s surprising that the Blackhawks wouldn’t just dismiss Aldrich on the allegations alone. I would expect their structure for reporting such incidents to be broken. These are heinous allegations and I hope the Blackhawks are held accountable for their failure to act and protect their players.

As for Aldrich, he should never work in hockey again. The man was convicted of abuse! That alone should prevent him from ever working in hockey or around young people.

If these allegations are true, the NHL should act accordingly and punish the Blackhawks severely for their failure to protect their players and putting so many other people at risk.

5. Gerard Gallant Hired by the Rangers

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Last week, the New York Rangers announced that Gerard Gallant would be the team’s newest coach. The team fired head coach David Quinn after this past season as the team failed to make the playoffs. This will be Gallant’s first time behind the bench since he was fired by the Golden Knights in the middle of last season.

When I saw this news, I figured Gallant was another one of those coaches being passed around, but this is only his fourth NHL head coaching job. He coached in Columbus from 2003-07, missing the playoffs in 2004 and 2006, then getting fired midway through 2006-07. He was then hired by the Florida Panthers and coached them for parts of three seasons between 2014-17. He led the Panthers to a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division during the 2015-16 season before losing to the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. He was fired during the next season. Lastly, Gallant was Vegas’ first-ever coach, leading the team from 2017-2020 before he was again fired midseason. However, Gallant did famously lead the Knights to the Stanley Cup finals in the team’s inaugural season.

Gallant is a good coach and this is a good hire. He is a coach that seems to know how to get the most out of his talent, which was evident in Vegas. The Rangers have a ton of talent up and down their roster including the likes of Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and Alexis Lafreniere. I could easily see Gallant writing the ship in Manhattan and taking this team on a deep playoff run sooner than later. ■

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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