Friday, May 31, 2013

Conference Finals Preview

Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks won a 2-1 overtime thriller against the Detroit Red Wings to join the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins as the four teams remaining in the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup. With the Conference Finals set to start this Saturday, here is what you can expect going forward from both series.

Blackhawks vs. Kings - This series is an interesting match-up as it places the hottest goalie left, Jonathan Quick against a Chicago team that is probably the most well- rounded squad left in contention.

One of the things about playoff hockey is that one player can entirely change the dynamic of a series, particularly when the individual in question is the man between the pipes. The last four Stanley Cup Champions have ridden hot goalies all the way to the Cup. The Conn Smythe went to Quick last year and the Bruin's Tim Thomas in 2011 and while they didn't win any awards Antti Nieme and Marc-Andre Fluery played crucial roles in the victories of the Blackhawks and Penguins respectively.

The Kings are hoping that goaltending once again can dictate the course of the cup this year because in all likelihood that is the only way they can compete with the three other teams left in the playoffs. Their defense has been solid thanks to the addition of Robyn Regehr but the Blues and Sharks both lack the talent of the Blackhawks forwards. Simultaneously their offense has struggled scoring three or more goals in only three of the thirteen games they've played this post season. Their leading scorer Mike Richards (two goals eight assists) is their only player in double figures and regular season scoring leaders Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams have been stagnant so far this post season.

The Blackhawks are probably the most complete team left in the playoffs. Their forward lines house the superstar power of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp (who's tied for the playoff lead with seven goals). Defensively the Hawks are anchored by blueliners Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook. While Seabrook has underperformed thus far he did score the game winning goal against Detroit in overtime which may provide the spark he needs to play up to his ability level. When you put Corey Crawford's, 1.70 GAA and .938 Save Percentage in the crease with that lineup you have one of the most formidable teams in the leave.

Prediction- Hawks in 6- Quick's 1.50 GAA and .948 Save Percentage are good but he can only do so much, particularly when the Kings struggling offense will be facing a talented Corey Crawford and the best defense they've seen throughout playoffs. The Kings will probably steal a game or two at home but expect the Hawks to cruise on to the Cup.

Bruins v. Penguins- The Penguins handled the Bruin's fairly easily in the season series but the playoff will pit two very different teams against one another. This is going to be a tough one either way and both teams have a legitimate shot at taking the East.

The Penguins have the most talented forwards in the league plain and simple. Any team that can place the league's reigning Most Valuable Player on the second line clearly has a lot of depth and that's exactly what the Penguins have done with Evgeni Malkin. Oh and by the way they also have Sydney Crosby the league’s best playmaker running the first line. Veterans Pascal Dupuis and Jerome Iginla  give the team the experience it needs for a playoff push and their third and fourth lines are two of the best in the league. While Bruins fans may claim to have four solid lines the Penguins have more depth and skill top to bottom then the Bruins forwards do. For this reason the Penguins forwards will be the ones who decide the series. Defenders Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are extremely talented but they have been plagued by subpar goalkeeping throughout the playoffs giving up a lot of soft goals. Thanks to their lackluster defense they are going to need to score if they want to win games.

The Bruins on the other hand are going to need to rely heavily on their defense and an underrated Tuuka Rask if they are to contain Pittsburgh's explosive forwards. Boston's Young Defenders Dougie Hamilton, Matt Barkowski, and the unbelievable Torey Krug played a fantastic series against the Rangers, but the Bruins are going to need Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara to play their best in order to prevent Crosby and Malkin from running wild. In order to accomplish this the Bruins need to play physically but disciplined. The slight physical edge the Bruins bring to the table could be their biggest asset, particularly with the Merlot Line playing extremely well. That being said it is imperative that the Bruin's stay disciplined and out of the box. If the Bruins commit the number of penalties against the Penguins that they did against the Ranger's they'll be out of the series before you can say “Crosby to Dupuis”.

Prediction- Bruin's in 7- I'm not even going to pretend to not be biased on this series. Are the Penguins the favorite? Definitely. Do they have home ice? Yes. Does that matter? No. It's the playoffs and the beautiful thing about the playoffs is that nothing leading up to a series matters. The Bruin's are going to need to play well to win, but they made a very talented Ranger's team look so bad that head coach John Tortorella got the boot. It's going to be a tough series, but I've got faith in the boys.

Regardless of what you think there is no denying that the Conference Finals are going to be great battles. These four teams deserve to be here and have all played exceptionally well up to this point. If the first two rounds are any indication there's a lot to look forward to as the hunt for the Cup continues.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Manny Being Manny... In Taiwan


A. I'm pretty sure everything they are saying translates loosely into, "Manny being Manny."

B. Why the hell don't I watch more Taiwanese news?

Young Defenders Sparking the Bruins

Boston Bruins fans held their collective breath last Monday as Dennis Seidenberg left the ice a minute into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Seidenberg joined teammates Andrew Ference and Wade Redden on a growing list of injured Bruin blue liners. The loss of three veteran defenders has meant that the Bruins have had to turn to young prospects to fill the void.

Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and most recently Torey Krug have been called up over the course of the playoffs and have excelled. The explosiveness of these three young players has helped spark the Bruins, pushing them past a tough Toronto squad and into a commanding 2-0 series lead over the New York Rangers. So who are these three youngsters who have stepped into arguably the league's biggest spotlight?

Hamilton is probably the most familiar to Bruins fans. The 19-year-old Toronto, Ontario native was the Bruins first overall pick in the 2011 entry draft and made his NHL debut earlier this season against the Rangers. Hamilton spent most of this season with the Bruins appearing in 42 of 48 games. While Hamilton has had a solid rookie campaign, netting five goals and adding 11 assists, he was criticized throughout the season for mental lapses and inconsistent play and ultimately was replaced by Redden as the Bruins entered the playoffs. Since returning to the lineup Hamilton has been fantastic. Joining Zdeno Chara on the first defensive pairing-- and also getting some time on the second powerplay unit -- Hamilton has taken advantage of his size, power and raw talent while limiting his mental mistakes, proving he can play in big games. seventh

Bartkowski was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers and came to the Bruins in the same trade that brought Seidenberg to Boston. Since then, Bartkowski has spent the majority of his time in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. It was there that Bartkowski made a name for himself as a solid defender and as a result, was the first of the Bruins young defenders to see time in the playoffs. Not normally a prolific scorer, Bartkowski has notched a goal and an assist in his four playoff games and has been playing with Johnny Boychuk on the second defensive pairing in addition to receiving time on the second powerplay with Hamilton. Probably the best pure defender of the three, Bartkowski is a known commodity who has the stuff to be a consistent Top 4 defender

Finally, and perhaps most exciting has been the emergence of Torey Krug. The 22-year-old Michigan State alum was an undrafted free agent who was signed by the Bruins in March of last year. Krug only appeared in one game for the Bruins during the regular season. Despite all of that, in the playoffs Krug has shown a scorer's touch and fantastic skating ability scoring two goals and adding an assist in two games against the Rangers. Although undersized, Krug has also shown solid defensive instincts breaking up a few key plays and throwing his body around. In yesterday's victory over the Rangers, Krug showed excellent stick work, kicking a pass off his skates to set himself up for a goal from the slot and adding an assist on a similar move when a puck he fired from the blue line was buried by Gregory Campbell. While Krug still has a lot to prove, he has shown some incredible offensive skills in his brief call-up and could be a solid asset to the Bruins moving forward.

These three youngsters have given a much needed spark to a Bruins squad that was floundering entering the playoffs. They've certainly been aided by the revelation in net that is Tuukka Rask but there is no denying that their speed and energy allowed the Bruins to contain scorers Phil Kessel of the Leafs and (so far) Rick Nash of the Rangers.

Whether their consistency and quality of play is an enigma or here to stay remains to be seen, however, they have been a crucial part of the Bruins' playoff success thus far. As Redden and Seidenberg stand poised to rejoin the team it's likely that these young defenders will return to the bench, but in either case, Boston's blue line is in good hands for the foreseeable future.

Whole New Meaning to the Word "Hazard"

Nicholas Colsaerts had an interesting weekend to say the least. This past Saturday at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria, Colsaerts found himself in a crappy situation as he was forced to take a drop in the restroom on the 10th hole after hitting his tee shot out of play.

Ultimately, Colsaerts afternoon went down the tubes as he was was defeated by Graeme McDowell who would go on to win the tournament. Sorry Colsaerts, but in the words of Ian Malcolm, “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

It's What He Does That Defines Him

It's Monday, which means folks need something to laugh at to get the work week started. These Collegehumor "Batman" videos have been around for a while, but we here at Three if by Strike have yet to draw your attention to them. There's a whole slew of them so sit back, ignore your work and enjoy the videos that you deserve AND that you need right now.

Good Match-ups Key to Sox Early Success

This years Boston Red Sox have been a huge surprise. Currently sitting a half game back in what most people would consider the toughest division baseball, the Sox have succeeded despite shipping superstar players like Nick Punto (Oh, and Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett). On paper this year's Sox are not nearly as talented as last year's team was and yet their performance leaves no question, the 2013 Sox are a better team. The question is then, how are they doing it?

The answer is actually a very simple one. General manager Ben Cherington has acquired players who fit a particular role and manager John Farrell is putting those players in positions where they can succeed. A huge component of this practice has been placing hitters in match-ups they can consistently win.

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a prime example of this approach. Salty is a switch hitter but traditionally has hit better from the left side of the dish than the right (this year he's hitting .160 from the right and .289 from the left). While last year the Sox utilized Salty as an everyday player, this year he has started primarily in games against right-handed pitchers and his batting average is a healthy .260 as a result. And it's not just Salty, either. Daniel Nava has faced primarily righties, is hitting almost .300 and is third on the team in both home runs and RBIs. Even Mike Carp is hitting over .300! Mike Carp!

While there are certainly a number of other reasons for the Sox success including a remarkable starting rotation, an unprecedented level of team chemistry and Koji Uehara's emergence as arguably the most likeable player on the team, the utilization of players in situations where they can succeed has allowed the Sox to excel.

There are those who may argue that this isn't Sox baseball or that moneyball doesn't work but this team is reminiscent of the '04 team that had Dave Roberts stealing bases and Doug Mientkiewicz stealing baseballs. It's a long season, but if the Sox can stay healthy and continue to utilize players intelligently this team is a legitimate contender and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.