Eastern Conference Final
#4 Boston Bruins vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins (Bruins lead series 3-0)
You know what separates professional athletes from weekend warriors? Mental toughness and ego. Pros know they can push their bodies past the point of exhaustion, that will leave weekend warriors begging for their couch, remote, and a cold drink. I laughed every time my neighbours would come up to me and say "I just love the way X is as a person because he's so humble and down to Earth." That "aw-shucks" act is a gimmick 99.9% of the time. In reality, pros are more ruthless and have the mentality that they would do whatever it takes to win.
Boston is displaying both of those traits in this series, and that is the reason we are seeing them up 3-0. After coming off that thrilling 7 game victory over Toronto, the Bs only appear to be getting stronger. They have been blocking out fatigue and it seems as if they are actually feeding off of it.
Remember when Pittsburgh forward Jarome Iginla picked Pittsburgh over Boston at the trade deadline? Well it seems that not all Boston fans and players have moved on. Every time they step on the ice, each and every Bruins player has that same swag to their step. Although it's not something that's mentioned publicly, when a team faces this situation the guys in the room are not happy to be treated like second-class citizens. Pittsburgh should know all about that. Remember when Marian Hossa jumped ship? Well Pittsburgh stuck it to him when they beat Detroit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
Prediction: This series is all but over for the Pens.
Western Conference Final
#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks lead series 3-1)
The Blackhawks are up 3-1 in this series, so for now, no more Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews talk. Everyone knows they are struggling offensively, so we will put that story to rest. This team is still finding ways to get the job done.
How? First of all, Bryan Bickell is this year's version of 2010 Dustin Byfuglien (when the 'Hawks won the Cup). Toews might have won the Conn Smythe, but an argument could have been made for Big Buff that year, as his big goals and massive hits had a major impact on the series, especially the hit on Chris Pronger which turned the tide of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Bickell is just as intimidating on the forecheck. He's pushing the opposition's defense off the blue line, as they have to cheat to turn and go back for pucks early knowing he is coming with a full head of steam.
Secondly, Marian Hossa continues to remind hockey fans that this Blackhawks team has more weapons than just Kane and Toews. It's not just Hossa's goals that are game-changing. It's his relentless backside pressure on the puck that is giving the Kings forwards fits through the neutral zone.
Lastly, Corey Crawford has matched Jonathan Quick save-for-save in the series so far. More importantly, he hasn't given up any crazy goals. By that I mean letting in a goal that your everyday beer league goalie might stop, leaving his teammates on the bench dumbfounded. Still not clear on what I'm talking about? See the Pittsburgh Penguins' games in the first round (2012 vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 2013 vs. New York Islanders).
The Los Angeles Kings take a lot of pride in their organizational depth. Dean Lombardi has really stocked the cupboards with good players that can contribute today as well as tomorrow. They were able to overcome an injury to their "glue guy" Jarret Stoll in the San Jose series. But not having Mike Richards in the lineup is really affecting the Kings' balance up front. This is especially magnified when both their Captain Dustin Brown, and their offensive leader Anze Kopitar are struggling to find the back of the net.
Voynov needs to continue to fire missiles from the blue line. Dustin Williams has to keep scoring with his hot stick and Jeff Carter needs to continue to apply pressure on the Hawks if the Kings hope to dig themselves out of this hole.
Prediction: The deficit may be too much for Los Angeles to overcome without Richards in the lineup. I just don't see a comeback.
Last week, the Colorado Avalanche hired Patrick Roy as their head coach. He'll have more job security and say than your average rookie coach as the nameplate on his door will also read VP of Hockey Operations. Roy's hiring is as important as the Avs having the number one pick this summer.
Roy made one comment that made me believe that he will be perfect for Colorado. He said, "My No. 1 quality is that I'm not afraid to put in the time." I've seen way too many former stars get handed front office and coaching jobs that just help pad their retirement fund. The same work ethic and drive that made them who they were as players was simply not applied after they had retired. So far Roy has put his money where his mouth is. He was not too proud to go back to junior and learn the other side of the game. He rode the bus for long hours and more importantly, he won! I'm doubling down on 33 red every time!
I was able to catch up with the top two prospects in this year's upcoming 2013 NHL Draft -- Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon. After a long year in junior, Jones and Mackinnon are now focused and preparing with their CAA Hockey agents for this summer's Draft. They haven't played a game in the NHL but the media requests have been coming in like kitchen orders in a New York City diner. These kids were harder to get a hold of than the President, but I finally got my men.
I asked Jones who he thought would win the Cup to which he responded, "Boston will probably win the Cup because I feel they have several of the characteristics that it takes to win." Jones would know a little about winning after leading Team USA to a Gold medal earlier this year in the World Junior Championships. I was curious as to what he thought those characteristics might be. "They play a team game, their forwards are very defensive minded, they have great goaltending, and they can score goals," Jones offered. For a young kid, it sure sounds like he's got a little taste of winning and is hungry for more.
MacKinnon saw things a little differently, but that's why it's going to come down to the wire before we find out where these two potential game-changing young players end up.
"I think the Chicago Blackhawks will win the Stanley cup solely on their depth from front to back and their solid goaltending," said MacKinnon. An offensive dynamo, MacKinnon also knows a thing or two about winning. He recently turned the Memorial Cup tournament upside down and dominated the competition, while leading his team to the Championship over Jones' team in the Final.
The debate of who to take first overall reminds me a lot of a pivotal decision I faced daily when in my prime -- to bring out the Range Rover or Ferrari today? Because I loved them both, equally.
The top talent available in this draft reminds me of the 2008 NHL Draft with Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty. I'm pretty sure both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles are happy with their respective players.
Update from HockeyWood...
I have to give a shout out to my man George Stroumboulopoulos. Stroumboulopoulos has been working nonstop preparing to debut his new show on CNN titled "Stroumboulopoulos." Busier than ever, Stromboulopoulos still manages to keep an eye on the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I'm all about the Habs," said the television and radio star, better known to his legion of fans as "Strombo." "When they're out of the playoffs, which is usually how it goes, I root for my favourite ex-Habs. This year, I wanted to see Saku Koivu and Sheldon Souray. Now, I'm not sure. There's a part of me as a Canadian that wants to see Jarome Iginla win one, and with a little bit of universal poetry, return the favor of that 2010 gold medal-winning pass. I wanna see Sidney Crosby pass the Cup to Jarome Iginla."
Now that Pittsburgh is down 3-0, the Pens are going to need a miracle! I'm looking forward to catching Strombo's show June 9th at 10p.m. on CNN, and follow him on Twitter @Strombo to keep up to date with all of his upcoming and exciting guests.
That's all for now. Remember, sleep is for the offseason!