The Chase For the Cup

Posted on May 15, 2014 by Mike Vogel

For the first time in five years, we’ve been treated to three Game Seven experiences in the four second-round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens have already won Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference final, and a third Game 7 looms tomorrow night in the Anaheim-Los Angeles series.

 

In the only second-round series that did not require a Game 7, Chicago needed overtime in Game 6 to prevail over the Minnesota Wild.

 

The two beasts of the East – Boston and Pittsburgh – have both been vanquished. Once again, the Presidents’ Trophy winner (Boston) will not be winning the Cup. Only eight times in the 27 seasons in which the Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded has the same team won that trophy and the Stanley Cup.

 

Three of the four Eastern Conference teams that amassed as many as 100 points during the regular season are gone; only the Canadiens (100) remain.

 

Out West, three of the six 100-point teams are gone and another will bite the dust in Southern California tomorrow night.

 

For you fancy stats aficionados out there, the top four teams in the Corsi close metric (Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Boston and Dallas) are all gone. The only remaining team above the 50% threshold is Los Angeles (53.3%), and the Kings could be gone tomorrow.

 

The top six teams in the Fenwick close metric (Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Dallas, Boston, St. Louis and San Jose) are all gone. Again, Los Angeles is the lone remaining team above the 50% mark; the Kings are at 50.6%.

 

Chalk that anomaly up to small sample size.

 

During the regular season, Los Angeles and Chicago finished 1-2 in both Corsi close and Fenwick close. The Rangers finished sixth, so three of the five teams still breathing were top six possession teams during the regular season.

 

The goaltending matchup in the Eastern Conference final should be compelling as it pits the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Canadiens’ Carey Price.

 

Both the Rangers and the Habs have gone 20 or more years between Stanley Cup final appearances. One of those two teams will end that drought this spring.

 

Montreal has the best power play and the worst penalty-killing outfit of the remaining teams, again using the small sample size of the playoffs to date. The Rangers have been the best 5-on-5 team in the playoffs thus far, with Montreal and Chicago running 2-3 in that category.

 

Discipline matters. Montreal’s penalty killers have succeeded on 80 pct. of their missions, just a shade worse than the recently eliminated Penguins (81.1%). But give the Habs credit for keeping their collective cool; they’ve only been shorthanded 25 times in 11 games in these playoffs. Contrast that to the Penguins, whose penalty-killing outfit was on the ice 53 times in 13 games. The Pens surrendered 10 power-play goals to just five for the Habs.

 

With 3.27 goals per game, the Canadiens have been the most prolific offensive team in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. With 2.43 tallies per tilt, the Rangers are at the opposite end of that spectrum.

 

Montreal is 7-0 when it scores the game’s first goal in these playoffs. It is 1-3 when the opposition lights the lamp first.

 

A total of 74 playoff games have been played so far, and on eight occasions a team that trailed going into the third period won the game. But of the five remaining teams, only Anaheim (once) has achieved the feat this spring.

 

Defense is important. The five remaining teams are among the seven stingiest teams in terms of goals allowed this spring, with the Rangers leading the pack at 2.14 goals against per game. Chicago and Montreal are running 3-4 and Anaheim-Los Angeles are 6-7, respectively, in that department.

 

The race for the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded annually to the playoff MVP is wide open. The Kings’ Anze Kopitar leads all players in scoring (17 points) and in assists (13) but he could be done tomorrow night. The same can be said for Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (14 points), the only active player of the three tied for second in playoff scoring behind Kopitar.

 

Chicago’s Patrick Kane has six goals and 10 points in a dozen games, but he has three game-winners and two of those were scored in overtime. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews has five goals and 10 points in a dozen games. Four of his five goals have been game-winners with one of those coming in overtime.

 

Kane and Toews have combined to supply seven of Chicago’s eight game-winning goals in these playoffs. Whichever of Anaheim or Los Angeles advances to the Western final to face the Hawks should take note of that.

 

Plenty of the league’s scoring stars found it extremely difficult to get on track offensively in these playoffs, but that hasn’t been the case for Chicago’s golden duo.

 

With four goals and a dozen points in just 11 games, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban is definitely in the Smythe conversation. He has picked up seven of those points (three goals, four assists) on the power play to lead all NHL players in extra-man scoring this spring.

 

The Kings’ Marian Gaborik leads all players with eight goals in these playoffs. Gaborik scored nine playoff goals in 18 games for the Wild in his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs back in 2003. It took him four playoff years and 36 games to net his next nine playoff goals, but he has found the range again with eight tallies in just 13 games this spring.

 

Rookie Anaheim goalie John Gibson has compiled a .946 save pct., but has played in just three games thus far. Chicago’s Corey Crawford and New York’s Lundqvist are both at .931. Price is at .926 and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick is at .914.

 

Lundqvist’s .940 even-strength save pct. is impressive, but Crawford has stopped 61 of 65 shots while Chicago has been shorthanded for a lofty .938 save pct. You can file that under “clearly not sustainable.”

 

What is sustainable is the drama. As we near the halfway mark of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, don’t expect the drama to diminish.

 

Posted in: Sports
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