2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 3 Conference Finals Preview
The second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs wasn’t any less interesting than the first. The surprising Hurricanes swept the Islanders, the Blues and Stars played a really tight and equal series, the Bruins and Blue Jackets battled in what will probably end up being the best series in the playoffs and the Sharks… ugh. We’ll get to that in a bit.
One thing that really bothered me was the way the Stars played in games 6 and 7. I don’t see how a team that had played well up until that point and has a chance to close out the series can play that poorly in close out games. It’s like they didn’t even show up. It’s basically how the Lightning flamed out in the last few conference finals. It boggles the mind. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn didn’t show up. They had a whopping four shots in two periods of play in Game 7. Then they had three or four offsides in a row because of lazy changes or bad passing. Just a despicable effort all the way around. Except for one player. It’s nice to see Ben Bishop almost single-handedly win the series. I had been writing about how the Stars should acquire him a season or two before they actually did. It’s nice to see when things I clamor for work out. I also wrote the Blues were one of the worst teams when they fired the coach and I didn’t see how they expected him to win games with that roster. I was clearly very wrong but I still don’t think they are that talented of a team.
I don’t really want to keep devoting time to bad officiating and the Sharks benefiting from it but here we go again. The Sharks shouldn’t even be here to begin with, since the NHL admitted they got the penalty call wrong, but they ended up in another Game 7. The Avalanche scored the tying goal but then there was an offsides challenge. Far away from the play there was an Avalanche player changing. They ruled he was offsides and the goal was disallowed. But there are several problems with the call. It’s possible the NHL had better angles than what we were showed but if they didn’t, there’s no way you can say he was offsides. Meaning the call should stand. And if you did make a call, it would probably be a part of his skate was on the blueline and it only wasn’t on it after the puck had crossed. Because that’s what it sort of looked like. Again, no way to definitively tell. The other part of the problem is whether or not he is even in the play. If he is in the play, then it would be too many men on the ice. But that wouldn’t be called here either because it’s only called when the puck is in play near the bench. And it wasn’t here. And if the player isn’t in play for a too many men on the ice penalty, he can’t be in play for an offside call either. More importantly, offsides wasn’t made for situations like that. It was made for players getting an advantage. The guy changing has no idea what is going on. His back is turned. He isn’t in the play. Just a stupid overturn. You don’t have a good angle to see and it’s not relevant to the play. The offsides in overtime in the Stars vs Blues games were sort of similar but the Stars player were further from the bench and the puck was closer to them. You had to call those. This was just stupid. And what’s really irritating is we have all of this technology and we still can’t get any of these calls correct. But we’ll have to keep dealing with the Sharks being in series they shouldn’t be in.
A2 Boston Bruins vs. W1 Carolina Hurricanes
Season Series: 2-1 Bruins
Playoff Series History: 1-1
What We Learned: The Bunch of Jerks kept right on rolling, especially at home. The Bruins took a bit of time to get rolling in the second round but they proved who the most talented team was.
Stars to Watch: Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are pretty hot right now. Making opportunities and scoring key goals. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle aren’t playing bad now either. I’ve been particularly impressed with all the opportunities Coyle has been creating. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have been plying great defense. McAvoy will only miss one game for his head hit. The Hurricanes have a lot of balance right now. They are also playing great defense. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen turned it on at the end of the Islanders series. That’s important because they will really need to bring their A game in this series. It’s nice to see Jordan Staal playing well in meaning full games again. It’s been a long time. He scored the only goal in the first game against the Islanders. Defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk will probably rack up quite a bunch of minutes in this series. Slavin already has 11 assists.
X-Factor: It’s hard to know just how good the Hurricanes are. They did beat two good teams but both are very flawed. The Capitals were up 3-2 in typical fashion but, also in typical fashion, they choked away the series. You could say sweeping the Islanders was impressive but all but the last game were super close. The Islanders are also the quintessential team that needs everything to go right for them to win. Everything ended up going wrong for them which is why they couldn’t win a game. This series will be a huge test for this Hurricanes team.
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask has been in the zone as of late. He technically has two shutouts in the last three games. I’m not counting the goal that went out of play and wasn’t called properly. It’s unlikely he’ll snap out of it. Petr Mrazek seems to be recovered from his injury. Meaning the Hurricanes will have to choose between him and Curtis McElhinney. It’s likely they will go back to Mrazek. In either case, they have both impressed and played above expectations. Especially McElhinney.
Fun Fact: The Bruins have the number playoff power play at 28%. The Hurricanes have a paltry 10.5%. They aren’t going to be able to win playing that poorly on the power play.
Prediction: I can’t envision many scenarios in which the Hurricanes can win. The difference in talent between the Bruins and Hurricanes is even wider than between the Bruins and Blue Jackets. That is bad news for the Hurricanes. But it doesn’t mean it will be easy. I expect this will be a long series because of the Hurricanes dominance at home. It wouldn’t surprise me if it went 7. The only way the Hurricanes could win is if the Bruins keep turning it over and taking dumb penalties. The amount of shorthanded breakaways they gave the Blue Jackets was unreal.
C3 St. Louis Blues vs P2 San Jose Sharks
Season Series: 2-1 Sharks
Playoff Series History: 3-2 Sharks
What We Learned: The Blues kept going on their unlikely run and the Sharks kept being lucky when needed.
Stars to Watch: The Sharks are a potent team. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl are leading the playoffs in goals. Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are killing it from the blueline. However, Karlsson hasn’t scored a goal in a really long time. Evander Kane hasn’t really been seen in a while either. He’ll need to have a big series here if the Sharks are to win. Then there’s Joe Pavelski who just came back. I’m sure he’ll be at 100% when this series starts. The Blues are still balanced and Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz are both having a great series. Vladimir Tarasenko is having great games when he is on. Creating opportunities even when he isn’t scoring goals. But other games he just isn’t really there. Ryan O’Reilly is playing fairly well but he can play better. Not surprisingly, Tarasenko and O’Reilly both have a -5. The worst on the team. Patrick Maroon has been a beast around the crease.
X-Factor: The Sharks are clearly the benefactors of calls that should have never been. Can their luck keep going or will it finally run out? For the Blues, it doesn’t seem like anything phases them. Being in last place at the halfway point of the season, being down in a series, being down in a game. It just doesn’t matter. I’m not sure there is anything the Sharks could do that would phase them at this point. I guess more screwy calls might bend them.
Goalie Problem: Martin Jones played better against the Avalanche. I’m not really sold on him yet though. The Blues play really well near the crease just like the Golden Knights did at the beginning of the first round. Jones didn’t handle it well then. He will need to now. Jordan Binnington seemed like he could have been beaten in Game 7 but will never know because the Stars couldn’t get any shots on him. But he survived and made the saves when needed. But he is better than Jones.
Fun Fact: This is the fifth appearance for the Sharks in the Conference Finals. The only time they won was when they faced the Blues in 2016.
Prediction: This is a really tough series to predict and it’s very close. It’s definitely going 6 or 7. The Blues have that underdog run that usually leads to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. On the other hand, I had a feeling the winner of the Golden Knights vs Sharks series would end up in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sharks also have luck on their side. Something has to give in this series. This series will probably be decided by the offensive play from the defensemem and who wins the crease battles. Either from screening the goalie or getting rebounds. But it feels like destiny that Joe Thornton will face his former team, in what might be his last season, in the Stanley Cup Finals.