Tag Archive | Pittsburgh

Why Pittsburgh Won Again

The Stanley Cup Finals are over a game too early! This postseason was one of the best ever. Overtimes were plentiful, heartbreak was everywhere, and the sport put on a show that no other league can. There’s just one issue: It ended before we got to Game 7 of the Finals! Aside from that disappointment, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators provided fans with a well played and exciting cap to the 2017 NHL playoffs. At the start of the series, I predicted a Penguins victory with the provision that it was a toss up decision. With the series over, let’s take a look at what led to Pittsburgh hoisting their second consecutive Stanley Cup. 

1. Predator’s Lack of Offensive Potence

The chatter before the series was about Nashville’s defensive unit going up against Pittsburgh’s hall of fame forwards. Both teams were injured in critical ways and tried to play to their strengths with their cores. Nashville won when their defensive unit could keep Pittsburgh off the puck. Unfortunately, the Predators did not have the forwards to keep pace with the Penguins lines. Nashville was short on the offensive end, which makes some sense as Pittsburgh sports two guaranteed Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and one borderline Hall of Famer in Phil Kessel. But there were two major pieces that could’ve lifted the Preds offense. 

24 year old Ryan Johansen was one of the best centers in the league this season. This postseason, he played in 14 games and collected 13 points. He was a major piece of the Predators attack. And he was not able to play in the Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, Johansen took a hit and felt unusual pain in his leg. He played the whole game, which went into overtime, showered, realized just how bad his leg was, and got himself to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Acute Compartment Syndrome in his left thigh and was shut down for the remainder of the playoffs. So Nashville was without a top center. 


There’s one other personnel issue that undercut Nashville’s chances for success. In 2012, Nashville selected Jimmy Vesey, a left winger from Harvard, with the 66th pick in the draft. Vesey played all four years inn Cambridge, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate player in 2016 and laying the foundation for Harvard’s hockey renaissance. Near the end of his time in college, the Crimson star was guaranteed a spot on the Predators regular season and postseason roster in 2016. However, Vesey informed Nashville that he was not interested in signing with them. He did not want to play in Tennessee and wanted to choose his own destination. He ended up signing with the New York Rangers. He helped the team to a playoff series upset over the Montreal Canadiens, but they lost in the second round to the Ottawa Senators. While Vesey watched, the team he spurned had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup. The Boston native wanted to determine his own landing spot. He got what he wanted, but for now, Vesey screwed up royally. He could have been competing alongside PK Subban and Mike Fisher for the Stanley Cup in his second year in the pros. 


Without two major potential pieces, Nashville was behind the eightball against the Pittsburgh forwards and they failed to overcome the deficit. Their defensive corps was good, just not the forwards. 

2. Controversial Stripes

Let’s deal with this now: Nashville got absolutely screwed by one of the worst officiating calls I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the Predators had plenty of opportunities after the blown call to score, including a 5 on 3 power play in the third period. But proceeding opportunities do not change the fact that the game should have been 1-0 Nashville in the second period. Early in the frame, Nashville had momentum, energy, and the crowd. Filip Forsberg fired the puck on net and it got through Matt Murray for Colton Sissons to put it home. Except the official thought Murray had controlled the puck and whistled the play dead, wiping the goal off the board. To repeat myself and ensure my position, the Preds had opportunities to score and take the lead later in the game, but those later chances do not excuse abysmal officiating. 


3. Pekka’s Poor Play

In the first three rounds of the postseason, 34 year old Pekka Rinne played the best hockey of his career. He totaled a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage, both among the best in the history of the NHL for a postseason. Against Pittsburgh though, Rinne was a mere mortal. He was pulled twice in the series, in games 2 and 5, and his GAA went up to 2.33 while his save percentage dropped to .888 for the series. The Predators needed exceptional play from Rinne to beat Pittsburgh and they did not get it, especially in Pittsburgh. His counterpart, Matt Murray, lived up to the pressure and performed admirably all series, with a shutout in the final game of the series. Pekka turned into a pumpkin before midnight while Murray got to dance at the ball the whole night. 


4. Steady Sullivan

Ever since getting the job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan has been the most steady coach in the league. His team was outplayed by Washington for most of their second round series, and got destroyed by Ottawa in multiple games of that series. Sullivan saw the team through both of those roadblocks and led the Penguins to their second consecutive championship. He joins Toe Blake as the second head coach to win Stanley Cups in their first two seasons. Enjoy the stability of a BU Terrier favorite Pittsburgh!


5. Perseverant Penguins

The calling card for Pittsburgh all postseason was their ability to persevere and fight. They went the length of the hardest postseason in sports without their top defenseman, Kris LeTang, and lost Nick Bonino in the Finals. They used both goaltenders in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury almost singlehandedly beat Columbus and Washington after Murray injured himself during warmups in Game 1 of the postseason. Then Murray replaced Fleury in the Conference Finals against Ottawa when Fleury gave up 4 goals on nine shots in Game 3. And they went on to topple the Senators in Overtime. They then struggled to find a way to beat Nashville on the road in Games 3 and 4 of the finals. They outlasted Nashville, and created the opportunities to win. They killed a 5 on 3 late power play, scored off Rinne’s back, and escaped with the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. 


One last thing, Crosby should not be a 2 time Conn Smythe Trophey winner. Phil Kessel was robbed of that trophey last year and this year’s award should’ve gone to either Evgeni Malkin or Jake Guentzel. 

All that said, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their second consecutive Stanley Cup. They fought through an incredible series of battles and deserve the win. Crosby has secured his position in the upper eschilon of hockey’s elite, and the Penguins earned the title in a sport not built for repeat champions. I feel for the Predators. They went on a deep run and established themselves as a bonafide hockey destination. They have a great team and will be a competitor in the West. I just hope they can rebound from the pain to start next season strong. And now we have to wait until autumn to get the glories of hockey again. 

Why Pittsburgh Won the Stanley Cup

Well, my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals was wrong. I got the six games part right, but not the team right. The Sharks and Penguins treated the Hockey world to an excellent series and showed the sports world how exciting the sport can be when played at the highest level. Ultimately, Pittsburgh skates away with their fourth Stanley Cup. So what made the difference?

1. Sharks Lack of Bite.

When the San Jose came into the series, they came in on the back of a strong defense and excellent goaltending by Martin Jones. They had a good and effective offense, but did not rely on it. The lack of good offense came back to bite them. The Penguins outshot the Sharks in every game in the series, with Pittsburgh averaging 34.3 shots a game and San Jose only averaging 23.4 shots a game. San Jose lost the only game in which they outshot the Penguins. They got outstanding goaltending from Martin Jones, but could not support their goaltender with a top line performance on the offensive side of the puck.

2. Pittsburgh’s Defensive Forwards.

I predicted that the Sharks would win based on their strong defensemen. They did their jobs rather well, but the surprising performance came from the Pittsburgh forwards. In tonight’s game 6, they blocked 33 shots. Sidney Crosby has a reputation of being a skilled offensive player who doesn’t have much toughness. But he showed that he can play some good defense as well.

3. Matt Murray’s Coming Out Party.

Both goaltenders were unheralded coming into the series. Martin Jones probably did have the better individual series, but Murray walks away with the Stanley Cup in hand. Murray came from obscurity sitting behind Marc-Andre Fleury to winning the Stanley Cup in place of an injured Fleury.

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Ultimately, these are the biggest reasons I can give for Pittsburgh’s victory over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL now gets to take a nice summer break before coming back in October. Thanks for an awesome season NHL!

 

Why Watch the Stanley Cup Finals? 

I’ve been a little bit of a distant observer of the the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far this year. I only started watching the NHL Playoffs closely when the conference finals got underway. I was thoroughly entertained by the games in those series and I am excited for the matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks. I’ll admit that I’m not as much a hockey game as I am other sports, namely baseball and basketball, but I will watch the Stanley Cup Finals with great interest and here are some reasons for that. 

1. Old Men Hunting for a Ring

The San Jose Sharks have never been to the Stanley Cup Finals. They are a team that was formed in the wave of southern NHL expansion in the 1990’s. They have been rather succesful since their inception, making the playoffs 18 times in their 24 season existence. And they have seen some excellent players in the bay. Two sharks are among the most veteran players in the NHL and have not gotten a chance to play on the biggest stage in Hockey yet. Joe Thorton was drafted first overall in 1997 and has crafted a Hall of Fame career with succesful runs in Boston and San Jose. He has averaged a point a game for his entire career, and has never appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals. The other veteran Shark is Patrick Marleau, who was drafted right behind Thorton, second overall in the 1997 NHL draft by the Sharks. He has been the Captain of the team since 2004, and owns the records for most shots, goals, power play goals, and points. These players have seen the Sharks through many battles, and now they have a chance to win a championship. 


2. Best Player in the League?

 Switching focus to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a second, their star player has a chance to show why he is one of the best players in the history of the NHL. Sidney Crosby has already demonstrated that he is an all star player with incredible stick handling and skating skills. He’s crossed the 900 point milestone this season and was announced as a finalist for the Hart Trophy (League MVP) for this season, hoping for his 3rd Hart Trophey. But he struggled this season. It was not until a coaching change that he returned to peak form. Combine that with many around the league questioning his toughness, playoff struggles through his career, and a chance to win a championship, and this makes for an excellent opportunity for Crosby to shine on the game’s greatest stage.


3. Testing the Goaltenders

Hockey is often decided by which goaltender has the stronger performance. Usually it’s possible to determine the favorite goalie based off the compared experience and results. That comparison isn’t possible this year. Neither of the starting goaltenders have an immense amount of experience in the playoffs and both will be tested against strong offenses. Martin Jones is the starting Sharks goalie. He was acquired by a trade with the Bruins who had picked him up from the Kings just before sending him to San Jose. This was his first season as a starting goaltender in the NHL and he performed admirably with a .918 save percentage and a 2.27 goals allowed average. Through the playoffs, he has gone 12-6 with a 2.02 goals allowed average. He also is the only player on the Sharks roster with any experience playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. He was the backup goaltender for the LA Kings in 2014 when the Kings beat the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh net minder, meanwhile, is not even the regular starter on paper for the team. Matt Murray has been the backup goalie for the team most of his time in Pittsburgh so far, and was in the American Hockey League (the NHL’s equivalent of Triple A baseball) as late as February of this year. He has since become the team’s starter, as Marc-André Fleury (the regular starter for the team since 2003) has missed time due to post concussion symptoms. Murray has seen time in hard playoff battles in this run, including against the President Cup winning Washington Capitals and a frantic game 7 in the Conference Finals against the Lightning. He still lacks on ice playoff experience. Both goalies do. And this matchup will be among the most interesting to watch in the series. 

4. Seeking Redemption

These organizations are regulars to the postseason. However, both teams have seen difficulty in recent playoff runs, with some spectacular failures in the last few postseasons. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and have not been back to the finals since then. They lost to the Montreal Canadians in a seven game series in the 2nd round of the 2010 playoffs, closing their long time home, the Mellon Arena, on a bad note. They lost to the Lightning in the first round the next year, surrendering a 3-1 series lead in the process. They lost to in-state rival Philadelphia the next year, though Crosby and Fleury were not 100%. They made it to the Conference finals in 2013 but got utterly annihilated by the Boston Bruins in four games, scoring only two goals in the entire series as a team. The team lost to the Rangers in each of the last two postseasons, and made significant changes in the offseason, including a giant trade with the Maple Leafs to bring Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh. The Penguins now look to make these postseason failures a distant memory. 

The Sharks have some even more hideous failures in recent postseasons, and this season is their first time breaking through the playoffs into the Finals. The team won the President’s Trophey in 2009 (had the best record in the league) but were beaten by the 8th seeded Anahiem Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. They then made it to the Conference finals two years in a row, losing to the Blackhawks in 2010 and the Canucks in 2011. After a first round loss in 2012 to the St. Louis Blues, the team lost to their biggest rivals, the LA Kings in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. The very next season, the Sharks and Kings rematches in the first round of the playoffs and San Jose took a three games to none lead. They then proceeded to become the fourth NHL team and fifth team in professional sports history, to lose a series after leading three games to none in the series. They missed the playoffs last season, and have rebounded under new coach Peter DeBoer and have made the Finals for the first time in franchise history. 

Both teams have a laundry list of recent failures, but now have a chance to make them distant memories. 

Prediction

I think this will be a fun series. Both teams have skilled forwards, good coaching, and young goaltenders with considerable talent. I think that San Jose does have the better defensemen in this series, and Martin Jones does have a little more playoff experience than Matt Murray does. Plus the Sharks are sure to play with emotion and energy. They want to get the names of their mainstays and two future Hall of Famers, Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau, on the Stanley Cup. I think the Sharks will win in 6 games. 

Also, please marvel at the masterpiece that is Joe Thorton’s beard. 

Wild Card Mess

Last night, I came home from skiing with my dad, sat down with him and watched the Wild Card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. I was hoping to watch a quality football game, and get some enjoyment out of a game I didn’t have much rooting interest in. As it turns out, I got that. I also got a terrible taste in my mouth after the end of the game. 

Early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were down 15-0. They traded punches throughout the game, hit Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger hard all day, and ultimately forced him out of the game with a shoulder injury when linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit him hard and sent him down onto his shoulder. He left and was replaced by Landry Jones, and the Bengals promptly capitalized on Roethlisberger’s absence by stuffing the Steelers offense and scoring 16 points to take a 16-15 lead with just under two minutes left to go in the game. When the Steelers got the ball back, Jones threw a pass that was intercepted by Burfict. The Bengals had the lead, the football, and the game in hand as long as they held onto the ball. They were on the doorstep of getting their first playoff victory since 1990. 

And then, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the football, giving Pittsburgh another chance. Better yet, Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury. He led the Steelers down the field to try a game winning field goal. They converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive with only a few seconds left in the game. Roethlisberger then threw deep to Antonio Brown to try and get into field goal range. The pass sailed high, and as Brown came down, Vontaze Burfict let his emotions get away from him, and hit Brown square in the head, sending him to the ground and likely giving him a concussion. Cincinnati was hit with a 15 yard penalty. When the players were trying to plead their case, the officials called another penalty when the officials were pushed and shoved by Bengals defensive back Adam Jones. The Steelers got 30 yards out of those penalties, kicked a field goal, and won 18-16. 

I didn’t have a rooting interest in the game, but I am happy that the Steelers won. The Bengals lost control of their emotions, committed stupid penalties, and went out of their way to hurt the opposition. I’ve written here before on my experience with the NFL being a bit soured with a rash of unnecessary injuries and poor mentality by players. The Bengals summed that up very nicely with their behavior last night. They played like thugs and deserved to lose. To make it look worse, when Roethlisberger got hurt, the Bengals fans cheered his injury and threw debris on the field. The behavior of many Bengals fans matched the play on the field. 

I went to bed with a bad taste in my mouth, and actually happy to not fully call myself an NFL fan after last night’s game. The team was disgraceful, the fans were jerks, and the players were fools. To be fair, Steelers assistant coach and former linebacker Joey Porter did not help matters when he went on to the field, and the Steelers contributed to the hostile atmosphere of the game. But the more egregious actions were committed by the Bengals. 

Head coach Marvin Lewis deserves to be fired after that game. He has been the head coach of the team since 2003, has not won a playoff game, and lost control of his team at the most crucial point. The Bengals would do well to hire Hue Jackson as the new coach if a change is made. Burfict should be suspended and fined by the league, and so should Jones. I just wanted to watch a good football game. Instead, I watched the dark side of sports rear its ugly head. Hopefully the Sunday NFL games wash that taste out of my mouth!