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2014 NHL playoffs: Eastern Conference series storylines to watch

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Will the Red Wings be able to play giant-killer and upset the Boston Bruins in the first round? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings. making their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance, look dangerous. (Getty Images)

 

By Allan Muir

With all four matchups set in the Eastern Conference, here’s a look at the key storylines that could help define each series:

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

The underdog Red Wings looked comfortable in the role of giant killer last spring, knocking off the second-seeded Ducks in a seven-game opening-round thriller … and this year, they’re primed to do it again. While they’re up against a tougher opponent in Boston, they’ve given Bruins fits all season, taking three of their four meetings. More importantly, they’ve found ways to win games in which they were outplayed as they were in a 3-2 victory on April 2. The Wings can’t match Boston’s depth or playoff experience, but they have a knack for hanging around just long enough to take advantage of breaks with their opportunistic offense. If they can steal one early, they might work their way into the heads of the Bruins.

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  • Published On Apr 14, 2014
  • 2014 NHL playoffs: Western Conference series storylines to watch

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    Andy Devlin/Getty Images

    Anaheim’s Stephane Robidas will face his former team, the Dallas Stars. (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    With all four match-ups set in the Western Conference, here’s a look at a key storyline that could help define each series:

    Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

    When Stephane Robidas gruesomely shattered his leg on Nov. 29,  he was arguably the most effective defenseman for the Dallas Stars. When he made his remarkable return to action just four months later, he did it while wearing the sweater of the Anaheim Ducks. Funny how things work out. Robidas was deemed expendable by Dallas and dealt to the Ducks at the trade deadline for a fourth-round pick in a swap that looked bad at the time … and even worse now. While the Stars will wait years to see if that pick pans out, they’ll have to spend the next two weeks battling against a motivated ex-teammate who will be playing 20-plus minutes of ferocious two-way defense. “I have a lot of friends [in Dallas], a lot of good teammates,” Robidas said. “There’s guys that stayed at [my] house last year and this year. But it’s a game and it’s playoffs and I want to win.”

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  • Published On Apr 14, 2014
  • Stanley Cup Final: Notable quotes from Boston, Chicago coaches on Game 6

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    Coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks

    Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is focusing his team on capturing the Stanley Cup tonight. (Icon SMI)

    By Allan Muir

    The most telling quotes from the press conferences held this morning by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and Boston coach Claude Julien:

    • Chicago coach Joel Quenneville on captain Jonathan Toews: “He’s 100 percent ready to go.

    • Quenneville on being in the right place mentally with a chance to close out the series: “You want to make sure you have confidence going into today’s game, but let’s make sure the energy is going to be in the right place. Let’s make sure there’s a purpose with it. But at the end of the day, we all dream about this challenge and this opportunity, and let’s go take advantage of it.”

    • The opening question posed by an unnamed comedic genius at Claude Julien’s presser: “Coach, with the NHL draft coming up, I wonder if you have had any chance to look at any of the prospects?”

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  • Published On Jun 24, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Six thoughts for Blackhawks-Bruins Game 6

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    Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien

    Bruins coach Claude Julien’s knack for pushing the right buttons could be crucial in Game 6. (Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Six keys to the potentially decisive Game 6 clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins:

    Patrice Bergeron’s status

    This is an all-hands-on-deck elimination game, so it’s probably unwise to discount anyone’s availability for duty until the sides officially announce the scratches tonight. But this one came out of left field.

    “Patrice will dress for warm-up tonight, and I’m feeling confident that he’ll play,” Claude Julien revealed at this morning’s press conference.

    Honestly, Julien could have said that Milt Schmidt and the Kraut Line were starting and it would have produced fewer gasps. Less than 48 hours ago, Bergeron was in the hospital with a suspected ruptured spleen after removing himself from Game 5. Now he’s supposed to participate in a win-or-stay-home Game 6 at some reduced percentage of ideal health? This has the makings of one of those heroic/stupid moments when a player puts himself at great personal risk because, you know, it’s hockey and that’s what he’s supposed to do.

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  • Published On Jun 24, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Bruins, Blackhawks out to control what they can in Game 6

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    Patrice Bergeron the Boston Bruins

    Patrice Bergeron could play in Game 6, but the Bruins are ready to go without him. (David E. Klutho/SI)

    By Sarah Kwak

    BOSTON — On the morning of Game 6, with the Bruins on the brink, center Patrice Bergeron was the only player missing from the ice at TD Garden. Having left Game 5 with an undisclosed injury that forced him to report to a local Chicago hospital for observation on Saturday, Bergeron seemed like an unlikely participant for Monday’s game. This morning, however, Bruins coach Claude Julien stated otherwise.

    “Patrice will dress for warm-up tonight, and I’m feeling confident that he’ll play,” the coach told reporters, adding that forwards Jay Pandolfo and Jordan Caron will also warm up in case Bergeron’s status changes.

    Meanwhile, just as Julien announced that he believed his best center would return, the Blackhawks’ top center, Jonathan Toews, took the ice for the morning skate. After benching his captain for the third period of Game 5, coach Joel Quenneville confirmed on Monday that Toews was “100 percent ready to go” for Game 6.

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  • Published On Jun 24, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Hawks’ Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews on top line for Game 4

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    Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be on the same line for Game4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have one point between the two of them so far in the Cup final. (NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Joel Quenneville knows that past performance is no guarantee of future results. But after watching his team held to just two goals during the last nine periods by Tuukka Rask and the smothering defense of the Boston Bruins, he knows his Chicago Blackhawks won’t have a future if he doesn’t try something drastic.

    So he’s counting on a unit that led the comeback against the Detroit Red Wings to right the ship in Game 4. It’s been confirmed that he will reunite Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell for tonight’s contest.

    The only question is: what took so long?

    Outside of a penalty-killing shift in Game 3, Quenneville has been reluctant to put his two best weapons on the ice at the same time in this series. Instead, he skated Toews between fourth-line checkers Michal Frolik and Marcus Kruger for most of Game 3, before trying him with Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg. Neither combination generated much of anything, which opened him up to some criticism for not reuniting Toews and Kane when Game 3 was still up for grabs.

    MUIR: Blackhawks must keep it simple in Game 4

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  • Published On Jun 19, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Blackhawks must keep it simple vs. Bruins in Game 4

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    Patrick Kane vs. Boston Briuins in Stanley Cup Final

    Patrick Kane’s flashiest stickwork isn’t fooling the Bruins’ defenders. (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always believed that breaking out of an offensive slump is a bit like finding love. Both seem to happen when you stop trying so hard.

    That bit of advice might come in handy for the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that’s playing with all the dash of a pimply-faced teen the week before the prom. These guys are awkward. Unsure of themselves. Their best moves aren’t working. Their desperation is palpable. And it’s killing any chance they might have of busting out of the slump that threatens to end their Stanley Cup dreams.

    And it’s not just their amateurish fumbling on the power play, although that’s clearly the focus heading into tonight’s pivotal Game 4 in Boston. Things are going so badly with the extra man that the Hawks have even begun to lose confidence in their five-on-five game. And if that continues, there’s no way Chicago’s sealing the deal.

    But it’s not like hope is lost.

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  • Published On Jun 19, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Changes for Hawks; David Krejci on Bruins’ penalty kill

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    David Krejci of the Boston Bruins

    Postseason scoring leader David Krejci has been learning the ropes as a penalty killer in the playoffs. (Icon SMI)

    By Allan Muir

    Here are the key takeaways from today’s press briefings with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and Boston’ Claude Julien:

    Lineup changes

    Quenneville confirmed that Brandon Bollig, who was burned on the winning goal in Game 2, is out. Viktor Stalberg, who was banished to the press box before Game 1, is back in. “I think Bollig gave us a couple real strong games,” Quenneville said. “You can talk about the last play, [but] I thought he did a nice job. Viktor, we’re just looking for more. I think we need some speed from him. I think we need energy. I think that he’s a threat off the rush, defensively responsible.”

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  • Published On Jun 17, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final: Early thoughts on Blackhawks-Bruins Game 3

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    Bruins and Blackhawks

    The Blackhawks and Bruins have both displayed a lack of killer instinct so far in this series. (John Biever/SI)

    By Allan Muir

    Here are five things to look for in Game 3:

    A faster start for the Bruins: After being outshot as a team by both Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in the first period of Game 2, the Bruins know they can’t afford another late arrival Monday night. That doesn’t mean they have to get the first goal — the Bruins are 5-2 in games where they give up the early lead after coming from behind on Saturday night — but they need to establish themselves as the aggressors from the start instead of allowing Chicago to dictate the style and pace of the contest. Look for the B’s to come snarling out of the gate with malice aforethought in their hearts.

    HACKEL: Momentum is key, but fleeting

    Here comes the death blow: For all the talk about how evenly matched the two sides are, the one surprising trait both have displayed is the lack of killer instinct. The Bruins had a chance to crush Chicago firmly under their boots with a two-goal, third-period lead in Game 1, but they let the Hawks up off the mat. Chicago had a chance to bury Boston during that 19-shot first period blitzkrieg in Game 2, but allowed the Bruins to hang around long enough to tie it up with an ugly goal and drag the game into OT.

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  • Published On Jun 16, 2013
  • Stanley Cup Final Preview: No. 1 (West) Blackhawks vs. No. 4 (East) Bruins

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    Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks

    Chicago goalie Corey Crawford is sure to see plenty of Bruins driving to his net. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    For more Hawks-Bruins preview content, check out our staff predictionsMichael Farber’s take, Allan Muir’s tactical breakdownStu Hackel’s series storylines, Richard Deitsch’s TV media guide, iconic Blackhawks photosiconic Bruins photos and a look at how the two teams were built.

    Snapshot

    Two great teams. Two great markets. If anything could finally wash away the aftertaste of the lockout that nearly torpedoed the season, a Stanley Cup Final clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins is it.

    Chicago comes into the series as the obvious favorite. The NHL’s best team during the regular campaign, the Blackhawks finished 15 points ahead of Boston in the overall league standings while putting together a season for the ages. They’ve extended their strong play into the postseason, going 12-6, and are coming into the Stanley Cup Final on a 7-1 roll after having eliminated the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in five games.

    The Bruins, meanwhile, are proving to be a tough out in the playoffs, having won seven of their last eight series — the one they lost came in overtime of Game 7 against the Capitals last year. They’re on a roll, too, at 9-1 in their last 10 games after sweeping Pittsburgh, the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

    The similarities don’t stop there. Both teams survived a brush with adversity that required an overtime win in Game 7 to advance. Both are getting elite goaltending, strong five-on-five play and scoring from across their rosters.

    Expect a series that’s low on scoring but high on tension and goes the full seven games.

    HACKEL: Key questions for the Stanley Cup Final | STAFF PICKS

    Control issues

    The Bruins’ strength is the ability to overwhelm the opponent in the neutral zone, turn the puck over and attack with numbers. The one game the Kings won in their series against the Hawks was predicated on their control of the neutral zone. You can do the math. If Boston is able to exert its will in the middle, the Hawks will be in trouble.

    Boston needs to win at least one game in Chicago to capture the Cup, and that sets up the real challenge of the series. The Hawks are 9-1 at the United Center during the playoffs, scoring 3.3 goals while allowing just 1.7. The Bruins are 5-2 on the road, scoring 3.43 goals and giving up 1.86. Holding serve at home is critical for Chicago.

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  • Published On Jun 10, 2013


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