Early Storylines to Watch in Conference Finals of 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
We're one game into each conference final series, so the following storylines reflect that. We're all about timeliness here at Bleacher Report.
But I would have written most of these before each series. One game does not a series make. I think someone said that once. It takes four games to win a series. The fourth win is always the hardest. A desperate team is the toughest to beat.
Are you still with me?
OK, good. Here are the top 10 storylines for the conference finals, divided into—you guessed it—five for each conference.
Carey Price Is Done, and so Too Probably Are the Canadiens
Monday, the Montreal Canadiens came out with the shocking news that goalie Carey Price is done for the postseason with a right knee injury, suffered after the Rangers' Chris Kreider ran into him. Was it on purpose?
“I reviewed the incident, and obviously it was accidental contact, but let’s put it this way: He didn’t make much effort to avoid the contact,” Habs coach Michel Therrien said.
Agreed. Kreider certainly didn't appear to want to slow down any as he came barreling into the Canadiens' goalie.
“We knew a bit what was happening yesterday. We have to rally for Carey, give him the opportunity to play again this season, that’s how I see it,” Therien said.
Good luck with that. Peter Budaj just isn't anywhere near the quality of goalie Price is. Which is why Therrien made the move to go with Dustin Tokarski, a fifth-round draft choice by Tampa Bay in 2008. Tokarski played all of three games in the regular season for the Habs (but his saves percentage was .946 and his record was 2-0-0).
Hey, I like Therrien's roll of the dice here. Why not try the unknown commodity instead of the known quantity, which in Budaj's case is a pretty mediocre goalie.
But it almost certainly won't work. I don't think this is going to be another re-run of Patrick Roy, circa 1986.
The Los Angeles Kings Are Tired
No team has played more playoff games the last two years than the Kings. Here's the list, entering Sunday:
- Los Angeles: 53
- NY Rangers: 47
- Chicago: 42
- Boston: 41
- Pittsburgh: 34
Translation: That's a lot of hockey. Throw in the fact that the Kings' best players have played in the Olympics (and world championships) in the past year, and you have a core that is justifiably fatigued, mentally and physically.
I didn't say they aren't still perhaps the most resilient team in the last 10 years (all those series comebacks, including down 3-0 and 3-2 in these playoffs alone). But you can only play so close to the physical and mental edge before it takes a toll.
The Kings put up a good fight Sunday in Game 1 against Chicago but seemed too tired for another comeback. Now, they have to come back again to win another series.
The Martin St. Louis Inspiration Factor Is Real
Teams and coaches will use anything for a rallying cry—death included. Ever hear of "win one for the Gipper"?
Granted, it might actually be the media that plays up tragedy and hardship more than teams. We are desperate for storylines (wait, what's the title of this slideshow again?) in this business, so the death of Martin St. Louis' mother late in the second round against Pittsburgh made for a compelling narrative.
But it's not a contrived storyline. It might have been if St. Louis had just arrived on the scene in New York, but he's been there since March. OK, that's still not long, but it's long enough for his teammates to know him well by now.
Hockey moms are easy to rally around. The sport literally would be nothing without them. By all accounts, France St. Louis was the classic hockey mom, one who sacrificed so much so that her son could succeed.
Is it a coincidence that the Rangers are unbeaten in the playoffs since she passed? I don't think so.
Teammate Brad Richards had this to say, per the New York Daily News:
I think it's going to help just to get his mind off two things: Trying to play and then trying to make sure he's doing all the right things for his family and his dad and do what his mom would want. I think we all know this will probably hit him when hockey is over and he has time to reflect. But he's done an unbelievable job keeping everything together and helping his sister and his dad get through this. You wouldn't expect anything else.
Jonathan Toews Just Keeps Getting Better as the Playoffs Continue
What a game by Captain Clutch in Game 1 against the Kings Sunday. Two goals in a 4-1 win. Actually, it was only a 3-1 win, because one of Jonathan Toews' goals was called back on a bogus goalie interference call, which almost had coach Joel Quenneville grabbing his, er, tie in red-faced frustration.
Keep in mind: Toews started the playoffs with a slightly separated shoulder. He played through it in the first round against St. Louis and now is looking better than ever in the Western Conference Final. No question at all, he is the best money-game position player in hockey.
"Everyone's excited to play in the playoffs, and all of a sudden you're in a tight spot pretty early," Toews told reporters in Chicago on Friday, per the Winnipeg Sun. "It wasn't a good feeling but...any time you go through moments like that, first round, second round, Cup final, if you're able to break through it gives your team a lot of confidence."
Henrik Lundqvist Seems Relaxed Enough to Finally Win a Cup
On those John Tortorella-coached teams the previous few years in New York, Henry Lundqvist just had too much on his plate to be reasonably expected to deliver a Stanley Cup to the Rangers. When the other team has the puck all the time, even if the guys in front of you are blocking lots of shots, it's too just too hard to win it all.
This Rangers team has the puck a lot more. It's able to score more goals. We only see Lundqvist occasionally on TV, as opposed to almost all the time before. The play is at the other end a lot more now.
This seems to have had a measurable effect on the Handsome Face Factor with Lundqvist. Look how well groomed he was the other night after Game 1, as opposed to many of those dog-tired interviews he gave in previous playoffs.
A fresh Lundqvist matters, a lot.
“It’s about doing it again in the next one. We haven’t won that many games in this building. It’s good to get a great start," he told reporters after Game 1, per Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger.
That's a much better than the usual King Henry quote after a playoff game, such as "Just glad to have survived this."
Corey Crawford Is Better Than Any of Us Gave Him Credit
I'll admit that I wasn't much of a Corey Crawford guy before these playoffs. I had him lumped in with Chris Osgood, Antti Niemi and Grant Fuhr—guys who just happened to be the goalies on great teams.
But these playoffs are making me feel dumb in that regard. He didn't get the ink, but he was the best Blackhawks player in Games 5 and 6 against Minnesota and was strong again in Game 1 against the Kings.
"He's not underappreciated in the room," Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said the other day, per the Daily Herald. "We appreciate everything Corey does for this team. He's a huge part of our team. Not underappreciated here."
Crawford has always been big, but he always seemed a little too slow to me. But not in these playoffs. The word that best applies to that might be "engaged." He looks into it. He looks excited. He looks fresh.
He looks like a winner.
Don't Underestimate the Canadiens' Heart
We all wrote off the Canadiens in Round 2 when they were down 3-2 to the Bruins. Maybe not everyone, but I did. #DaterJinx.
Beating Boston on the road in Game 7 showed that the Habs have heart. So, a Game 1 loss at home to the Rangers should just be recognized as that: one game.
I first started believing in this team more during a late-season game against Toronto, where the Habs were down three goals within the final four minutes against Ottawa but still won. I should have kept that in mind more when they were down a game to Boston in the semifinals.
So, no way are they to be counted out now. There seems to be a joie de vivre aspect to this Canadiens team that not only is refreshing but dangerous.
Jonathan Quick Isn't Fazed by a Series Deficit
Jonathan Quick is the same after a win as he is after a loss: deadly dull. This, as a goalie in the NHL, is a good thing.
One loss against the Blackhawks isn't going to send him to the team shrink. He was down 3-0 to the Sharks in the first round, with almost everyone bad-mouthing his ability. He was down 3-2 to the Ducks, with others saying he'd finally hit a wall.
Now it's one game against the Blackhawks. They say you never panic in a series until you've lost a home game. So, there's nothing to worry about still for LA, especially with this guy in net.
Rick Nash Might Finally Have Woken Up
One goal in 26 previous games in the playoffs as a New York Ranger. Wow. Would anyone have predicted that would be Rick Nash's postseason goal output, before his trade to the Rangers from Columbus? Never.
News flash: He scored in Game 1 against the Canadiens. When he gets hot, he gets hot. The Rangers can only hope this is the early stage of him heating up with his Game 1 exploits.
If Nash gets 'er goin', the Habs might as well pack it up now and call it a good, but unfulfilled, season. It's amazing the Rangers were able to win in the first two rounds with so little from him on the scoresheet. With him on his game, pencil New York into its first Stanley Cup Final since the glorious Mark Messier-Mike Keenan days.
Darryl Sutter vs. Joel Quenneville Is a Fascinating Matchup
Anyone who has been able to talk hockey on the regular with Darryl Sutter and Joel Quenneville in the last 20 years is a blessed hockey person. Consider me blessed.
He is a hockey savant, a man of small words but big ideas. Quenneville is a complex character, a former stockbroker from Connecticut, a premier horse racing expert, a cigar expert nonpareil. (Quenneville's wife, Elizabeth, is a tobacco heiress from Connecticut.)
These are two of the longest-running hockey expert shows in the NHL, and it's fitting their teams are here again in the Western Conference Final. It will be a hockey purist's joy to see how they adjust to each other in their latest matchup.