Hello, everyone. It’s Dan Mount again with another edition of the Three Periods blog. We’re midway through the conference finals and there is still a lot to be decided.
The first period will deal with the Eastern Conference final between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, while the second period talks about the Western final between San Jose and St. Louis. We’ll wrap up the third period with talk about the IIHF World Championships and the surprising Team USA.
Our tweet of the week will deal with the Penguins getting a wrestling legend to show up for Sunday’s Game 5.
Let’s get started.
I thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would be in a lot of trouble without Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos. However, the Bolts have managed to scratch out a 2-2 series tie. It’s basically a three-game series now after Tampa held on for a 4-3 win on Friday night.
There is hope that Bishop and Stamkos will be back after some really scary injuries. The 6-foot-7 goalie hurt his knee after trying to cover an empty net early in the first period of Game 1. Andrei Vasilevskiy has filled in admirably and won two games. The goals against average stat is just over three, but he’s dealing with one of the best offensive teams around.
Stamkos, a free agent at the end of the season, has been out with a blood clot for two months, but said there would be a “five-percent chance” that he’d be back for Game 4. He didn’t make it back, but there is a higher chance of his return the deeper the series goes.
The Penguins aren’t just Sid Crosby, EvgeniMalkin and Kris Letang. Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel have formed the deadly “H-B-K” line that has picked up the scoring slack and taken the pressure off of the name stars for Pittsburgh.
Let’s also not forget Matt Murray has done a great job despite the specter of Marc-Andre Fleury waiting in the wings. There were calls for the 2009 Stanley Cup-winning goalie to return, but Murray has bounced back and won two of the last three.
This series is going be a good one and a Stamkos return could tip things in favor of the Lightning.
The Western final has been as good as advertised with the Sharks leading the Blues two games to one. Both defenses and goalies have been fantastic thus far. St. Louis took the opening game of the series thanks to a great effort from Brian Elliott and the vaunted Blues defense.
The Sharks have answered with two consecutive shutouts from goalie Martin Jones, who was picked in the offseason from their Pacific Division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings. Jones is a supremely talented goalies, but there was no way that he was going to unseat the decorated veteran, Jonathan Quick. The Kings did the smart thing by dealing Jones, but they may have made the fatal mistake of dealing him to a division rival. (Jones probably took a lot of satisfaction beating Quick and the Kings in the first round.)
Everyone talks about the bearded defenseman Brent Burns, but let’s show some respect to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. He is the quarterback of the Sharks’ power play and a decent defender in his own right. Roman Polak, Justin Braun and Paul Martin make this one of the defenses in the league.
This Sharks team has a good mix of veterans in Joe Thornton (who should have gotten some MVP consideration), Patrick Marleau and even DainiusZubrus along with young players like Tomas Hertl, JoonasDonskoi and Jones.
Let’s not discount the Blues, who can steal home ice advantage back with a win in Game 4, but this is a must-win game for St. Louis. Vladimir Tarasenko will have to find a way to get some open space and harass the Sharks blue-liners if they have any chance of turning it into a best-of-three.
St. Louis is going to roll the dice and start Jake Allen in Game 4, and I think that is a risky call because Elliott had been so consistent for most of the postseason.
The IIHF World Championships is a competition that doesn’t get a lot of love in the United States because it’s buried on the sports calendar with the NHL and NBA Playoffs along with the start of the Major League Baseball season and the first two legs of the Triple Crown. However, Team USA has a chance to get a medal for the second straight competition with a fairly young squad.
The Americans don’t usually bring a loaded squad to these European-based competitions because a lot of the stars from eliminated teams want to rest and heal from the rigors of the regular season. USA Hockey has decided to go with a young lineup that is hungry and wants to succeed, and so that has paid off so far the last two World Championships.
The U.S. earned the bronze in last year’s event and has a chance of at least equaling that feat again this year. Players like future top draft pick Auston Matthews has really turned heads and looks like he belongs with the big boys.
The road to a medal will be hard with a semifinal game against a loaded Canada squad and then a date with either host Russia or top-ranked Finland in the gold or bronze medal game. However, let’s not take away the fact the USA Hockey looks to have found the right formula for putting together the best team it can without its biggest and brightest stars.
Tweet of the week: The award goes to the Pittsburgh Penguins for managing to get a former WWE (F) star its corner. The Pens have gotten a lot of help from the aforementioned “HBK” Line, and the fans tried to get former Grand Slam champion Shawn Michaels was known as “The Heartbreak Kid or H-B-K” to show up to Game 5 at the Consol Energy Center.
Michaels has obliged them and will be there for the pivotal matchup. A man known as “The Showstopper” will be quite the ace in the hole for Pittsburgh.
That’s it for this week. See you next week and keep enjoying the playoffs.
Dan Mount is a producer for Spadora on Sports. He’s also a writer for NHL on the Ice, the Nashville Predators beat reporter for The Hockey Writers and a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, NY. He can be found on Twitter @DanMountSports.