And now the round everybody has been waiting for, featuring Pittsburgh and San Jose. I modestly congratulate myself for being 100% right as to my Conference Final predictions. As is my custom with all previous rounds, I’ll analyze what happened in the Conference Finals first and try to make sense of it all.
Biggest Winners: Players
1. Martin Jones
Jones continued his potential Conn Smythe goaltending performance by posting two back-to-back shutouts that destroyed any illusions that the St. Louis Blues were this year’s team of destiny. One more major challenge awaits him, but he, more than any other player is the reason why San Jose is in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.
2. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns
In fact I could list the entire San Jose offense here but these three players deserve special mention. No team has found a way to cool off any of these players or even some of the others not mentioned here. San Jose has been waiting a long time to get consistent playoff performances like this and if they continue to be this hot in the final round, San Jose just might celebrate its first Stanley Cup.
3. Matt Murray
Once again the Pittsburgh offense which is supposed to be the strength of this team was not the deciding factor but in the end it was Murray’s excellent goaltending that saved the day. Every game that Pittsburgh won, Murray held the Lightning attack to under three goals. He is the main reason Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup Final.
Biggest Losers: Players
1. Brian Elliott/Jake Allen
It’s not that Elliott or Allen played poorly. It’s just that when you compare their performance to what Jones has given San Jose, Matt Murray’s performance for Pittsburgh, or when one remembers the performance that Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick gave when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, you realize that Elliott/Allen are just not good enough. Both are good goalies and Elliott was able to pull off the upset against Chicago and the defeat of Dallas but they are not consistent enough, nor stingy enough to carry a team to a Stanley Cup Championship. Goaltending is probably one of the major factors St. Louis must improve if they are going to go all the way.
2. Marc Andre Fleury
This is just a repeat of what I wrote in the Conference Final predictions. After Murray had a rough outing against tough Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan started Fleury who gave up his usual 4-plus goals in a Lightning victory. Unless Murray is really horrible or gets injured against San Jose, Fleury has played his last game in Pittsburgh.
Biggest Winners: Teams
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Imagine if the St. Louis Blues had won the third round. Then imagine if they had gone on to win the Stanley Cup. That would have meant that the poor Maple Leafs and all their fans, who have suffered under two long periods of bad ownership/management, first by Harold Ballard and then by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, who incredibly somehow managed to surpass Ballard’s horrible ownership record, now would have to be all by themselves instead of sharing the longest current streak, now officially at 49 years without winning the Stanley Cup. But if the Blues make the right moves in the off season, there is the chance they might finally get over the top next year. In contrast, the Leafs, still paying for the Teachers’ time of ownership, are still at the bottom of the heap with next year’s number one draft choice. Every Leaf fan, player, and member of the organization, in gratitude for the ousting of St. Louis which spared the Leafs the ultimate humiliation, should put on a Sharks uniform and cheer unrepentantly for San Jose in this year’s Final.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are not so much a big winner as they escaped being a big loser. If they had lost to Tampa Bay in the playoffs for a second time, with Tampa Bay not having its best goaltender, Ben Bishop, or its best forward, Steve Stamkos except for the last game, they would have been behind a huge psychological eight ball. As it was they just squeaked through thanks to goaltender Matt Murray. The stage is set for future Penguin-Lightning playoff confrontations.
Team Eliminated By Corruption?
This may be monotonous but it is so important that I will repeat it now and probably again and again in future articles. I recently wrote two articles for this blog explaining that there is a cure for coronary heart disease that is being covered up by foul, slimy, underhanded practices in the world health industry. Tampa Bay was without its captain and best forward Steve Stamkos for the entire playoffs except for the desperate game 7 match with Pittsburgh. Had Stamkos been given this remedy (officially labeled “alternative medicine” by the FDA, Health Canada and the other official powers-that-be), it is likely he would not have had to have surgery to remove blood clots or have missed a single game in the playoffs. When Stamkos returned, he was probably too rusty to be effective, but what would have been the result if he had been able to play the entire Conference Final? On the Pittsburgh side, Pascal Dupuis has been forced into unnecessary retirement for the same reason. The NHL takes its marching orders from official government medicine and will not consider “alternative medicine”, much of which is far more effective and far more cheaper than “official” medical practices. Pittsburgh may have “officially” eliminated Tampa Bay but there may be truth in the belief that the Lightning were eliminated by a corrupt health industry.
Stupidity Redeemed By Repentance
After steady Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray had a tough game against Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan made the worst coaching decision of the playoffs so far by starting Jekyll and Hyde, erratic, playoff goaltender Marc Andre Fleury in the next game. Fleury was his usual self, giving up four goals including the overtime winner. Fortunately it was only game 5 so Sullivan had a chance to repent the error of his ways and restore Murray and Fleury has not been seen since.
Stanley Cup Final
This is the battle of the two up-and-coming, would-be-Conn Smythe Trophy winner goaltenders, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, and San Jose’s Martin Jones. The goaltending match-up is so even that whichever team’s goaltender is a little bit better will be the likely winner. The coaching match is even too, with San Jose’s Peter DeBoer who has a habit of taking underdog teams to the Stanley Cup Final against Mike Sullivan who seems to have finally righted the ship in Pittsburgh. Both coaches are seeking their first Stanley Cup.
On paper this seems a mismatch. San Jose has no player to compare with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The problem is that while Crosby and Malkin have made contributions to the Pittsburgh victories, they have not played like Crosby and Malkin who are supposed to be head and shoulders above everybody else. On the other hand, the San Jose offense has been getting contributions from everybody and there are too many players contributing to be entirely smothered. Pittsburgh is favored, has home ice advantage, and should win but I am going to pick an upset. I say that Martin Jones is just a little bit better than Matt Murray, that the San Jose offence cannot be stopped, that San Jose is the team of destiny, and that coach Peter DeBoer will achieve with the underdog Sharks what he failed to do with the underdog New Jersey Devils and win San Jose’s first Stanley Cup in 6 games.