Sports Hockey

SNAPSHOTS

NHL's conference finals jam-packed with riveting action

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Chicago Blackhawks centre Marcus Kruger is brought down by Anaheim Ducks right winger Corey Perry during the third period of Game 6 of the Western Conference final of the 2015 NHL playoffs at United Center on May 27, 2015. (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports)

Chicago Blackhawks centre Marcus Kruger is brought down by Anaheim Ducks right winger Corey Perry during the third period of Game 6 of the Western Conference final of the 2015 NHL playoffs at United Center on May 27, 2015. (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to the NHL’s version of Seventh Heaven, a riveting nugget of theatre the league hasn’t produced in 15 years.

Thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference final on Wednesday, both conference finals will go to a seventh and deciding game, something that has not happened since 2000.

The Eastern Conference champion will be decided first, with the winner of Friday’s Rangers-Lightning tilt at Madison Square Garden advancing to the Stanley Cup final. One night later, the Hawks and Ducks will clash in a winner-take-all tilt for Western Conference supremacy.

Given that the Ducks have been eliminated the previous two seasons in Game Sevens they lost on home ice — 2013 to Detroit, 2014 to the Kings — Bruce Boudreau’s team will be looking to rewrite history if it doesn’t want to be history.

While on the subject of history, remember those wild 2000 playoffs?

In the east, the New Jersey Devils rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in games to come back and win the series with three consecutive victories over Philly.

The most memorable — and scary — moment of that series came in Game 7 when Devils captain Scott Stevens crushed the Flyers’ Eric Lindros, adding yet another concussion to his injury-plagued resume. The 2-1 New Jersey win would be the final game Lindros would ever play in a Flyers uniform.

Meanwhile, out west, the defending Cup champion Dallas Stars punched their ticket to a second consecutive final by beating the rival Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in Game 7. The series was highlighted by the battle between two future Hall of Fame goalies, Colorado’s Patrick Roy and the Stars’ Ed Belfour.

Of note: Both those Game 7s in 2000 were decided by a single goal.

Given how close the Rangers-Tampa Bay and Anaheim-Chicago mathups have been 15 years later, we wouldn’t be surprised if these upcoming games were just as tight.

SIZZLING SAAD

When pending restricted free agent Brandon Saad opened the scoring Wednesday with a nifty five-hole shot that squeezed through the legs of Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen, he was greeted by the familiar sound of the United Center horn, a blaring wail that signifies a Chicago goal.

All the while, the sound Saad’s handlers likely were hearing was the “ching ching ching” of money. That’s because, given the way the young Hawks forward continues to play, he’s in for a big payday come the summer.

Still earning just $832,500 on an entry-level contract, Saad, 22, is in for a hefty raise after setting career highs in goals (23) and assists (29) while playing in all 82 regular-season games for the Hawks.

With Chicago seemingly pancaked against the salary cap due to the cap-gobbling deals of the team’s Big Four — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — general manager Stan Bowman still intends to get Saad inked to a long-term pact.

“We’ll get him signed,” Bowman told the Chicago Tribune this week.

For his part, Saad does not want to leave.

“I want to end up in Chicago for sure,” he said. “They’ve treated me nothing but great here.”

Because of the identical eight-year, $84-million US contract extensions of Kane and Toews, Bowman has a lot of tough work ahead of him in terms of comings and goings apart from his core. Kane and Toews’ cap hits next year will total $21 million, which works out 30% of the expected $71-million US cap.

Don’t be surprised if forward Patrick Sharp is one of the bodies that is moved to create cap room.

WHAT IS GOALIE INTERFERENCE?

Inquiring minds would like to know what liberties can be taken against goalies.

And more importantly, what can’t.

Just ask Corey Crawford, whose screams of protest could be heard throughout the United Center immediately after Anaheim’s Clayton Stoner had scored to narrow the Hawks lead to 3-2.

Replays backed up Crawford’s argument, showing his glove being blocked from getting to the puck by the elbow of Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg, who was skating in front of the Chicago net at the time.

If the rule suggests a goalie cannot be impeded in his efforts to make a save, shouldn’t the goal have been waved off?

CROSS CHECKS

The Blackhawks won each of the first 12 faceoffs of the game including, obviously, the opening one. From the Ducks standpoint, it’s difficult to go 0-for-12 in the circle even if you were trying to — and you know that wasn’t Anaheim’s mandate ... Chicago entered Game 6 having held the lead for just 50 minutes and 44 seconds in a series that had, to that point, been more than 300 minutes in total ... Wonder what Hawks forward Marcus Kruger was thinking when he simply jumped onto the ice five minutes into the game without any of his teammates having come off it. Come to think of it, wonder what his coach, Joel Quenneville, was thinking when he saw it. We’re guessing it wasn’t good ... Sharp, who has been enjoying a resurgence in his game this spring after struggling at times during the regular season, was crushed by a clean check from the Ducks’ Stoner and needed to shake the cobwebs out. Fortunately for the Hawks he did not miss a shift ... At one point in the first period, Saad’s stick was wedged in one of the skate blades belonging to the Ducks Ryan Kesler. No penalty was called on the play. Discuss.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

@zeisberger 


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