By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 6) – Like most of us with a sporting interest, I’ve made some lousy predictions in my day – too many, in fact, to count.
But, I’ve been pretty darned good with the Stanley Cup final.
At the beginning of 2009-10, for example, I had Chicago vs. Philadelphia and nailed it, though I picked the wrong horse (Flyers). Last year, it was Los Angeles and Boston, with Bruins prevailing for a second consecutive spring (half wrong again). I didn’t make a pick at the start of the current season because I had no inkling what might unfold in a 48-game sprint. But, I’m darned proud of this passage from my Apr. 29 submission here:
[About the Toronto-Boston opening-round series]: My gut feeling – Bruins will struggle to a six-game triumph over the Leafs and then get on a big-time roll in the Stanley Cup tournament.
STANLEY CUP PICK:
CHICAGO OVER BOSTON IN 6.
Not bad so far, but guess what? I picked the wrong horse again.
Boston is going to win the Stanley Cup this spring. Since the Bruins and Maple Leafs were tied at three games last month, Claude Julien’s team is undefeated in regulation with an 8-and-1 record – its only loss occurring in overtime of Game 4 against New York Rangers in the second round.
With Tuukka Rask playing lights out, the Bruins simply do not have a weakness. They can beat an opponent along the boards with muscle and through the middle of the ice with speed. All four lines are superb and the club has invaluable championship experience, with 17 players having won the Cup two years ago against Vancouver.
As in 2011, Boston survived a major scare in the opening playoff round – Nathan Horton scoring in overtime of Game 7 to eliminate Montreal. Unlike 2011, however, Bruins have been in cruise control since Round 1. Two years ago, a four-game sweep of Philadelphia was followed by a seven-game marathon with Tampa Bay in the Conference final – Boston prevailing, 1-0, in the deciding match. For a third time, Bruins went the distance against Vancouver in the Cup final – Zdeno Chara lifting the mug at Rogers Arena.
Barring a miraculous recovery by Pittsburgh, the Bruins will be fresh for the championship round this spring. They will miss the courageous Gregory Campbell, who displayed some of his father’s grit by gutting out a shift Thursday night at TD Garden with a broken leg. For those unaware, Colin Campbell was a tough, uncompromising defenseman with Pittsburgh, Colorado, Edmonton, Vancouver and Detroit between 1974 and 1985. With Bruins’ depth and speed, just about every forward on the roster can kill a penalty, so the club should be able to withstand the loss of Campbell.
The 2013 Cup final is likely to be a long one, with Chicago or Los Angeles providing stiff competition. But, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of the Bruins – performing as they are – losing four of seven games.
Once again, I called the right team but the wrong horse.
JAROMIR JAGR OF THE BRUINS GOT AWAY WITH A HOOK ON EVGENI MALKIN, LEADING TO THE RUSH THAT ENDED THURSDAY’S TERRIFIC GAME 3 – PATRICE BERGERON RE-DIRECTING BRAD MARCHAND’S NIFTY FEED LATE IN THE SECOND OVERTIME PERIOD. CBC IMAGES
LEAFS LOOKING AT GOALIE DEPTH
In a smart move, it appears that Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis will add a veteran goalie to the club this summer. A source in New York claims – unsubstantiated – that Tim Thomas could be heading this way, but there are several candidates to pair with James Reimer.
A number of my Twitter followers ask “Why?” Clearly, they haven’t paid attention to Pittsburgh in the playoffs this spring. Though Penguins are on life support against the powerful Bruins, they would not have survived their opening-round match up against the Islanders without Tomas Vokoun. The value of a proven NHL back-up arose when Marc-Andre Fleury flamed out for a second consecutive spring. Chicago has alternately relied on Corey Crawford and Ray Emery this season. Los Angeles has a prime substitute in Jonathan Bernier, who would start in goal for a dozen NHL teams. Boston called upon unproven Anton Khudobin 14 times in the regular season and he rang up a 9-4-1 record and 2.32 goals-against average.
But, Khudobin – in my view – is an exception rather than the rule.
Most NHL clubs will recede without their No. 1 netminder – particularly those that are blessed with a front-line starter (Rask, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Jimmy Howard, Antti Niemi, Cam Ward to name a few). The Pittsburgh situation is unique in the playoffs, though such teams as Ottawa, Anaheim, Washington and St. Louis benefited in the regular season from a pair of NHL-caliber goalkeepers. In no other position is depth so critical.
TOMAS VOKOUN HAS BEEN INVALUABLE FOR PITTSBURGH SINCE TAKING OVER IN ROUND 1 FROM SHAKY MARC-ANDRE FLEURY. LEAFS NEED SIMILAR VETERAN DEPTH.
Leafs have Reimer and Ben Scrivens – an adequate tandem though hardly one with Stanley Cup credentials. Reimer proved he can favorably handle an abbreviated schedule and he came up big on more than one occasion in the playoffs. Still, he has a couple of bugaboos: rebound control and glove-hand coverage. I can’t imagine even the most ardent Leaf supporter thinking that Scrivens can lead the club to a championship. So, the position requires upgrading for Leafs to have any chance of going deep into the playoffs.
Reimer has an exceptional grasp on life in the big league – demonstrated by his ability to shake off Nonis’s attempt at acquiring Miikka Kiprusoff from Calgary at the trade deadline. In no way would Reimer become shaken, emotionally, with the addition of a proven colleague. Thomas certainly fits the bill, though cheaper alternatives will be available on the open market this summer – potentially among them Evgeni Nabokov, Nikloai Khabibulin, Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Emery. All have substantially more experience than either of the Maple Leafs’ current puck stoppers.
Therefore, expect a move between the pipes before next season.
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