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Morning Skate 413: Stanley Cup playoff preview

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Morning Skate 413: Stanley Cup playoff preview

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com
WILMINGTON, Mass. The time has finally come. Its Stanley Cup prediction time at the Morning Skate, and -- before its all said and done -- Ill leave all of the playoff picks as well as conference finals and Stanley Cup winner. What the heck. Ill throw the Conn Smythe winner in there as well.There may not be many upsets in the first round given the matchups, but I dont really see the No. 1 seed in either the East or the West making it through to the finals. How do you like them apples?Without further ado, heres the Stanley Cup playoff picks along with the links from the afternoon before the greatest tournament in pro sports gets started tonight.
EASTERN CONFERENCEWashington Capitals (No. 1) vs. New York Rangers (No. 8) The Caps are rolling and the Rangers dont even belong in the playoff after backing in. Losing Ryan Callahan was the final straw for the Blueshirts, who will be lucky to push it past four or five games with Washington. Pick: WashingtonPhiladelphia Flyers (No. 2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (No. 7) I love the way the Sabres played down the stretch, and I have serious questions about Philly rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Couple that with the way the Flyers limped down the stretch and question marks surrounding Chris Pronger, and I smell a Buffalo upset in seven games. Pick: BuffaloBoston Bruins (No. 3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (No. 6) The most anticipated playoff match in either conference, and one that could really weaken the Bs in an extended postseason run if it gets too gnarly. Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara are too big and strong for the Habs at the end of the day, but it wont be easy. Bruins in six games with a sweet celebration on the Bell Centre ice. Pick: Boston Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 4) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 5) The most difficult series to handicap given so many variables. No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the Pens and some pretty soft defensemenplayoff inexperience for the Bolts in their first postseason look since 2007. Pittsburgh will have a hard time mustering any offense, and that will doom them at the end of the day in a competitive seven-game series. Pick: Tampa Bay
WESTERN CONFERENCEVancouver Canucks (No. 1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (No. 8) This is the one team that Vancouver didnt want to play, and this has all the makings of the Blackhawks finally pulling it all together. Does anybody doubt that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Co. will shift into another gear now that the postseason has arrived? Itll go seven games, but the Canucks are going to be bitterly disappointed. Pick: ChicagoSan Jose Sharks (No. 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (No. 7) The Jumbo Joe Thornton factor wont come into play in the first round against a Kings team crippled without Anze Kopitar. The Sharks have so much talent and firepower, and will overwhelm the Kings in five games. Pick: San JoseDetroit Red Wings (No. 3) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (No. 6) The Wings will be without Henrik Zetterberg to start with a knee injury, but something tells me theyll be able to blind the Desert Dogs with the shine from their previous Stanley Cup bling. It shouldnt take more than five games. Pick: DetroitAnaheim Ducks (No. 4) vs. Nashville Predators (No. 5) Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne against the gritty, gutty Predators that just keep on trucking in the non-traditional hockey market. Nashville is a great story, but Carrie Underwood wont be singing any Stanley Cup tunes this time around provided Anaheim gets something resembling decent goaltending. Pick: AnaheimEastern Conference Final: Capitals vs. BruinsWestern Conference Final: Red Wings vs. Sharks.Stanley Cup Final: Red Wings defeat the Bruins in six games.Conn Smythe winner: Jimmy Howard And now on to the links: Dandy Don Cherry talked about his keys to the HabsBruins series, and you wont be surprised who he likes.A good look at Philadelphia Flyers and noted Finnish flash Ville Leino by Philly.com. Leino really burst onto the scene during last years run to the Cup Finals.NHL draft maven Kirk Luedeke goes over the dizzying number of options for the Bs at the No. 9 spot in the first round after locking the selection into place.Marc Crawford takes the high road after getting whacked by the Dallas Stars when his team didnt show up in a do-or-die final game of the season.Carey Price and Scott Gomez are they keys to a series win over the Bruins, according to NHL.com writer Arpon Basu.The USA Today marvels at all three California hockey teams making it into this years Western Conference field of eight.The defense never rests in the NHL, and the Toronto Globe and Mail is determined to prove it.Brian Burke opens up to the Globe and Mail about some of the extreme difficulty hes experiencing watching another Leafs team that wasnt good enough for playoff muster.Hockey Prospectus examines what it takes for a hockey team to have success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and its an interesting read.A hockey family experiences an encounter with Sidney Crosby as he attempts to come back from his concussion, and comes away a heart-warming feeling about Sid the Kid.ESPN.coms Michael Wilbon goes in depth with Alexander Ovechkin as his team tries to change the way they do business headed into this years Stanley Cup playoffs.Last but not least, who doesnt love the Separated at Birth photo gallery with celebs and hockey players SI.com has postedjust in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs.Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

David Krejci, Adam McQuaid forced out of Bruins win with injuries

David Krejci, Adam McQuaid forced out of Bruins win with injuries

BOSTON – The Bruins returned Patrice Bergeron and David Backes to good health and their lineup on Thursday night, but they also saw a few more players get banged up in their win over the Vancouver Canucks. 

David Krejci exited Thursday night’s 6-3 win over the Canucks with an upper body injury after scoring a power play goal, and Adam McQuaid also had to leave the game after dropping to one knee to block a shot with his right leg. McQuaid was also already banged up after taking a shot off his knee in last weekend’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, so taking another shot off the leg certainly wasn’t a helpful development. 

“He blocked a shot, so he’ll get evaluated tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know how serious – he blocks a lot of shots. This one stung him obviously so we’ll see how it turns out. Adam [McQuaid] has been doing that for years around here. He’s one of the unsung heroes in that locker room. Doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does, the tough parts of the game, blocking shots, sticking up for your teammates,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He actually manages the puck very well. He’s not a flashy player. He’s not a guy that just throws it away either. He makes good decisions with it, and every team needs an Adam McQuaid. We’re certainly fortunate to have him.”

With Krejci it appeared that he suffered some back spasms after getting cross-checked, and that’s what ended up forcing him out of the win. Cassidy doesn’t foresee it being a long-term thing with Krejci, who finished with a goal and two points in 8:21 of ice time centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak.  

“He has an upper body; he had to leave. He wasn’t feeling too terrific today, and then he got, I think there was a cross-check there. He tried it, but couldn’t continue [playing]. I think he had some spasms, but I don’t think there’s anything long-term there at all.”

It remains to be seen if either McQuaid or Krejci will miss any time with the bumps and bruised suffered on Thursday, but it goes without saying that the Bruins hope they can stay in a lineup that’s beginning to take shape with the full group. 

Haggerty: Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

Haggerty: Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

BOSTON – To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the presence of Patrice Bergeron is a major game-changer for the Boston Bruins. 

Bergeron finally felt good enough to return to the B’s lineup after missing the first five games of the season with a lower body injury, and the impact was immediate and unmistakable with a goal and four points in a 6-3 win for the Bruins over the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. It was also a far-reaching impact with the Bruins center pumping life back in the B’s power play with a return to his bumper position, returning a top penalty killer to the Bruins rotation, bringing normalcy back to the forward group by slotting fellow forwards back into their rightful spots and simply giving the B’s their best all-around player back. 

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Clearly it was a joyous moment for Bergeron to get back on the ice and play after getting a couple of good days in on the practice ice leading up to Thursday night. 

“It’s hard no matter what it is. You know, when you’re missing games, when you’re missing time, it’s… you miss being out there with the guys and battling with them and going through what we have to go through as a team. It’s good to be back,” said Bergeron. “You don’t know what to expect obviously [after a long layoff]. You’re trying to hope for the best. I don’t want to say I was surprised [at his high level of play] because you want to be at your best every time you step on the ice.”

Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork finally skated together for the first time after building chemistry all throughout training camp, and they finished with four goals, 10 points, a plus-6 rating and 13 of Boston’s 35 shots on net for the game. It was the way that the Bruins roster was drawn up headed into the season before they had a five-game detour due to the injuries, and the hope is that’s the way it will continue to look for the Black and Gold moving forward. 

“I mean it’s pretty evident, you know, the way [Bergeron] played out there. He just, it’s incredible the way he came back and dominated the game after being out for that long, you know?” said Brad Marchand, who finally has his longtime partner-in-crime back. “He’s just such a big part of the group. He’s able to calm things down in the room, on the bench, and he leads by example. He just does everything that a top guy does.”

Perhaps most striking of all was the emotion and organization that the Bruins played with having Bergeron and David Backes back in the lineup. The breakouts, reloading counter-attacks and defensive zone coverage all had more noticeable structure, and the Bruins were able to get the wave after wave attack from their forward groups that spurred on goals both during 5-on-5 play and when special teams were involved. 

Some of that is getting two highly talented players like Bergeron and Backes back from injury, and some of it is getting an important, tone-setting leader like No. 37 back for everything he does off the ice as well. 

Bergeron set up the important answering goal in the first period by firing a puck that created a rebound for Bjork to clean up, he did the same for David Krejci’s power play to close out the first period scoring, he created the turnover that led to Marchand’s goal in the second period and then he sniped home his own goal from the bumper spot to finally clinch things in the third period. It was clear that Bergeron is still navigating through discomfort and some level of injury while playing at this point, but his hockey IQ and his gritty toughness are allowing him to still be a highly effective player. 

“I think it was self-evident out there that the play on the ice, first of all, built a matchup against whoever we really want. The Power play obviously [was a] big impact there. I think it’s just morale as much as anything, on the bench and in the room,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Those intangibles, leadership, first shift of the game, he’s standing up. They had scored a goal and [he’s] kind of settling the troops down, talking about the details of the game. 

“[He’s talking about] finishing your routes on the fore-check and reloading all the way to our zone.

[It’s the] stuff that coaches preach a lot, but goes in one ear and out the other sometimes. When you hear it from the leaders of the group, it means so much more. To have that back in the room and along with David Backes, those are guys that are just vocal players that bring a lot in that aspect. It’s generally, a quiet group. That doesn’t mean you can’t be effective and win as a quiet group, but it just helps sometimes to have a little bit of that energy.”

While it was a clearly a feel-good story to see Bergeron back in his proper environs on the ice, it was also just as apparent there’s still some lower body discomfort with the Bruins center. He looked like he was in pain or laboring at times out on the ice, and admitted after the game that the lower body injury might be something he’ll need to manage for the time being. That would tend to mean that once again this isn’t something that’s going to go away anytime soon, and Bergeron will again need to grind his way through the pain. 

“That’s the million dollar question, right? I don’t know what to say to that. I guess yeah, I mean I’m feeling good,” said Bergeron. “But there’s… we might manage a little bit for quite a while. But I’m feeling good and tonight was no issue.”

Clearly Bergeron and the Bruins will gladly take it if he can be a difference-maker like he was on Thursday night with a four points, eight shot attempts and plenty of hard-working shifts in his 20:58 of ice time for the game. They’ll just need to keep their fingers crossed that No. 37 can keep suiting up and playing at a high level, and that the 32-year-old can avoid any further problems after already sitting out the first five games of the regular season.