After I got out of school I eventually obtained an Itech (now Bauer) Profile mask. It happened to have a cat eye cage and it was the first mask I had ever used with that type of cage on it. However, that helmet has since been forced into retirement and I’m back in a helmet with a certified cage. While I’m considering fitting that helmet with a cat eye, I realize that many rec league goaltenders wear both certified and cat eye cages. The question is; which is the best?
Certified cages are the norm in virtually every level of hockey. Only the professional leagues, NCAA and ACHA allow goaltenders to wear cat eye cages. So all goaltenders have worn a certified cage at some point in their lives.
Most basic certified cages have a grid pattern layout for the bars on the cage that are designed for maximum vision while also ensuring that sticks and pucks won’t find their way to the goalie’s face. Some companies also now make certified cat eye cages which have an additional bar that ensures that sticks and pucks won’t find their way in but while carrying the general look of a cateye cage. The one issue that I have with the certified cat eye cages is that each manufacturer uses different techniques to ensure their cage is up to par. Not only do they look awkward (mirror test) but they simply don’t perform the way you would expect from a normal cat eye.
Whether you’re sporting a certified cat eye or a traditional certified cage the common theme is that all certified models ensure maximum safety as no sticks or pucks can get through.
The main drawback with certified cages is that they have a number of additional bars that can obstruct your vision. Most are built in a way that any bars in your field of vision are blurred by your eye’s natural focusing mechanisms that they aren’t an issue. However, I can attest that you do notice those extra bars. Especially the ones in your peripheral vision.
Cat Eye Cages
Take a look at any NHL game and you’ll see the goalies wearing a cat eye cage. These are cages with a wide, elliptical gap that provides an unobstructed view of the game for the goalie. The structure of the cage is such that the bars are shaped to go around the goaltender’s field of vision as opposed to crossing directly over top of it. They also have a pretty attractive look to them as the sleek, curved bars leave more open space than the basic grid layout of a certified cage. The real benefit lies with the increased field of vision with this helmet. The wide opening provides you with a completely unobstructed view of the ice and even your peripherals are kept clear of most of the cage’s bars. It is definitely the better of the two choices when it comes to performance.
The only drawback with a cat eye cage is the fact that a stick can easily fit inside the mask and a puck can be forced through as well. I myself have been caught with a stick once by a passing player and the risks associated with these cages are very real.
Which to wear?
The determination that any goalie needs to make when choosing between a cat eye and certified cage is the performance vs. safety that each offers. If you’re comfortable wearing a cat eye cage despite the inherent risks then you should certainly do so. In addition, if you feel that a cat eye cage improves your play that much more, that’s probably the one to go with. However, if sticks to the eye aren’t something you care to deal with and the difference in vision is negligible, then a certified cage is probably the route you want to take.
At this point in time I don’t have much use for simply buying a cat eye cage. The certified cage on my current mask doesn’t bother me so much that I need to change it. However I can say with certainty that the next mask I purchase will have a cat eye cage.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in the market for new protective gear – both in net or playing forward. On a recent trip to Great Skate I was trying on some different elbow pads an noticed one common theme; elbow pads have become incredibly bulky.
The whole host of offerings from Bauer down to Warrior just didn’t feel perfect on my arm. I noticed a relatively similar pattern with some of the back leg designs on shin pads and all over the shoulder pads each company has out currently. Warrior, however, had some nice anatomic features on their protective line which I took as a major benefit when perusing their Dynasty protective line.
Warrior’s Axysym technology is something that has been integrated throughout their equipment for 2013. From sticks to goaltender chest pads, it is a fit system designed to maximize mobility without sacrificing protection. The primary areas affected by the Axysym design on the protective line is the forearm and bicep wrap (elbow pad), the shin and calve area (shin pad) and the chest (shoulder pad).
The way Warrior worked the Axysym into each piece of equipment managed to focus the fit of the equipment on the portion of the body that needed the most freedom of movement. In addition, Warrior’s Sling Wrap (elbow pad and shin pads) and 2-Timer straps allow for a snug, fully adjustable fit for the wearer.
Specifically with the Sling Wrap, the strap focuses on the one area which can use the most additional support. The Sling Wrap will keep you from doing the raised arm elbow pad pull 200 times per game. Add in the 2-Timer strapping which appear to be a more heavy duty Velcro strap system designed to fit you well and not move during the course of a game.
The shin pads look particularly snug as the Sling Wrap strap ends just below the knee on the front but actually comes up and around the calve at a 45-degree angle (as opposed to just wrapping straight around). In addition the primary strap keeps the protective calf wrap fully secured.
Perhaps the single most impressive feature on Warrior’s protective line is the 2-Way Smart Cap system. The knee and shin areas, elbow and shoulder caps are all built with a multi-layer cap that includes compressed plastic along with HD foam as well. The shoulder and elbow caps actually have a four-layer build that includes the 2-Way foam cap (meets NHL standards) along with the compressed plastic and HD foam. The shin pad is more of a traditional build with the hard plastic shell and HD foam over the comfort liner.
All of the Warrior protective gear uses the yellow War-Tech liner system with Polygiene bacteria and odor fighter built in. This is an impressive line from top to bottom that builds nicely on the reputation Warrior already carries in their stick and glove construction.
When the time finally comes to ditch my current gear, the Dynasty line will be one of the first sets that I strap on in the store.
The day is nearing in which the hockey world will be graced with the RBZ Stage 2 stick and the new RBZ skates. As the company prepares to launch the next step in a line that has boomed with popularity, Great Skate had a chance to take an inside look at both the RBZ Stage 2 stick and RBZ skate.
A small group of guys got the full treatment from our CCM reps as they had a full lineup of the RBZ skate to choose from and about two-dozen RBZ Stage 2 sticks to choose from. The skate was quite informal, just shooting and passing in warm up suits and eventually things morphed into a center ice three-on-three scrimmage. What I did notice from spinning around the ice is that the RBZ skate is the real deal.
We got a brief rundown of some of the changes and improvements to the RBZ skate as compared to the U+ line that came before it. The RBZ has a full composite boot and is built with a little more pitch for a better angle of attack and increased agility. The skate is also built 4mm higher than previous skates. This factors with the aggressive pitch to give the skater a better radius for tighter turns and cuts.
The composite boot allows for a lighter build that increases your power on the ice. They also run a little larger than you might expect. I’m a size 12 shoe and typically wear a 10 or 10.5 in a skate. The pair of RBZs that I had on yesterday were 9.5 and fit quite well. As a side note, the skates I had were EE width which gave them a little play in the ankle and arch but it wasn’t too noticeable on the ice. There’s no doubt that a slightly more narrow boot would give a more snug fit.
On the ice the skate is light and responsive. I found myself making effortless cuts and I felt that my stride was powerful. I took a few hard laps and in-zone skates during the ice time to see how the skate felt in more of an in-game setting and they were great. Bear in mind that these were basically out of the box and right onto the ice. The wider boot may have factored into this, but I didn’t feel any ill effects from wearing a brand new skate without any sort of break in period.
As for the sticks, I have to say the Stage 2 stole the show. I’ve used an RBZ and I loved the pop that you get off the blade. The Speed Channels aren’t a gimmick and the hot blade they’ve created is something you feel on the ice. The original RBZ did have one drawback and that was the balance. It was a blade heavy stick and there was a strange sensation when using it because of the center of gravity.
With the Stage 2 this isn’t an issue. In addition to a new graphic scheme, CCM worked out the weighting issues so that this already incredibly light stick has the balance and feel you would expect.
I was fairly accurate – or as accurate as I could be – when shooting and the upgraded speed channels gave my slap shot a noticeable pop. When you consider the few shortcomings the original RBZ and factor in the changes made for the Stage 2, the word upgrade almost doesn’t do it justice.
Keep your eyes peeled for the new RBZ skate, Stage 2 stick and the Reebok Ribcor to hit the shelves at Great Skate later this summer. You won’t want to miss out on picking up these new models.
One very interesting development this year was Bauer’s acquisition of the Messier helmet line. The agreement brought the Messier line’s groundbreaking SEVEN technology to an already well received family of Bauer helmets.
In addition to the IMS 11 and IMS 7.0, there are fingerprints from the Messier line all over Bauer’s new helmets. The new technology and introduction of Poron XRD foam into the RE-AKT and IMS 9.0 are great new additions and have really separated the Bauer line into a league of their own.
I recently picked up an IMS 9.0 for trial on the ice and I’ve had a few icetimes with it since getting it. There aren’t many things wrong with this helmet.
First things first, it has a perfect mix of soft, conforming padding in specific areas that mixes well with the harder HD foam in high-impact zones. I’ve found that the HD foam on many top end models make the helmet somewhat uncomfortable and the softer, more traditional set up that is so popular in the NHL doesn’t have the varied protection that I value. The IMS 9.0 finds that happy medium.
Poron XRD is supple by design. There are two large panels on either side of the helmet to help with side impact collisions. The Poron XRD actually wraps around the entire helmet (giving 360 degrees of protection) but is plainly visible just behind your temples. In addition, the brown and the back of the head have soft pads that keep the helmet snug against your head. The key here is that it’s not just a pillowy pad. It’s closer to the heat molding memory foam that still offers excellent protection.
The Poron XRD plays very well with the Vertex Foam that takes the place of traditional EPP foam that is found in such helmets as the 5100 and 4500.
The single adjustment location on the crown of the helmet is somewhat unusual, but it doesn’t work any differently from the old double wing adjustment from past Bauer helmets. One super awesome feature is that the mounts for the j-clips or visor on the side of the helmet have been embedded into the temple pads. This keeps those pesky little pieces of hardware in the same spot and makes switching out cages and visors much easier.
The only adjustment I have had to make it to the height of the helmet. I was previously wearing a 5100 which sat low on my head and brow. The 9.0 sits higher on my head, thus feeling a little different than my old 5100. This wasn’t a surprise for me, however. The construction of the helmet indicates that the 9.0 (and likely the RE-AKT) would rest a little higher on a player’s head than some older helmets. The beauty of this is there isn’t a decrease in how safe I feel in the helmet.
In all, I love the feel and I haven’t expressed any doubt over the protection of this helmet. It’s definitely worth a serious look the next time you’re considering a new helmet.
A matchup of two of the last three Stanley Cup Champions isn’t likely to disappoint any hockey fans. Particularly a matchup pairing two teams that were as dominant as Chicago and Boston proved to be this postseason.
Both enter the Finals after quickly dispatching their Conference Final opponents in a much quicker fashion than anyone imagined. The pair of short series should serve both teams well entering the Final as there was less time for a grueling, physical series to drain one or the other.
At this point, both teams have endured their own battles to reach this point. Both were staring at overtime in game seven before squeezing past in getting in place to play for the Cup.
Boston’s run has been particularly effective as they’ve gotten very consistent scoring from each of their lines and despite the loss of Gregory Campbell, they remain a very tough team. Zdeno Chara has been a minutes hog while Tuukka Rask has been absolutely phoneomenal along the way.
Chicago enters the series with a few key contributors beginning to heat up. Patrick Kane’s recent hat trick was accompanied by a pair of assists from Jonathan Towes. Corey Crawford has been very strong in net and Chicago’s defense has been nearly as good as any one else.
Winning this series will be no treat and I believe that after a short Conference Finals series killed some of the momentum coming off previous rounds.
Keys for Boston
Exert your influence: The Bruins managed to get the Penguins running around thanks to their physical play. While the Blackhawks are a more physically engaged team, there is still a difference between the Burins and Blackhawks makeup. If the Bruins can set the physical tone, they may push Chicago off their game plan.
Tuukka Time: Tuukka Rask has been unreal. He had a few ugly goals against in the first round but has remain nearly perfect since then. He’s gotten hot at the right time and the Bruins are beneficiaries.
Win the line matching: I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of two-way forwards than David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. They’re phenomenal shut down players and both of their lines are equally dangerous defensively as they are at scoring. If they can get the matchups they want here, these two lines will have a field day.
Z-Factor: I don’t know if Kane, Toews, Hossa or someone else will get a steady diet of Chara, but he’s been the one to neutralize the opposition. If Chara is successful in silencing a line, the Bruins will be at an advantage.
Keys for Chicago
Special Teams: Both Boston and Chicago have been near perfect killing penalties. The Blackhawks need to find a way to score some power play goals while continuing to keep the Bruins up-and-down power play shut out.
Smart matching: Considering that Zdeno Chara will have the opportunity to match one of Chicago’s lines (plus the threat of Bergeron’s line), the Blackhawks will need to find a way to generate consistent if one of their top lines has been neutralized.
Depth matters: Bryan Bickell’s scoring surge has been welcome in the Windy City. Between Kane, Sharp, Hossa and Bickell, the Hawks have a solid set of scorers heading into this series. The type of depth scoring that Bickell represents will be a major part of any success the Blackhawks have.
Net protector: Corey Crawford has been awesome. That doesn’t mean I still don’t know how much confidence I have in him. Perhaps I’m a naysayer, but I still get a little nervous watching him. If Crawford maintains and the Hawks shelter him well, they could be in business.
Outcome: I have a strange feeling that the Bruins win in 7 in this series. I just think they’re too defensively sound and have too much size for the Hawks to counter.
Our second installment of On the Ice comes in a different gear category than the initial review of the Warrior Dynasty stick. I’ve been able to try out a pair of Easton’s newest skate, the Mako.
The Mako is a new release from Easton and actually is a standalone product compared to the Stealth skate line which offers a number of different models to select. The focus of this skate is all about speed. From the heat moldable composite upper, the new CXN holder, aggressive pitch angle and the new Extendon feature, the Mako is designed for the sole purpose of speed.
With a composite construction the Mako skate is incredibly light and that feature is something that is noticeable from the first time you take it off the wall. However, the boot design offers more than just weight reduction. Easton’s asymmetrical design is focused to increase side-to-side agility for the player. In addition, the aggressively angle of the boot and holder offer a forward pitch that is not only conducive for straight ahead speed but also cornering and agility.
These features help to promote Easton’s new “Art of Speed” slogan. However, they aren’t just window dressings. The aggressive forward pitch and lightweight construction are complimented by the Extendon guard; built to promote the natural stride of a hockey player. The Extendon is a new take on the typical tendon guard on a normal pair of skates – and it does take a little getting used to. The slightly longer guard is designed to not only promote full extension in loading your stride but also immediate recovery after pushing off. It almost serves like a rubberband in a sense; aiding the skater in each and every stride.
The general look of the skate is somewhat odd, especially if you’re someone who is used to a traditional skate with a black boot and white holder. However, the sharp orange accents the compliment the black and silver on the boot looks pretty great. In fact, for as funky of a design this skate has, it passes the mirror test with flying colors.
It’s also appealing to more and more NHL professionals. Easton athletes like Derek Roy were wearing the Mako throughout this season and it was gaining a strong foothold (no pun intended) with the professional crowd. For a regular guy like myself, if was thoroughly impressed with the skate.
Out of the Box
If there is one thing that needs to be impressed upon anyone considering this skate it is that you cannot judge the fit before you bake it. Not only is the entire boot thermally formed but the tongue is as well. When you first put the skate on it is stiff, narrow and rather unforgiving. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to lace prior to being baked. However, once these are baked they are an entirely different skate. Your foot will slide into the boot like butter and once you’re laced up the skate actually wraps itself around your foot.
The reason I feel it is so important to impress this upon you is because this skate is designed to be fully customized to the wearer’s foot. While other skate models feel better once they’ve been baked, the Mako has to be baked. The result ends up being a ridiculously comfortable skate that is formed around your entire foot.
The Extendon feels a little different when you first get the skates on and it is because it sits a little closer to your leg (as it is designed to move back and forth with your stride) which creates an unusual sensation when you first lace up the skates. However the adjustment period for that is short as there is no discomfort created by the feature.
Another thing that threw me off was the tongue. It is fully heat formed and has a thick plastic insert on the top. Before baking it is somewhat cumbersome and difficult to deal with. Once you’ve baked the skates it is pliable and ends up contouring around the top of your foot and up through the ankle. Like with the initially stiff boot, the tongue is a completely different piece of the puzzle after the skates spend some time in the oven.
On the Ice
While I needed to wait a couple of weeks to get these on the ice, I didn’t have a ton of time to break them in at home. Aside from lacing them up a couple of times while watching TV, the skates didn’t get too much time to be broken in prior to their first ice time. This was a major concern for me at my first game in them.
Yet, after my first game I felt no ill effects. I didn’t have any blisters, my feet weren’t sore and I was amazed that after baking the skate and sporting it for a couple of hours at home that these were game ready. While your experience may differ a bit, I’ve found that most who are using the Mako determined they are all but game ready after getting baked and forming to your feet.
I have to say this was a major relief to me after watching my college teammates suffer through breaking in skates year after year.
The biggest adjustment for me on the ice was the forward pitch of these skates. Coming from CCM Pro Tacks, I was used to a flatter attack angle and a wider boot. The Mako has a much more pronounced forward pitch in addition to a more narrow fit. While the fit itself never became an issue, I found myself a little wobbly when I took my first few spins around on the skates. In fact, I had one moment early in the game in which I took twice the amount of time to turnaround than I usually would because I was still unsure on my feet.
What does all of that mean? Are these that difficult to get used to? The answer is no. By the midpoint of the first period I had fully settled into the skates and I can now say after a few ice times that these are a truly incredible product.
I am by no means a fast skater. In fact I’d contend that while technically sound I am actually brutally slow. Yet I’ve noticed my strides have been more powerful lately and my straight line speed has actually increased. The reason I can say that this is so noticeable is the way the skate feels if you take hard, aggressive strides. The construction of the boot and holder are so conducive to complimenting the motion of skating that you do feel the skate reacting with you as you go up and down the ice.
Easton hit it out of the park with the Mako skate. It is a highly evolved product that gives you noticeable results when you wear them. So long as you understand the difference in fit between the skate out of the box and the skate out of the oven, I’m confident that this would be on top of everyone’s shopping list when they’re looking for new skates.
For this Q&A we have tabbed Keith Perera from Warrior Hockey. Keith handles the stick business for Warrior and can be found on Twitter @warriorstickguy. His Q&A gives some very cool insight to his role with Warrior, some interesting pro requests and where Warrior’s unique graphics and nicknames come from.
Great Skate: Your Twitter account says you’re the “Warrior Stick Guy”. More or less that sounds like just about every hockey player’s dream job. Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work.
Keith Perera: Stick Guy is a moniker I stole from an old colleague at Mission Hockey. He actually had “Stick Guy” on his business card! I was the “young skate guy” at the time, so I always remembered it. My day-to-day in simple terms is planning out the product line for future global releases, working with the development team on future technology, crafting the story behind every technology and informing the sales and marketing groups on our stick product and direction. PMs also work closely with our dealer base and players to come up with new products or technologies that are not currently met in the market. Making better products to make players better is our main objective.
GS: As a guy born in Montreal, raised in LA and now working in Michigan, what type of hockey background do you have?
KP: I have a very unique hockey background. I was born in Montreal where my passion for hockey developed. I moved to LA at a young age, a couple years after the Gretzky trade, and experienced the hyper-growth of our game through ice and roller hockey. I started working in a hockey shop at 16yrs old, managed it through college, and got a job at Mission Hockey’s Warranty Department after college. Worked my way up the ranks to Skate Product Manager (PureFly) and had a short stint in the golf business before landing at Warrior where I began as PM for Sticks/Protective/Goalie. It’s been a wild ride, but I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing mentors along the way. Our industry is a great one.
GS: Lefty or righty?
KP: Right Handed but I shoot Lefty.
KP: I’m using an old Toews Pro pattern…like if E28 and W03-Kopitar had a baby. When using retail pattern, I float between Kopitar and Kovalev…I’m not very good, so I always blame my sticks 🙂
GS: Velvet Grip, Nipple Grip or basic finish?
KP: I’ve always been an Innovative guy, from the beginning when we used to sell them in our store …so I love the old Polarfibre grip feel. But these days I use a Matte clear finish with diamond texture (have I mentioned yet that I love my job?).
GS: Do you work with NHL professionals too? If so, what are some of the crazier requests you’ve gotten from the pros you work with.
KP: I do work with Pros sometimes. Warrior has an amazing team of Pro Reps that have the relationships and are very skilled at figuring out what a pro player needs for their sticks. Most of my work is done from the standpoint of guiding the Pro Sales Team on direction for what we showcase in pro to help promote our new retail sticks at any given time during the season. Craziest request: Without a doubt – Ryan Smyth asking us to make a graphite blade “look like wood”…I call it “flesh blade”- it’s kinda gross.
GS: Who is/was your favorite NHLer to work with? Who was the toughest?
KP: It’s a tie: Best two guys ever… Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne for skates. Selanne is probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met and Lidstrom is purest form of class. Toughest…no comment.
GS: What struggles, if any, have you dealt with working for a company that – when Warrior first jumped into hockey – may not be considered a “traditional” hockey manufacturer?
KP: Great question. The biggest challenge for Warrior, is what I call, the “post-launch hangover”. We blew out the doors with an amazing marketing buzz and on-ice product recognition (bright colors/crazy graphics) and it really helped us become the fastest growing hockey brand in this industry’s history. After that, Dealers and Consumers wanted more from us and needed a reason to buy Warrior for performance and less for standing out in a crowd. In the last two years, we have been working very hard to give that reason to the consumer. Our product line has become very focused, very simple, and very high in performance. Gone are the Dragons and Kroniks. I can honestly say that Covert and Dynasty lines of product are the very best Warrior/Innovative have made in relation to performance, game-improvement and durability – ever.
GS: Warrior has two very cool sticks on the market, the Covert and the Dynasty. Which suits your game best, and why?
KP: I know this is a total bail-out move, but I like both for very specific reasons: The Covert’s low kick is ideal for me since I take mostly wrist shots in my beer league. I love the feel of the True1 construction. I like the Dynasty’s AxySym since I can really feel the recoil power on slap shots during our company morning skate. In a more relaxed environment, I have the time to wind up for a slap shot and it feels amazing. Again, I’m not a very skilled player, so I need all the time I can get!
GS: Both stick lines are full of groundbreaking features, which stood out to you the most during the development process and now that it has hit the market?
KP: Dagger Taper for me is probably the tech that stands out the most. It’s a very simple visual and tangible concept that takes advantage of our manufacturing ability to achieve the very best performance gains for a player. True1 allows Dagger Taper to really flex down in the area where, in the past, fuse joints used to be. We took that “dead flex area” and made it active and lively which most players need. Dagger allows flex with very little effort; a true game-improvement feature that we were fortunate enough to get a patented. The feature that is the most “under the radar” is probably TwinSpar. Adding those two carbon structures to our blades has made huge improvements on our blade durability and pop-life…it’s a great under the hood feature that most people enjoy the benefits of but rarely actually see.
GS: I personally love my Dynasty AX1, what has been the type of feedback you’ve been getting on both the Covert and Dynasty?
KP: The Covert has been a joy. The performance benefits to players and the quick-release has been awesome to see, especially for players using DT4 and DT5. The Dynasty was a huge surprise for me. I honestly didn’t expect so many people to love the feel of the mid-kick and how smooth the stick is to load and release. It’s really a great time at Warrior.
GS: I noticed Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres using a white Covert. Will more colors be available to the retail market, or is that a custom option only?
KP: More colors will be available in our retail line with the intro of our New Covert later this year (more info to come later). Right now, an all-white stick similar to Grigo is available on the customizer.
GS: Going back to the Dolomite and some of Warrior’s earlier stick models, you guys have always had some cool nicknames and artwork for the features you develop. Who comes up with the taglines and logos for these?
KP: It’s a collaboration between myself and our stick designer, Isaac. He has been with Innovative/Warrior since the beginning of both companies and has been amazing to work with…he’s a technically and aesthetically creative force. We are both a little quirky and it certainly shows in some of the graphics we worked on in the past. Our graphics now have become a little more simplified from far, but if you still look closely we always sneak some unique details in there (mid kick logo is a great example). We are Warrior, always will be…so we embrace being different and having fun all the while building legitimately high performing product and technology.
GS: Both the Dynasty and Covert unveiled some very cool features to the stick world. What can we expect from Warrior in the coming months and years?
KP: I was just saying this to one of our sales guys…it’s a very very exciting time at Warrior. We have built an amazing product foundation with Covert and Dynasty. We have learned a lot along the way for what our consumer expects from us and how we can deliver product that will always challenge that. Our company was started in a Princeton University dorm room, by a kid from Michigan who thought that the Lacrosse industry was too old and “too set in their ways”. He made a Titanium shaft that shook the industry and changed the game…that spirit lives in everything we do.
A pair of game seven showdowns were needed to finalize both participants in the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile, both the Penguins and Bruins have been patiently waiting as they dispatched their second round opponents in relative ease. These two conference finals match four of the most impressive teams from the regular season who also happen to be the last four Stanley Cup champions.
Much like in previous years, my first round prowess was followed by little success in the second round. I hit two of my four picks in the second round and hopefully I’m at least able to ace the Conference Finals to save some face for my picks this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins
The Penguins enter this series with the title of pre-playoff favorite to win the Cup. After they called upon Tomas Vokoun to carry their playoff hopes in net, the Penguin juggernaut has maintained their impressive offensive output in both series against the Islanders and Senators.
Boston will likely benefit the most from the long layoff between the series as they were running a MASH unit along their blueline during their five-game triumph over the Rangers. While the Bruins won’t get all of their injured players back, it is safe to assume that the extra days off will benefit them in the long run.
Why the Penguins will win
Pittsburgh seems like a team of destiny. They have two incredibly potent scoring lines and that doesn’t even cover all of the scary offensive talent they possess. The Pens have also gotten strong contributions from Kris Letang and Paul Martin on defense and Vokoun has been more than serviceable in net. The key for Pittsburgh will be to simply score goals. If they get into tight checking games with the Bruins they will be in deep trouble. I think the Pittsburgh power play and their incredible depth will simply be too much to handle in the end.
Why the Bruins will win
Boston doesn’t have the same type of firepower the Penguins do but they do have the ability to line up a physical lineup that should be capable of taking the Penguins away from their game. While Pittsburgh isn’t some sort of weak sister when it comes to the physical side of things, the Bruins have been cast from a power forward factory. If they’re able to impose their physical will they will be successful in this series. I also think the key to a Bruins victory will lie with the ability of David Krejci’sd line to play effective two-way hockey against Pittsburgh’s top unit while finding a checking line to neutralize the other potent Penguins line.
Outcome: Penguins in six
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings
This is a series that strikes me as having two potential makeups. One could be a firewagon series that sees the Blackhawks open the game up and let their big guns fly. The other is one in which the Kings are able to buckle things down defensively and hash out a stifled, low scoring series. Hopefully we see a little more offense than in the Kings and Sharks series, but I’m not too hopeful that will be the case.
Why the Blackhawks will win
Like the Penguins, Chicago has the ability to ice a top six forward set that is nearly unparalleled across the league. While Jonathan Toews has been quiet this post season, his linemates (Hossa and Saad at times) are potent scorers who are well complimented by Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and others.
Corey Crawford is one of those goalies that just makes me a little nervous at times. He has had a great postseason and has proven to be capable of carrying a team through each round of the playoffs. What I’m curious to see is how he handles the crash and bang style of the Kings. If Crawford continues to stand tall I like the Blackhawks chances.
Why the Kings will win
The Kings are very well suited to shutting down the Blackhawks simply because they’ve done it twice already this postseason. After snuffing out the Canucks Wonder Twin attack the defending champs were able to keep the numerous big guns on the Sharks roster quiet in their seven-game triumph. While Los Angeles isn’t running a system in which they will score eight goals each night, they have the weapons to do so.
What they need to determine is if they’re capable of winning a road game and if they have the capability to outscore a team that will most certainly be generating chances. Their X-factor is Jonathan Quick. The longer this series goes, the more it favors Quick and the Kings.