Make no mistake. When Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told the media Monday that goalie Carey Price would miss the remainder of the Eastern Conference Final, it completely changed the complexion of this series.
Already down 1-0 after losing Game 1 at home Saturday, the Canadiens sustained a huge, huge loss with the injury to Price. After seeing how Montreal played in Game 1, I didn't think the Habs looked like a team that could beat the New York Rangers even with Price in net, but losing him makes it that much easier for New York.
Backup goalie Peter Budaj is adequate, but he's not Price, one of the best goaltenders in the sport. With the way the Rangers play, their goals are so ugly and slimy, they are very difficult to play against. They score those ugly goals. That was already causing trouble for Price in Game 1 before he was injured in a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider, but I have a hard time seeing Budaj faring any better against that kind of team.
Now the Canadiens aren't going to give up, of course. Their loss in Game 1 was embarrassing, but I'd rather lose 7-2 and play terribly than lose 2-1 and play well. The Habs can write that off and say it was "just one of those games." They weren't ready for the Rangers' speed and the coaching staff should take some of the blame for that.
Montreal can still recover in Game 2 on Monday and do its best to try and slow the Rangers in the neutral zone, which it couldn't in Game 1. The Canadiens might be able to win on home ice and avoid a 2-0 hole as the series heads south to New York. But even if the Canadiens manage to play better than they did Saturday afternoon, I just can't see them beating the Rangers four times without their best goalie in the crease.
WHY I LIKE THE BLACKHAWKS
When you look at the Western Conference Final, we all know the Chicago Blackhawks are great, we all know what they bring to the table. The Los Angeles Kings are also a team that knows how to win. We saw that in the first round against the San Jose Sharks and we saw that when they rallied against the Anaheim Ducks a round later. But overall, the Kings have been far more inconsistent this postseason than the Blackhawks. Los Angeles has been great in eight games and average in seven games. Jonathan Quick has been great for eight games and average for seven games.
The Kings are a defensive team. They cannot afford to be average against the Blackhawks. With L.A. you know who you have to stop offensively. The Blackhawks know who they have to zero in on, and Chicago and goalie Corey Crawford have been very good defensively so far in the postseason. You know they're capable of doing what they need to do.
What's more is that Chicago has faced its demons already in the postseason. The Kings rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks, but the Blackhawks pulled their way out of a huge hole in the first round too, coming back to beat the St. Louis Blues after losing the first two games. They've got the mental toughness to get through L.A., they're pretty healthy for this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the right names -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell -- are showing up on the scoreboard for Chicago right now.
There's something special about a winner. The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup two of the past four seasons. Yes, the Kings won the Cup just two years ago, but the Hawks appear more consistent right now, and they can handle the physicality and defense the Kings are going to throw at them.
THE CLASS OF RAY SHERO
The changes that were made by the Pittsburgh Penguins last week are very unusual. Typically when a team wants to clean house, it will fire both its general manager and its coach so that whoever the new GM is can enter the job with a clean slate. Before things come to that, however, a GM will often fire the coach to buy a little more time and show ownership that he's still tinkering with the team to bring it a championship.
That did not happen this time. Pittsburgh fired GM Ray Shero, but has kept Dan Bylsma on as the coach, at least for now. What this says to me is that Shero, knowing what was coming, refused to sacrifice Bylsma for his own sake. I have to applaud Shero for this. He believed in Danny Bylsma and went down with Danny Bylsma.
I don't think saving your skin is a great trait in an NHL GM, and unfortunately it's one too many guys have. Shero believed in Bylsma. Bylsma got him a championship when he first came up to coach the team after Michel Therrien was fired midway through the 2008-09 season. Shero showed loyalty by not offering up Bylsma when it was clear change was coming. He felt Bylsma was the right guy for the job, so much so that he gave him a contract extension after last season, and as pressure mounted during the Penguins' collapse against the Rangers, he never threw Bylsma under the bus. Shero always said Bylsma was a good coach, and even though Shero is now out of a job, that may be part of the reason Bylsma isn't.
The loyalty Shero showed is a good trait for a GM or a person to have, and it will serve him well in his next job in the NHL.