The Western Conference Final is shaping up to be a great series between the past two Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings.
Chicago took Game 1, but I thought that the Kings played fairly well. I thought they actually played really well, being that they just got out of an emotional series against the Anaheim Ducks and then had to travel for Game 1. If not for Corey Crawford, it could have been a very different game. For Chicago, it's all about Crawford. He's one of the Conn Smythe Trophy candidates right now, just with how well he has played.
The good news for Chicago is it also looks like Andrew Shaw could be back in the lineup for Game 2. He's a very impactful player. He gets in on the forecheck, his skills are better than people give him credit for, he's physical, he's an agitator that can play and he's a 20-goal scorer. I think he'll give them even more depth than they already have.
But the real key for Chicago is Crawford.
Crawford looks the same to me as the player who won the Stanley Cup last year. The only difference I see is he's a little quicker and a touch more reactive in the net. Those are elements to his game that I already liked last year. Last year, his quickness and reaction time improved and he was more athletic. Those are up a notch this year and have been real keys for him.
When it comes to Crawford, I feel like a lot of people aren't watching the games objectively. People talk about all the talent around Crawford, but he's been amazing and he's gotten better. He's making clean saves, he's battling and being athletic and his glove hand has improved. When I look around the NHL, he is the most improved goalie in the past two years. I don't see another player that has improved that much in that time span.
It's hard to say that he's not a top-seven guy in the League right now. With all due respect to Ryan Miller, who is a Vezina Trophy winner, he was outplayed by Crawford in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crawford is also the reason the Blackhawks won the series against the Minnesota Wild and he was sensational in Game 1 against the Kings. He has really elevated his game and made a major progression in a short amount of time.
The other story is the Montreal Canadiens falling behind 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final after losing goaltender Carey Price during Game 1.
For the Canadiens, I don't think it has to be doom and gloom. I broke that they were going to start Dustin Tokarski in Game 2. I feel it was a bold move but it was also the right move. I've been a Peter Budaj fan since he played in the Ontario Hockey League and I continue to be a fan of his, but you've got to continue to put your guys in a position to succeed. Where Budaj is in his career right now, he's an excellent backup that can come in and give you a game. But I don't think, based on his game right now, that he can give Montreal seven.
I remember seeing Tokarski win the Memorial Cup with Spokane. Everything about him has changed. His stance is different, his posture is different and his selections are more consistent. He's come a real long way and he's won at every level. In Game 2, I thought he played well. He should have that Rick Nash goal, but that goal by Martin St. Louis is going in against anybody. I thought he played well and I like the move.
During a West Coast road trip in the regular season, Budaj was struggling and they put in Tokarski. He played exceptionally well and defied a lot of people's expectations. He proved he could play against some real good teams out West. I look for him to be in the net in Game 3. Hopefully, he can go in there and have a heck of a game. I like pulling for players that have earned it. He has worked his way through the minors and now has a unique opportunity.