Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: *repeated blasts from the hockey horn*

I'm not going to lie, it's been a little rough in the wake of last night's celebrations. So, without further adieu, it's straight to the action.  In today's bag, I'm talking My Blackhawks securing yet another crown, the Warriors closing in on one of their own, and the US Women in the World Cup.

Click below for the bag...

Hawks win Stanley Cup, are far too good - 

Yes, MY Chicago Blackhawks did it again, powering past the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in last night's Game 6 to win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.  Duncan Keith (deservedly) took home the Conn Smythe trophy, and the greatest city in the world descended into a rain-soaked morass of celebration.

Off the cuff, this was a really close series.  Prior to Game 6, no team had lead by more than a single goal at any point, most of the top-line stats were eerily similar, and each game had seen the game winning goal scored either in the third period or overtime. The play, overall, was top flight, and, other than a seventh game, I don't know what else any hockey fan could've asked for.
Looking a little deeper, however, this series jumped the rails about a week ago.  It's a well-known fact that the 'Hawks are now 18-1 since 2009 in games played after a series is tied at 2-2.  In this particular case, they were able to completely suffocate the action after Game 3, flipping the switch at the appropriate time to slowly wrench control of the series after falling behind 2-1.  From Game 4 on they dominated the action, relying on only four primary defensemen to hold the high-powered Lightning to two goals scored across three hours of ice time. It helped that penalty minutes were limited, but this was mostly the result of the Blackhawks winning a landslide majority of the faceoffs - 116-66 (217-143 for the series).  Controlling the puck, the 'Hawks dictated the terms of play, and the veteran squad leveraged the advantage to a third crown.

It also helped that goalie Corey Crawford shrugged aside any last vestiges of his late-season struggles to slam the door shut in front of the Chicago net.  Remember, this is the same goalie who lost his starting job to backup Scott Darling back at the start of the playoff run against Nashville.  His play then was almost unrecognizable compared to recent weeks, when it took pure magic to beat him (like Alex Killorn's Game 1 goal).  There he was last night, stoning clear breakaway attempts, and keeping a clean sheet with the Cup on the line.  What a fantastic turn around.
Keith may have won the Conn Smythe, but Crawford was more important in the Final.
Overall, a strong statement of class from an organization that was once an afterthought in their home city (when I was younger, the minor league Chicago Wolves were essentially more popular - the reasons are too complicated to go into now).  While the Jordan-era Bulls still reign supreme in the city's sporting landscape (unassailable), with this win the Toews/Kane/Quenneville-era Blackhawks slide into second position on the town's Mt Rushmore (slipping past the '85 Bears).  They are a dynasty, the stunning result of quality, resourceful management in the wake of so many years of exactly the opposite.  If you would've asked me if this was possible 15 years ago, that the Chicago Blackhawks would come to stand for what's best in the City of Broad Shoulders, I'd have laughed in your face.  Who's laughing now?

Warriors on verge of clinching the NBA title - 

Over in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors eye their first title in 40 years in tonight's Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  They're here on this precipice thanks to a resounding 104-91 win in Game 5, where Steph Curry finally seemed to come alive in a 37-point performance.  It's a statement that has me thinking this series is all but over.
Curry finally woke from his slumber over the weekend. From: NBC Sports
While the action is back in Cleveland this evening, and home court advantage in basketball isn't going away any time soon, some dynamic seemed to change over the weekend.  The scrappy Cavs found traction harder to come by against the Andre Iguodala-fueled smaller lineups thrown out there by Golden State, and the early-series advantages Cleveland enjoyed - under the basket, in the margins, on defense - simply weren't there any more. Hell, even Matthew Dellavedova lost his mojo, and LeBron was left unable to find any help from the rest of the supporting cast.  Momentum has swung heavily to the Left Coast.

Even should Cleveland win tonight - I'll say about a 40% chance - I don't see any path for them to sneak out a win in Game 7.  That leaves much of the discussion of this series in the mind of endings.  Specifically, the big talk in the media (read: ESPN) has been, even if the Warriors win tonight, could LeBron wind up as the Finals MVP?  He probably has been, averaging a near triple-double 37/12/9 over the first five games, but it couldn't matter in the slightest.  The end result is what matters, and if Curry and Co. end up hoisting the trophy this evening, or even this Friday in Cleveland, they won't care in the slightest who gets the secondary hardware.
Kerr's lineup swap has been the deciding factor of late.
Regardless, the real MVP in my mind is GSW head coach Steve Kerr.  He recognized the problems in his approach after Game 3, and switched up his starting five, going smaller against Cleveland's intimidating interior presence.  With five perimeter threats on the court to start, the Cavs are scrambling to defend the jumper, and it's paying dividends for the Warriors.  With a win tonight, Kerr will get the lion share of the kudos from me.

US Women in the World Cup - 

The 2015 Women's World Cup is off and running in Canada, with the US one of the heavy favorites to compete for the crown.  Routinely one of the world's best sides, and with the tournament played so close to home soil, expectations and hopes are high.  Through two games of group play, the results themselves, at least, have been satisfying; a solid 3-1 win over Australia in the opener, and a hard fought 0-0 draw against a very game side from Sweden.  With a follow-up performance tonight against Nigeria (kicking off RIGHT NOW), they should have no difficulty passing on to the knockout stage.  So far, so good.
Rapinoe has been America's best so far.
There are some whispers (some that are building to shouts), however, that this team may not be all that it's cracked up to be.  In the wake of the win over the Aussies, the Australian team's website was less than glowing in their appraisal, and former coach (and current Sweden manager) Pia Sundhage was particularly critical of a number of US players. Some of this, certainly, is typical inside-baseball bullshit; a vanquished foe and a spurned coach getting salty.  On the other hand... I kind of agree with some of their sentiments.

While the Matildas' site went a little too overboard with their comments, their note that Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo were the only real differences is warranted. Further, I watched the performance against Sweden with a more critical eye and came away less than impressed.  A number of US players were uncomfortable in possession, scatter-shot with their passing, and generally inarticulate with their play.  They just didn't seem like a dominating, top-flight international side - more like Spain at the last men's World Cup.  i.e., a paper tiger. While the results have stayed true, the team seems to be getting away with far too many mistakes. This is not what I expected headed in.
Sundhage, among others, have been critical of the US' efforts so far. From: USA Today
I'll be the first to admit that I do not follow the women's game as closely as I should - certainly not in the lead up to a tournament as important as the World Cup - but the fact remains: this is not a team that appears to be in complete control of their destiny.  A determined side, willing and able to take advantage on soft possessions and unnecessary turnovers, will hurt this bunch.  Mark it up to coaching, too many years with a free pass in the growing world of women's soccer, or the natural result of the world catching up, but I would not be surprised to see the US bounced with an early, head-scratching knockout performance... unless, of course, something were to change...  Tonight against Nigeria could be very informative.

Happy Tuesday!

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