Chat with EJ Hradek
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join Hradek in The Show on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Jonathan: Raleigh, NC
I thought Pittsburgh's D did not look impressive last night and Fleury was the only thing that saved them. Do you see team defense as their biggest weakness going forward?
EJ Hradek (3:01 PM)
I thought it was just a real competitive game. Both goalies played well. Carolina's strength is the fact that the played really aggressive, and they will force teams to make mistakes. They're not a dynamic defensive group, but they're a good group. Carolina has shown that they can cause problems for defenses, which will cause Pittsburgh to need to adjust.
Mark (Charlotte, NC)
Who is more important to the Canes this series: A healthy Brind'Amour or a hot Ward?
EJ Hradek (3:02 PM)
You always need your goalie to play well. It's more important to have Cam Ward continue to play the way he has played. Especially in light of the fact that the Hurricanes may have some injuries to their forwards, the goalie becomes more important.
Mark (Charlotte, NC)
EJ - Momuntary lapse for the young Hawks or signs of a struggling series to come?
EJ Hradek (3:04 PM)
I think the Hawks will certainly have a set of challenges playing the defending Stanley Cup champs, a team that has been through this many times. It's all about making adjustments, and I expect the Hawks will do so and try some new things in Game 2. But this is a young team that has had a great ride through the first two rounds, and we'll have to see how they respond tonight.
Mark (Charlotte, NC)
Satan and Boucher came up with two big goals last night, do you anticipate them having any significant effect for the rest of the series?
EJ Hradek (3:06 PM)
I think it's possible that they will, in limited roles. That's what you want as you try to advance in a competitive final--as many contributions from different players as you can. That's what you hope for. I like the fact that they are playing eleven forwards and seven defensemen right now. It works because it helps protect against further injury to other defensemen, including Gonchar, who is playing with a bad knee. It allows you to get Crosby and Malkin on the ice more. It's always about getting contributions, and Pittsburgh has been getting those throughout the first two rounds.
Pens have a chance to make this a short series?
EJ Hradek (3:07 PM)
There's always a chance of that. I thought Carolina played a pretty good game last night. There's a chance of anything happening, but Carolina is a pretty resilient group who will play right to the end.
Stephen (Pittsburgh, PA)
I am with you on your pick at the beginning of the year, Pens vs Wings in the finals again. Now my question is. If in fact that does happen, are the pens more dynamic and more prepared this time around?
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
I think so. They've been through this experience before, so they should be more prepared. I'm not sure it will matter, as Detroit is very good, but it will be a terrific series if it comes to pass. Sidney Crosby has shown that he has matured significantly since last year. Maybe we'll need that extra game this year. I think it will be an excellent series.
What are your thoughts on Cooke's knee-on-knee hit on Cole? As bad as Ovechkin's on Gonchar? Suspension-worth?
EJ Hradek (3:12 PM)
I think it was much worse than Ovechkin's play. I think he just mistimed the hit. Cooke has a history of dirty play--that's who he is. He came in looking to take a shot, and with those things, you never know if you're going to get hurt or not. I thought it was an unnecessary play trying to take advantage of a player in a vulnerable spot. But I don't think he'll be suspended because of the difficulty of getting to the heart of his intent.
Tom (River North)
EJ, in the first two rounds it seemed like Chicago was helped by the undisciplined play of the Flames and Canucks. They aren't going to get that against the Wings, so aren't they in a bit of trouble?
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
There's no question. They are in the high water now, in for a different challenge against a team that has won championships and has accomplished players up and down their lineup. This is a real challenge and opportunity for Chicago to move forward as a team. The worst-case scenario is that they will have faced something that will help them as a team in the future.
Other than Crosby or Malkin, is there anyone that I can't sucker-punch with impunity?
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
I guess not, based on your track record! I wouldn't advise it. I'd be surprised if he could get away with that one again.
Huge pens fan here. Little worried that pens might become like Buffalo Bills of 90s. Get to big dance and lose to superior conference. Assuming pens get past Canes, what do pens need to get the cup this go around?
EJ Hradek (3:18 PM)
I don't think that comparison is fair. They are a young team that is really getting better. It might just be a matter of time. It depends on who they match up with in the final. If they face Detroit again, they know more about them having faced off with them in the final. Crosby and Malkin will have to be consistently good, their defensemen will have to be steady and limit mistakes, and Fleury will have to be exceptional. The good news is, last year they struggled to find an appropriate level, whereas they're much more comfortable this time around.
Have you been watching the Memorial Cup? What are your thoughts on the top junior prospects like Ellis, Hall, Kulikov and Couturier?
EJ Hradek (3:18 PM)
I haven't had the opportunity to see much of that tournament so far...I've been pretty tied up with the conference finals.
Jordan Staal plays great on both ends of the ice, but I feel he doesn't look for his shot enough. Do you believe this is coaching, or naturally deferring to greater offensive threats?
EJ Hradek (3:21 PM)
I would say my feeling about Staal is that he's a young guy, and despite the fact that he seems mature beyond his years, he's inconsistent shift-to-shift. There are times when he takes over a game, and other times where he plays as kind of a checking center. Maybe he's not looking to push forward in that way. We have to remember how young some of these guys are. He's getting some great head-to-head time against his brother, and it's a great challenge for him. I think Jordan is getting better, and he could be even better as time goes on. Maybe he's a guy who moves to another team and has a different role where he can show off more.
EJ - Do you think Coach Q overcoached the Hawks last game? I mean 14 minutes and change for their two best forwards (Kane & Toews)? I know he's big on matchups but at a certain point, when you need offense, you have to score while on the ice and not on the bench.
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
I expect he'll make some changes in his lineup tonight. I think he'll be wise to separate Kane and Toews. If not, they'll have a hard time trying to be productive. He's done that for large portions of the season. He'll try to create some better matchups for his team as they face off against a much better opponent than they've seen in the first two rounds.
Jim (Acton, MA)
Which Finals do you think would be more exciting/explosive... DET-PIT or CHI-PIT?
EJ Hradek (3:23 PM)
Maybe Chicago-Pittsburgh, just because there would be more mistakes, which would lead to more goals. Either one would be interesting and exciting to watch.
Marc (Chicago, IL)
Who ends up a better player in the end, Kane or Toews?
EJ Hradek (3:25 PM)
Two different kinds of players. Building a team to win the Cup, I would always take the center, so I'd go with Toews. I like his leadership, will, and determination. Kane is a unique and dynamic player who can bring the sizzle to the game. If the judgment is who is going to have a better chance to be a winning player, I'd say it would be Toews.
What was the Capitals biggest down fall in the playoffs this year?
EJ Hradek (3:26 PM)
They're not good enough defensively. They're allowing a lot of shots and quality chances. Championships at the end of the day are won with good defense and timely goaltending. The GM there, George McPhee, has a tough job...he's done some really good things, but it gets tough determining where to move those pieces around. The Capitals have a good group of exciting young players, but until they get better defensively and in goal, they'll fall short.
Hokcey seems to have been on the front page a lot more this season. Do you attribute that to the high quality of the games, the Sid-Ovie matchup, or just hockey's eventual re-entry into the U.S. sporting mainstream?
EJ Hradek (3:28 PM)
There are so many good young players now, and with the rule changes, has become faster and more entertaining. The Ovechkin-Crosby matchup attracted a lot of attention, and the fact that it went seven games and lived up to it helped enormously. This was a game that shut down for a year in the lockout, and there was time that needed to be taken before it could push back into the consciousness of the mainstream sports fan. I think it is doing very well and will continue to grow.
Whats your thought on the Eaton hit on Ruutu?
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
I thought it was kind of a dirty play. There might have been an accidental nature to it, though he did swing his leg behind him. Again, I don't know if it's a suspendable offense. But I wouldn't be happy were I the Hurricanes.
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
Thanks for all the great questions. Looking forward to two very interesting series!