Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why These Seven Clubs Won't Make the Playoffs in the Western Conference

If last season taught us anything about the Western Conference it was that a particular team could jump from 12th to 5th almost nightly. This year expects to be no different, with non-playoff teams upgrading their rosters this summer, and parity at an all-time high. We take a look at the seven teams who will more than likely be on the outside looking in when the season ends April 7.

#15 Calgary Flames

Sooner or later GM Jay Feaster will need to get younger and rebuild in Calgary. The Flames are an aging team, that caught fire in mid-season after a horrendous start only to fall short of the playoffs by 3 points.

What to like: Jarome Iginla is an elite forward who heated up last season with Alex Tanguay on the first line. The offense was ranked 7th overall in the NHL which seems surprising. Lee Stempniak was a solid addition by Feaster this summer, which adds to the Flames speed upfront.

What Not to Like: The Defense is average at best. Jay Bouwmeester is paid like a number one defensemen, but his 24 points last year suggest he's not even close to that stature. Once again, Calgary will depend on the 35-year old Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes to carry the workload, but another 71 games played may be too much for him at this stage. The Flames struggled killing penalties last season and that doesn't expect to change.

#14 Dallas Stars

Last season they missed the postseason by 2 points, which ultimately cost Marc Crawford his job. Off the ice ownership issues could plaque the team and attendance dwindled last season. Brad Richards departure will obviously hurt not only from an offense standpoint, but leadership as well.

What to Like: Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski. These two players are on the cusp of stardom in our opinion. Benn netted 22 gaols as a 22-year old last season. Goligoski helped anchor the defense when acquired near the deadline and registered 15 points in 23 games. Glen Gulutzan was hired as head coach after having success in AHL. They added grit with Vernon Fiddler and Michael Ryder.

What Not to Like: Dallas plays in a very competitive Pacific Division and will play hard for their new coach, but lack overall talent, especially offensively. Kari Lehtonen did stay healthy last season, but can he do that for another season?

#13 Edmonton Oilers

The league's worst team last season is flushed with young talent, especially at the forward position. How much time does all this talent need to move up the standings is the question.

What to Like: They have tons of speed and youth at forward. Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi have the ability to make fans jump out of their seats. First round draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is expected to make the club, which even adds to their strength at forward.

What Not to Like: The Oilers may have the worst goaltending in the NHL with Khabibulin and Dubnyk. The defense really didn't improve that much this summer. Andy Sutton and Cam Barker are so-so defensemen. They don't posses a shutdown pair as well as anyone who can move the puck up the ice from the blueline.

#12 Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes may not have any household names on their roster, but they have managed to make the postseason for two straight seasons in the difficult Western Conference.

What to Like: Head coach Dave Tippet is one of the best in the league. Shane Doan may be one of the best captains in the league. His leadership can never be underestimated. They play a very strong team game and rarely beat themselves.

What Not to Like: Let's be honest, losing Ilya Bryzgalov and replacing him with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera will hurt. The Coyotes will not sneak up on their opponents this season either. At 39, how much does first line forward, Ray Whitney have left?
Phoenix did not have one player score over 60 points last season. We don't think they'll win as many low-scoring games without Bryzgalov.

#11 Colorado Avalanche

Colorado was battling for a postseason spot, but fell off a cliff in a horrendous mid-season slump. They made changes to improve the defense and goaltending which ranked 30th in the league last season.

What to Like: Colorado possesses a talented group of young forwards throughout the lineup. Matt Duchene should take the next step to elite level. Paul Stasny gives the Av's a terrific one-two punch down the middle with Duchene. Players like Jones, Galliardi, and Yip are very talented as well. Rookie, Gabriel Landeskog is projected by many to win the Calder trophy.

What Not to Like: The Avalanche are a smaller team, which presents trouble when they play the Canucks, Sharks, and Predators of the league. A full season of Erik Johnson should help the defense improve as it can't get any worse. Goaltending was a constant problem for Colorado last season and they better hope that Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere stay healthy, which they haven't the last couple of years.

#10 Minnesota Wild

There will be a complete makeover in Minnesota this season with the additions of Danny Heatley, and Devin Setoguchi at forward and the hiring of new coach, Mike Yeo. Minnesota has a great fan base, but after missing the playoffs for three straight seasons are becoming restless.

What to Like: The Wild finally have two legit lines with the additions that they made. Mikko Koivu is paid like an elite forwrd, and finally he will have a true sniper in Danny Heatley on his line. Goalie Niklas Backstrom is one of the leagues best when he's on his game. The Wild were 16-6-8 in 1-goal games, something that must continue if they are to qualify for playoffs.

What Not to Like: The defense is young after Zidlicky, Schultz, and Zanon. We don't see their blueline as a playoff type of defense. They will miss Brent Burns more than they realize. The Wild have ranked last in shot attempts per game for the third consecutive season. We wonder how much production the Wild can expect from Setoguchi now that he won't have Joe Thornton feeding him the puck.

#9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus had to do something to make a splash this summer with attendance dwindling last season. The Jeff Carter acquisition finally gives superstar Rick Nash a top center. GM Scott Howson may be under more pressure to make the playoffs than anyone this season.

What to Like: Rick Nash. In our opinion, he's a top five talent in the league. If he played in Canada or Detroit people would rave about him. Having linemates like Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger could mean a 50-goal season for Nash. The Jackets have suffered for so long by not having a Power Play point man. Now they do in James Wisniewski. He's a bit overrated, and way overpaid, but he'll help them score goals. We like some of their 2nd and 3rd line forwards. Derick Brassard, Antoine Vermette, Vinny Prospal, and Matt Calvert are all talented.

What Not to Like: Steve Mason is a big question mark between the pipes. He struggled last season and a 3.03 GAA and .901 save percentage is not good enough to make the playoffs. Columbus didn't sign a veteran backup which is surprising. The defense is still not great, especially the bottom four. Grant Clitsome played well as a rookie, but Kris Russell, Radek Martinek, and Marc Methot are mediocre.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mike Richards "The Shift"


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Islanders and Kings represented on NHL Live


Western Conference Finals Preview

(1) Vancouver vs. (2) San Jose

For the second straight year the Western Conference Finals pits the 1st seed against the 2nd seed. San Jose returns after being sweep by Chicago in four games last season. The Vancouver Canucks won the President's trophy and had a regular season best power play and penalty kill. Both teams have had playoff disappointments in the past but something will give this year. San Jose has never advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, while the Canucks have not been back since losing in seven games to the NY Rangers in 1994.

Why the Sharks will win:

Depth: Unlike Vancouver's last two opponents, Nashville and Chicago, the Sharks have the deepest team in the league at forward. Three of their lines can score and fourth line players such as Mayers, Eager, and Nichol are difficult to play against. Joe Thornton looks to be playing with a chip on his shoulder so far this postseason and the Sharks have found a way to have a 5-0 record in overtime. In addition to Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski give the Sharks three very solid centers which cause match-up problems for opposing teams. The Canucks have a talented group of forwards as well, but will miss Manny Malhotra and Mikael Samuelsson who are injured and unlikely to play this series.

Antti Niemi: He won the cup last season with Chicago and defeated Vancouver along the way in Round Two. We have more confidence in him than the fragile Roberto Luongo. Niemi did struggle at times in the LA series, but redeemed himself against the Wings. Luongo did have a brilliant regular season, but still can be scary in tight playoff games.

How the Canucks could win:

Better Defense: The Sharks were forced to plug in Kent Huskins who has not played in three months to fill in for the injured Jason Demers. The Canucks will not have that probelm should they have an injury this series. Vancouver has battled injuries all year to defensemen and have dressed a total of 12 this season. The Canucks defense is physical and very deep. Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sammi Salo, and Alex Edler all log plenty of minutes. The Sharks defense had trouble at times in the LA series and also against Detroit and are apt to turn the puck over at key times.

Special Teams: The Vancouver Canucks power play is lethal, while the San Jose PK struggled in the regular season. To the Sharks credit their PK came up huge at crucial points of the first two playoff series. Still the special teams battle should be an advantage for the Canucks.

Home Ice: As we've seen thus far, home ice may not mean as much the first six games, but if a series goes to a Game 7 than it is critical. Home teams posted a 4-1 record in Game 7's through the first two rounds.

Prediction: Sharks in 7

We predicted a San Jose-Boston Stanley Cup Final before the playoffs started so we'll stick with that. This series could go either way and normally the team with the better depth on defense prevails but the Sharks seem like a different team this season and we still don't trust the mental state of the Canucks. Vancouver has had a wonderful series and it would not surprise at all if they ended up hoisting the cup, however we'll take the Sharks to win in 7.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals

Tampa Bay vs. Washington

Preview: Washington won 4 of the 6 regular season meetings which was the difference in the Capitals SouthEast Division title over the Lightning by 4 points. Since the Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson, the teams met 4 times splitting those 4 games. Can the Capitals newer defensive style slow down the Lightning's offense? And can Tampa's defense and 41 year old Dwayne Roloson keep back Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals offense? Let's take a look.

Forwards: World class forwards on each team could make this matchup very exciting to watch. However, with the Capitals changing their style mid-season, we could see low scoring games between these two teams. Ovechkin and Stamkos are two of the games most prolific goal scorers and are complemented by fantastic supporting casts. Semin, Laich, Backstrom, Lecavalier, St. Louis just to name a few.
Advantage: Even

Defense: Mike Green has struggled in previous postseasons, but he was a standout in the first round, totaling 5 points and logging plenty of big minutes. He also took a shot off his helmet in Game 5 but proclaimed himself ready for the next round. His partner, Jeff Schultz , has played more (23:15 per game) without being on the ice for a goal-against than any other defenseman in these playoffs.

The young duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson were on the ice for two goals seven seconds apart in Game 4 and rebounded to be two of the team's best players during the comeback.

Scott Hannan and John Erskine were steady, while Wideman is back practicing and could be an option toward the end of the round.

The Lightning have done a 180 in the playoffs -- after finishing 22nd in the League during the regular season with a 2.84 goals-against average, Tampa finished the first round second in the postseason with a 2.00 GAA. Leading the way against the Penguins were Eric Brewer and Mike Lundin. Brewer not only averages a team-leading 25:43 of ice time per game, but also tops all defenders on the team with 5 points. Hedman (22:14) and Ohlund (20:27) also averaged more than 20 minutes per game on the blue line. (espn.com)

In 5 games vs. Caps this season, one with Isles, Dwayne Roloson is 2-2-1 with a 2 shutouts, 1.37 GAA and .953 save percentage. He also leads the playoffs in Save Percentage with .949. The 41 year old has carried teams on his back in the playoffs before, leading Edmonton to the Stanley Cup Finals as an 8 seed just a few short years ago. Micheal Neuvirth is the next goalie the Capitals have pinned their faith on. Each season someone new has been the man but Neuvirth has shown signs that he could be the real deal. He was terrific against the Rangers going 4-1 with a .946 save percentage and 1.38 GAA. With Roloson's experience and play as of late, we give the advantage here to the Lightning.
Advantage: Lightning

Coaching: Bruce Boudreau fooled us all when he changed the the Capitals to a defense first style. The Capitals were marred in a brutal slump that we all saw on HBO's 24/7 series. Since then, the Capitals glaring weakness has become their strength and they won their 3rd straight SouthEast Division. Guy Boucher has done a terrific job with the Lightning but more impressive was Steve Yzerman making two key moves that in our opinion make the Lightning dangerous in the playoffs. Additions of Dwayne Roloson and Eric Brewer were key to making this team successful.
Advantage: Capitals

Pick: Capitals in 7

Boston vs. Philadelphia


Well, we've seen this before.

Last year the Flyers and Bruins met in one of the most memorable Stanley Cup Playoff series in NHL history. The Bruins won the first three games, including Marc's Savard's dramatic overtime goal in Game 1 in his first game back after a serious concussion nearly two months earlier. Then, the Flyers came storming back becoming the 3rd team in NHL history to win a 7 games series after losing the first 3 games.

Forwards: The Flyers got at least 1 goal from eight different forwards during their seven-game first-round win against Buffalo and Kris Versteeg or Mike Richards didn't score 1. The scoring depth of the Flyers is vast and it would be tough to shut down the entire team. The Bruins also had 8 forwards that scored at least one goal in their first round series and were the only team in history to win a playoff series without scoring a power play goal.

Defense: The Bruins led the Eastern Conference in goals against during the regular season. The Bruins play team defense better than anyone in the NHL and move the puck out of their zone as quick as anyone as well. Chara seems to be 100 % and the Bruins are capable of keeping the Flyers off the score board. The Flyers defense is almost as impressive except the fact that Pronger isn't 100%. Can the Flyers defense hold up another long series without him?
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending: Tim Thomas is a lock to win the Vezina trophy this year and had another solid effort in the playoffs. We still aren't sure who the goalie is for the Flyers as they used 3 in their first round series against Buffalo. If Ryan Miller played to his ability, the Flyers would have lost the series due to their goaltending.

Coaching: Peter Laviolette has been successful wherever he has been. He briefly brought the Islanders out of the basement of the NHL, won a cup in Carolina and brought the Flyers all the way to the Cup last season. He is on path to be the next all time great. Claude Julien has for the 2nd straight year had the Eastern Conference goals against leading defense. As good of a coach as he is, Laviolette brought his team back from a 3-0 deficit in last year's series.

Pick: Bruins in 6. They get their revenge as Tim Thomas outplays the trio of Flyers goalies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Western Conference Round Two Predictions

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Nashville Predators (5)

It will be interesting to see how Vancouver responds from one of the most emotional first round series in a long time. The Canucks were stretched to the limit by the Chicago Blackhawks in a Game 7 overtime and return quickly to face the Nashville Predators. Nashville won it's first ever playoff series in six games over the Ducks. The Predators surprisingly scored 22 goals that series and Pekka Rinne was solid in goal as usual. This series pits two Vezina trophy candidates, Rinne and Roberto Luongo, against each other.

Why the Canucks will win: Maybe a first round scare is exactly what Vancouver needed. The fact that they blew a 3-0 series lead to Chicago and ultimately prevailed in a Game 7 overtime may make this team stronger. The Canucks defense played much better the final two games of the Chicago series and they will difficult offensively for Nashville. The Predators exposed Anaheim's weak defense in round one but will have trouble scoring on the much deeper Canucks blueline.

How Nashville could win: The Nashville Predators proved that they can score goals this postseason and have a very solid third line in Smithson-Spaling-Tootoo which gave the Ducks fits. These forwards among others may be able to disrupt the Sedin twins and Pekka Rinne is capable of stealing a game. Martin Erat will return from injury for Game 1 and Mike Fisher is coming off a series where he registered six points in six games. The Predators have two shutdown defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter which will log heavy minutes against the Canucks top line.

Prediction: Vancouver in 7

The Canucks are deeper than Nashville on defense and have a couple more playmakers on offense which will make the difference in a very tight series that could go either way. The Canucks may have gotten their wake up call against Chicago and should ride that momentum to the Conference Finals.

San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (3)

This will be the second consecutive season that these two teams have played in round two. Last year the Sharks won in five games with three of those games that the Sharks won being decided by one goal. Last season the Red Wings came into the series after an exhausting seven game battle with Phoenix. They enter this series on a nine day break after sweeping the Coyotes this time. San Jose needed three overtime victories to get by Los Angeles in six games. The Sharks won that series by winning three games on the road where they scored 16 of their 20 goals.

Why the Sharks will win: The San Jose Sharks have more offensive depth than any team in the postseason right now. The Sharks roll out three lines that all have speed and grit which are difficult to stop for 60 minutes. The defense was not particularly strong in the LA series, especially Dan Boyle, but it is a better unit than it showed. Antti Niemi is coming of a series in which he was pulled twice so he will need to rebound and outplay Jimmy Howard if the Sharks are to advance.

How Detroit could win: The Red Wings are battle tested and may have learned something from losing to the Sharks last season. The Wings are also getting healthy and expecting Henrik Zetterburg in the lineup for Game 1. In order to contain the speed of the Sharks the Red Wings will need a big series from Niklas Kronwall and Ruslan Salei, two of the bigger Wings defensemen. The Sharks penalty kill was weak all regular season so Detroit will look to expolit that when they have the man advantage.

Prediction: Sharks in six

San Jose handled the Red Wings easily this regular season and we're still not sold on Detroit's defense being able to contain the Sharks offensively. Look for Niemi to rebound and be the difference in another close series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Timeout

We are almost through the first round of the playoffs and it's hard to even begin to explain the NHL playoffs so far? Most unheard of is the fact that home teams have a 19-25 record thus far. What about the vast amount of three goal leads that have evaporated on almost a nightly basis? LA, Montreal, Buffalo, and the NY Rangers all coughed up big leads. Or maybe even a 3-0 series lead that the Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of choking up. Here are a few thoughts of what we noticed in the playoffs thus far:

- Detroit needed a quick first round and was fortunate to draw the Coyotes who probably could not handle the off ice issues any longer. Valuable rest time make the Red Wings look to be in the drivers seat in the West.

- Vancouver GM Mike Gillis can complain about the officiating all he wants, and is probably smart by deflecting the pressure on him, but how does a team lose 7-2 in Game 4 and then 5-0 at home in game 5? We thought Chicago played well the first two games, and could of won Game 3 with better luck. Dave Bolland has been stellar for the Hawks since returning from injury. It's amazing how much confidence the Hawks are playing with now. We thought it wasn't a bad idea to go to Schneider in goal for the Canucks in game 6. Now that he is hurt and Luongo is starting Canuck fans need to cross their fingers tonight.

- Watched every minute of the Kings-Sharks series, and even watched some of the games twice. I'll say this, San Jose better pick it up the next round if they think they'll advance. Dan Boyle, Antti Niemi, and the Sharks power play struggled this series. The Kings scored 20 goals in the six games, which is a lot since the Kings struggled to score all regular season and especially when Kopitar went down. Both teams were very sloppy at times and the Sharks depth on offense proved to be the reason why they won. If San Jose turns the puck over like they did against LA versus Detroit or Chicago it might be a quick exit for them. However, it is a good sign for the Sharks that Joe Thronton scored two huge goals in this series.

- For the bits and pieces that I watched of the Nashville-Anaheim series it was the most entertaining of all. In the end, it appeared that the speedy Nashville forwards gave the Ducks defense too much trouble at times. Bobby Ryan scored the highlight goal of the playoffs and the Ducks hung in without Jonas Hiller and with Lubomir Visnovsky playing hurt. Hard to believe that the defensive minded Predators have scored the most goals(22) of any team this postseason.

- The three ring circus that is the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is back again. Game 5 Boucher gets pulled. Game 6 Leighton pulled. Sergei Bobrovsky began the series as the starter but was pulled in Game 2 and has been the press box since. Brian Boucher gets the start tonight.

- The NY Rangers mustered only eight goals in their series against Washington. Think they missed Ryan Callahan?

- The defensively minded Capitals seem to have the best home ice advantage in the playoffs at the Verizon Center. Plus we're realizing how good of a goalie Michal Neuvirth really is.

- Teemu Selanne scoring six goals in the playoffs is remarkable. Can't say enough about him doing what he does at the age of 40.

- Having trouble getting into the Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay series but it's going to a Game 7 and the Penguins power play is 1-30. Speaking of players in their 40's, Dwayne Roloson deserves lot's of credit for keeping the Lightning in that series.

- Game six tonight in Montreal and we don't expect the Canadiens to go down easy. Tim Thomas made the save of the playoffs in double overtime to deprive Montreal of a win in Game 5. The Canadiens have yet to give up a power play goal to Boston and are getting stellar goaltending from Carey Price. We predict this series goes to a Game 7 tomorrow.

- Speaking of predictions, We'll take last seasons' cup finalists the Flyers and Blackhawks to win crucial Game 7's tonight.

- We will also mute the Versus network during intermission when Keith Jones or Jeremy Roenick attempt to analyze the game of hockey.

Enjoy the games tonight!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

8 New York Rangers vs 1 Washington Capitals

Season Series: Rangers won 3 out of 4.

For the 2nd year in a row, the Capitals take the #1 seed into the playoffs. The Capitals have won 4 straight Southwest Divisions now but have yet to get passed the 2nd round of the playoffs, including losing 3 games in a row to Montreal and getting ousted in the first round.

The Rangers playoff hopes came down to the last game of the season for the 2nd year in a row. Last year, they fell a shootout win short. This year, they got help from Tampa and found themselves in the 8th spot. The loss of Ryan Callahan might be too much to overcome.

Head to Head matchups:

Coaching: Rangers. No disrespect to Bruce Boudreau but John Tortorella has won a Stanley Cup and got an undermanned Rangers team into the playoffs for the 2nd time in the last 3 years. The Rangers have played their balls off most nights in the latter part of the season. They had two god awful stinkers on Long Island and one at home against the Thrashers last week. Expect the Rangers to give everything they have against the Caps and we think Tortorella will have the advantage over Boudreau in getting the most out of his team.

Defense: Rangers. The Rangers actually gave up one more goal than the Caps did this season but were more consistent throughout the season. In pressure situations, we trust Marc Staal and company to hold down the fort more than the Capitals, who haven't in their playoff past.

Forwards: Washington. The Caps actually scored 9 less goals than the Rangers this season but also went through a ghastly losing streak where they basically didn't score at all. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are just the big names on a very deep roster of players capable of scoring. Brooks Laich is one of the more underrated two way players in the game. The Capitals scoring disappeared in last years playoffs and must not have a repeat performance this year.

Goaltending: Lundqvist. Henrik Lundqvist is the Rangers best player hands down. He is the biggest reason for the Rangers success this season. He had 11 shutouts and had a 2.28 GAA and .923 save percentage. The Capitals young goalies have not proved themselves in big spots. Michal Neuvirth is 23 and will lead the Capitals in the playoffs for the first time this season. Watching him live twice, he impressed us but he is not Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have a big advantage there.

Intangibles: Rangers. The Rangers will fight harder and work harder than the Capitals and will need to if they want to win. The Rangers will also have the bigger home ice advantage as Ranger fans are among the most passionate in the NHL.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. The Capitals have yet to prove they can win in a big spot with this group and the Rangers have more pride and a coach that can bring it out of them.

7 Buffalo vs. 2 Philadelphia

Season Series: 2 wins each with the Flyers only losing 1 in regulation.

The Flyers ran all the way to the Cup Finals with the #7 seed last year and hope that experience will keep them from facing the same fate that the #2 seed did last year. The Buffalo Sabres have surged since the announcement of new ownership. This series will be fun to watch as both teams have a very passionate fanbase. In fact, the Sabres lead the NHL in TV ratings of all American teams.

Head to Head matchups:

Coaching: Flyers. Peter Laviolette has done wonders wherever he has coached. He coached the Islanders to their best record in the last 20 years as a rookie NHL coach in 2001-2002 and two playoff appearances in a row before losing his job. He then won a Stanley Cup with Carolina, and then brought the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year there. His resume in the last 10 years has to be the most impressive of any NHL coach considering he has had success with 3 NHL teams. Lindy Ruff is a great coach as well and take nothing away from him, but he hasn't had the success of Laviolette.

Defense: Even with Pronger questionable for game 1, the Flyers defense is deeper and more physical than the Sabres. Cobrun, Carle and Meszaros will carry the load while Pronger is out and can physically wear down the Sabres team over a series.

Forwards: Flyers. The Flyers have 3 lines that can score and protect their own end as well. The Sabres will have to rely on Tomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville. While Tyler Ennis and Tim Connolly are solid players, they aren't the threatening secondary scorers that the Flyers possess. Derek Roy has been ruled out and would have helped the Sabres immensely.

Goaltending: Buffalo. Ryan Miller has been the #1 goalie for team USA and has led the Sabres into the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't played an NHL playoff game and Miller for the Sabres is the biggest X-factor in this series. If the Sabres have any shot of winning this series, Miller will have to be the better goalie in every game.

Prediction: Flyers in 6. The Sabres CAN win this series but will have to have everything break right, and have Bobrovsky get seriously outplayed by Miller. We also think since the Flyers won as a 7th seed last year, they won't take the Sabres lightly.

Western Conference Playoff Preview

The marathon of the NHL regular season is finally behind us and the most exciting postseason in sports begins Wednesday night. Before we focus on the 16 teams who are in the playoff, how about a moment of silence for the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes and their fans. Both clubs had their playoff fates in their own hands only to lose the final game. Has to be gut-wrenching for those clubs.

It's now onto playoff beards, extra overtimes, and the drama and upsets that always surround the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This time of year is when third line players mean as much to a team as first line players. Gritty players who block shots, win face-offs and discourage the opponents best players are what is needed to win a series. Pretty plays may win in the regular season but one-on-one battles, back checking and outworking opponents is the difference between playoff failure or a Stanley Cup parade.

In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks are heavily favored and give Canada it's best chance to see a Stanley Cup winner since Montreal won in 1993. They clearly have the most talent and have assembled a roster that on paper seems to have all the necessary ingredients to win the Cup. But as history has shown, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs which always guarantees surprises and makes it the best tournament in sports.

Playoff Predictions:

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago

One of the more compelling playoff match-ups in the first round. This is a rematch of last seasons second round which was won by Chicago in six games. Vancouver has been waiting for this opportunity since the day the Canucks were eliminated by Chicago. Since winning the Stanley Cup last year the Hawks have lost Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, and Brent Sopel among others. The pressure is on all of the Canucks but Roberto Luongo will feel it the most as he attempts to erase past playoff failures. The Canucks will be trying to avoid the President's trophy jinx of the past two seasons when both top teams were knocked out in round one.

Why the Canucks will win: The Vancouver Canucks are what the Chicago Blackhawks were last year. They have the most explosive forwards in the league led by the Sedin twins, a 40-goal scorer in Ryan Kesler, and four solid lines. The defense has gone through injuries all season and for that reason is stacked from one through eight. The Canucks led the NHL in Power Play percentage and were third in the league on the PK. Like Chicago last season, Vancouver is the deepest team in the league. The one worry for Canuck fans is the fragile playoff performances by Roberto Luongo in the past. The fact that Luongo did not play as many games this regular season, has changed goalie coaches, and more importantly has given up the captaincy should bode well for him this year.

How the Blackhawks could win: We really didn't like the way the Hawks played the last couple weeks of the season as they literally backed into the playoffs. They are however, the reigning champions and that can go a long way. Their star players will need to carry them if they have a chance in this series. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane are terrific players. It's the third and fourth lines that could be a problem against the deeper Canucks. If Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook somehow contain the Sedin line and the Hawks star players outplay the Canucks star players they may have a chance. Their biggest chance could be the mindset of the Canucks if by chance they drop a game early. It can't be overstated how much pressure is on Vancouver throughout Canada.

Prediction: Canucks in 5

This could be the most lob-sided series of the Western Conference. There are too many if's with Chicago and Vancouver is better at every position. We've seen Chicago have too many mental lapses and blow too many games late which almost cost them a playoff berth. The Chicago penalty killing was very weak this season which isn't a good sign when you're facing the leagues' best power play. We'll have trust that Luongo outplays Chicago rookie Corey Crawford in goal and the Canucks march towards the Cup.

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles

For the first time ever two teams from the state of California meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The San Jose Sharks struggled early in the season but caught fire the last two and a half months to clinch their fourth straight Pacific Division title. They have enjoyed stellar goaltending from last years Stanley Cup winner, Antti Niemi. The Sharks no longer rely on one line to score as they finally have the secondary scoring necessary for the playoffs. The Kings were picked by some to win the Pacific, but a couple of long losing streaks prevented that from happening. The Kings strength is their defense, but they will really feel the effects of the season ending injury to Anze Kopitar. Los Angeles really struggles to score goals, by only averaging 2.55 goals per game which was 25th in the league.

Why the Sharks will win: Even though San Jose was swept from the Western Conference finals last season they still got over the hump of previous first and second round failures. Once a team that depended solely on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they now have four solid lines. In this series the Kings can't match the Sharks upfront. If the Kings focus on the Thornton line, what will they do against the Pavelski and Couture lines? The fact that the Sharks should receive secondary scoring from guys like Clowe, Pavelski, Mitchell, Wellwood, and Eager could doom the Kings who are also a much slower team than San Jose.

How the Kings could win: If they find a way to steal a game at HP Pavilion on the shoulders of Jonathan Quick and their strong blueline anything can happen. The Kings will have to win with goaltending and defense. Their penalty killing was brilliant this season which will be needed against the Sharks lethal power play. San Jose is not a great 5 on 5 team. When all's even, the Sharks' offense ranks at the bottom 10 of the league. It's going to be difficult to score goals without Kopitar, but they have many grinding type of players on all four lines. Dustin Penner, Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams, if he returns, have all had previous playoff success. The power play must get better for the Kings to make this a series. It never got on track in the regular season but was fabulous in last years series against Vancouver. The fact that the Kings have played so many tight checking 2-1 type of games all season could bode well for the postseason.

Prediction: Sharks in six

San Jose just appears to be much deeper at the forward position than the Kings. If Kopitar were healthy perhaps the Kings would have a shot at the upset. Antti Niemi could be the difference for the Sharks this playoffs because Evgeni Nabakov had some poor playoff seasons for the Sharks in years past. This will be a close series with most games being decided by one goal with the Sharks getting the secondary scoring they will need.

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix

Another rematch from last season. Last year it took the Red Wings seven games to eliminate the pesky Coyotes. For the Detroit Red Wings this is their 20th consecutive playoff appearance which is astonishing. They will be dealing with injury issues as Henrik Zetterberg will not be playing in the first game and possibly more games after that. Detroit has a potent and balanced offensive attack, but have given up the most amount of goals of any playoff team. The Coyotes do not have nearly the fire power as Detroit, but they are hard to score against and usually get exceptional goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. As a matter of fact, the Coyotes had only one player, Shane Doan, score 20 or more goals.

Why Detroit will win: This is going to be a close series and could go either way, but there is something about the mystique of the Detroit Red Wings. Niklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Stuart, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, just bring it when the postseason arrives. The Wings did struggle near the end of the season and they are getting older but they should have enough firepower to take care of Phoenix. The Wings are well coached, as is Phoenix, disciplined, and battle tested. Jimmy Howard has been inconsistent at times but still led the league in wins.

How Phoenix could win: Ilya Bryzgalov is capable of winning a series on his own. The pending free agent is the biggest reason why the Coyotes win and they have an edge in goaltending during this series. The Coyotes have balanced scoring, though none is a true superstar, but they have plenty of solid second and third line forwards. They are led by one of this seasons' best defensemen in Keith Yandle. The rest of their defense is experienced and blocks many shots. The truth is that the Red Wings have eight players that are 36 and older. Perhaps, Phoenix can ware them down in a long series.

Prediction: Detroit in seven

We just can't go against the Red Wings in this spot. They should be eager for the playoffs to start and showed a lot of character in beating Chicago the last game of the season which meant everything for the Hawks and nothing for Detroit. With their age issues and somewhat inconsistent goaltending they may struggle in the next round but should be able to squeak by the Coyotes who will not go down easy.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville

Nashville has never won a playoff series and should be glad to finally play another opponent other than Chicago, San Jose, or Detroit. It could be argued that the Predators gave the champion Blackhawks their most difficult series last year. Anaheim may be a team of destiny, as they didn't miss a beat when Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller went down to injury. Corey Perry is a goal scoring machine and this team is getting hot at the right time. This is a classic match-up of defense vs offense. The Predators gave up the second fewest goals in the NHL this year and the Ducks may have the best line in hockey with Perry, Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan.

Why Nashville will win: They're do, right? Barry Trotz is a terrific coach who has guided the Predators to the playoffs five of the last six years but has yet to win a round. Nashville can win this series if Shea Weber and Ryan Suter shut down the Perry line. Nashville normally outworks it's opponents and should get spectacular goaltending from Pekka Rinne. On offense, the Predators will look to get goals by committee. There is no elite goal scorer on the roster which puts added pressure on Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist. It would help the Predators if Mike Fisher can add some offense that they expected when they traded for him in February.

How the Ducks could win: Anaheim has a much better group of forwards than Nashville. Plain and simple. Even if the Predators have Weber on the ice to contain Perry, Nashville will still have to stop the Ducks lethal second line of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Jason Blake. The Ducks are among one of the most penalized teams in the league but Nashville's power play is the poorest among playoff teams. Anaheim is getting career seasons from Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman on defense. What was thought to be a weakness, has turned into a solid group on the blueline for Anaheim. The Ducks have difficult players to play against on the third and fourth lines. A player like Brad Winchester or Jarkko Ruutu could disrupt and frustrate the Nashville forwards.

Prediction: Nashville in 7

We'll say this series goes down to game seven, maybe overtime, and Rinne outplays Emery. This may be the most intriguing and difficult series to handicap.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Prediction

Philadelphia Flyers out for Revenge at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Philadelphia +100 over Pittsburgh

Suddenly, the Philadelphia Flyers are in danger of relinquishing the first overall seed in the Eastern Conference and according to their coach they're not playing with enough "desperation". Tonight they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins who are only two points behind them for the Atlantic Division lead. The Flyers could drop down to the fourth seed if they don't pick it up these last seven games. Philadelphia has dropped their last four at home, although three of them were shootout losses. We think going on the road is exactly what they need right now to get back on track.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has been playing tremendous hockey without their top two players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Marc-Andre Fluery has been stellar lately by only giving up only two goals in the last three games. Pittsburgh is winning many low-scoring, tight checking games lately with a make shift lineup that is dealing with many injuries. They have won four games in a row and all of those wins were in a shootout.

Despite the fact that Pittsburgh has played well recently, they're facing an angry Flyers club who had 20 turnovers in their last game against Boston, which is more than double their season average of 8.11 per game. Take the Flyers on a line that is just about even.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Prediction

Desperate Blackhawks Look to Win Fourth Straight Game in Detroit

The Pick: Chicago +110 over Detroit

This is one of only two NHL games on the Monday night slate and more is at stake for the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago is currently in the eighth seed but only one point ahead of ninth place Calgary. Of all the Western teams fighting for the playoffs the Blackhawks have the most difficult schedule and will meet Detroit two more times after tonight. Good news for the Hawks is that they have had recent success winning in Detroit. Chicago posted a 4-1 victory in this building in January and have won three straight overall at Joe Louis arena. The Wings will be without starting goalie, Jimmy Howard, as well as leading scorers Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk. We recommend to go with the more desperate team tonight in the Chicago Blackhawks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Alex Pietrangelo goal from center ice 3/17/11

Is giving up a goal like this worth being benched for the next game?

Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings has been brilliant most of the year. This was not his highlight moment. Should the Kings play Jonathan Bernier for their huge tilt against Anaheim tomorrow night? View video above:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Prediction

Sharks Look to Sweep Season Series Against Chicago

The Pick: San Jose +105 over Chicago

Last week: 2-0

Sometimes for a team such as the San Jose Sharks that have lost two in a row, the best thing to do is go on the road. That's the situation for the Sharks after dropping two straight shootouts at home. Suddenly, the Kings, Coyotes, and Stars are in the Sharks rear view mirror for the Pacific Division title. The good news for San Jose is that they have beaten tonight's opponent three times this season after the Blackhawks eliminated them from the postseason last year. Antti Niemi has played well against his former team posting a 3-0 record with an astonishing .933 save percentage. Chicago lost in overtime yesterday in Washington but have only lost once in regulation in their last ten. They are a bit thin on defense tonight with the injury to Brain Campbell yesterday. We don't see the Sharks losing three in a row and expect them to relish the possibility of sweeping Chicago.