Friday, April 30, 2010

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals

8 Montreal Canadiens vs Pittsburgh Penguins 4

Season Series: Pittsburgh won series 3-1.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are marching towards their 3rd straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Montreal shocked the hockey world after upsetting the #1 seed Washington Capitals in 7 games. Can they pull off another upset?

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins although the 4th seed are by rights the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference and now the best team remaining after Washington's loss. Only an 0-6 record to New Jersey during the regular season cost them from being the #2 seed. Turns out, everything works out. Pittsburgh avoided a matchup with the 7 seed Flyers in the first round, in our opinion a better playoff team than Ottawa. Now that Washington is out, we see no reason why the Penguins shouldn't march into the Stanley Cup Finals. Impressive in the Ottawa series was the resilience of the Penguins when falling behind. An impressive comeback in game 6 when trailing 3-0 on the road was more proof that Pittsburgh is the class of the East. As usual, the Penguins relied on Crosby (14 pts) and Malkin (8pts) to lead the way. Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin had decent series as well, but the Penguins will need more from secondary players if they want to win the Cup.

Montreal Canadiens:
The Canadiens improbable path to the 2nd round has caused lots of people to question the importance of the regular season and how important playoff seeding is. Is there that much parity? We aren't sure. What we do know is that Jacques Martin out coached Bruce Boudreau, Jaroslav Halak outplayed Semyon Varlamov and Hal Gill kept Ovechkin from taking over the series. Mike Cammelleri had 10 points and Tomas Plekanic had 7 to lead Montreal in scoring. For a team that clinched a playoff birth on it's final game of the season, a knockout of the Washington Capitals should seem like a nice accomplishment but the Canadiens are not satisfied. The Bell Centre will be electric for game 3 and Pittsburgh will have a tough time matching their intensity.

Pittsburgh still by far has the best 1-2 punch in the game. No team has an answer for Sidney Crosby as he has become a scary goal scoring threat as well as a dish man. If Hal Gill can slow down Crosby and play physical and Halak can continue his ridiculous play, Montreal will then have a shot. We saw them do it to Washington so I don't want to say it can't happen, but look for the Penguins to move on to next round.

Pittsburgh in 6

7 Philadelphia Flyers vs Boston Bruins 6

Season Series: Split, both teams were 2-1-1.

Should be an old school slugfest. Let's break down both teams and see who has an edge.

Philadelphia Flyers
: They say regular season matchups don't translate to the post-season. Well the Flyers, who took 5 of 6 from the Devils during the regular season, breezed through the first round in 5 games against that same team. The Flyers who got into the playoffs by winning a shootout against the New York Rangers on the final game of the season, find themselves in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Brian Boucher proved us and many hockey people wrong by being the backbone of the Flyers during their first round match-up. The Flyers are built for the playoffs and have several guys that can light the lamp. Richards, Briere, Giroux all had solid series as well as Chris Pronger adding 5 points to the scoresheet. Pronger solidifies the defense and adds grit and size that most teams can't match up with. The Flyers will need for all these players to contribute.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins are another team that is built for the playoffs. Several gritty forwards and a defense led by Zdeno Chara has them capable of matching up with the also gritty and physical Flyers. Add Tuukka Rask, the NHL goaltending leader in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, the Bruins are capable of beating anyone. However, the Bruins were also the lowest scoring team in the NHL this season and although Marc Savard will be back in the 2nd round, the Bruins will need him to play like he hasn't missed the last 6 weeks of the season.
The Bruins did upset the Buffalo Sabres largely in part to their defense and goaltending. Tuukka Rask outplayed the over rated Ryan Miller and Marc Recchi played like he is 23 years old.

This should be a throwback, old time beat em up series. Both teams play hard physical games and defense and goaltending should be the keys to each team's success. The Flyers have the edge in offense but the Bruins have the edge in goaltending and defense. Although these teams are the 6th and 7th seeds, both of them are better than their records and are built for these situations. This should be an excellent series to watch. All in all, the Bruins have failed to prove they can score enough goals.

Flyers in 7

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Western Conference Playoff Previews

(1) San Jose vs. (5) Detroit

Season Series: 3-1 Detroit

Once again the San Jose Sharks will have a chance to prove they can win in the playoffs, but standing in their way are the defending Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings.

The Low down on the San Jose Sharks: What was most impressive about the Sharks first round victory over Colorado was the secondary scoring from Joe Pavelski(5 goals), Devin Setoguchi(3 goals), and Ryan Clowe, who led the Sharks in points with eight. In years past, San Jose has relied solely on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who once again struggled in round one. If San Jose continues to get production from the second line, and the big three of Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley step up, then the Sharks are in good shape offensively. The Sharks also got contributions from grinders Scott Nichol, Logan Couture, and Manny Malhotra in round one which will be needed even more against Detroit. Defensively, aside from game two which they gave up 5 goals to Colorado, they limited the Avalanche offense to only six goals the rest of the series. Dan Boyle averaged almost 27 minutes of ice time in Round One and is paired with the bruising Douglas Murray. They will be assigned the duty of stopping Pavel Datsyuk and company. Evgeni Nabokov had a brilliant series as well, and when he is on he is one of the leagues best. Head coach Todd McLellan knows the Wings well from being an assistant coach to Mike Babcock two years ago.

The Low Down on the Detroit Red Wings: The Stanley Cup Champions two years ago, and they were one game away from winning the Cup last season. Experienced veterans and proven winners throughout the Wings lineup. Most importantly, this team is completely healthy and has been the best team in hockey since the Olympic break. Henrik Zetterberg led the Wings in scoring against Phoenix by registering 11 points in seven games. The usual suspects, Franzen, Datsyuk, Filppula, Lidstrom, all seem to be hitting thier strides at the right time. The Coyotes did manage to take Detroit to seven games and were leading the series 2-1 at one point, but managed only 7 goals in the next four games. Perhaps this is not the strongest Wings team we have seen, but the fact that they are healthy and confident presents a challenge to San Jose. Nicklas Lidstrom continues to lead the team in ice time, and Brad Stuart had a strong series against Phoenix posting a team best +6. I would expect the Thornton line to see lots of Niklas Kronwall who is the Red Wings shut down defensemen. Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard made some mistakes as expected, but overall played well and posted a shutout in the pivotal Game 4.

The Pick: This series is a toss up, but I like the Sharks in seven. I like the way Evgeni Nabokov and the Sharks defense is playing and wonder how much Detroit has in the tank after a tough seven game series with Phoenix.

(2) Chicago vs. (3) Vancouver

Season Series: 2-2 split

For the second time in two seasons the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks will renew acquaintances in Round 2 as the Canucks will look to avenge last seasons defeat to the Blackhawks. Plenty of animosity exists between these two teams who are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and their seasons would be considered a disappointment should they be eliminated in the second round.

The low down on the Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago is coming off a first round series victory over Nashville in which they trailed the series 2-1, but gained confidence as the series went on and finished off the Predators in six games. Jonathan Toews
led the Hawks balanced attack against Nashville by scoring 8 points in six games. Chicago is the most skilled and deepest team offensively in the playoffs which may present problems for Vancouver's blue line which was exposed at times by the Los Angeles Kings in round one. One player that goes under the radar due to the fact that Chicago has so many star players, is Tomas Kopecky who had a terrific series against Nashville. Both these clubs are among the league's best in offense and it may boil down to which team gets more contributions from the third and fourth lines. Expect to see Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook match up against the Sedin line for Vancouver. Chicago is just as deep overall on defense, especially since Brian Campbell is back from injury. Antti Niemi put up solid numbers in goal versus Nashville posting a 2.15 GAA and a .92 save percentage. Chicago killed off 26 of 27 Nashville power plays in round one but continued to struggle on the power play, just as they did in the regular season.

The low down on the Vancouver Canucks: Led by the NHL's leading scorer and Hart trophy finalist Henrik Sedin, the Canucks also possess a dynamic offense. Forward, Mikael Samuelsson scored 7 goals in six games against LA, and after being moved to the Sedin line in Game Four, they proved to be unstoppable. Secondary scorers such as Steve Bernier(4 goals), Pavol Demitra(5 points), and Kyle Wellwood(3 points), played better as the series went on. Although Alex Burrows struggled to score in the LA series, he was a 35 goal scorer during the regular season which adds to Vancouver's lethal attack. However, the defense has some issues especially after their top four. Salo, Bieksa, Edler, and Ehrhoff are solid, but after that is a huge drop off. The big question is whether they are deep enough to handle what the Blackhawks will throw at them. Roberto Luongo picked up his game after being pulled in Game Three at Los Angeles, and made a highlight reel of saves. He will be looking to avenge the nightmare series he had against the Hawks last season when he gave up 7 goals in Game Six which ended the Canucks season. Vancouver had tons of trouble killing penalties in the LA series, but seemed to fix their issues in the final game. No team in the playoffs has had more success at home this year than the Vancouver Canucks.

The Pick: Chicago in Seven

This is another series that is a toss up. The fact that Chicago is deeper on defense appears to be the reason why they should advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Game 7: Detroit at Phoenix

Detroit -115 -1.5(+245) Over 5(-130)
Phoenix -105 +1.5(-290) Under 5(+110)

Detroit squandered a chance to put the Coyotes away at home on Sunday, and will now have to win a Game Seven on the road for the first time since 1964. The big question heading into tonight is how rookie goaltender, Jimmy Howard responds after allowing five goals in Game Six, even if three of them were scored on the power play. Detroit almost always bounces back well in the playoffs after a bad loss, and we expect them to stay out of penalty trouble tonight. For the Coyotes, it appears that captain, Shane Doan, will be a game time decision as they will be relying on a big effort from goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov who is capable of stealing a game anytime. It's always difficult to win a Game Seven on the road, but we are fairly confident that the Red Wings can get it done tonight.

The Pick: Look for the experience and leadership of the Detroit Red Wings to win a very tight and low scoring Game Seven. Detroit -115, Under 5

Tuesday Timeout

More and more story lines abound as one of the best NHL first rounds in years are coming to an epic end.

1. Buffalo ousted in Round One: Everyone expected Boston-Buffalo to be a low scoring series that could go either way, but did anyone really think Tuukka Rask would outplay Ryan Miller in goal? The Sabres problems start and end with offense. Top Centers Derek Roy and Tim Connelly did not register one goal this series and their most explosive forward, Tomas Vanek battled injuries all series. This will be a long and painful summer for Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff as they must address their lack of scoring this offseason. Yes the Sabres won a weak division, but it's another year of a playoff letdown in upstate New York.

2. Jaroslav Halak: 53 saves to shut out Washington last night and force a game seven. Shockingly, the Capitals are 1-30 on the power play this season. Everyone predicted the Capitals to make short work of Montreal, but amazingly the Canadiens, on the strength of their goalie have hung in with the explosive Capitals. I still don't feel like Washington makes enough of a commitment to defense which will hurt them, even if they advance to the second round.

3. Another Chicago-Vancouver Series awaits: I saw the Canucks first hand this playoff year and if Roberto Luongo plays like he did the last three playoff games against LA, this team can beat anyone. Expect lots of animosity between these two teams, especially from Vancouver after losing to the Blackhawks last season. Perhaps no team is deeper than Chicago, but will they be able to stop the Sedin line? Is the Canuck defense deep enough to handle the firepower of the Hawks? Can Antti Niemi outplay Roberto Luongo? This series is must watch TV.

4. Young teams such as Nashville, Colorado, and Los Angeles proved they are on the rise: Nashville coach Barry Trotz is one of our favorite coaches and although he has never advanced the Predators past the first round, he is to be commended by how that team performs. Nashville gave Chicago everything they could handle and with a few breaks could of won. Due to budget restrictions, expect the Predators to continue to rely on goaltending and defense and not go the free agent route. As for Colorado and LA, they both should benefit from a year of playoff seasoning. Both teams are building with young players and just need to stay the course. I would expect the Kings this summer to try to add more pieces to take the next step.

5. Finally, I want to touch on an article in NY Newsday today, concerning the Islanders lighthouse project and a potential casino being built near Nassau Coliseum, instead of the original plan presented to Nassau County by owner Charles Wang. Quite honestly, I am sick and tired of all this uncertainty surrounding the Islanders. The New York Islanders and their fans deserve a new building and the scuttlebutt around the team should consist of what happens on the ice, not off it. Islander fans are very loyal, as I rarely go to an NHL arena, without seeing someone wearing an Islander jersey. Enough is enough, as the county and Wang need to get something settled because it is becoming borderline embarrassing and unfair.