Saturday, May 15, 2010

Western Conference Finals Preview

(1) San Jose vs. (2) Chicago

Season Series: 3-1 Chicago

San Jose Sharks breakdown:
Defeated Colorado in six and Detroit in five.

These are not the San Jose Sharks of the past that have had playoff setbacks. Through the previous two rounds this team has displayed the grit in addition to their skill that is necessary to succeed in the playoffs. Joe Pavelski is playing out of his mind, and I have never seen Joe Thornton play as well at both ends of the ice as he did in round two.

Offense: Similar to Chicago, San Jose has an explosive offense led by Joe Thornton, who looked like a beast during the Detroit series. Clearly he is motivated, as he dominated the Detroit series, and silenced his critics but finally producing in the playoffs. His linemates, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley, have been solid, but not spectacular. The Sharks second line is the reason that this team is different than years past. Everyone has heard of Joe Pavelski by now, as he has been the best forward west of Michael Cammalleri during the playoffs. He is flanked by Ryan Clowe(10 points), and Devin Setoguchi(5 goals) Role players such as Manny Malhotra, and Scott Nichol have been tremendous on faceoffs, and youngster Logan Couture has chipped in three big goals this postseason. Torrey Mitchell, a speedy forward, has also played well, and sometimes is shifted with Thornton. Overall, San Jose's top six forwards matchup with anyone, however they are not as deep as the Blackhawks from top to bottom. For San Jose to win, Thornton will have to continue his torrid pace as will Pavelski. The Sharks have a size advantage in this series, which could give them a good chance if they wear the Hawks down as the series goes on.


Defense: The Sharks defense has a mix of veterans with Stanley Cup rings, (Boyle, Blake, and Huskins), a stay at home bruiser in Douglas Murray, a technically sound Marc Vlasic, and a surprising rookie in Jason Demers. This group will have its hands full with the speedy Blackhawks, but they do play a more physical game than Chicago's past two opponents. It will be interesting to see what combination head coach Todd Mclellan puts on the ice to defend Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Dan Boyle is the key, as he logs loads of ice time and supplies most of the offense from the Sharks blueline.


Goaltending: Besides one bad game each in the Colorado series, and the Detroit series, Evgeni Nabokov has certainly redeemed himself from a poor playoff last season. When he is on his game he is one of the leagues best, and on paper this is the position where the Sharks have the biggest advantage. Chicago did make Roberto Luongo look silly at times, and you know Nabokov will be seeing a lot of Dustin Byfuglien's rear end in front of the crease. However, the Sharks defense is much better than Vancouver's depleted unit. In any series goaltending is the biggest key to winning so obviously he will need to play as good or even better as he did against the Red Wings.


Chicago Blackhawks breakdown: Defeated Nashville in six and Vancouver in six.

Nashville gave the Hawks a big scare in Round one and if it weren't for a late shorthanded goal that the Hawks scored in game 4, that series could of turned. For whatever reason, the Hawks looked like a much better team on the road, than at the United Center. This team is scary on offense from top to bottom, they possess two of the best defensemen in the league, and they may have found a solid goalie in Antti Niemi.

Offense: Anytime you have six players on your roster that scored over 20 goals it spells trouble for opposing defenses. Jonathan Toews at 22 years old has proved to be one of the best leaders and scorers in the league. He has amassed 20 points in only twelve playoff games, and sets up one of the leagues best snipers in Patrick Kane(7 goals). If that is not enough, the other forward, Dustin Byfuglien, uses his 6-4 250 pound frame to cause havoc in front of the opposing net. Patrick Sharp centers the 2nd line that consists of a 40 goal scorer a year ago, Marian Hossa. Hossa has only scored two goals this postseason, but if he gets hot along with the likes of Kris Versteeg, who had a strong series versus Vancouver, and the players mentioned it may be impossible to stop them. Chicago is very fast, and like the Sharks they win plenty of faceoffs, but they are not very physical. Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, and Troy Brouwer are probably the Hawks most physical forwards in addition to Byfuglien. Kopecky especially had a good series against Vancouver and will attempt to get under the skin of Thornton and Pavelski.


Defense: Anyone who watched the Olympics this February realized that one of the keys for Canada's gold medal win, was the play of defensemen Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. These two are some of the best in the game and will most likely be paired against Thornton's line. I thought Niklas Hjalmarsson has played better as the playoffs have gone on. Brian Campbell, a former Shark, who also supplies offense, and the rugged stay at home Brent Sopel, round out a very formidable defense. Keep in mind that Chicago basically shut down the explosive Sedin twins in the second round.


Goaltending: This was a supposed weak spot of the Blackhawks, but Antti Niemi has been solid thus far for Chicago. The rookie from Finland, has had a few poor outings, but always seems to respond well after a loss. He will drive Hawk fans crazy as he is prone to give up a soft goal, but he also has two shutouts this postseason. Chicago plays such a puck possession game that most of the time the Hawks have the puck in the offensive zone. However, the Sharks play the same way and usually outshoot their opponents. In our opinion, Niemi will have to play better than he did against Vancouver, and can ill afford to give up soft goals.


Prediction: This is a dream matchup for hockey fans as both teams possess extreme skill, speed, and a plethora of talent. Both these clubs enter Sunday's game playing on top of their game and hitting on all cylinders. In what promises to be a classic series, I feel that the Hawks have too much offense, and I think they will be able to contain the Sharks somewhat, similar to what they did against the Canucks. It would not shock me if San Jose won, but after watching both these teams closely, I think the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey right now.

Chicago in six

Eastern Conference Finals

Montreal Canadiens vs Philadelphia Flyers

When thinking about the format on how to preview this series, I decided that I wouldn't even use a format like I did when writing about previous series. How could I? If anyone had these teams matching up in the Eastern Conference Finals (We had Philadelphia) then you deserve a job with Espn or Tsn.
In most seasons in sports, a Cinderella team and story unfolds before our eyes. In this Hockey season, we have two. It's almost a shame that one of these teams has to lose but that is how these things go.
Both the Flyers and Canadiens had to win their final game just to be part of the extra season. It was Montreal that took headlines when they ousted the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals in 7 games with a mix of heart, defense and superb goaltending. Mike Cammelleri and Hal Gill lead the way along with Jaroslav Halak. So if that wasn't enough, Montreal proved maybe that it wasn't such a fluke and took out the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in another 7 game series. This time Brian Gionta joined the party with Cammelleri and the Canadiens held Sidney Crosby to just 1 goal in the series.
The Flyers had a season fulled with turmoil. They fired coach John Stevens in November, lost starting goalie Ray Emery, then lost backup goalie Micheal Leighton and relied on journey Brian Boucher down the stretch. The Flyers beat the Rangers in a shootout the last game of the season just to make the playoffs. They faced a Devils team who they owned in the regular season and it carried over to the post-season as they won in 5 games. It was the first time we have seen the Devils look intimidated in 15 years. Then came the Boston Bruins. Many people were expecting a tight and even hard fought series. That happened, sorta. The Bruins won the first 3 games of the series. Although the games were close, the Bruins appeared like they were going to move on. Simon Gagne who had been hurt decided to lace them up for game 4, and the Flyers were glad he did. The Flyers had a 1 goal lead late, but Mark Recchi tied the score with 30 seconds to go to send it to OT. However, Simon Gagne deflected a pass through Tuukka Rask to avoid the sweep. In game 5 the Flyers dominated the Bruins and more of the same in game 6 back in Philly. The Flyers were on the brink of being the first team since the 1975 New York Islanders to come back from a 3-0 deficit and only the 5th team in pro sports to do so. Tied 3-3 in the later stages of the 3rd period, the Bruins took a too many men on the ice penalty and hero Simon Gagne scored on the powerplay to give the Flyers the lead to stay.

With both of these teams defying odds to be where they are, it's almost impossible to break down this series and come to a prediction that would make anyone feel 100% confident. We break down these teams head to head in the following categories.

Offense: edge Flyers, barely. The Flyers have players like Arron Asham and Claude Giroux that can score gritty goals which are usually huge in playoff series. While Gionta,Gomez,Cammelleri and Plekanic can go head to head with the Flyers best, the Montreal drop off is bigger.

Defense: edge Flyers. Hal Gill might be playing better than any defensemen left in the playoffs, but with players like Marc-Andre Bergeron being a big liability and PK Subban who hasn't seen a physical team like the Flyers, Philadelphia gets the edge here.

Goaltending: edge, Montreal. Jaroslav Halak has been going bananas out there while the Flyers are going with Micheal Leighton. Leighton played well in games 6 and 7 but hasn't played much at all in the last few months. Big edge to Montreal there.

Coaching: edge, Flyers. Peter Laviolette is probably the most underrated coach in sports. Wherever he has gone, he has won. He took the Islanders to the playoffs 2 straight years, won a cup in Carolina and brought the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals all in a span of 9 seasons. It's amazing the turnaround he has on teams.

Special Teams: edge Montreal. The Flyers have a great penalty kill to thwart off Montreal's very solid PP. The Flyers Power Play won't match up well with the Canadiens power play.

Home Ice Advantage: edge, even. Home Ice will be huge in this series. The Flyers fans make people watching on TV uncomfortable and the media coverage and circus that is Montreal will keep the Flyers from feeling secure on the road.

Predicition: Montreal in 7.

Montreal has the edge in one catergory that seems to be the difference maker this time of year in the playoffs. Goaltending. If Halak continues to play the way he has been playing, it will be very tough for the Flyers to win.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Game 7 situation we didn't see coming

Philadelphia Flyers at +110 +1.5 (-275)
Boston Bruins -130 -1.5 (+235)

The Flyers will try and become the 3rd team in NHL history to come back from a 3 games to none deficit in a playoff series and win. Only twice in the history of this great game has that happened. It's almost hard to believe that with the amount of playoff series played every year and how hockey is a game where a goalie and take off and carry a team, that it hasn't happened since 1975. The New York Islanders were down 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins when Hall of Fame coach huddled the team at practice and said "If there is anyone here that doesn't think we can win 4 in a row against Pittsburgh, get the heck off the ice."
I wonder if Peter Laviolette heard that story. I'm sure he has as Peter was a big part of the Islanders rebirth if you will getting them back to the playoffs in 2002 for the first time in 8 years. Al Arbour and that story probably gave him the motivation to keep his team fighting when as we look through history they basically had no shot.
But the Flyers got an overtime goal from injured Simon Gagne in game 4 that sent the series back to Boston. In Boston in game 5, the Flyers lost journeyman goalie to injury Brian Boucher and trotted out Micheal Leighton. The Bruins still couldn't score as Mark Recchi started to look his age and the Bruins weak forward unit were beaten and kept very far away from the score sheet. More of the same in game 6 as the Flyers were all over the Bruins most of the game and Leighton just had to stop the ones he was supposed to stop in order to get to a game 7.
So here we are, the Flyers have completely taken over this series and if they play the same way they have been, they will win tonight. The Bruins need to forget about everything that has happened these past 3 games and go out and play a great game. They need to find a way to get traffic in front of Leighton and be more hungry for rebounds. They won't score on skill or style. If not, the Flyers will be the 3rd team in NHL history that comes back from a 3-0 deficit. Not bad for a team that fired their coach, lost their starting goalie for almost the entire year, had to play their 5th string goalie for a period in a loss to the Islanders in early April and got into the playoffs by winning the last game of the season on a shootout.

Prediction: Flyers straight up

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

AHL Update

As compelling as the NHL playoffs have been thus far, the AHL playoffs also deserve mention. We will periodically update the AHL playoff brackets as well, and here is how they stand at the moment, with only four teams left.

Eastern Conference Finals:

Manchester (LA Kings)
Hershey Bears (defending AHL champions)

Series 1-0 Hershey after beating Manchester on Wednesday night in Game 1 4-2. Kings prospect Jonathan Bernier made 24 saves in the losing effort. The series resumes in Hershey on Saturday night.

Western Conference Finals:

Texas Stars (Dallas)
Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal)

Series begins on Friday night. Not only are the Habs going to the conference finals, but so is their minor league team. For Texas, Jamie Benn, who played well in the NHL for Dallas, has scored eight goals in 11 games. It appears that Hershey is the favorite to win the cup and we will be keeping an eye on how these series' progress.

A Game 7 Situation!

Montreal Canadiens at +210 +1.5 (-145)

Pittsburgh Penguins -250 -1.5 (+125)

The Montreal Canadiens find themselves in another situation that HockeySureShot would of laughed at if you predicted it a month ago. But here they are, winning three straight against Washington to to shock the President Trophy Winning Capitals and have gone back and forth with the Stanley Cup winning Penguins for 6 games. The Canadiens have been led by Micheal Cammelleri and Jaroslav Halak this postseason and will need them, especially Halak to move on to the Conference Finals.

The last game 7 that the Penguins were involved in was last June, when the won the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still the best 1-2 punch in the NHL and will need to be tonight to get their team in the Eastern Finals for the third straight year.

Prediction: If Fleury stops the pucks he is supposed to stop, the Penguins will win.

Pittsburgh straight up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday Timeout

Is the Eastern Conference full of mediocre teams right now?

I can't help myself to not ask that question after watching both games closely last night. Yes, the games have been entertaining. The effort from these teams has been tremendous almost on a nightly basis. But in my opinion none of these teams comes close to matching up with the talent of San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago, or even Detroit for that matter.

Having the top three seeds eliminated in the first round(Wash,NJ,Buff) certainly changed the whole Eastern Conference landscape this post season. Lets take a glance at each team as they stand right now.

Pittsburgh Penguins: We all know that they posses two of the best players in the game and are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but even Penguin fans will tell you that this years version is not as strong as last season. We love Marc Andre Fleury in goal, but he as struggled at times. The defense is not as strong after losing Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi. Sergie Gonchar is clearly their best offensive defensemen and Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski have played well at times. Brooks Orpik is very solid defensively, but after that journeymen such as Eaton and Leopold round out the blueline. Offensively, Bill Guerin is starting to show his age, and there is a big drop off in scoring after Crosby and Malkin. Jordan Stall has been injures and is probably not 100% which hurts, but do their second and third lines match up at all with San Jose's or Chicago's? We think not.

Montreal Canadiens: Let's not forget that they clinched a playoff spot the final weekend of the NHL season by one point. Their first round upset of Washington was one of the biggest upsets in years. Not taking anything away from them as Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri have absolutely taken over series and have been brilliant. But did they really win last night with a defense of Hamrlik, Bergeron, Spacek(first game back in 10 games), Gorges, O'Byrne, and a guy named PK Subban? Subban is 20 years old, played in two games this season and logged 29 minutes of ice time last night and played like Drew Doughty. I still can't figure out how they keep winning with a patchwork defense and average forwards besides Cammalleri. However, give them the credit they deserve. Montreal has played an amazing team game and the Bell Center is the loudest building in hockey and has been quite the scene this postseason. Are they really a team anyone can see hoisting the cup though?

Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask was brilliant in the series against Buffalo, and the start of the Philadelphia series but has struggled as have the rest of the Bruins the last two games. Watching that game last night I felt like the Bruins were a step slow and appeared to be a tired team. Getting back Marc Savard has certainly helped the offense, but losing top six forwards Marco Sturm and David Krejci has been devastating. Thankfully, for Boston they are getting production from Miro Satan, who was a waiver pickup, and the 42 year old Mark Recchi. The Bruins were also in danger of missing the playoffs this season also, and clearly have some holes, but have been bailed out by Rask at times this postseason. Boston is a solid team, but once again the roster is not nearly as talented as the teams out west.

Philadelphia Flyers: Philadelphia made the playoffs by beating the NY Rangers in a shoot out in the final game of the season. Goaltender injuries forced them to use Brian Boucher in the playoffs and he played brilliantly against the New Jersey Devils as the Flyers won the series in five. The Flyers-Bruins series has been evenly played for the most past, but Philly appears to be getting better and healthy as this series has gone on. Simon Gagne returned from injury to win game 4 in OT. The never say die Flyers, were probably a much better team than their record indicated and appear to have a roster built for the playoffs. They played a perfect road game last night, and the thought of coming back from 0-3, suddenly is not out of the question. Losing Claude Giroux hurts, but if they keep getting production from Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell, in addition to Richards and Briere they will not go down easily. Michael Leighton, is the big question in goal after Boucher suffered a season ending knee injury. Leighton has not played in two months, but looked solid coming in relief last night. He still has to be a question mark the rest of the series due to being off that long. Can you envision the Flyers winning the Stanley Cup with the current goaltending they have?

Let's be honest, both Philly and Boston are not great teams. Both teams have gone through streaks where they were good and bad. It really shouldn't be a surprise that this series is heading to a game six. The same should apply for Pittsburgh and Montreal as well. All four of these teams are flawed, but it's still been an amazing postseason and entertaining on a nightly basis. I doubt the Stanley Cup Finals will be as riveting as it may end very quickly for the Eastern Conference winner.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Minutes

Injuries are starting to pile up as the second round series are nearing the end, but perhaps the most severe of all is what happened to Canucks defensemen Sami Salo last night. According to the Vancouver Province, Salo is out with a suspected testicle injury. As most of us cringe at that thought, if he does miss Game Six, the Canucks will be even thinner on the blueline. Aaron Rome would take his place on Tuesday night if he can't play. Shane O'Brien, another defensemen was accidentally hit in the face with a follow through shot by Dustin Byfuglien, but as only a hockey player would do, once the trainers got the blood to stop, he didn't miss a shift.

Montreal Canadiens: Perhaps no team is battling injuries more right now than the Montreal Canadiens. Defensemen, Andrei Markov is listed as doubtful tonight and Hal Gill is listed as day to day. Gill is attempting to play after suffering a laceration in his left leg in the third period of Game 5. It appears that Jaroslav Spacek, who has not played since in nine games is progressing well and may be able to play tonight.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins appear to be fine as far as injuries go. Jordan Stall's health should be improving as this will be his third game back tonight. Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins will be relieved if Hal Gill does not play for Montreal tonight. Pittsburgh will attempt to close out the Habs tonight on the road. The Penguins, under coach Dan Bylsma, have won five playoff series, and have clinched them all on the road. They may have Montreal exactly where they want them.

Philadelphia Flyers: Agitator Daniel Carcillo, missed practice yesterday with a knee injury. It's unclear whether he will play tonight, if not he will be replaced by Jon Kalinski. Odds are this guy will play unless he can't walk. The Flyers have not played since Friday night, which should help Chris Pronger who logged loads of ice time during their OT win. Philly will need better play from their other defensemen to win tonight and keep their season alive.

Boston Bruins: After losing David Krejci and Marco Sturm for the rest of the playoffs, the Bruins are otherwise healthy. Mark Stuart played his first game in a month Friday night, and was a minus 2. The Bruins feel that the pressure is on the Flyers tonight, yet Philly is saying that all the pressure is on the Bruins because they are home tonight and if they don't close it out will have to go back to Philadelphia facing the prospect of a Game 7 if they don't win.

Our Picks:

We'll go with the trend of Pittsburgh closing out opponents on the road once again. However, the Boston-Philly game is a toss up. The over & Under is 5, so we'll take the over tonight because both defenses have struggled at times in this series.

Pittsburgh -170
Boston/Philly Over 5 -145