NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Here are some vague guesses for round 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. I am really liking the new playoff format, as there are some really, really good matchups in the first round. A couple of them could end up being blood baths, and that is all that NHL fans can ask for. There is nothing better than the first round, in my mind, where upsets happen, and teams who move on get beat up. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.

crystallWestern Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

  • This has quickly become the trendy upset pick, with a lot of people choosing the Stars to take down the hot-starting Ducks, who traditionally fade over the course of the season.
  • Ducks are top heavy. Not much beyond the Getzlaf-Perry line.
  • Anaheim seems to have endless stud goalies, so whether they end up with Andersson, Hiller, or Gibson, they are in good shape.
  • Love, love, love the combo of Benn and Seguin in Dallas. They will be good together for a long time.
  • Surprising depth on the Stars. They are pretty underrated across the board.

Prediction: Stars in 7. I’m going with the trends here.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

wild

  • Hugely surprising year for the Avs. Are they ready to make the next step?
  • Biggest question in Colorado is that unknown D corps. Can they stop a consistent Wild team?
  • Huge disadvantage for the Wild in net. Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card here. He could be great. He could be awful.
  • Big bonus for the Wild: their D is very strong, led by Ryan Suter. He will be a difference maker.
  • I’m smelling upset here.

Prediction: Wild in 6. Avalanche not ready to be great just yet.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

kings

  • This would be a worthy Western Conference Final matchup.
  • It’s too bad one of these teams has to go home, they are both Cup contenders. But that’s the beauty of the new playoff format.
  • Great rivalry. This is one of those series that will be an all out war. It’s going to go 7, no matter who wins. Winning team will be battered and bruised by the time they get to the 2nd round.
  • Biggest advantage is for the Kings in net, with Quick over the under-appreciated, but inconsistent Antti Niemi.

Prediction: Kings in 7. Too deep. Too relentless. Sharks love to choke. 

St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

st-louis-blues-logo

  • Ugly 6-game losing streak for the Blues leading into the playoffs.
  • Ryan Miller has come back to earth after hot start after his trade to St. Louis.
  • Battle of injured teams. A lot of banged-up guys on both teams. Hawks are getting Kane and Toews back, the Blues should get Backes and Oshie back. Big difference if they are fully healthy.
  • Another bruising series. The Blues play mean, and I wonder if the Hawks have enough to fight back with.
  • It’s so hard to repeat as champs in this league.

Prediction: Blues in 7. I think they can turn it around. They are just infinitely deep and tough to play against. 

 

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

bruins

  • 23rd straight year the Wings are in the dance. Incredible.
  • Important injuries on the Red Wings, including Zetterberg, who won’t be back. Datsyuk always seems to be banged up now.
  • Bruins are a monstrous team. They can score, defend, and beat you up. Wings can’t match them in any department.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

pens

  • Maybe the most unappealing first round matchup?
  • Constant worry over Fleury in the Pens net. Bobrovsky is an advantage for Columbus.
  • Columbus has only been to the playoffs once before, and they were swept. Going against a team that can explode offensively.
  • Will Malkin be back?
  • Crosby has had an incredible season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue it in the playoffs.

Prediction: Penguins in 7. I really want to take the Jackets in an upset, but they just aren’t there yet. If Malkin is back, they take it. 

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

  • The biggest coin flip of the first round. Both teams are evenly matched.
  • Biggest impact is Ben Bishop’s injury. Huge downgrade to have Anders Lindback in net.
  • Carey Price has had a good year. He can/will be a difference maker.
  • Love the young guns of the Bolts. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan.
  • Big year from Victor Hedman, largely not discussed over the course of the year. Big breakout for him.

Prediction: Lightning in 6. I feel the Habs will disappoint, and not give Price enough support. 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

rangers

  • Another great rivalry, both teams are real contenders coming off a terrible start to the season.
  • Huge plus having Lundqvist over Mason in net.
  • Will be a tough series, both teams can hit and mix it up. Will be a bruiser of a series.
  • Not terribly sold on the Flyers D. Not that the Rangers set the world on fire on offense, but there is enough depth to do some damage.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. 

 

There we have it. Now we can sit back and enjoy the games, as they start tomorrow night. NHL playoffs are the best time of year, after the long, grueling season. Time to get to the real games!

 

 

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.

Captain Crosby

Of course Sidney Crosby needed to be the captain of Team Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team.

He is the best hockey player in the world. He is the face of the NHL. He is a Stanley Cup champion. He has won Olympic Gold before, from that little overtime goal that may be the most memorable moment for an entire generation of hockey fans in Canada.

Photography by Kristian Bogner Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.It is definitely possible to debate Crosby as our captain. He has had a history of whining to refs, but that was before he matured in to the player he is now. There is also Jonathan Toews, who has won two Cups with Chicago, and presents himself in the stoic manner of other Canadian legends, such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. But is seems natural that Crosby is the choice, simply because he is the best. Over the years of being scouted and being a phenom from an early age, he has been saddled with pressure to perform since he was a kid. And nothing will change as the team heads over to Sochi, Russia, to attempt to defend our gold medal on foreign soil, on the much bigger ice that gives our guys fits.

There is no debate from me on this choice. Crosby is the perfect captain for us, the natural leader of this team. Along with him, I really like the selections of Toews and Shea Weber as his assistants. A great group, all with tons of experience.

Hopefully enough to help lead us to gold once again.

Quick Thoughts: Team Canada Olympic Hockey Roster

So it has finally been announced after months of debate, that will surely carry on now that we can debate who made it and who didn’t. In Canada, it is no secret that the majority of us base our Olympic viewing around the hockey team, and so many of our hopes rest on the team assembled for each Games. 

2014_olympics_three_jerseys_640original_127301Here is the list of players that made it:

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getlzaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews.

Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber.

Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith

Some of my thoughts on the picks:

  • I feel like Rick Nash is done. He is now dealing with concussion issues, and only has 8 goals this year. He has always been tons of promise, with little follow through. Sure, he has nice hands, skates well, and is a big body, but I would have chosen James Neal over him in a heartbeat.
  • I want Price to be our starting goalie.
  • How amazing is that D? Far and away the deepest group in the tournament.
  • Perplexed by Hamhuis getting named to the team. I may have gone with Seabrook as by defensive D-man instead.
  • Don’t like Marleau on this team. He was solid in Vancouver, but has a history of not showing up in the biggest games, and I feel like his time is done.
  • One of the more controversial picks, Kunitz, is fine by me. Anyone who keeps Sid going is fine. 
  • Glad that Jamie Benn, one of the biggest camp snubs, made the team. Big, can skate, can finish.
  • Same for Sharp. He has been way too hot lately to ignore. Throw him with anyone and he’ll score.
  • Jeff Carter? I never actually thought of him in the discussion for the team. Would rather have Martin St. Louis on there. Or Claude Giroux. Not nearly the same size as Carter, but it wouldn’t matter on the large ice.
  • There are two Canadian players who are 5’11”. And they are the smallest, with everybody else over 6′. That is a big team.
  • Smart moves: leaving Taylor Hall, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle at home. Hall can’t play in his own end and is very poor without the puck, Thornton is too slow for the big ice, despite being a generationaly good setup man, and Boyle is over-the-hill, having a poor year, and I was surprised he was being considered. 
  • Shocked Logan Couture didn’t make it, even with his recently injured hand. He will be on the next team, for sure. 
  • I think there is a good combination of finesse, scoring, and grit on this team to rightfully be a favorite for the Gold. Canada, Sweden, Russia and a darkhorse Finland (I just love those goalies) are my Top 4 teams. The US isn’t far behind.
  • Weakest area is in net. I’ve never been sold on Luongo, as we won last time in spite of him, not because of him. Price has been big before, but has also gone through major slumps. I think Smith is a systems goalie, and kind of surprised he is on there ahead of Corey Crawford.
  • Too bad those uniforms are just so ugly. I thought for a moment that they were growing on me. But then they weren’t. Will probably still buy one, thought. Sadly.