Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Here we go. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings for the Stanley Cup. The two biggest markets in the NHL, and a coast to coast battle that has never been seen before in the playoffs.

The Kings have become a semi-dynasty in the Western Conference, along with the Blackhawks, as they are going for their second Cup in the last three years. They had been in the conference finals for three straight years, which, in the cap-era, is incredibly consistent. The Kings are good, all over the place. They have the goalie, the D, and the forwards to get it done, as they already have.

rangers3The Rangers are probably more of a surprise to be here than the Kings are, given that the majority of people had the Bruins or Penguins going to the finals from the East (Note: I correctly predicted both conference final outcomes, so…yay me!).

kingsHere are my thoughts on the series:

  • Can’t ask for much of a better goalie match. There is gold and silver winning, all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Widely regarded as the best goalie in the league (and for good reason), Henrik has done it all, except win a Cup. He is already a legend in NYC, and if he wins the Cup, he will be an immortal there. On the other side, Jonathan Quick has risen to the top ranks of the league, having won a Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and serving as the US starting goalie in the Sochi Olympics. He has a fat contract from the last time he won the Cup, and now he is again proving that he is a money goalie. Even though he didn’t have the greatest regular season, he has been beyond good in the playoffs. Even though this is a pretty even battle, I have to give the edge to the hungry Lundqvist. 
  • On defense, this is another great battle. Both teams are stacked. The Kings have the best d-man in the league with Drew Doughty. They also have great depth, with guys like Martinez, Voynov, Greene, Mitchell, and Muzzin. These guys can score, along with playing a tight defensive game in front of their goalie. They did show vulnerability against Chicago, and they will show some breakdowns now and then. The Rangers don’t have the same firepower as the Hawks, and will have a tougher time breaking down the tough Kings D. The Rangers can respond with up-and-coming elite D man, Ryan McDonagh, along with an equally formidable stable of depth with Girardi (one of the best defensive defencemen in the league), Staal, and Stralman. I have to give the edge to the Kings here, just because they can get more goals and points from the back end than the Rangers will.
  • On offense, the teams are built in a similar fashion. Some high end talent (Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik against St. Louis, Nash, Zucharello, Richards) in front of a bunch of tough guys who can also put the puck in the net. The building of these teams is very similar. There are guys that can put the puck in the net. There are guys who can crash and bang, and make you regret going into the corners. There are third and fourth liners who can also contribute on both ends of the ice. I call this a slight edge to the Kings, because of how good Kopitar is in both ends of the ice.
  • What about the exhaustion? The Kings have played 7 games in each series. Incredibly, they have won game 7 on the road each time around. The teams they have played are bruisers, and even though they have come through, they could be pretty beat up by this point. Can they keep it up after such long, gruesome battles?
  • The Rangers, while playing fewer games, and having more rest between series, had some tough battles as well. But I don’t think that playing the depleted Habs is anything like the ringers the Kings have been through.
  • New York has some karma going for them. 20 years have gone by since their last appearance. The city is electric for the Rangers. Are they a team of destiny?
  • As I mentioned above, the Kings are kind of a dynasty at this point. In the playoffs, they seem as though they are unbeatable. They beat their nemesis in Chicago. They need to be sure to not overlook the Rangers, however. King Henrik can steal more than just a game, but an entire series.
  • Now that LA has home ice advantage, will they play differently? They have a great, desperate game on the road, and they haven’t been the same at home. Have to wonder if their us against the world mentality will be affected by being the favorite, and having home ice advantage for the biggest series.
  • This is really a closer call than I thought it would be. I figured that whoever came out of the West would stomp the Rangers, but now I’m not as convinced. And if this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that these series are closer than we might ever expect.
  • I hope for a good series, as do all. Best of luck to the Kings and the Rangers. Whoever wins, they will have earned it.

Prediction: I’m going with the Los Angeles Kings to take home another Cup. In 6 games. 

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

Since the retirement of the incredible Niklas Lidstrom, there has been a vacancy in the National Hockey League in the position of the best defenceman. There are a ton of worthy candidates, and many of them have staked their claim with awards, acclaim, and defining moments.

Keith, Chara, Weber, Pietrangelo, Subban, Karlsson. All are excellent. But the NHL has a new best D-man, and he is showing it in these 2014 playoffs.

Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings.

doughty2Four years ago, I was taken by the incredible presence that Doughty came up with during the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just a kid (20 years old), he looked like he belonged among the very best that the world had to offer. Despite his young age, he already has a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt, a Stanley Cup, and two Olympic Gold medals. One can only assume that there will be more of these in his future.

During the current playoff run that the Kings are enjoying (but are in danger of ending, after their game 6 loss to Chicago), Doughty has shown time and again why he is nudging himself ahead of the rest when it comes to being the best. He plays incredible minutes on a strong team (around 27 minutes per game), against the toughest opposition that teams have been able to throw against him (the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks). He has been an stalwart in his own end, but is also contributing offensively, to the tune of 16 points in 20 games. Pretty impressive for a forward in the tight Western conference, let alone a guy who plays the point. Nine of his points have come on the powerplay that he quarterbacks, and he has amassed 50 shots over those 20 games. He is all over the place, and his offense has never taken away from his important play in his own end.

Doughty has the ability to do everything, in all three zones. He also has size, at 6’1″ and 213 pounds, so he isn’t simply a finesse player, either. He can be tough on you.

In a league where goalies are always considered to be the playoff heroes, if the Kings win the Cup again, it would be tough to overlook his contributions when it comes to the Conn Smythe voting.

Drew Doughty is emerging from the pack of young D that are taking the league by storm, and he has shown himself to be the best that the league has to offer. Look for him to pile up more awards as his career moves forward. Scary to think that he is only 24, and he has not yet reached his prime. This is a kid that will be among the best for the next 10 years.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

kings2

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

rangers2

I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.

Round 2 Observations

Round 2 Observations

We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.

Boston and Montreal tied 2-2

  • I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
  • Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
  • It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.

Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2

  • Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
  • The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
  • It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
  • Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
  • It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.

Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2

  • Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
  • If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
  • I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
  • I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
  • Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.

anzeLos Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1

  • It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
  • These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
  • Good black and blue hockey.
  • The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
  • How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
  • Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.

Is Fleury for Real?

Is Fleury for Real?

After ragging on Marc Andre Fleury forever based on his string of poor playoff performances, the embattled goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins comes along and posts back-to-back shutouts of the New York Rangers in their second round matchup.

The question needs to be asked if all of a sudden, Fleury has put his shaky confidence on hold and become the goalie that the Pens need to continue on their quest for another Stanley Cup victory. Or, if he is merely fortunate and has had a good string of luck over the past couple of games.

MarcAndreFleuryOne argument against Fleury being for real is the exhausted nature of the Rangers team. They have been forced to play 5 games in 7 nights over three different cities, for which the league can be faulted for poor schedule making. This is a team that is completely spent, and after putting together a strong game in Game 1, they appear to be completely out of gas, and rightfully so. That is a lot of games to play in a short amount of time, at the very highest level. The playoffs are a level of intensity unseen in the regular season, and one could argue that Fleury is simply taking advantage of a team that has very little left at the moment.

With that, he has managed to avoid the mistakes that have plagued him in the past. A weak goal here or there would be damaging to the Pens, especially since they know they have a team on the ropes. So credit goes to him to pull it together and make the saves that he needs to make in order to keep his team in the games, and to preserve the leads that they have worked so hard to attain. This is not typical of Fleury, as he has had a propensity to give up a soft goal that is completely deflating to the rest of the team.

I can’t believe that this Fleury that we’ve seen over the past two games is the one that we are going to see for the rest of the series, or the rest of the playoffs for that matter. There is too much evidence against him rising to the task in big games, that I fear for the Pens any time they are in a tight situation.

Missed Opportunity: Habs Lose Game 2

Missed Opportunity: Habs Lose Game 2

A two goal lead with about 9 minutes left in the third period should be a pretty safe thing. Especially when your goalie is being dominant, and you are controlling the pace of the play for the majority of the game.

But the Montreal Canadiens let it all slip away this afternoon, as they imploded, losing game two the Boston Bruins by a final score of 5-3, after the B’s scored four unanswered goals in the last half of the third. This evens the second round series up at a game apiece, while the series will shift to Montreal for games three and four.

bruins-vs-habs-jerseysRolling to such an improbable victory gives the Bruins some serious momentum as they hit the road, and it feels like this will be viewed as the turning point in the series when it is all said and done. Having a two game lead heading home would have been huge for the Habs, but letting it slip away will do nothing but wake the sleeping giant that the Bruins can be. I could easily see them not looking back from this point on, with Montreal unable to recover from the meltdown.

For the rest of the series, the Habs need to look for quick starts, and make Boston play from behind. Despite the game two surprise, they are not really designed to be playing without the lead like that. A grinding team, they are made to wear you down and eventually break their opposition. If Montreal is to have a chance, they need to be out in front, and learn to shut it down much better. This is a massive missed opportunity for them, and they need to come out fast to try and correct it.

The game was another great performance from Patrice Bergeron, the most underrated player in the league, who definitely merits being considered as one of the best in the game. Not many people would put him with the likes of Crosby or Toews, but he deserves to be there. He has an offensive punch, and is simply the best defensive forward in the league. His goal and assist propelled his team to victory.

Great comeback by Boston, and probably a major turning point in the series.