Rangers to the Finals

Rangers to the Finals

After 20 years, the New York Rangers will be back in the Stanley Cup Finals, with a chance to win it all since their legendary run in 1994. They dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six games, with a 1-0 victory on Thursday night, cementing their berth in the final round of the NHL playoffs.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings semi-final, and they will be decided underdogs with whichever team they will be facing for the holy grail of hockey.

For the majority of the series, the Rangers seemed to be in control, and with the damaging loss of the red-hot Carey Price, the Habs were doomed from the moment of his injury. The main slip by the Rangers was a 7-4 loss in Game 5, as they looked like a team that knew they had more than one shot to close out the series.

New York is a deep team, and they will be competitive in the finals. They are getting production from all over their lineup, and the standard great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. As usual, he will play a major role in determining the fate of his team in the next round.

The MVP of the series must be Dustin Tokarski, the third string netminder for Montreal that was thrust into an impossible situation with the injury to Price. With fewer than a dozen NHL games under his belt, Tokarski jumped up the depth chart over regular season backup Peter Budaj, and did an admirable job of keeping the Habs in the series. He has definitely cemented himself as a solid #2 for next season. If he had managed to win this series, he would have quickly become a legend in Montreal. He was facing a team that was hot and on a roll, and he did a great job in leading his team to two wins. He should be commended for his determination and prowess in this series.

Dustin TokarskiI’m personally pleased that the Rangers have made it to the final, as they were my pre-season pick to make it to the finals. Looks like I can pretend to be reasonably smart when guessing NHL games for a little while.

Best of luck to New York, where it will be an incredible party if the Blueshirts are able to bring back the Cup to the Big Apple.

The Stanley Cup Finals will begin on Wednesday.

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.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 2

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 2

I guess I did alright on my Round 1 guesses in the end, even though it looked bad for a while. I was right about the Kings, Wild, Penguins, Bruins, and Rangers. 5-3 overall. Not the best, but not the worst. I was dead on in choosing the number of games in a few of those as well. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied.

Here are my guesses for the second round of games, which begin tonight with Montreal facing off in Boston.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins

bruinsI already wrote a post about this one. I love the ancient rivalry here, and it should be some intense games once the series gets rolling. Surprisingly, the Habs had a winning record against the Bruins during the regular season, but the B’s look like a team on a mission. They are too tough and deep for the Canadiens, and should wear them down. I will give one game to Carey Price as a steal, and one for the rivalry.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

 

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

rangersThat was a pretty ugly opening series for the Pens, not looking great as they dispatched the Blue Jackets. There are a lot of holes on this team, starting with the eternally shaky playoff goaltending from Marc Andre Fleury. He can’t be trusted, and that becomes more and more apparent with every passing game, series, and year. The Rangers are a solid, all-around team, and their biggest advantage is having Lundqvist in net. That is a major plus over the Pens. Pittsburgh has more up front talent, with the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz, but it kind of stops there. They lack the depth that the Blueshirts can roll out line after line. The Rangers are a tough team, and they have the look of previous teams that have been successful in the playoffs.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

 

Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks

kingsIt’s not going to get any easier for the Kings, as they face another California rival in this series. The major question is how much they will have left after playing their hearts out in coming back from the seemingly insurmountable 0-3 game deficit to the Sharks. The Ducks were lucky to get past the upstart Dallas team, a series that I predicted the Stars would win. I just don’t love the Ducks top-heavy lineup. There isn’t a lot to be afraid of once that top line is on the bench. The trouble for most teams is that top line can eat them up. But, then again, most teams can’t roll Drew Doughty out for half a game. I like this match for the Kings.

Prediction: Kings in 6

 

Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks

chicagoThe Hawks surprised me in Round 1, showing plenty of everything in taking care of my Cup favorite Blues in 6 games. They are an incredibly complete team, with everything from elite scorers (Sharp, Kane, Toews), to solid defense that can chip in plenty on the offensive side as well (Keith, Seabrook), to goaltending that is solid, if not spectacular (Crawford). The Wild are happy to have defeated the Avalanche, and are now in a world of trouble now that Bryzgalov is back in the nets after another injury to Darcy Kuemper. They had better hope he is back soon, or this one could be over quickly. I would like to cheer for the Wild, and like the look of their team, but they really are no competition for the defending Champs.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 5

 

All right, let’s see how I do this round, and let the games begin!

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

Since we will have quite some time before the first round of the playoffs is complete, as there are some close series that will probably go the distance, I might as well take a look at the first series of the second round.

The one that all hockey fans were hoping for.

Round 2 will feature the ancient, Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Both teams polished off their opening series pretty quickly. While I didn’t think the Habs would be able to take down the Tampa Bay Lightning, they proved me wrong by sweeping them in four games. From my predictions, I actually got one right in the Bruins beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, so I will hang my hat on probably the only one I will have guessed right by the time the playoffs are over.

Habs-Bruins is a fantastic rivalry in the NHL, and there is no doubt that series will be hard fought and live up to some of their previous battles. Over the course of the regular season, the Canadiens surprisingly took three of the four games from the President’s Trophy winning Bruins. One would not imagine that the Habs would pose a serious threat to the mighty B’s, but they do.

habs2bruinsMontreal is a very well balanced team. They can roll four solid lines out there, and even without a superstar in their forward lineup, they have guys who can produce. They are a team of solid and specific roles, and all the players play their roles perfectly. On the back end, they of course have the reigning Norris trophy winning defenseman, in PK Subban. The kid is a wild card, and he can produce offense almost at will. He is a force to be reckoned with, and someone that the Bruins will need to shut down, especially on the power play.

In net, Carey Price is trying to continue his great season, where he probably just narrowly missed being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and has already won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the dominant Team Canada in Sochi. Price is a goalie that has ice in his veins, and is difficult to rattle with any kind of pressure. He should be able to at least steal a game for Montreal in this series. He has that ability, to truly dominate, even though he is just typically solid. If I were the Bruins, my goal would be to throw everything at him, and create anarchy in front of the net.

On the Bruins side, they are a tough team. Full of hard-working, hard-hitting players, they all seem to play their roles perfectly as well. They have speed, skill, defensive ability, strong special teams, outstanding goaltending, size. It is tough to find a weakness on this team, which is why they were the best during the regular season. Then proceeded to shut down the Wings after a surprising Game 1 loss. This team will be tough to beat.

It is impossible to ignore the regular season matchup numbers between these two teams, but I feel that in a seven game series, the Bruins will simply wear down the Canadiens with their physical play. They won’t stop coming, and this will grind down the smaller Montreal team.

Plus, as good as Carey Price is, and has been, Tuuka Rask has been better. Right now, he is the best goalie in the league, will easily win the Vezina (in my opinion), and dominated in the first round series. The Bruins have an advantage in every aspect of the game.

I think Montreal puts up a big fight in this series, and it has moments that will remind us of all those battles over the years between these two teams. But my early prediction for this series will be for the Bruins to win it in 6, advancing them to the Eastern Conference finals.

But, based on my predictions so far, it could end up being the complete opposite. I look forward to seeing some of this series. It should be a barn burner.

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!