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The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

Times have changed and the franchises have gone in different directions since the Kings ousted the Daniel-less Canucks in 5 games en route to their first Stanley Cup.  The Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup and have, in some ways, a better roster that helped them take the cup in previous seasons and in other ways one which has grown a little stale.  The Canucks, meanwhile, have rebuilt on the fly, and coach Willie Desjardins has them playing an up-tempo forechecking style of play which keeps opponents defense on alert and their forwards pinned in the neutral zone.

Tale of the Tape

Season Overview
LA VAN
Season Record (NHL Rk) 32-21-13 (17) 38-24-4 (13)
Division Rank 4 2
Conference Rank 9 6
Home Record 21-7-7 18-12-1
Away Record 11-14-6 20-12-3
Division Record 10-4-6 12-8-3
Conference Record 19-9-9 19-15-3
Goals For 180 189
Goals Against 170 179
Streak Won 1 Won 2
WHO’S HOT?
Justin Williams LA
3 pts in last 2 GP
Marian Gaborik LA
4 pts in last 4 GP
Kyle Clifford LA
2 pts in last 2 GP
Brayden McNabb LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
Jake Muzzin LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S NOT?
Tyler Toffoli LA
0 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S HOT?
Radim Vrbata VAN
6 pts in last 5 GP
Daniel Sedin VAN
11 pts in last 10 GP
Dan Hamhuis VAN
5 pts in last 6 GP
Jannik Hansen VAN
11 pts in last 13 GP
Eddie Lack VAN
2-0-0, 1.50, .957 in last 2 GPI
WHO’S NOT?
Alexandre Burrows VAN
0 pts in last 3 GP
Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Other Intangibles:

LA:  The Kings talismen are not getting it done as a whole.  Other than Jeff Carter and, lately, Gaborik, who missed some games with an injury, the Kings have had some trouble finding regular contributors on offense.  Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and the all- but-finished Mike Richards have had trouble finding the back of the net this season. Going into the game vs. the Canucks, who do a pretty good job of shutting down other teams top lines, these players will need to produce.

The win against Colorado was a big one, but the Avs started rookie netminder Calvin Pickard who was pulled in favour of Reto Berra.  While Canucks’ Eddie Lack isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, he is a legitimate NHL caliber goalie, so the Kings will have to be accurate.  Although the Kings have been a little up and down this season, they have a tendency of playing well against the Canucks and are not bothered by having their backs up against any wall, ever.  L.A. is also a very good road team, at least when it matters, have a day’s rest and just finished playing in higher elevation.

doughty kopitar vrbata

Kings’ all-stars haven’t been, while Canucks’ Vrbata has been tremendous.

Vancouver:  Rogers Arena hasn’t been indomitable for the Canucks and they haven’t beaten the Kings all season.  Their record against Pacific teams is only 19-15-3 and the Canucks have traditionally struggled against bigger more physical teams, which the Kings are.  Still, the Canucks have shown signs of becoming more “Kings-like” in recent months, adding younger legs and bigger bodies throughout the lineup.

Some of those legs and bodies are playing quite well for the team, as in the case of the Dorsett, Matthias and Horvat line.  They’re not setting the NHL on fire exactly, but Desjardins is getting timely production and using them in big minutes.  As well, the Canucks have assembled a formidable back line of stay-at-home defenders who take no prisoners and make sound hockey plays.  The wins against San Jose and Anaheim in the last week are much bigger character-builders than wins against the Avalanche and Oilers in a two week period which saw the Kings go 3W-4L.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

Advantage Canucks:  Even though the Kings have a tendency of producing big wins when they need them the most, Thursday’s game feels like a Canucks win.  The key scorers for Vancouver have been consistent, while the supporting lines do what they’re supposed to do.  The Canucks are getting healthy at the right time, though they are still missing key D-man Kevin Bieksa.

More importantly the Canucks mental health has improved dramatically since the January 1st loss to Los Angeles while the Kings, say what they will, have been a little shaky.  As the Canucks younger players begin to arrive now, the Kings key pieces are slumping at the wrong time. The traditional size mismatch still favours the Kings but is not as dramatic as before.  This game will be close, but the Canucks should have enough to get their first win of the season vs. the defending champs and all their hubris.

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For the 41st consecutive season, the Vancouver Canucks have not won the Stanley Cup.  They did get their 16 wins, only one season too late, and perhaps one game too late as well, as the inglorious defeat to the Kings became a reality.  The overtime winner by Jarret Stoll at 4:28 of overtime in game five of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs signaled a change in more than just the fortunes of the yearly tournament to win Lord Stanley’s Grail, but also the dawning of some serious change in Vancouver for the hometown Canucks.  The glass here is not just half empty, but it may be more air than substance for the first time in a long time.  Mike Gillis in his 30 minute interview addressed it all, from Hodgson to Luongo, but here are all the key areas the Canucks need to fix before the season starts this coming September.

Coaching Staff:

Head Coach: Alain Vigneault   

Assistant Coaches: Rick Bowness, Newell Brown

Goaltending Coach:  Roland Melanson

Video Coach:  Darryl Williams

Strength and Conditioning Coach:  Roger Takahashi

I have previously written that the coaching staff should no longer include one man or another based on what I have witnessed on the ice.  Like your average fan, I can only judge the coaching based on performance.  Allow me to correspond with the top-5  criticisms for which Alain Vigneault and his staff have fallen prey in this market:

1.  Vigneault wasn’t very nice to Cody Hodgson and therefore “cannot coach younger players”.

Cody Hodgson was a pain in the ass, and an overrated player.  His 40 points per season won’t be missed by the Canucks and even if he amounts to an 80 point a season player, Mike Gillis, the man who will be behind the helm for the next 5 years at least, didn’t like him anymore and he drafted him.  They way I see it, Gillis developed him, and reserved the right to trade his Lindros-whiny ass to whomever would take him.  In this case the return was a toothless goon.

Fine.  I don’t see how this is A.V.’s fault to be honest.  Last I checked, Kesler was once a 21 year-old youngster under Alain Vigneault.  He seems to be doing alright.

Kesler’s playing time could be reduced, but that would mean that the team needs more out of Booth and Higgins.

2.  Vigneault  can’t inspire his “troops”.

Inspire his.. what the… ?  Seriously?  If these guys who average the price of Umberto Menghi’s house per year, what motivation do they need exactly.  Seriously, they chase around a frozen rubber puck for a living and get paid millions  of dollars.  They need their coach to motivate them?  They need to play hockey.

Nevertheless, I can see the point those who argue this are making.  A.V. has often used the media to motivate his players, which suggests that he doesn’t have a very open relationship with his team.  Perhaps the distant coach is a better fit for consistency’s sake than the “best pal” approach, but the buddy system seems to be working wonders in L.A. where Daryl Sutter has adapted his style to suit today’s crybaby players, of which he has several in L.A.  Do the Canucks need a softer, kinder AV?  I don’t think so.

3. Vigneault has “lost the room”.

I can’t count how many time the inbred suburbanites have called into team 1040 to lament about how “AV has lost the room”.  Are these people behind the walls?  Are they hiding in between the ample room between Luongo’s jock strap and his strombone becoming privy to the dressing room AV so apparently “lost”?  No.  They are not.  Seriously… enough.  This is a business, and AV is a professional.  He will be in Vancouver, and the Canucks will respond.

Is Melanson still wearing his equipment under the suit?

4.  Vigneault babies Luongo and the rest of “his favourites”

The “favourites” theory has been floating around the radio waves for a while about Alain Vigneault and I can’t argue that it’s untrue, but who doesn’t have favourites?  Aren’t the favourites the players who respond, listen and generally lead the team according to how the head coach envisions the game?  Can you go wrong when AV’s favourites include the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Luongo, Bieksa, Hamhuis, and the role players who support the core?

In addition, last I checked, Schneider started around 30 games this season, and finished the year between the pipes in the series clinching game for Los Angeles.  Vigneault does what it takes to win, and that means choosing the players who will sequence the game the way he envisions.  Has he lost the core?  I say no.

If anything, that career sieve Rolie Melanson needs to reconsider his posting and take the first greyhound out of Vancouver.  Luongo has lost all confidence in Vancouver, and the star he was is no longer since Melanson has “changed his style”.  This is a travesty and a waste of a great goaltender.  What the hell has Melanson ever done to coach in this generation of goaltenders?

5.  Vigneault mismanaged Kesler.

Look, when it comes to a man who is bent on playing through career ending injuries, it is at some point up to that player to realize that he can’t do what he wants to do.  The last 4 out of 5 seasons, Kesler’s season has been cut short due to some injury likely sustained while throwing himself headlong into the boards, or deflecting pucks with his groin into the net.  Should AV take Kes off the low slot on the power play?  Probably.  Should someone else kill penalties?  Ya sure.  Will the Canucks win as many games or get the $5.2 million of contract space he inhabits?  Nope.

Play the junk out of Kesler, and Kes?  Put on some muscle.

Coaching:  Either you change them all, or keep them all.  Winningest coach in Canucks history… 2 President’s trophies….  Glass half full… for now.

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22 year old Cody Hodgson has turned his back on the past, and will be scoring big goals for Buffalo for a long time. Kassian, meanwhile, has struggled.

As the final horn sounded at Rogers Arena and the 18,000 fans went home to digest another harrowing defeat to the L.A Kings, the questions are beginning to mount about this 2012 version of the President’s trophy winners.  Last season, it could be said that the statistics didn’t lie.  First in the league in multiple categories including faceoffs, penalty kills, power play, goals for, and goals against, the team seemed formidable at every position, and hungry for a deep run into the eventual finals.  The points they piled up weren’t even of the cellar dwelling variety, as they lost 4 games to the then lowlier Edmonton Oilers and took losses to the other cellar dwellers of the league.  The wins they compiled were impressive, and their run to the finals made sense.  2012, however, with the L.A. Kings’ sheer domination of an older and apparently more satiated Vancouver Canucks team, looks infinitely different.

After a series with the Boston Bruins that left the Canucks searching for answers, Mike Gillis began transforming the roster from a swift and preeminently skilled lineup with finesse goal scorers and gritty speedsters to a tougher, bigger, stronger lineup to help combat that element everyone said they were missing from last season.  The Cody Hodgson trade was the final nail in that particular organizational direction.  It was a statement which irrevocably changed the complexion of a team in favour of a lineup which was, theoretically, “hard to play against”.  You may correct me if I’m wrong, but a rookie with 20 goals on the third line of a team with two already prominent scoring lines is pretty damn hard to play against.  In fact, as this blogger so poignantly describes, there actually is no historical correlation between teams which fight a lot, and Stanley Cups.

Instead, and because of this “harder to play against” team, the Canucks are in a massive hole, and depending on players like recently acquired Sammy Pahlsson who sports 68 goals in a near 800 career games.  Granted, Daniel Sedin’s concussion is not helpful, but where is another winger on this team who can score?  On any other team, Alex Burrows is a second line player at best.  Ryan Kesler, the beneficiary of a better puck-moving back end with Ehrhoff in the lineup in 2011, must depend on breakout passes from the likes of Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts and a host of other D-men who clearly enjoyed career years in 2011.  In fact, everyone had a career year in 2011, a downturn is not only predictable, but to be expected.  The difference this year is that the Canucks did feast on the lower echelon teams, while they clearly struggled against teams down the stretch, who were exhibiting the will to succeed.  The intangible desire to win.  The same desire that they clearly showed up until game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and the same will which is rightfully being questioned right now.

The identity of the team has shifted to a more methodical, slower, less skilled team in favour of a tighter checking, more physical grinding team, but it remains to be seen if Gillis abandoned a successful style of play far too early in the experiment.  In trading Cody Hodgson, Gillis may literally have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  How good would Cody’s big shot look on the powerplay right about now, instead of Zack Kassian’s propensity for ill-timed checks which yield penalties and scrums?  How nice would it be to receive an unexpected boost from a breakout pass from Christian Ehrhoff, whose 4.5 million dollars are currently being spent on Keith Ballard, David Booth or the combination of an ineffectual Mason Raymond and Bitz/Weiss?  Even with the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Hamhuis, and Luongo this team has about as many chips to stack up against other teams that are boasting their own roster of upper echelon players.  On paper, perhaps the Canucks truly don’t have any right to be in a series with the likes of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams, all players in their prime and all world-class caliber in their own right.

Perhaps.

Perhaps what Gillis should have been looking for is more skill to add to Hodgson’s line instead of stripping the team of a blue-chip prospect for a young physical player with good hands who has had allegedly struggled to be physical or score goals.  Perhaps instead of targeting the Dale Weiss’s and Byron Bitz’s of the NHL world, Gillis should have been making deals to move some of this team to retool with scorers instead of grinders.  Wasn’t this team supposed to be the second coming of Detroit, equipped with a constant flow of quality hockey players with quality and finish around the net?  Doesn’t Detroit continue to build with talented young players they develop themselves instead of scouring the market for another GM’s missed marks?

The identity of the Canucks is in flux right now, and the current series reflects it.

The patience of the market will grown thin if the team is eliminated by the Kings next week, and the questions will begin about Gillis’s player acquisition, and movement from a team which appeared impenetrable defensively, because they were constantly dominating the puck.  Now as a “more physical” team, Gillis and the Canucks are going to have to get used to the team chasing younger, faster and more skilled players all over the ice again. With their backs against the wall, the Vancouver Canucks are now challenged to prove that Gillis’s faith in being “difficult to play against” isn’t misplaced. One thing is certain.  If the Canucks are eliminated by the Kings, the patience for Gillis’s new direction and the loyalty he has fostered in the seasons since joining the Canucks will be all but destroyed in one fell swoop, and no spin doctoring and none of his men will be able to put this fanbase back together again.

It is that fickle.

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This will likely prove to be as thrilling a first round in the NHL playoffs since the lockout, as every team in the league has an equal opportunity to win the holy grail of all sports, Lord Stanley’s cup in 2012.   My instincts have always been pretty good about these types of things and, while major networks are shifting towards using slightly trained monkeys or animals slated to be the next takoyaki at the prefecture fair as prognosticators, I’ve decided to use my own equally non-sensical method of crystal balling the playoffs.  Funny thing about the internet is, it is rife with strangers always willing to indulge you in any number of ruses.  In this case, I used a site called “omegle”, where all you do is link up with a random stranger and start typing.  If it sounds creepy, well, it kind of is, but putting it to use for survey purposes actually yielded some pretty solid predictions.  I asked the creepy omegle stranger a simple question — to pick a letter.  Based on that letter, the creepy Omegle stranger made Stanley Cup predictions for round one.

In addition to this rigorous method of playoff picking, I also used a fair bit of good ol’ fashioned logic to determine the Stanley Cup champion in 2012.  I’ll start with round one herein, and while I might not be any closer than TSN’s Maggie Monkey,  at least I write better than a primate.

Western Conference Predictions:

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

The basics:

The basics of this series are simple.  The Kings and the Canucks both rely on very similar formulas for success.  In theory, both teams have two very potent scoring lines, with ample defensive, grinding forwards filling out the roster on the third and fourth.  The goaltending really defines both teams, with a clear number one backed up by a solid blue chipper who can step in and win games.  The D on both squads is tight, and both teams have seasoned coaches who have been to cup finals.  The games will be tightly contested close affairs, with not much scoring and plenty of hitting and bad blood.  Home ice will mean very little, as will what type of animal is thrown on the ice as sacrifice for the hockey Gods.

Why you bet on the Kings:

You bet on the Kings if you believe that their late season surge is the real team, and they’ve finally put together the team which everyone predicted would be contending for president’s trophy this year.  You are a firm believer in fresh starts and believe that Kopitar, Doughty, Richards, Carter and Brown are all going to “flick the switch” and perform to their potential in the playoffs.  You see Quick as being the Hart and Vezina trophy winner that he should be, instead of the honourable mention that he will be, and you believe in the strength of a bigger, stronger, faster and younger Kings lineup which will match up well against what is lately a more plodding and methodical Canucks team, laden with tired veterans.  You feel as though it’s “their time”, and any number of other cliched statements related to underachieving teams with potential to win.  You also have a burning desire to witness Alan Thicke at Staples Centre, bringing a beer to Sylvester Stallone in an “Expendables” baseball cap.

Why you bet on the Canucks:

You bet on the Canucks if you believe that Daniel Sedin is currently eating Swedish Pepparkakor and sipping tea in a local Vancouver tanning salon instead of actually being concussed.  You are a firm believer that the Canucks have been “storing energy” in anticipation of another deep run in the playoffs.  You see Luongo as he should be seen… a strong goalie who can get a team to the finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and if he falters, Schneider is even better.  You look at all the signs of a roster  with underachievements in every direction from top to bottom and think “this team is playing possum and they still won the president’s trophy”.  This is a sleeping giant waiting to explode, and the Kings are the humble recipients of a massive beatdown coming their way.  They won’t even know what hit them.  You probably graduated with Milan Lucic but you hate his Croatian ass anyway.

How it plays out:

I hope you like 1-0 hockey games, because this series will have 4 of them.  The other games will be games which the Canucks lose in ugly fashion to a Kings team bursting with youth and willingness to win.  There is no pressure on the Kings, whereas the Canucks have all the pressure in the world.  The time for the Canucks was last year, and they are living in the shadow of their glory if another Stanley Cup finals appearance is not in the works in Vancouver.  At some point, somehow, the Canucks will find that extra gear they’ve been talking about all season, and the Kings will be no more in 2012.  It won’t inspire confidence in Canucks nation, it won’t be pretty, and it won’t be without a fair share of drama, but somehow, some way, the Canucks will gut this one out.  Take them, but don’t expect big numbers from their players just yet.  This is a series for unsung heroes like David Booth, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen and especially Sammi Phallsson.  AV will have his team playing with enough precision when it counts, and the Kings will want to add more mobility in the off-season, especially on their blue line. And, don’t worry Schneider lovers, he will play.  You know he’ll play….

Prediction:  Canucks win 4 really dull, tactical 2-1 games, and the Kings win 3 haywire, zany lopsided games. Luongo is yanked, Schneider takes over the team, for now. Canucks in 7.

What the creepy Omegle stranger predicts:  L.A.

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Saint Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

The basics:

The St. Louis Blues are the model for playoff disappointment in the NHL, and here they find themselves in a battle with a team which, essentially, is a president’s trophy caliber team in the first round.  St. Louis has relied upon steady and often spectacular goaltending from both Brian Elliot, who will win the Vezina, and Jaroslav Halak, who is worthy of mention in the same conversation.  For a while, the Blues were held back by three or four players with concussions on their roster but lately they appear to have some healthy heads.  In addition, Alex Pietrangelo has really blossomed into a stud D-man with still more room for growth.  Coach of the year, Hitchcock has his team playing disciplined, tough hockey in St. Louis and they will be a tough out for the Sharks.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have sort of bumbled their way through a functional regular season and as though by accident, ended up in the playoffs, yet again.  They are as offensively dangerous as ever with the usual suspects in Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Cotoure, and Boyle, but they remain a bit thin after this.  Their defense is a bit on the suspect side, and goaltending has been a problem in San Jose this season.  They have played a lot better lately and have not had to play the role of underdog in a series in recent memory. Lots of playoff experience, but also lots of playoff failure too.

Why You Bet on the Blues:

You feel strongly linked to the notion that this team has been in “ripening” mode for quite some time, and only needed the firm guidance of the right coach to get them over the top.  Hitchcock is a man of immense clout and enormous poise under pressure, as well as one of only a handful of active coaches who have actually won the whole shebang.  Oshie, Perron, Backes, Pietrangelo, have all developed into the solid professionals Blues management envisioned when they drafted them, and though unproven, you believe them to have the right type of character to get past an aging and declining Sharks team, whose claim to fame is choking under pressure.  The Blues rugged forwards will wear the Sharks down, while the deceptively effective D corp will stifle the Sharks offense, which has been inept of late anyhow.  You are the loudest person in the arena to chant “Let’s go BLUES” and you like that.

Why you bet on the Sharks:

You are a sucker for punishment, and often willfully throw money into streams, ponds, wells and other such areas of enclosed water in the hopes that your wishes will be granted by some obscure aquatic Goddess, expectant of your monetary tribute.  You believe that the Sharks are really attempting to compete for a championship this season and not trying to get Todd MacLellan fired.  You still believe that Antii Niemi is better than Nabokov ever was, and you think that the Sharks D, largely rooted in the same cement laden skates as last year, will somehow learn how to be mobile and puck moving.  You don’t think that age has anything to do with the Sharks inconsistent performance this season.  You think that Havlat’s hamstring injury while going over the boards for a line change was a fluke, and he’ll never get injured when you need him the most.  You believe that Sharkie meant to get stuck above the score clock, and that San Jose would have had a franchise had Gretzky not been forced to prostitute the game of hockey in California instead of win cups in Edmonton.

How it Plays out:

This Sharks team is the Calgary Flames just before they became the what we know of the Calgary Flames today.  The only difference is that the Calgary Flames core group actually made one finals appearance while this group of Sharks have suffered through endless numbers of embarrassing collapses and ultimate disappointments, year after miserable year.  This series will show the rise of the new NHL, with a young and hungry St. Louis Blues team essentially having their way with a Sharks team which is all but washed up.  San Jose is going nowhere and, while showing some pride late in the season to make the playoffs, will suffer an early exit at the hands of the poised and rigidly structured Blues.  The Blues will frustrate the Sharks, making life difficult for all of their players.  In addition, Niemi will not hold the fort for the Sharks, while if Elliot should fail, Halak will prove as impenetrable as any goalie in the NHL today.  The Blues are too big, too strong, too fast, too young, and too well coached to miss an opportunity this season to eliminate a team which should have restructured a long time ago.   The Sharks will not handle a smash mouth series like this will become, and they will shrink into the oblivion of teams that failed to live up to expectations. Bringing in Havlat for Heatley was a mistake, and the Sharks will need to soulcheck after this season to get back on everyone else’s level next year and beyond.

Prediction:

Get a broom.  St. Louis in 4.

What the creepy Omegle stranger says:  St. Louis

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Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

The Skinny

The curse of the Jets continues despite the Jets being back in the league.  By some miracle, the Coyotes qualified by winning their division and becoming the highest seeded Coyote team in the combined history of the teams.  Neither the Jets or the Coyotes have ever made it out of the second round of the playoffs, and that was only twice against the Calgary Flames in the 80’s.  In the sixteen years since the team moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix, the ‘Yotes have qualified for the playoffs eight times, and been eliminated in the first round on every occasion. This year, the unlikely Pacific division champions have climbed on the back of an extremely hot goalie and gutted out several narrow victories down the stretch.  Their reward?  One of the most storied franchises in league history, still smarting from a first round exit a year ago, a mere single season removed from winning the Stanley Cup.  Go figure.

Why you bet on Phoenix

You believe in Mike Smith’s goaltending, shane Doan’s leadership, and home-ice advantage.  You look to the Hawks’ pedestrian road records and are not threatened by their history of rising to big occasions.  You see the life of the franchise flickering with hope this year, and a city beginning to embrace them after years of bankruptcy and inconsistent attendance.  You think that the Winnipeg curse has been lifted now that the Jets are back in town.  You think the Hawks are overrated, and that they do not have the goaltending to take them anywhere this season.  The Toews injury will hamper the Hawks. You are one of the 26 season ticket holders still left in Glendale and don’t mind paying a tenth of the price other fans have to pay to watch their team play,  for tickets to see one of the most attended teams in the NHL play against your team in what should be a pretty decent series.

Why You bet on Chicago:

You are semi-religious about the NHL points system and see a higher ranked team in Phoenix playing a better team in Chicago.  You’re sure you’ll receive the Corey Crawford who was consistent, at least, against the Canucks in last year’s playoffs.  You see Chicago’s forwards as having the requisite status to explode all over an unproven goaltender in Mike Smith, and the depth this year is better than last year.  The Hawks gathered 45 wins and over 100 points despite losing 11 straight games at one point.  You think they have been coasting along, biding time, lurking in the shadows for the opportunity to have an easy sitter of a first round opponent.  You feel as though it is the Hawks’ destiny to play the Canucks in the second round, and you never, ever, tire of “Chelsea Dagger”.

How it plays out:

Mike Smith, a project of Dave Tippet’s since 2006 when both men were in Dallas, has blossomed into a legitimate workhorse goaltender will be tested against Chicago, who has shooters who know where to find the small percentage shots.  Phoenix, for all their success this year is led by a 40 year-old offensively, and several players who, other than Shane Doan, have been spare parts their entire career.  This is a battle between players with no pedigree against purebred first-round “can’t miss” types in Chicago.  I’m not a big believer in these types of things, normally; however, this is a Hawks team that has made two significant runs in the playoffs and very nearly upset the prohibitive favourites last season.  I just don’t see Chicago bowing out, Toews or no Toews, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs two years in a row, against Phoenix.  The curse of the Jets continues, but now there are two teams to shoulder the load, and not just one.  Smith hasn’t lost to the Hawks in his entire career, but those losses are about to pile up.  I don’t believe the hype around Smith yet, and I don’t believe the Coyotes have the type of team that can keep Chicago off the scoreboard for an entire series.  I see it as close, but there are no shootouts in the playoffs.  Take Chicago.

Prediction:

Do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do….. Chicago in 6 double overtime games.

Creepy Omegle stranger says:  Chicago

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Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

Why you bet on Nashville:

They have retooled their defense, adding size to, well, more size.  They have the best goaltender in the game in Pekka Rinne.  Their forwards can finally score goals as well as grind you down.  You know they are offensively more balanced than they ever have been.  They’ve tasted the second round of the playoffs and know what that feels like.  They are facing a creaky Detroit team which has been inconsistent this season and ripe for a first round bounce. Steal of the century Alexander Radulov is about to go ape-shit all over the Red Wings D.  Weber… Suter… Rinne…. Radulov…. home advantage….  It’s the Predators time now.

Why you bet on Detroit:

You take Detroit because they, like several other veteran teams, have been waiting in the reeds for the opportunity to pounce.  They have known about Nashville for weeks in advance.  This is not a team which is easily rattled by noise or away crowds, although their road record would seem to indicate it this season.   They need to steal just one game, as they’ve been pretty impenetrable at Joe Louis.   Jimmy Howard is the real deal.  They are getting healthy players back in the lineup, most notably, Pavel Datsyuk.  Valtteri Filppula has blossomed into another Wings future star.  The lineup is full of players top to bottom who know how to play hockey and win games.  Detroit’s offense is seldom shut down and there are too many players to focus on for Nashville, which is without a significant shutdown forward whereas.  Experience and credentials galore on this team.

How it Plays out:

I think that Nashville is amazing, believe me.  I’m saddened that one of these teams has to bow out so early because I also respect Detroit so much both for their accomplishments, loyalty, and their ability to compete year after year for the Stanley Cup.  Let’s get something straight here though… Pavel Datsyuk is the most versatile player in the NHL today.  If you had to pick a straight up hockey player to win with, right now, where do you get a guy who can get you 30-40 goals and an equal number of assists, as well as shut down the opposing team’s best player night after night?  Detroit and Detroit alone, that’s where.  Datsyuk will be the difference maker in this series because it is Datsyuk, and not Rinne, Radulov or any of the invisible Kostitsyn clan who is the most special player in the series.  The 34 year-old has had his share of scrapes along the season, and his minutes and game nights monitored, but the team knows that everything hinges on him.  He will shut down Radulov and any of the other Predators will be taken care of by the likes of Lidstrom, Kronwall and Howard.  While I don’t deny the Predators are on the way up, the Wings will not be taking this team lightly.  One team has to go, and I’m betting that the Predator’s offence dries up sooner than the Red Wings will.

Prediction:

Sadly, Nashville’s best team ever is taken out once Detroit steals an away game.  Take Detroit in 6 tough games.

Creepy Omegle stranger says:  Detroit

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