My Two Cents for April 29th:
The Playoffs Have Arrived- The 100 Day Lockout shortened season has come to and end with this weekends games around the NHL. Having just 48 games to make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, several teams were in the running for the post season up until the final week of the season. Many teams who were in last season’s playoffs will appear again in this year’s post season tournament as well. Others meanwhile turned in some disappointing results despite having to play fewer games this year thanks to the lockout which scrapped 34 games from each team’s schedule. Amongst the surprise teams from last year that will not be in the post season this time around are the Phoenix Coyotes who last year won the Pacific Division and appeared in the Western Conference Finals. The Nashville Predators who appeared as the 4th seed in last year’s tournament dropped all the way to 14th place in the Western Conference this season.
The New Jersey Devils who made it to the Stanley Cup Finals out of the Eastern Conference at the sixth seeded team will not be back this time around. The Florida Panthers who last year were the number three seeded team out of the east finished last in the conference this season. The Philadelphia Flyers after making the post season last year as the fifth seed from the east finished this year a disappointing 10th. Teams that were particularly disappointed with their results this year were Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton. Dallas was so disappointed they fired GM Joe Nieuwendyk. The Oilers were expecting a higher finish than 12th and were possibly eyeing at least a playoff appearance even if only for a single round. The Columbus Blue Jackets were also disappointed but for a different reason. The Blue Jackets had a quality year which will certainly be something for them to build on as they join the Eastern Conference next season. Columbus finished 9th in the Western Conference, losing a tie-breaker to the Minnesota based on the dreaded ROW statistic of regulation and overtime wins. The Wild had 22, the Blue Jackets had 19. By comparison, the Sharks had just 17 out of their 25 total wins.
New comers to the post season in the West are the Minnesota Wild, who are making their first post season appearance in five years. The Anaheim Ducks are not really new comers to the post season at all, especially with a Stanley Cup on the franchises resume. The Ducks are back in the post season and are the number two seed in the Western Conference. Should the Chicago Blackhawks falter, the Ducks are a huge threat to take their second title in six years. In the east, you have the New York Islanders who quietly played some of the best hockey in the league this year and are the one team out of the east that nobody is talking about outside of Long Island. The Montreal Canadiens are returning to the post season as a number two seed after finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference last season. The Toronto Maple Leafs are making their first post season appearance in nine years. With five new teams participating in this year’s tournament, this should make for some very interesting hockey to watch. From this new rivalries may be formed, old rivalries will certainly be reacquainted, and a new champion will be crowned…unless ofcourse the Los Angeles Kings repeat as champion (Not a prediction, more on that later). In this column I am devoting it mostly to the upcoming playoff matches as the post season starts April 30th and May 1st.
Western Conference Post Season Preview (in order of seedings):
(8) Minnesota vs (1) Chicago – The Blackhawks by far are the most loaded lineup in the NHL. Every line they can throw at you can be a lethal one. Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa are a trio that has been there, done that, and know how to get it done at the most clutch of moments and lead a very determined Motley Crew. Corey Crawford has emerged into a very nice and reliable goalie that can last as long in net as any counter part. The Hawks have the majority of the key components from the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion team in tact and after a confounding loss to Phoenix in last seasons playoffs, the Blackhawks have been waiting for this moment for a year. Minnesota has some solid parts in Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Cal Cutterbuck and former Shark Devon Setoguchi. Niklas Backstrom will have his hands full trying to keep the Wild in most games. Minnesota all but backed into the final seed on the final day after a bad home loss to an Edmonton Oilers team that had little to play for. That does not bode well for any chances of what would have to be a nearly improbable major upset. The Kingshark Line Prediction: The Wild simply don’t have enough on their roster to match Chicago in any position, will be lucky not to get swept. Blackhawks in 5.
(7) Detroit vs (2) Anaheim - This could be the most interesting series of the four in the Western Conference as you have the stalwart Red Wings making their 22nd straight post season appearance. The Ducks are returning to the post season with a very potent line up that played well most of the season, but tailed off towards the end. Detroit’s players need no introduction, they are amongst some of the best to have played in the NHL. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen plus the Wings’ cast of thousands return to the post season as Detroit looks for it’s fifth cup in 15 seasons. Jimmy Howard though at times streaky is still one of the most solid goalies in the NHL and could start with almost any team in the league. Detroit has found way to win games late in their year and got things done when they absolutely needed to. The Ducks arrive with the usual suspects of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and veteran leader Teemu Selanne. The Ducks are looking for their second title in franchise history and would love nothing better than to send Selanne out on top should he decide to retire after this season. The Ducks also have one of the best power play units in the NHL and are every bit as dangerous as Chicago. In goal veteran Jonas Hiller has made a name for himself as one of the toughest goalies to score on. He is backed up by Viktor Fasth, who despite no playoff experience has shown he can play at the NHL level. No home ice advantage here as each team has won games in the other’s building. The Kingshark Line Prediction: This One is a tough call and the series could truly could go either way. The Red Wings may be the only team that can beat the Ducks in the post season alongside Chicago. Detroit in 7.
(6) San Jose vs (3) Vancouver- This is a rematch of the 2010-11 Western Conference Finals where the Canucks downed the Sharks in five games. The two teams have changed a little since then but not all that much. Both the Sharks and Canucks dropped three of their last four games prior to the post season. In the case of the Sharks, it was just getting in that was the hard part enduring a 23 game 6-11-6 stretch where the team was fortunate to win the six games they won (after starting the season with seven straight wins). The Canucks benefited from a down division however do still have a line up that can on any given evening light up the scoreboard in a way that few others can match. The Canucks have some solid play makers in the Sedin twins Henrik and Daniel, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, and recently acquired Derek Roy. Corey Schnider has been the Canucks main man in goal this season with veteran Roberto Luongo as his backup. The Sharks meanwhile decided at the trade deadline that they wanted to have a faster team. After dealing away long time Sharks Douglas Murray and Rayne Clowe, the Sharks acquired Raffi Torres who has added speed and scoring. Scott Hannan was brought in to help on defense. The Sharks have their potent line-up led by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns to complement veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. Sharks’ goalie Antti Niemi is a solid Vezina Trophy candidate as he may be the main reason the Sharks were able to get to the post season. The Kingshark Line Prediction: Both teams had their struggles this season and have rosters that both can be argued as to why they could win or lose this series. The Sharks however have one edge where it may count the most, and that’s between the pipes. SHARKS IN 7.
(5) Los Angeles vs (4) St Louis- This could very well be a very entertaining series in it’s own right. Last season after the Blues handled the Sharks in five games in the opening round of the playoffs, St Louis was summarily swept out of the post season by the Kings who went on to win the Cup. The Blues are looking for some payback against the Kings. However that may be far easier said than done. The Kings have recently had the Blues number much in the same fashion that St Louis has had the Sharks number over the last two seasons. The Kings won all three meetings against the Blues this season making them 7-0-0 against St Louis since a year ago at this time. The Kings have the identical line up to the one which won the title last season. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and more lead Los Angeles into the post season where they don’t mind being the lower seed in the least. Also, the Kings have Jonathan Quick in goal. Quick earned his stripes as the Kings main goalie over a year before the Kings won the title. Meanwhile the Blues have a roster that is nothing to be sneezed at. Patrik Berglund, Andy McDonald, Chris Stewart, Vladimir Sobotka, and David Perron lead the Blues who finished strong heading into the post season winning seven of their final ten games. Veteran Goalie Brian Elliot has been the top man in the pipes for the Blues. He is backed up by veteran Jaroslav Halak and a solid rookie netminder in Jake Allen. The Kingshark Line Prediction: It’s highly unlikely the Blues will get swept out of the post season for the second straight year. The Blues are loaded. The Kings on the other hand are the defending champions for a reason and they didn’t win the Cup last season by accident. They are a roster of big bodies and quick skaters who are tough to hang with. Never under estimate the heart of a defending champion, and the Kings have shown they have lots of it. LA Kings in 6.
Eastern Conference Post Season Preview (in order of seedings):
(8) NY Islanders vs (1) Pittsburgh- The Penguins are out to make the case that they are not just a group of players that are there complement Sindey Crosby. The Penguins as the season went along took care of the business that they had to in workman like fashion. In doing so Pittsburgh wound up posting the best record in the Eastern Conference. Crosby has been out with a broken jaw since taking a puck in the mouth a few weeks ago. However, players such as Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, and Kris Letang have led a large cast that is already amongst the best in the NHL. The Penguins are a very loaded group top to bottom. Marc-Andre Fleury has been through the rigors of the Stanley Cup chase and can handle pressure in the net. His backup is veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun. The New York Islanders are a franchise with four Stanley Cups in their history, though the last one was won 30 years ago and pre-Gretzky. However, after several seasons of being amongst the NHL’s worst franchises year in and year out, the Islanders quietly put together a nice season for themselves in earning the final spot of the post season tournament. The Islanders are lead by John Tavares. He is complemented by Matt Moulson, former Shark Brad Boyes, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey, and Mark Streit amongst others. Former Sharks goalie Evegeni Nobakov has had a career revival and has years of playoff experience from his days with the Sharks. Kingshark Line Prediction: The NY Islanders are one of the better stories of this lockout shortened season, however this roster does not have the playoff experience necessary to beat a team like Pittsburgh. The Penguins are just too loaded. Islanders will make Penguins work for it however. Penguins in 6.
(2) Montreal vs (7) Ottawa- The Canadiens and Senators will represent two proud Canadian Cities separated by just 125 miles (about the same distance from San Jose to Sacramento). This could be a very close series despite the seedings. The Canadiens clinched the second seed in the east on this past weekend. The Senators had their struggles but were able to do enough to qualify and win their seeding. Montreal has had a terrific campaign after a couple of bad seasons strung together culminating with a last place finish in the conference just a year ago. The Canadiens as a franchise are looking for their 25th ever Stanley Cup, by far the most of any NHL franchise (second is Detroit with 11). Montreal is led by Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, P.K. Subban, and the reacquired Michael Ryder. In goal for the Canadiens is veteran netminder Carey Price who is backed up by another veteran, Peter Budaj (boo dye). The Senators meanwhile are not short of playmakers and are lead by veteran Daniel Alfredsson as well as Kyle Turris, Sergei Gonchar, and Cory Conacher. Patroling the net for Ottawa is Craig Anderson who has won a number of key games for the Senators. Kingshark Line Prediction: Montreal seems to be the one team between the two with the most to prove. In a city where hockey is King, the Canadiens will use that as motivation. Senators tend to run hot and cold which usually doesn’t work too well in the post season. Canadiens in 6.
(3) Washington vs (6) NY Rangers- For the fourth time in five seasons the Capitals and Rangers will be meeting in the post season. Last year in the Conference Semi-Finals the Rangers handled the Capitals in a classic seven game battle. The Rangers loaded up nicely at the trade deadline picking up Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe to bolster their roster. Rick Nash in his first season in The Big Apple has made quite the impression with 21 goals. Nash is complemented by Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin, all who had produced huge dividends for the Rangers. Meanwhile, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been consistent and knows how to win when the stakes are highest. The Capitals ofcourse are lead by the one and only Alexander Ovetchkin who scored 32 goals this season. Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, and Mike Green are amongst a cast of hard working, hard battling players who can be very tough night in and night out. Braden Holtby patrols the pipes for Washington and he is backed up by Michal Neuvirth. Kingshark Line Prediction: You can make a decent argument for either team as to why they should win this series. Despite having Ovetchkin and a decent complement of players, the Rangers just seem to be the better of the two teams when the pressure is on at it’s highest. NY Rangers in 6, but don’t be surprised if this goes 7 games.
(4) Boston vs (5) Toronto- A classic original six match up rounds out the Eastern Conference’s side of this season’s tournament. Boston has been through an emotional ride of late based on recent tragic events in their city. The Bruins are a team that is very solid despite some inconsistencies and are only two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup. Most of the key players from that team are still a big part of this team as well. Brad Marchand, David Krejci (Cray chee), Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, and Zdeno Chara lead the Black and Gold back into the post season where this time they will get to face and old teammate. The Maple Leafs, back in the post season after a nine year hiatus are lead by former Bruin Phil Kessel who posted a 20 goal campaign. Also leading the Maple Leafs into the post season are Nazem Kadri, former Philadelphia Flyer James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson, Dion Phaneuf and former Anaheim Duck Joffrey Lupul. Taking care of the net for Toronto is James Reimer who can look great one game and struggle the next. He is backed up in goal by Ben Scrivens. Kingshark Line Prediction: This will be a fun matchup to watch even if you have no allegiance to either team. It will be explosive. Look for the Maple Leafs to throw everything at the Bruins including the kitchen sink. The Bruins won’t dodge everything the Maple Leafs do throw at them but should at least see the sink coming at them. Bruins in 6.
Sharks-Canucks First Round Schedule: The NHL released the post season schedule shorty after the conclusion of Sunday’s regular season finale between Ottawa and Boston. The Sharks will start play against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, May 1st at 7pm in Vancouver, BC. The game will be carried on NBC Sports Net in the USA, TSN in Canada.
Here is the rest of the schedule: Game 2: Friday 5/3 at Vancouver 7pm PT CNBC/TSN; Game 3: Sunday 5/5 at San Jose 7pm PT NBC Sports Net/TSN; Game 4: Tuesday 5/7 at San Jose 7pm PT CNBC/TSN; *Game 5: Thursday 5/9 at Vancouver 7pm PT NBCSN or CNBC/TSN; *Game 6: Saturday 5/11 at San Jose 7pm PT NBCSN or CNBC/TSN; *Game 7: Monday 5/13 at Vancouver 7pm PT NBCSN or CNBC/TSN…
Should be fun and very interesting to say the very least… and Let The Games Begin!!!
…Just My Two Cents…
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*NBCSN = NBC Sports Net
*CNBC = CNBC, a business channel borrowed by NBC Sports during Stanley Cup Playoffs…
*TSN- The Sports Network (the Canadian version of ESPN)