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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pens Push Rangers To Brink

Before I get into this ridiculous game, I'm making an announcement. With the end to the NHL season fast approaching, I am starting to realize that getting a post up about the greatest sport in the world will be rather difficult come mid-June. From here on out I'm going to start commenting on big stories from other sports. This is just to fill the void that the hockey-less summer will provide until the draft and Free Agent period and such. Fear not puckheads, the main focus of this blog will remain hockey related. You will also begin seeing some guest posts from the infamous Gopher as we roll along. Thanks for all the support, it's much appreciated. Now...

The game has been over for a few hours now and I have just one question. Did that just really happen? My blood pressure just returned to normal about 5 minutes ago and my hands are still shaking after being put through the torture that was Game 3. Think I’m joking? Call up Tums and ask them who their best customer is cause it’s this guy.

During the game I looked at a co-worker and said, “I remember when the Pens weren’t in the playoffs over the last couple years. I remember saying then that I wished we were in the playoffs. Now that we’re in again, I’m slowly realizing why I have a love/hate relationship with seeing the Pens in the playoffs.”

Here’s why, when they weren’t in it was much easier to just sit back and complain about how terrible we were and look ahead to the future to when we would be back in the playoffs again. There was no pressure, no high blood pressure, no ulcers etc. Now that we’re in the playoffs again and doing well, I’m afraid to even speak about the team to friends and family, much less come on here and write for you all for fear of waking up from what has got to be a dream. Every second that goes by feels like an eternity during the games. Every goal scored against feels like someone is stabbing me in the chest. Every goal we score results in a near orgasmic euphoria. I know this may sound nuts, but real fans out there know what I’m talking about. For as much as I hate the nervousness and torture of watching playoff hockey, I love every minute of it. It’s just a good thing that the playoffs only last for a couple months each year because I never would have seen my 24th birthday.

Anyway onto tonight’s game. The only complaint I have tonight about the game is the same one you’ve heard me say about this team down the stretch. We had a near cataclysmic meltdown in the second period. We led 3-1 after the first and yet for some reason I knew the letdown was coming. Even as I saw it happening I couldn’t turn away. It was like watching a train wreck where you want to look away, but try as you might, you just can’t do it. I was talking to my buddy Gopher during the game and while he was running around his living room when the Jagr walked around the cage and rifled a wrister past Fleury for the tying goal, I said to Gopher “Remember that letdown I’ve been harping on? You’ve now witnessed it first hand.”

Michael Therrien immediately calls a time out, which was obviously the correct move as the Rangers tied the game in just over a minute. You’d think the time out would have been a wake up call to the Pens. Nope. They came out after the breather just as flat as they had started the period and if not for the sweet sweet sound of iron, the Rangers would have led 4-3 and I would have been throwing things. Instead, the puck rings out and a couple minutes later Ryan Hollweg takes a completely stupid boarding penalty and Malkin comes to the rescue once again.

That was the key moment in the game tonight. I work right up the street from MSG and I felt the wind blow immediately after the Malkin goal. My theory is that the breeze that went by was the rush of air being let out of the arena. It was that huge.

The Pens then come out in the third period and played the same lock down defense they played in Game 2 and got the insurance marker to put us up 5-3.

You could see the Rangers just weren’t skating the way they had for the first two periods. They had accepted that they were losing this game and were just going through the motions. Their power play was atrocious in the third period. All five guys were just standing around playing patty-cake with each other. There was no passion, no effort. I’m not complaining as a Pens fan, just merely stating what I saw.

All I wanted in NY was a split and we’ve already earned it. Now we have a chance to make quick work of the Rangers and rest up for either Montreal or Philadelphia. I’m not overlooking the fact that twice in NHL history a team has come back from an 0-3 hole to win the series and the Pens were one of those team that have blown the lead. This series is not over. We need to come out in Game 4 and weather the storm again, bide our time and play our game. If we do that, we just might pull off the sweep.


As stated above here's some thoughts about other stories in sports right now.

Roger Clemens

Has anyone ever had this big of a fall from grace? To compare this sports icon's fall from the top you'd have to look to the likes of Britney Spears. Both were near the top of their respective games, only to see them go into a tail spin that has no bottom in sight.

We recently find out that Roger Clemens might not just be lying about juicing up since he left Boston. Now, he's apparently had an affair with country music singer Mindy McCreedy. No big deal right? Just another famous person having an affair. Here's the golden nugget that had me rather disgusted as well as most of the people who read about or saw this on SportsCenter.

Allegedly now and unconfirmed, but rumor has it that the Rocket was nailing her before she could have appeared on MTV's "My Super Sweet 16." Might be a little too vague there, but in case you didn't get the joke....SHE MAY HAVE BEEN AS YOUNG AS 15 YEARS OLD!

Here's what she looks like now. Mugshot Goodness!! I don't care who you are, if I woke up next to that in the morning I'd be in my car speeding away in such a way that would make Dale Earnhardt Jr. jealous.

I really hope that this turns out to be false, because I really hate seeing people fall from their ivory towers. Really, I do. I don't wish bad things on anyone, even if that person left my favorite team and left me with some bad blood. I only hoped that his career numbers would continue to plummet like they were in his last year in Boston, never did I imagine this would happen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Top 5 Disappointments Of The Playoffs (So Far)

I was sitting around thinking the other day about some of the biggest surprises of the first round so far and why I'm giddy as a Pens fan. I figured that would be good for a later post and started thinking about the flip side of that scenario being the biggest disappointments of the playoffs so far. After running this by Gopher and bouncing off my few ideas and with some of his own I narrowed the list down to a cool five. Here they are:

#5 - Martin Brodeur's Play Against The Rangers

Has he ever played a worse playoff series in his career? I don't think so. Go back to the two blunders he had in Game 1 on home ice. With the score tied in the third period and on the power play, Brodeur either had a massive brain lapse or was his typical cocky puck playing self. (Yes, he's one of the best puck handling goalies in the league, but he gets a little over-confident some times.)

With Ryan Callahan curling around the net, Brodeur drops the puck in his crease about a foot from the goalline thinking that the man coming around the net was his defenseman only to see Callahan hack it into the net for a backbreaking shorthanded goal.

As if it wasn't bad enough, later in the same period Brodeur overplays Scott Gomez on a 2-on-1. Gomez was practically in the 5th row of the crowd when he realized Brodeur was staring him in the face and not in the crease when he passed it out front to Sean Avery for an easy tap in goal to pad the lead.

These are just two examples of his poor play in this series. A majority of the goals he allowed in this series were pucks he should have stopped or were pucks that had no business being in the net. Did Avery's antics really get into his head that bad, or is this just the first signs of an aging goaltender in the new NHL? Time will only tell, but needless to say this was not the Brodeur we are all used to seeing at this time of year.

#4 - The Dominator Becomes The Dominated

This is pretty self explanatory, but can you really blame Mike Babcock for turning to Chris Osgood this soon? I think I saw Hasek filling out his AARP membership info during Game 6 against Nashville.

He was brutal in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville. He singlehandedly put Hockeytown into a state of panic not seen since the Sharks upset them many a moon ago. I enjoyed watching Hasek play during his career, but I hate seeing athletes hang on too long. Look at Jerry Rice, does it get much worse than seeing a Hall of Famer be cut and no one pick him up and then see him have success on "Dancing With The Stars?" I don't think so.

This needs to be Hasek's last season. Yes he put up great numbers this season, but honestly put a pylon in net and the wings still win at least 48-52 games. That team is loaded and is a well oiled machine. The Wings have a very capable goalie in Jimmy Howard waiting in the wings for his turn. He's the future of this franchise and has proven that he can play at the NHL level when he filled in for the osteoporosis-ridden Hasek earlier this season.

#3 - Carey Price Is Either On Or Can't Stop A Beachball

I hate to see someone struggle like this and for me to have to come on here and say "I told you so," but here it is. I TOLD YOU SO.

Carey Price looked great for five of the seven games against Boston. Games 5 and 6 were terrible where he gave up 10 goals in those two games and allowed Boston to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 in the series. Now I haven't been able to figure out if his shutout in Game 7 is anything to be overly excited about as the Bruins had absolutely nothing left in the tank for that game. Price did have some great saves in the game, but his team had already spotted him a 3 goal lead before anything he did mattered.

Flash ahead to the current series against Philadelphia. He hasn't looked solid in any of the first three games and was pulled in Game 3 after the second period. He let up three goals on 12 shots and was replaced by Jaroslav Halak who didn't allow a goal in the third period as the Habs almost forced overtime after heading into the final period down 3-0.

Who will be in net for Game 4? If I'm running the show I go with Halak. You can't waste time waiting for a kid to show up and play like we all know he's capable of playing. I've said this before. I like Price. I really do, but the inexperience of a 21-year-old kid playing in Montreal with the hopes of all of Canada on his shoulders right now to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada, is starting to show.

The backbreaking goal he allowed in Game 2 in the third period had no business being scored. On a floating puck in the air he nonchalantly put his glove out to catch it only to see it batted out of his glove and then into the net. You have to fight for that puck at all times as a goalie. Maybe he'll turn it around, but he's got to do it quick if the Habs are going to keep advancing in the playoffs.

#2 What's Up With San Jose?

I felt obliged to put this in near the top of the list since I picked them to win the Stanley Cup.

I don't quite get it. This team was the hottest of any team heading into the playoffs, but has been just good enough to advance. The one game that sticks out in my mind was when they ran Kipper from the net in Calgary with three goals in less than four minutes. Things looked great for the Sharks in that game and then it all fell apart as they went on to lose the game.

You can't blow three goal leads in the playoffs and expect to win. Ask the Rangers about how Game 1 against Pittsburgh turned out after they did the exact same thing.

Now they find themselves down 0-2 against the Stars and heading BACK TO DALLAS for the next two games. The Stars have completely dominated the first two games of this series and I wonder if San Jose is feeling some fatigue from playing a very physical seven game series against the Flames.

This team has no business losing like this. They are too deep and too good of a team to be tossed around like this.

#1 - Anaheim Ducks Made The Playoffs?

Boy I bet Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne are glad they came out of semi-retirement for this splendid Stanley Cup defense.

What a pathetic showing from the defending champs against the Stars who were one of the coldest most out of sync teams heading into the playoffs. It was almost like the Ducks expected to win and didn't put any effort into doing so.

J.S. Giguere was solid in only two games and those were the two they ended up winning.

The Stars controlled this series from the opening puck drop and the added boost of knocking off the defending champs has carried over into their series with the Sharks. I can't believe how the Ducks rolled over in this series. You can't take anything for granted in the playoffs even as the defending champs. With the way the Ducks played in the first round, I wouldn't have been surprised if the Lightning could have knocked them out. (Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch, but come on this was almost as bad as how the Senators played against the Penguins.)

The only thing I can come up with is that someone had really good tee times at Pebble Beach that making a run at defending the Stanley Cup was an afterthought.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pens Win Game 2, Lead Series 2-0

What a ride we’re on right now and I hope it doesn’t end for quite some time. I was out of town for the last couple days which is why there is nothing up about Game 1. I was attending my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary party, but fear not. I had up to the minute scoring updates throughout the evening thanks to a Blackberry.

I began that night rather annoyed to see the Pens go down 3-0 in the second, but finished the night giddy as a schoolgirl when a shot by Sidney Crosby deflected off Evgeni Malkin into the net with 1:40 to play.

For today’s game I had to head to work after the first intermission. I woke up in time for the opening puck drop, sweated out the first period then listened to the second period in the car and saw the third period from my desk. That’s dedication right there for you.

Anyway, the Rangers seemed to be sloppy and flat for most of the game today. If it wasn’t for Henrik Lundqvist, this game could have been a laugher instead of a very close 1-0 game that became 2-0 with an empty net goal. I was talking to my buddy Gopher during most of the game as he is a Ranger fan and he was about ready to hurt someone by the end of the game.

Marc-Andre Fleury played well, but did not have to be spectacular. The Penguins defense was much improved from Game 1 and looked much more like the unit that swept away the Senators in round one. Sticks and bodies were in the passing lanes and many shots were kept to the outside. I can only think of about 3-4 really good chances that the Rangers had in this game.

There was a noticeable effort by the Penguins today to go upstairs on Lundqvist. The kid is tough to beat down low and is very good at picking up pucks through traffic. He saw yet another stellar effort in goal go to waste as his team up front couldn’t get anything going in the game. In the middle of the third period Gopher said to me “We are an entirely different team when we crash the net.”

I responded: “You’re right, you guys aren’t a finesse team like the Penguins are.”

Gopher: “Nope, but we think we are.”

That got me to thinking and watching the Rangers play with a more critical eye while popping Tums as the seconds ticked on by in the third. The Rangers were happy to try and take pucks to the net through 4 defenders or make high risk passes into traffic, rather than throwing the puck on goal and crash for rebounds. Fleury had next to no traffic in front of him for most of the game and when you don’t get traffic at this time of year, you’re not going to win many games.

Key example of this from today’s game was when the Rangers appeared to have tied the game late in the third period. Rangers throw it to the cage and finally showing some desperation, start hacking at Fleury like there is no tomorrow. Dan O’Hallaran blows the play dead as the puck squirts through Fleury and into the net. Goal doesn’t count as the whistle blew before the puck crossed the line, but that should show something to the Rangers. If it doesn’t, the Pens are going to roll in this series.

Here's the highlights:

As for my boys today, they showed that they can win a tight checking 1-0 game. This little fact proven today is the key difference between this year’s squad and last year’s team. You can cite experience all you want and I agree with you to a point, but last year the baby Pens couldn’t win a low scoring game. They needed to score 4-5 goals a game to have a shot. This year however, they have the team and the players to shut the opposition down and kill the clock.

I nearly punched my girlfriend in the face while we were driving into work today when Jordan Staal broke the tie in the second period. When I finally saw the replay of the goal while at work, my jaw hit the desk. Malkin made one heck of a play to get that puck to Staal who had the presence of mind to pull that puck back to his forehand and put a hurting on the water-bottle to send the Igloo into a frenzy.

Game 3 is Tuesday night back in New York and I’m only asking one thing from the Pens over these next two games. Win at least one of the next two. I want a split at worst at Madison Square Garden and that might be a lot to ask for. The Penguins lost all four meetings at MSG this season and looked terrible in the last two meetings there. If I remember right, in one of those games the Penguins only had a handful of shots through two periods and barely broke double digits for the game. Granted the Pens team in those games wasn’t near the same team that is playing right now, but they cannot sit and be content with a 2-0 series lead. This is a very dangerous Rangers team that will no doubt come out flying in Game 3. The Pens will have to weather the storm early, much like they did in the first round against Ottawa.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Second Round Analysis

The second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs gets underway tonight and I couldn't be happier about it.

We had a couple of surprises in the first round that are worth mentioning. First off congrats to the Boston Bruins for showing some fight and forcing a Game 7 after bing down 3-1 in the series. There seems to be a bright future in Boston and they have nothing to hang their heads about.

Secondly, what was up with the Anaheim Ducks? Of course it's harder than ever to repeat as champs now, but the effort just didn't seem to consistently be there against the Stars. The two games they actually showed up for they won and the second of which they were still badly outshot.

Lastly, we learned that assembling a Stanley Cup champion team from several years ago might actually be a good move after all. The Colorado Avalanche looked pretty good against the defensive minded Minnesota Wild and Jose Theodore was brilliant between the pipes.

With that said, let's take a look at how my predictions from the first round went.

I nailed the Eastern Conference dead on and even hit the exact amount of games correctly in the Philadelphia/Washington series. Out west was a different story where I went 2/4 giving me a grand total of 6 out of 8 correct picks. Not too shabby I suppose. Since I hit the East dead on, I feel obligated to defend the playoff pool picks, so without further ado here's my analysis and predictions for the second round in both conferences.

Eastern Conference

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

Rather than use the old format of why each wins and such I'll just do this quick hitter style.

The Flyers will be without veteran leader and one of their top scorers in Mike Knuble who went down in Game 5 against the Caps with a partially torn hamstring. According to, Knuble is working to get back on the ice for this series, but it's going to depend on how quickly he heals. Without him it's going to be tough for the Flyers to knock off the top team in the East.

Carey Price nearly made me look like a genius. If you'll recall, in the Eastern Conference breakdown I did I said the reason the Habs wouldn't win would be because of this kid. He nearly proved me right too. He looked solid in net for the first four games of the series. Then Games 5 and 6 he might not have been able to stop a beachball as he gave up 10 goals in two games. As a Pens fan I started cheering for Boston to win Game 7 so we'd play them in the next round. Price settled down and the Habs won 5-0 in a game where the scoreboard doesn't reflect how close the game was.

The key for the Habs in this series is that Price cannot have a funk like this again if the Habs are going to make a deep run. They should win this series rather easily as they are a more deep team than the Caps were and are just as fast if not faster.

For the Flyers, they are going to have to suffocate their opponent in the defensive end. They did a good job of limiting the damage Alexander Ovechkin and Co. did against them and that's why they prevailed in the series. They have a decisive edge when you look at physicality and will have to jump on the Habs early by hitting anything that moves to make their forwards think twice about touching the puck. If they can do that the Flyers might have a chance at the upset.

Bottom Line: The Canadiens looked vulnerable at times against the Bruins, but I don't think the Flyers are the team who can exploit those weaknesses and win four games from it. If Price stays sharp this is over quick. Canadiens win in 5.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 New York Rangers

Did I predict this would happen? Yes. Am I happy it turned out this way? I don't know. As a Pens fan I much rather would have seen the Caps or Bruins who played very tough and demanding seven game series and I think we could have easily skated past both of them as we're well rested after a quick sweep of the Sens.

The Rangers looked impressive against the Devils in their first round series, but I question just how good they were. I really think it would have been a much longer series than five games had Martin Brodeur not allowed about 7 soft goals that come to mind. Specifically Game 1 where he inexplicably left a puck sitting a foot from the goal-line in his crease thinking that the Rangers' player skating by was a teammate only to see it end up in the back of his net. Brodeur looked awful for most of this series and awful goaltending does not win you games in the playoffs.

The Devils aside, the Rangers have been a much improved team down th stretch and so far in the playoffs than they were for most of the season. Henrik Lundqvist appears to have returned to the Vezina Trophy form we all knew he was capable of, but the big question that looms in this series is can their defense slow down the speedy Penguins? If they can the Rangers could win this series.

For the Penguins this comes down to one key. Don't let Sean Avery have his way on the ice. This guy should be inducted into the Pests In Sports Hall Of Fame. The Penguins cannot take stupid penalties because they are frustrated with Sean Avery. The Devils did it and were gone in five games.

The Pens have a much deeper team on offense and have a much different team than the one the Rangers saw throughout the season eight times. They are a healthy bunch with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoring points at will it seems like. Marian Hossa was amazing in the first round even if he doesn't have the point total to show that. He's been buzzing around the net and eventually that will pay off. Also, Marc-Andre Fleury looks like an entirely different goalie than he did even before he had the high-ankle sprain. He's been fantastic down the stretch and so far in the playoffs. He will need to keep it up and know that JAGR ONLY SHOOTS FROM THE RIGHT FACE-OFF DOT. THAT'S IT! THAT'S THE ONLY PLACE HE EVER SHOOTS FROM! BE AWARE OF IT!

I honestly don't know how the scouting report on Jagr doesn't say that exact same thing. It boggles my mind how teams let him shoot from there all day long. He did it in Pittsburgh too. It's always been his "spot."

Bottom line: Jagr returns to Pittsburgh for the first time in the playoffs and will see his arch enemy Hal Gill. Think I'm joking? Few years back Jagr publicly admitted that he hates playing against Gill because his big frame shuts him down. There will be no rust factor that will give either side an edge. Both sides have had long layoffs and are anxious to get back on the ice. To me, the Penguins have too much firepower and are playing their best hockey of the season. There's a reason they're the division champs and it will show in this series. This next line is for Gopher. Pray Marek Malik doesn't make an appearance in this series or you and your Rangers will be weeping. Penguins win in 7.

Western Conference

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

A month or so ago I did up a post on first round nightmare scenarios. This is the series I picked involving the Red Wings. Granted it didn't happen in the first round, but even if you're not a fan of these teams you have to be jacked up about this series.

This series will get nasty and get nasty very quick. To say these two teams loathe each other would be an understatement. I don't particularly think either side has as much physical presence as they did for their first few playoff match-ups, but the Wings have guys like Chris Chelios who like to bring the pain so everyone is going to have to keep their head on a swivel.

For the Avalanche to pull off the upset, they are going to need Jose Theodore to steal a couple games. He did it against the Wild and might just be playing the best hockey we've seen him play since his days in Montreal. Guys like Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny are going to need to step up big time in this series and the Avs d-corps is going to have to figure out a way to slow down Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

For the Wings it starts and ends in net. Hasek was brutal in Games 3 and 4 and Mike Babcock wasted no time in going to Chris Osgood who played well in the final two games of the series. I haven't trusted this goaltending duo since day one this year and I'm still suspect of how those old bones are holding up after a total of 88 games so far this season.

The only way I see the Wings losing this series is if they beat themselves or get too wrapped up in the rivalry and start taking unnecessary shots at the Avs.

Bottom Line The Wings are too good of a team for the Avs to handle. As much as I'd like to pick the Avalanche to win this series to further fuel the rivalry, I just can't do it. The Wings have more firepower up front and have a veteran defensive corps led by Nick Lidstrom who's once again up for the Norris Trophy. Wings win in 6.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

Now I'm torn on this one. On the one hand I picked San Jose to win the Stanley Cup this year. On the other you have a team that dispatched the defending champs in rather easy fashion. This is a tough one.

The Stars finally snapped out of whatever funk they were in down the stretch and made the Ducks look silly in their series. I will say this though, had they lost Game 6 at home, I wouldn't be sitting here typing about the Stars. There is no way they win Game 7 in Anaheim. None.

Anyway, Marty Turco wasn't brilliant in net, but he didn't have to be. When your team puts up 4-5 goals a game you can afford to give up a goal or two. He will have to be spectacular against the Sharks or the Stars will ride off into the Texas sunset.

For the Sharks it's very simple. Take the lessons learned against Calgary and apply them to the Stars. The big wake-up call in this series was Game 3. San Jose chased Kipper from the net with three goals in under four minutes of play only to see the Flames storm back and win.

Going down 2-1 in the series right then and there and then coming back to eventually win in seven games is the kind of adversity championship teams have to overcome. They earned the right to be in the second round and it's time to prove that they belong.

Jonathan Cheechoo may not have even combined over the last two years to equal his single season goal mark of 56 in 2005-06 and if he has it's gotta be real close, but he showed signs of life against the Flames. The big question for the Stars is can they contain Joe Thornton. San Jose's offense more or less starts and stops with Big Joe. If the Stars limit his chances and get sticks and bodies in his passing lanes, they could pull this off.

Bottom Line: If I hadn't taken the Sharks to win the cup I'd be picking the Stars in this series. The Sharks have underachieved every time they are a favorite or a Cup contender and eventually that will come back to haunt them and me. Sharks win in 6.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Martin Brodeur Is No Better Than Sean Avery

The title on this should be self explanatory, but I'll go into some detail here. Before that, I must apologize for not getting something new up here in a few days. I had a buddy in town for all of last week and it was rather difficult to find the time to be able to sit down and write something up. He left yesterday and now here I am once again.

Anyway, Friday night after the Rangers had turned any normal day into one of my favorite holidays (Devils Elimination Day), Martin Brodeur did one of the most classless acts I have ever seen. I'm not saying this is as bad as Todd Bertuzzi or Marty McSorley, but it's close in terms of tradition.

In the handshake line, Brodeur and Sean Avery gradually got closer and closer. The cameras were fixated on the two as if it was a foregone conclusion that something would go down and it did.

Sean Avery extends his hand to Brodeur and Marty takes the low road and skates on by without accepting the handshake.

I have a serious problem with this. The handshake is one of the longest standing and greatest tradition that the NHL has. How many other professional American sports have this in place? One. The NFL, and even that is just one big sausage fest of hugging. If the teams are going to hug like that after battling each other, here's what I propose.

You get the cheerleaders to travel to road games. You have them compete against each other at halftime. Make it a quick 10 minute game of flag football. You keep records and standings just like you would for the NFL. Once the 10 minute game is over, the girls can hug it out. I can tell you right now that the lines at the urinal would be rather short at the half.

Furthermore, the Super Bowl halftime show continues to get worse and worse every year. I didn't like it when MTV had it before the infamous wardrobe malfunction and I don't like the watered down version we get every year now. Here's how you make the Super Bowl halftime show amazing.

Remember those standings from the cheerleader flag football? You take the top 2 records from the season and have them play a 30 minute game for all the marbles. It can be 30 minutes since halftime at the Super Bowl is about 2 hours long anyway. Once it's over you have a trophy presentation and one final Super Hugoff.

Anyway, back to hockey. The handshake line is one of the greatest sights in all of sports in my opinion. It's a symbol of tradition as guys who battled hard for upwards of seven games meet at center ice to man up one final time. You extend your hand to the guy as a sign of respect for a tough battle. In the handshake line, it doesn't matter who won or lost. All that matters is the respect among warriors.

What Brodeur did was the equivalent of a little kid throwing a temper tantrum when their parents took their favorite toy away. Do I see where Brodeur is coming from on this? Of course, especially after what Avery did in Game 3. Upon further review, I have a slight issue with the stick wagging, but still have no problem with how he as screening Brodeur face to face. None at all.

Brodeur gets all this talk and praise for being such a nice guy and a class act. This now makes two instances where I have lost even more respect for him. The first was two years ago at their practice rink. My parents came down for my father's birthday and we went to a Penguins/Devils game at the old Continental Airlines Arena. The Penguins won, which I was obviously happy about.

The next day we went to the rink where the Devils used to practice to try and get an autograph or a picture for my father. Every player who came off the ice that day stopped to sign stuff for the little kids and whoever wanted one. Not Marty. Brodeur walked right by and was halfway to the locker room when the screaming kids got in his head.

He turned around with an annoyed look on his face, walked back over to where we were standing and sign four things. I'll repeat that. Four. Then walked away. He actually took the card I had, looked at it and handed it back to me and then walked off without signing it. That would have been one of the best gifts I could have ever gotten my father and Marty screwed me and all the kids who look up to him that day.

Maybe he's just getting cranky in his old age and was annoyed that he let up way too many soft goals in the series. I don't know, but it was a disgrace to see him skate past an outstretched hand.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pens Bust Out The Brooms

Going to keep this relatively short today as I'm still too giddy to really write anything. I went to bad last night thinking that they couldn't possibly have swept the Ottawa Senators after being dispatched in five games last season.

I woke up today and had to check the scoreboards just to make sure that what happened last night, actually happened.

I can't get over how much improved the Penguins are from last year. They have a sense of purpose this year, an almost undeniable sense of the moment. You can see it in their eyes on the bench. They know they have the chance to do something special this season, just how special remains to be seen.

The only thing I don't like about the Penguins brushing the Senators under the rug is that they will have about a week off or so between games. Who they will play in the next round remains to be seen as the Devils/Rangers and Capitals/Flyers series are shaping up to be long ones. (Yes, I'm aware that the Devils are down 3-1, but do you really think they won't show up at home in front of the 12 fans who will come out to the game and attempt to defend their home ice?)

The Pens have looked sharp this entire series and proved that they can win a tight game in the playoffs. They also showed that they have a killer instinct and won't mess around when it comes to putting the final nail in the coffin.

Last night in Game 4, the Pens led 2-1 heading into the third. There comes a time in every rod playoff game that you have to weather the storm and since the Pens dominated the first two periods, that time became the third period.

In the third period, the Senators came out with a desperation that was unseen for most of the series. They outshot the Penguins 9-3 in the third and Marc-Andre Fleury had to make a couple of sparking saves to preserve the lead. The Senators pulled Martin Gerber with about 90 seconds to play and kept the puck in the Pens' end for most of it, but how fitting is it that a loose puck pops in the air right to Sidney Crosby who took off up ice and deposited the puck into the empty cage? Sens fans booed Sid every time he touched the puck and if there was a better way to give the proverbial middle finger to the crowd, I'd like to know what it is.

Here's the highlights from the game:

Just throwing this out there, but Jarkko Ruutu may be one of the most under rated guys in the league. Coach Michael Therrien uses him in shootouts often and for good reason. That goal he scored last night should not have been scored by an enforcer type like him. I was at a Penguins game last January with Cheech and Ruutu was awarded a penalty shot and made it look easy as he stuffed it behind Andrew Raycroft.

This is a much different team than last year and they've elevated their play to a level unseen in the regular season. It's scary how much the team is focussed and driven to avenge last season. Now that they have, they need to keep the same focus heading into the second round against whoever they end up playing. I know I won't be happy with a second round exit and neither will they.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sean Avery Rule

By now I'm sure you've all seen the highlights of New York Rangers pest, Sean Avery standing in front of Martin Brodeur wagging his stick and such.

If not, here you go and keep your eye on the front of the net:

Since this move the NHL has decided to change the rules on the fly and institute the "Sean Avery" rule where that is now a penalty. The NHL is calling this an intent to instigate an opponent into taking a penalty.

I am in total disagreement with the league on this one for a couple reasons.

First off, there was no rule until 48 hours ago about standing face to face with the goalie to screen him the way Avery was in Game 3. Now, the NHL closed the "loophole" in the middle of the playoffs. If the league has a problem with what happened you address it after the season. You can't go changing or amending the rules in the middle of the playoffs like they did.

Secondly, I don't see what the big deal is. If you are dumb enough to stand with you back to the play knowing that heavy shots are coming your way, go ahead and do it. Also, if you've got the testicular fortitude to stand there like that you should be able to.

It's not like Avery was touching Brodeur or hindering his movement at all. I used to play goal and if someone was screening me, I moved him out of the way. It doesn't take much to move a guy out of the way. A quick little chop at his skate blades and the way is clear again.

If someone was ever standing face to face with me, I'd do the same thing. I also played forward for much of my playing days and after seeing Avery do that, I thought to myself "Why didn't I ever think of that?"

It's such a simple concept. What is the big deal with standing face to face with the goalie so you can see his eyes and know where he's trying to find the puck? If guys are allowed to stand at the top of he crease and block the goalie's sight-line, why does it matter if he's sticking his rear end in his face or standing face to face? A screen is a screen.

It will be interesting to see how Avery is dealt with in Game 4 tonight. As a Penguins fan I don't really like the guy, but I know if he was on the Pens he'd be one of my favorite players in no time. You can hate on Avery all you want, but I'd be willing to bet that most of you would like him too if he suited up for your club.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Penguins vs. Senators Game 3

OK so since I'm admittedly a huge Penguins fan I decided to do something I did a couple years back with the Stanley Cup Finals. I'm going to try the best I can to keep a running log of my emotions and reactions to things going on during the game.

6:30pm - Half hour until the puck drops. This will be the first game I've actually been able to watch in this series because I had to work during Game 1 and had a previous engagement during Game 2. I've got the day off today due to a buddy from back home being in town for the week and staying with us. This should be a fun one tonight.

7:00pm - The hockey package just kicked in and we've got the CBC feed tonight. which means Jim Husson will be the play by play guy. Opening montage showing highlights from the first two games is pretty sweet. CBC reporting that Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson will play tonight.

7:04 - On ice ceremony begins with a Roman Empire type theme. A senator is standing at center ice with a shield and sword giving one hell of a battle cry speech. This may have been the coolest team entrance in the history of hockey. Wow.

7:08 - National anthem time. United States up first. This guy singing has a great booming voice. I'm impressed. Fans respectful, which is good.

7:10 - Canadian national anthem. Mix of English and French....and the fans just took it over. I love when the fans sing the national anthem like that. I seriously get chills. We're going to the puck drop right now.

7:13 - Devorski and Leggo calling the game. Puck drops and the Sens win it. We're under way in Ottawa.

7:14 - Alfredsson makes his 2008 playoff debut to a standing ovation. Sens with the first shot and Fleury covers.

7:15 - Chris Neil runs own Kris Letang in the corner and while on the ice he punches him in the face. Power play Penguins. Come on boys, let's get one.

7:17 - Hossa in clean, slapper...POST! Soo close. Pens back in the zone, couple good saves by Gerber.

7:18 - Penalty killed, Pens with a couple good chances. As the penalty expires Dupuis lets a rocket go and Gerber eats it up.

7:19 - Max Talbot runs into Gerber while going for a loose puck. Gerber and Talbot both going for the puck. Power play Senators.

7:21 - Fleury makes two solid saves during the kill. The second one was on a rebound chance by Alfredsson who is looking good in his first game back since getting his bell rung by Mark Bell of Toronto.

7:23 - Fast pace to start the game as we head to the first commercial break of the evening. Penguins kill the penalty and only surrender one good scoring chance. The penalty kill has been much improved since getting Hal Gill and Pascal Dupuis. It's going to have to be good if they want to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

7:28 - It looks as if the Penguins are trying to weather the storm right now. It's been pretty much all Ottawa so far. Fans chanting Fleury's name for the first time tonight.

7:31 - Pens generating a couple more chances now. Fleury is standing tall and keeping Ottawa off the board in this crucial time of the game, stopping 11 shots so far.

7:37 - Hitting is picking up as the pace is slowing just a bit. Gonchas just threw a huge hit in the offensive zone. Yeah, Gonchar...who knew right?

7:42 - Penalty on Ottawa. Donovan lost his stick and ripped Ruutu's stick away. Donovan sits fr 2 minutes.

7:44 - Gerber absolutely tones Malone from point blank range with the glove. Nice save. Pens best chance so far.

7:45 - Penalty killed. Pens being too passive on the power play. Plenty of chances to just put it on net and they elected to pass. I'm not exactly happy with how the second half of the power play went.

7:47 - Massive scrum in front of Fleury with three Senators hacking at it. No idea how it doesn't go in.

7:49 - First period comes to a close. The Pens seem to be finding some space now and are attacking the net much better than they were to start the game. Fleury is the hands down star of the period. After one period your score is 0-0.

8:01: Don Cherry has me near tears from laughing so hard. They just showed two clips of Marc Savard looking at his stick and caressing the blade on the bench. Don narrates "see what he's saying there....I love you.....I'll stroke you. You kids out there, pay attention. Take care of your sticks, they cost a lot of money."

8:07 - Second period underway.

8:09 - Bouncing puck eludes Whitney, Foligno picks up the puck and fires it through the legs of Fleury. 1-0 Senators.

8:11- Pens fourth line forces three turnovers in the offensive zone and force Gerber to make a couple solid saves.

8:16-SCCCCOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! MAX TALBOT GOES 5-HOLE ON A BRILLIANT MOVE!!! 1-1!! Announcers were just talking about how the Senators goal seemed to wake up the Pens who are now skating harder and making crisper passes.

8:23 - Talbot is being rewarded with more ice time as he has had a ton of chances so far this period along with the rest of the fourth line in Ruutu and Laraque.

8:26 - Penguins are controlling the play right now. Gonchar had a great chance after dancing his way into the slot, but refused to shoot the puck. The Sykora, Malone, Malkin line is starting to come on as well. Pens going on the PP again after Neil takes another dumb penalty.

8:31 - Massive pile in front of Gerber. Leggo blows it dead as the puck was still free from the tv camera angle. Letang fires into the net, but it obviously doesn't count. Bunch of penalties assessed during the scrum and the Pens will have another power play as a result.

8:35 - Puck worked down low to Hossa who tried to tap in a puck that bounced through and off the post. Pens soo close once again.

8:40 - Wow is the pace picking up again and just like the first period, the hitting has picked up as well. Lots of bodies being crunched into the boards. Man do I love playoff hockey!

8:46 - 27-26 in shots at the end of the second period in favor of the Senators. My heart is racing and I think I'm going to be sick from all the nerves. There's something not right about that, but I don't care, I'm a die-hard fan and live and die with every second that passes during games. Need to go take a walk to calm down a bit after a pretty even period.

9:03 - Time to strap in for what should be a great third period.


9:07 - SCOOOOOORRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! JORDAN STAAL TIPS ONE BEHIND GERBER AND IT'S 3-1!!! Goal scored at 1:11 of the period. What a start to the third period for my boys!!!

9:09 - Chris Neil does it again. His third dumb penalty of the game. Eventually this will come back to haunt them and already down two goals this could be fatal. Play under review to see if it's 3-2 after Fleury got plowed into.

9:10 - Leggo waives it off. No goal. YAY!

9:13 - Gonchar is going to be a hated man by the rink crew after that power play. Three slappers from the point leave welts in the endboards. At least he's shooting now though, so I can't complain too much.

9:14 - Dave Nonis fired as Canucks GM. Wonder if that's because he couldn't make a deadline deal for someone who could actually score.

9:15 - What a scrum in front of Fleury who somehow made about 4 saves while on his stomach in the crease. I'm sitting on pins and needles here. This clock needs to start moving a lot faster. Penalty on the Penguins during the scrum and the Senators will get a chance to cut the lead to 1 goal.

9:18 - Two penalties on Ottawa. Staal gets a stick to the face resulting in a 4-minute penalty and Malone gets tripped up in the neutral zone. As a result it's a 4-on-3 powerplay for the Penguins. A goal here could quite possibly end this game and make me very happy.

9:23 - Whitney returns to the ice and it's now 5-on-3. Great chance at the side of the net gets blown dead by a quick whistle. The Penguins decide to call timeout to keep the top unit on the ice.

9:25 - SCCCCOOOORRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! WELCOME TO PITTSBURGH MARIAN HOSSA!!!!! A POWER PLAY GOAL AND IT'S 4-1 PENS! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! This is one guy I've wanted to see get one for a while. He's had soo many chances in this series so far and one finally goes in.

9:28 - TV timeout with 8:55 to play. I'm starting to be able to taste a 3-0 series lead, but I refuse to say that this game is over. Until the clock reads 00:00 I'm not celebrating.

9:33 - Pens are now playing shut down hockey and seem to be content with just dumping the puck in the corner and letting the Sens skate 200 feet. 6:00 left in the period, which is good because I haven't eaten dinner yet and I'm sure that's playing into my upset stomach right now.

9:40 - Two minutes left. Still not getting excited.

9:41 - One minute left in the third. Getting closer.....


What a game! I was nervous as all hell heading into the third period, but Sidney Crosby eased my fears with that goal just 12 seconds into the period. Now we will have a chance on Wednesday night to send the Senators packing. I'll be at work, but I'm going to seek out a broom in the building just in case.

This was a lot of fun for me and I hope you enjoyed it even if you're a Senators fan.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Full Playoff Pool Type Predictions

OK, these last couple of days have been crazy busy for me. I won't bore you with the details, but I wanted to get this up before the first round got too deep in and then I'd look like a moron.

Normally every year I ran a NHL playoff pool. None of this round by round stuff like you all do in your NFL pools. This is exactly like an NCAA basketball pool. I must say, I usually am pretty close on these. Came in second the last time I hosted the pool two years ago before we all graduated from college. I don't run it anymore because I can't get the money from people and it's just a pain. Someday I'll start it up again.

Anyway, as you've seen from the previous two posts I broke down the first round in both conferences and made predictions about them as well. To continue on with that trend, here's what my picks would have been if I was in a pool this year with just a little explanation about each one. We'll start with what would be my second round and go from there,

But first, a refresher on my first round picks for those of you who are new to the site.

Eastern Conference

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #8 Boston Bruins

Montreal wins in 5. This is such a mismatch it's not even funny and I'd actually be impressed if Boston stretches this to six games.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Ottawa Senators

Penguins win in 6. After a season of growing and thinking about last year, the Penguins are back and much improved. New guns like Marian Hossa and Petr Sykora give this already deep team, another dimension. The Pens will turn the tables on the Sens and skate into the second round.

#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

The Caps are one of the best stories of the year, but the fairy tale ends in the first round. Flyers in 7.

#4 New Jersey Devils vs. #5 New York Rangers

The Devils once again get into the playoffs based on their trap style of play despite having less offensive talent than a pee-wee hockey team. Anyway, the Rangers are playing their best hockey of the season and hold a 7-1 regular season record over the Devils. Rangers win in 6.

Now for the second round predictions.

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

For as good as Philly has been for most of the season (the injuries are the only reason they aren't a higher seed), the Habs are a better rounded team. The Flyers bruising style of play becomes ineffective when you can't catch what you're trying to hit. The Habs have plenty of speed and in this league, speed kills. Montreal in 6.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 New York Rangers

As a Pens fan I'd be a little uneasy about facing this team in the second round. The Pens have been totally shut down at Madison Square Garden the last couple meetings there this season. They also haven't shown the Rangers a full roster all season. As much as I like how the Rangers are playing and how good Henrik Lundqvist is, they have been a very streaky team this season and I'm banking on them going on a cold streak against Pittsburgh. Penguins win in 7.

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #2 Pittsburgh Penguins

This would be a very fun series to see I must admit. Even if you don't like either team you know you'd be glued to the tv for every game. The two teams match up very well against each other, play similar styles and have young goaltenders who will be stars in the league for a long time.

To illustrate how close these teams are, here's the season series.

Oct. 10 - Pens 3 - Habs 2
Oct. 27 - Habs 4 - Pens 3 (Shootout)
Jan. 19 - Pens 2 - Habs 0
Feb. 21 - Pens 5 - Habs 4

All four games were one goal games. The 2-0 Penguins win saw Evgeni Malkin score into an empty net in the dying seconds.

This series will be a fast paced one no doubt. The Canadiens have a great team, but I think the Penguins may have a little bit of a physical edge with guys like Georges Laraque, Jarkko Ruutu and Hal Gill. Pens win in 6.

Western Conference Playoffs

As with the above, here's the quick recap of the picks from the first round out west.

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Nashville Predators

The Predators are a great story this year and shattered expectations, but the Red Wings are too dominant and too deep for the Predators to have a chance in this series. Red Wings win in 5.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Calgary Flames

This will no doubt be a tight checking, defensive battle. San Jose is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs so they get my nod. Sharks win in 6.

#3 Minnesota Avalanche vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

Plain and simple, I like Minnesota's goaltending more than I do Colorado's. The Wild play a fairly defensive style and should be able to slow down Peter Forsberg and the Avs. Wild win in 7.

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

The Stars lead the regular season series, but the Ducks currently hold the cup and that's why I give them the edge here in what will be a fantastic series. Ducks win in 6.

Second Round

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #4 Anaheim Ducks

I know what you're thinking. "Way to take all the favorites in the first round." Funny you should say that, I want to see this matchup because I think the Ducks may be the only team in the league that could not only slow down the Wings with their physical play, but also take them out. Ducks win in 7.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Minnesota Wild

I question if the Wild would have been able to win a series in the first round without home ice and again, the Sharks are too hot to not think they'd go far. Sharks win in 5.

Western Conference Finals

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #4 Anaheim Ducks

An all California Western Conference Finals. This could be one of the greatest series of all-time if it actually happens. (Remember, these are just one slightly demented man's picks based on some personal preference and a lot of nights watching hockey alone while his girlfriend wonders if she's dating a man or the NHL Center Ice package.)

If this happens I'll go into more detail, but I think the Sharks finally get over the hump and represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Sharks win in overtime in Game 7.

Stanley Cup Finals

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #2 San Jose Sharks

As much as I'd like to annoy everyone and take the homer pick and say the Penguins will win the Cup this season, none of you would ever read this again and I don't want that.

Also, I think the Western Conference is a much better conference than the East in terms of talent. The Penguins have a legit chance for the first time in many years, but the Sharks have an edge in the defensive aspect of the game and in net. The Penguins have the hands down offensive edge, but in this league defense wins championships.

The San Jose Sharks in my opinion will be the 2007-2008 Stanley Cup Champions. It won't be an easy finals against the Penguins, but I see it going 6 games.

There you have it, my full out predictions of how the playoffs will turn out. I'll use this as a measuring stick as the playoffs go along and also do more round by round breakdowns like the previous two posts. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Western Conference Quarterfinals Playoff Breakdown

As promised yesterday, here is the breakdown of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

The Western Conference in my opinion is going to be a little harder to predict as almost any team could represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals, but let's get right into it.

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs #8 Nashville Predators

I can't believe I'm actually sitting here staring at this matchup. I thought for sure that with losing guys like Paul Kariya Kimmo Timmonen and Tomas Vokoun that this team wouldn't even be relevant, but here we are.

Why The Wings Win:

Better question is why don't they win, but we'll get there. This has been the most complete and dominant team in the NHL this season. Yes, the Sharks are probably the hottest team in the world right now, but look at this from a season standpoint.

If the Wings haven't been the number one seed from game one of the season, it had to have taken them at most three or four games to claim that spot and they haven't given it up since.

The play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk has been incredible and guys like Johan Franzen have stepped up and performed well above expectations.

Why They Don't Win: Told you we'd get to this. Anyway, it's hard to find a flaw in this team. The only thing that jumps to mind is that the combined age of their goaltending is just shy of triple digits. Not to mention Chris Osgood has either been great, or terrible. Yeah, his save percentage is impressive, but come on a pylon could've put up solid numbers for the Wings this year.

They're that good.

Onto the Predators

Why They Win: Dan Ellis has been on fire recently. He hasn't given up more than three goals since Feb. 23 against Dallas in a 6-3 loss.

Since then he's 8-4-1 with two shutouts.

The Predators have been playing well down the stretch going 6-3-1 in their final ten games to catch and hold off the Vancouver Canucks for the final playoff spot.

If the Predators are going to win Ellis is going to have to channel the spirit of Dwayne Roloson and J.S. Giguere from playoffs past.

Why They Don't Win: I just don't see the Preds pulling off the upset. Don't get me wrong, I'll be rooting for it, but Detroit has the complete package.

The Predators aren't exactly a deep team and that is going to be what hurts them. They have played the Wings well only losing the season series 5-3, but this is the playoffs and the Wings are very much built for the playoffs.

Bottom Line: Nashville as an organization should feel good about defying odds and making the playoffs at least, but don't blink because this one is going to be over quick. Red Wings in 5.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs #7 Calgary Flames

By far one of the most intriguing goaltending matchups we'll get in the playoffs. Evgeni Nabokov against Miikka Kiprusoff. Both capable of stealing a series.

Why The Sharks Win: This team has been the most dominant team in the league down the stretch. Before losing in regulation of their last game of the season, the Sharks hadn't lost in regulation in 21 straight games. Are you kidding me? A pace like that and they couldn't even catch the Wings who had built up a huge lead all season.

Joe Thornton may be the best passer in the game and in the top 5 all-time. Big Joe didn't reach 100 points this season falling just three shy, but he still logged 67 helpers. I really like this team's chances to represent the West.

Why They Don't Win: This is a team that doesn't get out and score many goals. If they face a team that can figure out a way to get past their incredible defense and get some pucks behind Nabokov, the Sharks are going to be in trouble.

Onto the Flames

Why They Win: Jarome Iginla and Kipper are going to have to put this team on their back and carry them. Calgary has been one of the streakiest teams in the league this season. They'll go from scoring at will to not being able to hit the broad side of a barn. From a fantasy standpoint, that fact killed Gopher all year long as he had Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Daymod Langkow. When that line was hot, he was unbeatable. When it was cold, he was still tough to play against, but easier to knock off, unless you had my team which whooped him even with them scoring.

But I digress.

Kipper is obviously capable of carrying this team in the playoffs. He did in during the 2004 playoffs and in my opinion won the Stanley Cup in overtime in Game 6. If he plays solid and the Iginla line plays like it can, the Flames have a shot. Let's not forget that they won the season series with the Flames 3-1.

Why They Don't Win: I wouldn't exactly say the Flames are living up to their name as they went 5-5 in their final ten games. Kipper was pulled against the Canucks on March 30 after giving up four goals on 13 shots.

The Flames also haven't scored more than three goals in a game sin March 22 against Minnesota in a 5-4 win, a span of six straight games.

Bottom Line: If the Flames would have played better down the stretch, I could see myself taking them in this series based on their record against San Jose. However, San Jose is the hottest team in the league as noted above and should have no trouble advancing to the second round. Sharks in 6.

#3 Minnesota Wild vs #6 Colorado Avalanche

This series could go on for a while. With Colorado's win on the last day of the regular season, they earned the 6-seed and the right to play the Wild in the first round.

Why The Wild Win: The Wild always seem to be in every game they play. They hang around like no other and have the potential to explode for goals at any minute.

For them to win this series Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra are going to need to step up. Not to mention, Brian Rolston has been fantastic over the last couple of months. I nearly dropped him in my fantasy league, but he quickly turned it around and finished the season with 31 goals and 28 assists for 59 points. If he had been on the same line as Gaborik for the entire season, hes over 75 points.

Let's not overlook goaltender Niklas Backstrom who has been phenomenal this season going 33-13-8 with a 2.31GAA and a .920 save percentage. He's also on a personal four-game winning streak that he's only allowed a total of four goals and has one shutout.

Why They Don't Win For a team that was built around a defensive standpoint, they have given up 218 goals this season. Only three other Western Conference playoff teams have given up more.

The team has also scored 223 goals giving them a goal differential of +5 which is only better than #7 Calgary (+2) and #8 Nashville (+1). You could look at that two different ways: On one hand, they've shown they can win close games which the playoffs are known for. On the other hand, it shows that they can be scored on which has to worry the fans and coaching staff.

Onto The Avalanche:

Why They Win: Well this is pretty easy, they reassembled the Stanley Cup champion team from 2000-01. The only notable players missing are Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Chris Drury and Alex Tanguay. The rest of the roster is pretty close.

Peter Forsberg is the X-Factor in this series to me. When he's healthy, and not that often, he is one of the best players in the world hands down. Like any great player, Forsberg makes the other guys around him better.

I would say the Avs have played better since the trade deadline and that's true. They were hovering around the 8-seed all season long and at least managed to jump up a couple spots down the stretch even if it was on the last day of the season. They suffered a lot of injuries this season to key players, namely Joe Sakic who only played in 44 games this season. The team is healthy again and that makes them dangerous.

Why They Don't Win: Will the real Jose Theodore please stand up? Is he hot right now, yes. He's 5-0-1 in his last six games with a shutout. The problem here is that if you look at his game log from this season, this isn't the first time he's gone on a streak like this.

By my count this is the 5th win streak he has totaled this year of at least three games. Every time after the streaks? Multiple loss streaks of at least 3. For example, from Feb. 26 - March 8 he went 6-0. Immediately following that streak he went 1-4 over his next six starts. He was yanked from the cage in the sixth game after allowing three goals on eight shots in 14 minutes. He got off the hook as the Avs ended up losing 7-5 to Edmonton.

There is a pattern with him and if looks shaky at all, Peter Budaj is going to have to step up huge.

Bottom Line: If the last game of the season series on April 6 was a precursor to what we are in store for, this is going to be a fun series to watch. There may not be a lot of goals scored, but I'm thinking we'll see a lot of 3-2 games. Based on goaltending, Wild win in 7.

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs #5 Dallas Stars

Oh baby this is going to be a good one. Giguere vs Marty Turco. The defending champs taking on one of the most complete teams in the league.

Why The Ducks Win: The Ducks may have figured out how to build a cup contender from year to year. If you look back to the Stanley Cup Finals last year against Ottawa, they completely shutdown the high flying Sens by pounding them into the ice every chance they got. I'm not saying they Ducks are just a bunch of goons, though they do have two that jump to mind in Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Pronger.

The thing with the Ducks is that they are a group of huge individuals who can skate like the wind and hit like a Mack truck. Let's also not forget they have a Conn Smythe winner in net.

Since Teemu Selann and Scott Niedermayer decided to return from a retirement of sorts, the team has responded and looked much like the same team as last year. They go their identity back and have been a force down the stretch. They're 8-2-0 in their last ten games which you like to see if you're a fan heading into the playoffs.

Why They Don't Win: The only way this team loses in the first round, is if they beat themselves. I'm not just talking about showing up to the rink and playing for 60 minutes. Guys like Pronger and Bertuzzi need to keep their emotions in check. Pronger was jut suspended for eight games for stomping on Ryan Kesler and he was suspended during last year's cup run for an elbow which was debatable.

The Ducks need to show up and play the bruising style of play we know they are capable of playing. It won them the cup last season and it could very well do it again this year.

Onto the Stars:

Why They Win: On paper I like this team a lot. I loved the addition of Brad Richards at the trade deadline and he appeared to be fitting in quite nicely.

He's going to have to step up as a former Stanley Cup champion and bring his A-game if the Stars are going anywhere. Other guys like Mike Modano are going to need to step it up as well.

In net, the time is now for Marty Turco. Stars management entertained offers for him in the offseason and chose to stick with him. If the Stars lose because of poor play in net, he could very well have played his last game in Dallas. I don't blame last year's loss to the Canucks in seven games on Turco at all. It was a great series and he played well, but against a team like Anaheim you can't give them soft goals.

Why They Don't Win: I don't know if there's a chemistry problem going on in Dallas or what, but since the Richards deal the team hasn't been winning many games. In their last ten games they're 3-5-2, which I'd be worried about if I was a Stars fan or player.

Richards did not play a game in April and only recorded six points in March. That lack of offensive putout was a major reason why the Bolts traded him. That and the salary cap issue with keeping Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.

Bottom Line: I never trust slumping teams come playoff time, but if there is a team that has the ability to turn it around it's the Stars who won the season series with the Ducks 5-3. As much as I like the Stars on paper, the Ducks are the team to beat right now as they still hold the Stanley Cup. Ducks win in 6.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Playoff Breakdown

The regular season has come to a close in what feels like a blink of an eye. I can't believe this season is already over. It's fast approaching the worst time of year where there is no hockey being played.

It's the time of year when I get to put my thinking cap on and dust off the crystal ball and make some predictions about who's going far and who should start buffing the golf clubs.

But, before we get into the predictions let me boast a little here at Gopher's expense. As many on you might recall, he defeated me in our fantasy hockey league championship round last year and we had a rematch this season.

For the past two weeks I don't think I have trailed once and the lead has just grown and grown with every passing day. The final score of our battle this time around was 13-4 me, thus giving me the gold Yahoo Sports trophy to sit beside the two silver ones from the past two years.

When Gopher comes over in a few days, I'll be hoisting the miniature Stanley Cup and walking it around my basement while my girlfriend looks on and debates calling the authorities to come take me away and put me in a padded room.

Anyway, let's look at the Eastern Conference playoff scenarios.

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #8 Boston Bruins

Well, this will be yet another chapter in this historical rivalry that I didn't think could be any more heated.

Why Montreal Wins: Offensively this team is a much more deep team than the Bruins. Alexi Kovalev has been the player I loved while he was in Pittsburgh. He finished this season with 35 goals and 49 assists for 84 points. This wasn't a career high, but it's the first time he's cracked the 80-point mark since 1999-2000 when he had 95 points in Pittsburgh.

Centerman Tomas Plekanec and defenseman Mark Streit have turned into phenominal players and have been a big reason why the Habs won the regular season Eastern Conference title.

Plekanec was second on the team behing Kovy with 69 points and Streit was third with 62.

Why They Don't Win: Two things jump to mind. Captain Saku Koivu is most likely out for at least the first round. I question how far they can go without their inspirational leader.

Reason number 2 is Carey Price. I give this kid a lot of credit. Really, I do. For as much suspicion I had about him, he was one of the key reasons the Habs won the Conference and why I won my fantasy league, but that was the regular season. How this kid holds up in hostile playoff environments is going to determine just how far they go. I believe he's got all the goods and could easily get the job done, but inexperience shows this time of year.

As for the Bruins:

Why They Win: Hunger. Plain and simple and I'm not just talking about the team. Boston sports have been impressive this past year. The Patriots went undefeated (Super Bowl never happened, see archives for more on that), Red Sox won the World Series and the Celtics are well on their way to winning the NBA championship.

This town used to rally around the Bruins more than any other team, at least it was like that when I was growing up while the Pats, Celts and Sox all were bottom feeders. This town is hungry for its teams to finally do well after suffering for so long and you can bet the farm that the TD Banknorth Garden will be electric especially with an old foe in town. The Bruins will feed off that energy and be a very tough team to beat on home ice.

Gopher's take on that above reasoning: "T don't think hunger is the word. It's unparalleled manifest destiny of a city. I don't if there's a word for that... but thats what it is."

Why They Don't Win: Goaltending jumps off the page at me on this. Tim Thomas has shown moments of brilliance and others where he can't stop a beachball this season and Alex Auld has been right up there with him.

Thomas has played well in April, but the Bruins are 4-2-4 in their last 10 games heading into the playoffs and have shown a severe lack of offense in those games scoring 25 goals.

Bottom Line: The Canadiens are too deep and playing very well right now to be upset by Boston. Let's also not forget that they swept the season series. Habs win in 5.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Ottawa Senators

Well this is a rematch of last season's quarterfinals that the Senators easily won 4-1 en route to a Stanley Cup Finals berth.

Why Pittsburgh Wins: This team is entirely different than the one that got kicked around last year. They're added a lethal scoring threat in Marian Hossa, role player and penalty killing specialist Pascal Dupuis and the shot blocking big body of Hal Gill.

The Penguins now have two lines that can score with Sidney Crosby, Hossa and Dupuis as the new unit. Also, Petr Sykora, Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone carried this team while Sid was out with a high ankle sprain. Malone has thrived in leadership role that he was granted earlier this season and developed into the well rounded player who the Penguins have been banking on for years.

Why They Don't Win: Penalty killing is a problem that continues to haunt the Penguins. Their 80.5% kill rate is only better than two other playoff teams (Washington 80.5%, Boston 78.6%.)

The other thing that has me worried is how much did the Pens learn in that quick 5-game series against these same Ottawa Senators? I like to think that the adversity this team faced and overcame during the season has prepared them for what looms in the playoffs.

As for Ottawa:

Why They Win: They won the season series 3-1 against the Pens, but if you remember back to last year the Pens won the regular season series with Ottawa by the same margin and lost in 5 games.

Anyway, Ottawa has some scary talent in Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley and let's not forget that this team was the number one team in the Eastern Conference for the majority of the season.

Why They Don't Win: Where to begin with this one? How about in net? Martin Gerber and Ray Emery have quite possibly been the most inconsistent goalies in the history of the game this year. I had Emery on my fantasy team and lived through his ups and downs. Gerber is the clear guy for the playoffs, but how long will it last? He did get yanked in favor of Cam Ward a couple years ago and we all know how that turned out.

Side note: Speaking of the Hurricanes can I just point out the fact that I said in an earlier post that any playoff team would have beaten the Canes in the first round? Some of you called me nuts on that and claimed that they were better than I thought. I guess those people will never get the chance to prove me wrong unless it's on the golf course. Yes, I feel vindicated.

Another thing that won't help the Senators chances against Pittsburgh is that captain Daniel Alfredsson suffered a head and knee injury earlier this week and according to coach Brian Murray he could be out for weeks. Without him in the lineup, their role guys and lesser knowns are going to have to step it up.

Bottom Line: It's time for the Penguins to prove GM Ray Shero right in making the deal for Hossa and show they are a Stanley Cup contender. The time is now. Penguins win in 6.

#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

This should be one heck of a battle. The two teams split the season series 2-2 and no team won on home ice.

Why The Capitals Win: If this team keeps playing the way it has down the stretch to just make the playoffs, they are going to be a very difficult team to beat four times in seven games.

Cristobal Huet has been magnificent in net and Alexander Ovechkin won the scoring title (112) and goal scoring title (65). They have been red hot and I personally did not think they had it in them to catch the Hurricanes, but they proved me wrong.

Rookie Niklas Backstrom has been a force all season and the emergence of Mike Green on defense has given Alex a few more options while putting on his dazzling performances night in and night out.

Why They Don't Win: I know this may sound old hat by now, but lack of experience. How will Ovechkin react to playoff hockey? Should Huet falter, does Olaf Kolzig remember what playoff hockey even is? Can they possibly keep up this scorching hot streak for another two plus months?

There's a lot of question marks with this team and you also have to wonder how they match up against teams from other divisions as the Southeast is generally the weakest division in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.

Onto the Flyers:

Why They Win:They match up pretty well against the Capitals. They like to play a bruising style that could slow down the high flying Caps.

The Flyers earned the 6-seed by beating the Penguins on Sunday. A loss and they would've played the Penguins in the first round in what could have potentially been an unheard of nine straight games against the same team.

Pick your poison I guess for Philly who now gets Ovechkin instead of Sidney and Co.

Martin Biron has played well in his first full season with the Flyers going 29-20-9 with a 2.64 GAA and a .917 save percentage. I think his numbers would look better had they not suffered as many injuries as they did.

Why They Don't Win: The only team in the Eastern Conference playoffs with more goals allowed are the Ottawa Senators. Philly has allowed 233 on the year and scored 248. We know they are capable of scoring goals, but can their defense slow down Ovechkin?

Also, Daniel Briere suffered a knee injury in Game 81 on the year against the Penguins and did not suit up in the team's final game against the Penguins on April 6. They Flyers said that he was held out to let him rest up and he was fitted for a knee brace. If he cannot play or has to miss time due to his injury, this could spell the end for Philly.

Bottom Line:The Capitals are on fire right now and hot teams tend to do well in the playoffs. However, they do not have much experience and while there are many question marks about both squads, I see this going the distance with the Flyers moving on to the second round. Flyers win in 7.

#4 New Jersey Devils vs. #5 New York Rangers

A classic rivalry between division foes. The Rangers won the season series 7-1 with four games going to overtime or a shootout. The only Devils win came in their final meeting with home ice on the line on April 6 and it was in the shootout.

Why The Devils Win: Defense, defense defense. There's a saying that goes "Defense wins championships." The Devils took this saying and have taken it to levels not forseen by the author of the quote.

Their trap system has won them three Stanley Cups and numerous division titles and the like. Combine that with hall-of-fame goaltender Martin Brodeur and their boring style of play makes them a tough team to knock out.

They have the experience and grit that is so valuable at this time of year and could be poised to make another long playoff run.

Why They Don't Win: Utter lack of offense. Patrick Elias, Brian Gionta and Zach Parise are the only guys I'd be worried about if I'm the Rangers. Shut that line down, score three goals and the game is over. Sounds simple enough right?

Eventually the lack of scoring depth on this team will catch up to them and it will be good night. The first team that can get the Devils into an up tempo style of play and force them to actually play something that resembles hockey, will knock them out.

Onto the Rangers:

Why They Win: It finally looks as if the Rangers have worked out the early-midseason kinks and have started to gel. The offseason recruits of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez haven't exactly lived up to their $7+ million contracts, but Jaromir Jagr is on fire lately, scoring 5 goals over the last two weeks and netting 8 points.

We've also seen Henrik Lundqvist take control of a playoff series and has big a major reason why the Rangers are even in the playoffs in the first place. Lundqvist went 37-24-9 with 10 shutouts and a 2.24 GAA and .912 save percentage.

Why They Don't Win: What pops out at me the most is the defense. Marek Malik is one of the worst defensemen I've ever seen and when I heard rumors that GM Glenn Sather was looking for a top-4 d-man in return for Malik at the deadline, I needed a new pair of pants from laughing so hard.

He's one of those guys you love to play against because you know if you pressure him at all he'll screw up in some way that gives your team an edge. For example on April 6 against the Devils he crashed into Lundqvist as a shot was coming in. Lundqvist goes to protect himself and the Rangers playoff hopes and the puck goes right into the net.

Earlier this season in Boston in a tie game with 8 seconds left in the third period, Malik has it behind his net with no Bruin player pressuring him. Instead of sitting on it behind the net to get to overtime, he decides to fire a long outlet pass that gets picked off by a streaking Bruin who then gets two glorious chances on Lundqvist who once again had to bail out the Ranger defense.

Bottom Line: The Rangers are capable of slowing a game down and have proven that they can beat the Devils. They can also easily shut down the one scoring threat that the Devils have and come out on top in a long series. Rangers win in 6.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pens Lock Up Atlantic Division, Conference Up Next

Long have I waited for this day. The Penguins hand delivered an Atlantic Division crown to me on the eve of my birthday. Talk about a great gift, what else could I possibly ask for?

This is the first division title for the Penguins in 10 years. The only thing that has yet to be settled is if we will be the number one seed in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs begin next week. Here's how that will happen for us, if my math is correct and I think it is.

The Penguins now have 102 points with one game remaining in the season, which will be Sunday against the Flyers. The Montreal Canadiens have 100 points with two games remaining, meaning both teams can finish with 104 points. If this happens, the Penguins will win the conference because they would have more total wins which is the tie breaker.

This means to me that if the Canadiens lose tomorrow night to the Sabres in regulation, the Penguins will clinch the conference. At that point the Habs could only finish with 102 points, which would tie them with the Penguins and we already discussed the tie breaker. This could be the best birthday gift the Penguins have ever given me and really it wouldn't take much.

My father used to get me tickets to the Penguins/Bruins game that was closest to my birthday and you know what? They never won during my childhood. I think I'm about 1-10 while watching the Penguins in Boston lifetime and that one win came last March. I still can't believe they won that game.

As for tonight's game, I'm too giddy to even really type anything here. They fell behind twice and 1-0 and 2-1, but the powerplay was absolutely on fire tonight. All four goals were scored on the man advantage and they were 4-for-6 on the night. This is what you want to see out of your hockey team heading into the playoffs. They held the Flyers to 1-for-5 on the powerplay as well.

Solid special teams are a huge factor in winning the Stanley Cup and the teams that get hot going into the playoffs are the ones who eventually win the thing. I would venture to say that the Pens are catching fire right now as they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.

Sidney Crosby seems to be getting more comfortable with Marian Hossa and if that's the case and you're not a Penguins fan, that has to scare the daylights out of you. Just knowing that the Pens have two lines that can score at will and two other lines that will grind you into dust and who have been known to put the puck in the net as well, has got to make opposing coaches have nightmares.

Either way, I'm getting ahead of myself. We have another game yet to play in this regular season and potentially have a chance to determine who we will face in the first round of the playoffs. Personally I am kind of torn about who I'd like to see us play in the first round. I really don't want to see the Capitals right now, they scare the life out of me with how well they've been playing lately and they are only one point behind Philly for the final spot. Though, I would enjoy ending Philly's season and having them miss the playoffs because of us. I could also stand to see us knock them around in the first round and march on to the second round of the playoffs through them.

Final notes: Fleury was named the NHL second star of the month after going 9-1 in March. If the Pens don't have anything to play for on Sunday, I would rest him up for a couple days and let whatever happens happen as far as who we will face in the playoffs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

NHL Headlines 4/2/08

These playoff races are starting to come into focus a little better aren't they? Teams are slowly starting to be eliminated from contention. Once the pairings have been established, I'll be doing a breakdown of both conferences as far as the match-ups go and who should come out of each conference to battle for the Stanley Cup.

Here's the day's headlines.

Canadiens Lock Up Northeast Title

This one annoyed me last night. I left Carey Price on my bench assuming that the Senators would have actually showed up to play in this game. Now, I'm only a little annoyed as I control all the goaltending categories in my championship match-up with Gopher, but who doesn't like to pad the lead?

Anyway, congrats to the Canadiens who are now tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference at 100 points. The Penguins play Game 81 tonight against the Flyers in what should no doubt be a barnburner.

The Habs and Pens battle will have to be settled on the last day of the regular season as the both teams have two games remaining. The Penguins will clinch with a win tonight and a Habs loss in their next game on Thursday against Buffalo.

The Habs clinch if they win their final two games and Pittsburgh wins none or 1.

Should the teams remain tied in points or end up tied in points, the Penguins win due to having more total wins than the Habs.

Preds Rally Back From 3-0 Down To Win 4-3

What a blow this would have been to their playoff chances had they not stormed back to win this game. A loss in regulation would have left them one point behind the Vancouver Canucks with both teams having two games remaining. Instead, now they control their own destiny. If they win out they're in the playoffs. Sounds simple enough right?

They play the Blues again on Thursday and finish up the season against the Blackhawks.

The road for the Canucks is slightly tougher in my humble opinion as they play the Oilers and Flames to finish the season. To say these are must-win games for both squads is an understatement.

I was following along online for the Preds game last night and couldn't help but think to myself, "How can they possibly not show up when their playoff lives are on the line?"

No sooner did I that thought go through my mind did the comeback begin. Freaky right? I'm gonna start using that more often for my own benefit by hoping for a million bucks. I'll let you know how it goes.

Avs Secure Playoff Berth, Put Canucks On Life-Support

I wish I would have been home last night to watch this game. This must have been fantastic to watch. Both teams fighting to get into the playoffs. One team locks up a spot with a win, the other stays one point ahead of the 9th place squad.

This time of year is better than Christmas for me. Not in the spiritual sense, but the joy I get out of playoff atmosphere hockey is better than the gift giving. Not to mention it's a lot cheaper and there's no snow on the ground in June unless you're my parents who will have it until next August.

Peter Forsberg finally played long enough to score his first goal since returning to the NHL. I know I rip on him a lot and it's not because I don't like the guy. I do think he's an amazing player, but he's so injury prone it's not even funny and why anyone would gamble one million bucks on him knowing he's one rut in the ice from being done for the year is beyond me.

Zubov Out For Regular Season, Playoff Status Unknown

I like the Stars right now as a Stanley Cup contender even with the recent lack of winning shall we say? Getting Sergei Zubov back ASAP will dramatically improve their chances. When he's healthy, if you don't have him on your fantasy team you know you're scared out of your mind of playing against him.

There's not many defensemen who can be as lethal as a forward and he's one of them. Before the injury he had 35 points in 42 games. That's pretty impressive for a d-man. He's also a solid guy in the defensive zone who plays smart and doesn't take many penalties. He only had 12 minutes in penalties in those 42 games. I wish Sergei Gonchar stayed out of the box as much as Zubov does. I'd be swearing a lot less than I do.

I think the Stars can still make a run without Zubov who's been out since Jan. 17 battling a groin and foot problem, but his leadership and overall ability could take this team all the way if he's healthy.

Sundin Done For Rest Of Season

As a hockey fan, I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Mats Sundin in Toronto. I'm still in shock they were trying to trade him at the deadline. Of course I understand the logic behind it, but he's done everything for the organization except deliver the Stanley Cup.

Where's the loyalty in this sport anymore? The last guys I remember giving everything they had to an organization like Mats has were Mario and Ray Bourque.

Bourque eventually went to management and tearfully requested a trade to a contender, since the Bruins weren't going anywhere soon, so that he could have another run at the Stanley Cup.

That clip is probably my all-time greatest Stanley Cup ceremony aside from seeing the Pens hoist it in the early 90's. Messier and the Rangers was another classic, but I lived in New England for Ray's entire career and I knew a cousin of his personally so this one takes the cake.

How big of an impact did Bourque have on Boston? If the Bruins and Avalanche were to have met in the finals, I really think the fans would have given up their own quest to see the local boys win the Cup and would have rooted on Bourque. The guy was and is always going to be one of the legendary sports heroes of Beantown.

How great would it have been to see th Avs clinch the Cup in Boston and see and hear the crowd reaction as the teary-eyed Bourque hoisted it up? I'm getting chills even thinking about it.

What Bourque was to Boston, Mats is to Toronto and it will be a sad day in hockey when he isn't wearing the blue and white.