Jun 032014
 

Injuries, overtimes, near-goalie fights and sudden death wins. The Eastern and Western 2014 conference finals had more action that an episode of Game of Thrones. Okay maybe that’s a slight exageration… but not by much. Allow me to recap the best and worst of it.

hawks, kings, stanley cup playoffs, nhl, chicago, los angeles

Best Series: Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings

This series had some of the best hockey this entire NHL season has seen. Goals, hits, near goalie fights. And of course, a come-from-behind Game 7 win by the underdog team. It was incredible.

Both teams are so filled with talent that it was even fun to watch their fourth lines battle it out. Plus, on the bench it was like watching Grumpy Cat coach against Yosemite Sam. Pure awesomesauce.

Worst Series: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

After such a big, emotional win against the Boston Bruins and an emotionally-disturbed Milan Lucic, this series was bound to feel a little less exciting. But it wasn’t just the energy that lacked, it was the Habs offense. As the games went on, the whole Montreal team began to resemble a deflating balloon. They were done. They weren’t coming back. Add to that two kind of chirpy, whiney head coaches and you’ve got a frustrating series.

new york rangers, nhl, chris kreider, carey price, playoffs, stanley cup

Biggest Jerk: Chris Kreider

Chris “Ice is slippery” Kreider. Jonathan Quick, watch yourself. This professional hockey player can’t seem to stay on his skates near goalies. Rangers fans will tell you he was pushed into Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price. Hockey fans know there’s a way to avoid contact and a way not to. If your legs are caught up in a stick, you fall face first, not skates-first, like he did when he ended Carey Price’s playoffs. This guy is making this a habit and it’s not cool. In the end, losing Price wasn’t what caused the Habs to lose the series, but if it happens against the Kings too, this guy better get a suspension.

Biggest Hero: Dustin Tokarski

This kid could have ended up curled up in the back of his net, sucking his thumb and crying for his mother and no one would have blamed him. He’s the back-up’s back-up, fresh from the farm team, and was thrown into the starting goaltender’s role in the Eastern Conference Finals for a team with the most rabid fan base on the planet. But Tokarski rose to the challenge, and in the end, you really couldn’t blame the Habs losses on the goaltending. He was a hero even if his team didn’t advance.

2014 playoffs, stanley cup, nhl, tyler toffoli, marc staal, beards

Best Playoff Beard: Marc Staal

Marc Staal of the New York Rangers proves gingers can do it, and do it well. And by “it” I mean playoff beards of course (get your mind out of the gutter). Unlike Claude Giroux he doesn’t look like a skid row muppet. His ginger facial fuzz is even, fairly full and well groomed.  He’s going to look really good losing the Cup. (Go Kings!)

Worst Playoff Beard: Tyler Toffoli (LA Kings)

Look very, very closely…. Put on your glasses. Pull out a magnifying glass. Blow the picture up as big as possible. No that’s not a caterpillar on his lip, or Cheetos dust on his chin. That’s a beard. I know the kid is like 19 or something so I should cut him a little slack but his attempt at facial makes Sidney Crosby look like a rugged mountain man.

May 182014
 

Round 2 of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs was a barn burner all-round. Every series felt like a legitimate rivalry even though some of these teams, like the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings, had never met in the playoffs before. Here’s the best and worst of it.

Brendan Gallagher, Zdeno Chara

Best Series: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Original Six. Longstanding rivals. Good versus evil. These games had everything – the good (Carey Price and PK Subban’s performances), the bad (Thornton spraying Subban with water mid-play), and the ugly (the racist rantings of some Bruins fans). In the end, the intensity elevated the Habs play and seemed to throw the Bruins off their game with their big lines doing much of nothing.

Worst Series: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

This was bad because for some reason, after being up 3-1 in the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins checked out. For me, the best series are battle right to the end, and this is the only series that wasn’t that. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and all that undeniable talent were deniable after Game 3. This can’t be laid on their goalie this time. It was disappointing to watch therefore, worst series.

Milan Book

Biggest Loser: Milan Lucic

Lucic wins this award not because his team lost, but because of the way HE lost. His childish, unsportsmanlike antics – spearing guys, being a sore winner taunting the Habs when Bruins won, death threats in the handshake line – make him not just the biggest loser of Round 2 but a life loser in general. Lucic, I’m embarrassed that you’re from Vancouver and even from Canada. You have a lot of growing up to do, punk.

Biggest Hero: PK Subban

I didn’t like this guy until this series. Sure, I never disputed his talent, but I thought he was an overemotional, hot-headed punk. Not anymore. I don’t know exactly when PK Subban became a poised, confident player but the change was noticeable this series again Boston. PK didn’t let the racist taunts, the bully antics of Thornton or the death threats of Lucic throw him off his game. He didn’t escalate it in the media when he honestly had every right to. Instead, he seemed to channel it into improving his already stellar play. His offensive defence was a major factor in the Habs nabbing the series.

beardsR2

Best Beard: Jeff Carter

Blondes aren’t known for thick beards, but Carter grows a Grizzly Adams one in the blink of an eye. And it’s got ginger in it, which is hot. The man is already talented and gorgeous, the thick, full beard just adds to it. Now if only he had more teeth… thanks Duncan Keith.

 Worst Beard – Patrick Kane

Speaking of ginger – Kane’s seems super orange this year. Like he used Sun-In or something. And, yay, it’s fuller than previous years but it’s an unkempt mess. And then there’s the mullet… shudder.

May 182014
 

NHL_2014_StanleyCupPlayoffs

The Bruins have been eliminated. That’s pretty much all we cared about. Now on to the conference finals.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Victoria: Kings in 7. Because the Kings are the Goonies, they never say die.

Chris: Blackhawks in 7. I will give credit to the Kings at knowing how to clutch up when elimination is in sight. Unfortunately for them, doing it the hard way has likely warn them down and they’ll be facing a ready and rested Blackhawks team. Remember, even Joffrey Baratheon finally met his maker.

J.J.: Blackhawks in 7. Because the penny I found by my window sill said so.

Clay: Blackhawks in 6. Just like me in high school, Chicago is quite fresh (having played 12 games so far compared to the Kings’ 14). This should be an exciting and intriguing series. As long as Corey Crawford can play almost-even to Jonathan Quick, I like the Blackhawks’ firepower and depth on D to prevail.

*****

Eastern Conference

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

Victoria: Habs in 5. Lundqvist has a horrible record in Bell Center and Carey Price has a great record against King Henrik (*cough* Olympic gold medal *cough*)

Chris: Rangers in 6. I have faith in the Canadiens and think they have the right stuff. I also thought the same of the TV show “Community” and it just got cancelled? That’s right – THE DARKEST TIMELINE?! THE DARKEST TIMELINE!!

J.J.: Habs in 7. While I love the thought of seeing AV in the Stanley Cup Finals with a different team a mere year after being fired being the Canucks, Price and Subban are playing out of this world hockey right now.

Clay: Habs in 6. Montreal feels like a team of destiny right now and P.K. Subban and Carey Price are playing lights out. Not to mention Dale Weise. Lundqvist’s struggles in Montreal have been well-documented. Look for Montreal to win in 6, and then both teams come together for a flash mob of Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” during the post-series handshake.

May 012014
 

NHL_2014_StanleyCupPlayoffs

We have to admit, the first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs was pretty darn exciting. Let’s see how the second round stacks up.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

Victoria: Blackhawks in 4. Hawks have had some rest. Wild fought tooth and nail for 7 games. Wild will be tired and aren’t as strong a force as the Hawks to begin with.

Matt: Blackhawks in 5. The Wild are simply outmatched and outclassed by the defending champions at every position. Ryan Suter will likely be matched against some combination of Jonathan Toews and/or Patrick Kane, but Chicago’s immense depth up front will allow them to break through the Minnesota defense.

Chris: Blackhawks in 4. While I got a few of the series wrong in the first round, there was no way on this green Earth that I thought the Wild would beat the Avs. Their luck will run out against a fired up Blackhawks squad.

J.J.: Blackhawks in 6. The Wild were a lot scrappier than expected in their first round series against the Avs. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will put an end to that.

Clay: Blackhawks in 5. They look unbeatable right now. But I’ll give the Wild one of their home games. Chicago is too talented top to bottom.

Delia: Blackhawks in 5. The Blackhawks have too much talent to fall to the Wild. They’ll definitely finish them off early.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Victoria: Kings in 6. Because once you reverse sweep, you can do anything.

Matt: Ducks in 7. The Kings are the hottest team in the league right now based off their four straight victories against the Sharks, but the Ducks are want to prove their the toast of California. I may be going out on a limb here, but I like the Anaheim forward unit better than the Los Angeles defence and goaltending.

Chris: Ducks in 6. Because Victoria says Kings in 6. On a more serious note, the Ducks showed what they needed to do to get the job done against a spunky Stars team. And while the Kings themselves faced adversity and beat the daylights out of it, it took some serious energy to do that.

J.J.: Kings in 7. I hate picking the Kings, but after starting the playoffs about a week later than everyone else (and spotting the Sharks a 3-0 series lead), they’re clicking right now.

Clay: Kings in 7. The Kings are just as hot as the Blackhawks and have certainly been there before. The layoff likely helped Getzlaf heal a bit but it won’t be enough.

Delia: Ducks in 6. The Ducks finished the regular season with a 4-0-1 record against the Kings, and I’m sure they can keep their winning ways going during the playoffs.

*****

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Victoria: Habs in 7. Because I have to believe that hard work and skilled players can trump bully tactics and cheap antics. I have to believe it.

Matt: Bruins in 6. Ah, rivalries renewed. There may not be a winner when the smoke clears in this one because the two teams are likely to kill each other, but the Canadiens have a little motivation and extra animosity working in their favour, enough to give the Bruins a bumpy ride at least.

Chris: Habs in 6. I picked Boston last round and there ain’t no way I’ll do it this time around. Some advice for Montreal though – Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.

J.J.: Habs in 7. Buck Foston.

Clay: Bruins in 7.  Montreal is slowly gaining the country’s affection, and they can certainly win if 2 things happen: Price outplays Rask, and the Canadien forwards are able to escape pounding from the Bruins. Not sure if both of those things can happen over a 7-game series.

Delia: Bruins in 7. The Bruins are a strong and dangerous team. Sure the Canadiens have Price, but the Bruins have Rask, and in my opinion, Rask is by far the better goaltender.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

Victoria: Penguins in 7. Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz and Neal are a lot of fire power. Rangers have don’t have that depth of scoring. The only reason this will probably go 7 is because Marc Andre Fleury will screw up.

Matt: Penguins in 6. Once again, the Penguins chances hinge on the shaky shoulders of Marc-Andre Fleury, which will lead to their downfall in at least one game against the Rangers. But I don’t like New York’s chances of containing the Crosby-Malkin duo, which is on the verge of breaking out of their long funk.

Chris: Rangers in 6. The darkest timeline. THE DARKEST TIMELINE! And MAF. ’nuff said.

J.J.: Penguins in 7. One team has a lot of firepower up front, but has a goalie who seems to be having problems stopping the puck in the playoffs. The other team has a good goalie, but can’t score. It goes against conventional thinking, but I’m picking the team that can score.

Clay: Penguins in 6. I have a gut feeling that Fleury will have a strong series in trying to match the goalie at the other end. He’ll do enough to help the Penguins get through.

Delia: Rangers in 7. In my opinion, the Penguins are overrated. The Rangers are the more well-rounded team.

Apr 162014
 

NHL_2014_StanleyCupPlayoffs

With the puck ready to drop for the 2014 NHL playoffs, a few of us at CHB make our predictions for the first round.

At least with the Canucks not making it, we can make our picks with our brains, rather than our hearts. Well, mostly our brains. We flipped coins, drew straws and other things too.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Victoria: Avalanche in 5. This prediction is based on the real fear that if Minnesota makes it too far in the playoffs we’ll all fall into a coma. Most boring hockey ever. So come on Avs, knock them out and save us all.

Matt: Avalanche in 5. This isn’t the same team that won the Nathan MacKinnon sweepstakes at this time last year. This is a ferocious, tenacious, deep team that has excelled under the marvelous coaching of Patrick Roy and is stable in goal thanks to the performance of Semyon Varlamov. Minnesota is good enough to perhaps steal a game, but a series? I’m not buying it.

Chris: Avalanche in 5. There is no reason to believe that Patrick Roy will tolerate the team losing to the Wild. Therefore, fear itself will propel the Avs through to the second round.

J.J.: Avalanche in 7. I’ve been waiting for the Avs to crash and burn all year, but they look like the real deal. Wild will give them some pushback, but I don’t think enough of one to take the series.

Clay: Avalanche in 5. Colorado is too young, too fast, and too skilled to lose to the Wild.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Victoria: Hawks in 6. As long as Toews and Kane are healthy, I see the Hawks rolling over the Blues fairly easily. They’re young, strong, talented and they’ve been here before and know how to win. Blues, not so much.

Matt: Hawks in 7. A first-round series that should really be worthy of a Conference Final, I’d hedge my bets on the defending champion over a team which – on paper – is built for the playoffs. This looks like it could be a physical series from start to finish, but again I believe the Blackhawks’ top guns will survive this war of attrition. How much they have left after this is another debate in itself.

Chris: Hawks in 7. I’ll be honest, I flipped a coin to determine who wins in 7 games. These two teams will beat the living daylights out of each other.

J.J.: Hawks in 6. The Blues are hurt and slumping; the Hawks are about to get Kane and Toews back. Unless Ryan Miller turns into a money goalie overnight – the eye test says he hasn’t had the impact the Blues had hoped for – Chicago gets this one.

Clay: Hawks in 7.  One of the most intriguing first-round series. It sounds like Chicago is healthy, while St. Louis is everything but.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Victoria: Ducks in 5. Teemu wants one last Cup and he’s gonna steamroll Seguin, Benn and the Stars to get there. I’m hoping, because I am not a Ducks fan at all, that eventually they run out of steam, but it won’t be in this round.

Matt: Ducks in 4. The Ducks, who finished first in the West, look like a team that has been in cruise control the last couple weeks. But they appear motivated by what I’d like to call the Teemu Factor. Selanne, who looks like he knows this will be his final season, wants another Stanley Cup ring and I like the Ducks to play hard for the best player the franchise has ever known. Dallas is a team just happy to be here.

Chris: Ducks in 5. May the power Wild Wing compel you. Seriously… is anyone taking Dallas?

J.J.: Ducks in 6. How the Ducks keep winning hockey games with one good line and a (relatively) no-name goalie baffles me.

Clay: Ducks in 5. The Stars might get one, but that’s it. Look for some of Anaheim’s younger players (Bonino, Fowler) to shine.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Victoria: Kings in 7. Because they can. With the addition of Gaborik to their already stacked scoring line-up – Carter, Kopitar, Doughty, etc. – they’ve got the advantage. Also, history dictates Sharks never win it all. This year will be no different and the Kings will put them out of their misery early.

Matt: Kings in 7. I know we say this almost every year, but the Sharks always look like a team that thrives in the regular season only to come up short in the playoffs. Los Angeles is a team that has struggled to find consistency on offense, but their club has a history of flipping the switch when it matters most. I’ll take SoCal over NorCal, yet again.

Chris: Kings in 6. Another series that will serve as a knock-down, drag-out brawl where only one team will survive. At least until round two.

J.J.: Sharks in 7. Jonathan Quick has been good, but the guys in front of him have had trouble scoring all year. This should be a familiar script for Canucks fans.

Clay: Sharks in 6. In this battle of teams that like to pound the Canucks, I like the Sharks’ firepower up front with Pavelski, Marleau, Thornton, Couture, Burns, and Hertl.

*****

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Victoria: Wings in 7. Because the Wings are like the Goonies, they never say die. And because good should always triumph over evil.

Matt: Wings in 7. My upset special for the first round. Detroit has been ravaged by injuries all season, but their kids (Tatar, Nyquist, etc.) have helped fill in the holes quite admirably. With Henrik Zetterberg practicing and potentially nearing a return, things are looking up on the injury front. The same can’t be said for Boston, who’s already without some key bottom six forwards in Chris Kelly and Dan Paille, not to mention the questionable status of Patrice Bergeron.

Chris: I’m cheering for Motor City and wish them all the best in a long and glorious cup run. Bruins in 6.

J.J.: Wings in 6. I had a late pick in my playoff pool and lost out on all the Bruins who went early in the draft. I hope Datsyuk and Nyquist both have a big series.

Clay: Bruins in 6. They are hungry and right now the class of the East. Can’t believe I used the word class in describing these goofballs.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

Victoria: Habs in 6. Sure they’ve got Steven Stamkos, but Habs have Pacioretty and most importantly Price. If he can channel his Olympic mojo, Bolts don’t stand a chance.

Matt: Habs in 7. My early nomination for the toughest series to call. The Bolts have been bolstered with the return of Steven Stamkos (11 goals in 20 games since his return), and provided goaltender Ben Bishop and forwards Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat return for Game 1, should make for a tough test. Montreal is always a motivated club in the postseason, and Carey Price should have extra incentive after claiming the gold in Sochi.

Chris: Habs in 7. Il faut battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud.

J.J.: Habs in 6. Ca-rey, Ca-rey, Ca-rey! PK and the Vanek-Desharnais-Pacioretty line aren’t bad either.

Clay: Habs in 7. The longer Bishop stays out, the better for Montreal of course. Intrigued by the young Palat and Johnson on Tampa Bay, but I think Montreal is deeper throughout the line-up.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Victoria: Penguins in 4. Fleury has learned his lesson and won’t meltdown… at least not this soon. And Crosby, Neal, Kuntiz and Malkin will make quick work of….of…. whoever plays on Lumbus.

Matt: Penguins in 6. Every NHL postseason, there seems to be that one scrappy, annoying team that defies all odds and just doesn’t seem to go down without a big fight. The Blue Jackets reek of a team that is – perhaps foolishly – motivated to show the rest of the NHL that they’re worth being called a playoff team. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game before, and the feisty Jackets should be able to embarrass Marc-Andre Fleury for at least a game or two.

Chris: Penguins in 4. Have to feel good for the Blue Jackets for givin’ ‘er a good effort. Pens already have the brooms.

J.J.: Penguins in 5. The Blue Jackets couldn’t beat the Penguins in the regular season; unless playoff-mode Fleury makes an appearance, I really don’t think they’ll beat them in the playoffs either.

Clay: Penguins in 5. Too much firepower up front for Pittsburgh. Plus that Crosby guy.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Victoria: Flyers in 7. This, kids, will be the series to watch. It will be long and scrappy in my opinion. AV has the ability to guide a team through the playoffs, but the Rangers have the history of failing early. Flyers have something to prove after a really crappy start to the season. If Giroux can stop with the stupid hits he’s got a history of in playoffs, then Philly will scrape through.

Matt: Rangers in 7. Long live the King. Henrik Lundqvist has been sensational down the stretch, scraping together a .949 save percentage in his final five games and looking as good as he’s ever been. The Rangers’ success hinges largely on his shoulders, but something should be said about New York’s 25 road wins, which are best in the Eastern Conference. It’s hard to see the Rangers not stealing a game on the road.

Chris: Rangers in 6. Because you know the darkest timeline has AV leading the Rangers to the Cup, right?

J.J.: Rangers in 7. Only because it would be so Canuck-y for AV’s new team to have some post-season success immediately after being fired by the Canucks.

Clay: Rangers in 7. Better goaltending. ‘Nuff said.

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