May 022014
 

Round 1 in over. There were sweeps, there were reverse sweeps, there was choking and man, was there a lot of overtime. Here is my breakdown of the best and worst of Round 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reverse Sweeping Bromance.

Reverse Sweeping Bromance.

Best Series: Sharks vs. Kings

Because when you manage to pull off a Reverse Sweep – only the 4th in NHL history, you’ve earned the best series title. To be fair, the competition was steep for this too. The Habs sweeping a Lightning team with Stamkos on it was pretty noteworthy and the nail-biting; Avs and Wild is also worth mentioning with all the OTs. But, Reverse Sweep – and a classic Sharks choke – wins for the best series.

Worst Series: Wings vs. Bruins

Because, other than barely squeaking out a win in Game 1, the Wings didn’t put up much of a fight. Yes the Habs swept Stamkos and his Bolts but that, for me, made the series more exciting because you had a clear dominating force. But Wings… they’re the Wings. They had a reputation to uphold and they didn’t. Even though, on paper, a lot of people didn’t expect them to win, they expected them to do better.

Sweep!

Sweep!

Biggest Heroes: Carey Price and Nino Niederreiter

This could go to a few guys – most of whom are goalies. But I’m calling this one a tie between Carey Price and Nino Niederreiter. Price because, other than a wobbly Game 1, he was solid and shut the door on a high caliber opponent like Stamkos. He was an integral part of the sweep. Niederreiter because of the series-winning OT goal. That series really could have gone either way. Avs, in my opinion, outplayed the Wild in most games. But in the end, all that matters is that Niederreiter goal. Also his name is fun to say.

Biggest Goat: Anders Lindback

Tampa Bay’s back-up goalie is taking the blame for the Bolts getting swept by the Habs. The fact is, as Luongo supporters always remind people, goalies don’t score goals. Lindback might have been a bit shaky but Tampa Bay was outside of the crease. Big time. Offensively, Habs dominated and the Bolts defense was dismal. But let’s just blame the goalie!

Best & Worst Beards

Best & Worst Beards

Worst Playoff Beard: Claude Giroux

I adore him but I have to give this to Claude Giroux. It isn’t the color of the beard – and he actually manages to have a pretty thick, even one unlike Crosby or Toews or Couture. But he seems to let his hair grow with his beard and ends up looking like a Muppet. A scary, skidrow Muppet. Lucky for us, unlucky for him, he can shave again.

Best Playoff Beard: Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron from Team Canada…. who also, by some sick twist of unfortunate events, plays for that goon squad called the Boston Bruins. He was born to have a beard. It grows in evenly and right now it’s at that perfect length that’s sexy scruff and not untamed mountain man. Of course, its sexiness clashes with the ugly yellow and black uniform but so do all good things in life.

Dec 312013
 

On one end of the rink was Steve Mason, whose career the entire NHL, save the Philadelphia Flyers, had left for dead. Much was made about his past poor performances, especially against the Canucks, seemingly forgetting that he’s actually been pretty damn good during the Flyers’ 15-6-4 surge prior to last night’s game.

On the other end was Tom Sestito, who was waived by those very same Flyers last season and then claimed by the Canucks, and has served as some sort of a whipping boy to Canucks fans ever since.

Both Mason and Sestito had lots to prove. And both delivered.

Mason stopped 41 of 44 shots, plus another 3 in the shootout, to keep his team in the game. Sestito scored a goal and was a pain in Philly’s side for most of the 5:45 minutes he was on the ice.

Guilty as charged.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Dec 302013
 
Philadelphia Cream Cheese is great, as are Philly Cheesesteaks but the Canucks will have to play with their heads not their stomachs to take on the 17-10-0 Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is great, as are Philly Cheesesteaks but the Canucks will have to play with their heads not their stomachs to take on the streaking Philadelphia Flyers.
(Photo Credit Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Already with a 10-1-1 record this month, it’s shaping out to be a December to remember for the Vancouver Canucks. They have a chance to add to that as they meet the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Rogers Arena, where the Canucks have won all 6 home games this month. This is the Flyers’ first visit to Vancouver in three years.

Tonight will be the second and final regular season meeting for the Canucks and Flyers. In their first game back on October 15th at the Wells Fargo Center, the Canucks rallied back from a 2-1 third period deficit to win by a 3-2 score. Chris Higgins tied the game early in the third period, and Ryan Kesler scored the game-winning goal with only 2:25 left in the game.

However, that Flyers team in October was on the verge of the worst losing streak in franchise history. They started the season winning just 3 of their first 12 games (3-9-0), but since then, they’ve gone 15-6-4, including a 5-1-1 record in their last 7 games. The Flyers are coming off a couple of consecutive wins: a come-from-behind, 4-3 shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, and a 4-1 win versus the Minnesota Wild before the Christmas break.

Similarly, the Canucks are coming off a big win in Calgary last night in their first game after the Christmas break. With Roberto Luongo still nursing a sore groin, Eddie Lack made 18 saves and posted his 2nd shutout of the season to give the Canucks the 2-0 win.

This is the Canucks’ 5th set of back-to-backs in December alone. Perhaps surprisingly, they’ve won the back half of the first 4 sets so far. (They were 2-2 in the back half of back-to-backs earlier in the season.) Coach John Tortorella had been rotating Luongo and Lack during back-to-backs, but with Luongo’s injury and after Lack’s relatively easy night last night, I’d expect the Canucks to go back to him than go to back-up rookie, Joacim Eriksson.

Who’s Hot

Including his pinch-hit performances against the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets, Lack has stopped 124 of 129 shots he’s faced in December – a 0.961 save percentage. He’s won 5 straight games, including 2 this month at Rogers Arena in front of a friendly Vancity crowd.

With his game-winning goal last night, Jannik Hansen now has 3 goals in his last 6 games.

Coinciding with the Flyers’ slow start, Claude Giroux only had 6 assists in his first 13 games this season. He’s busted out since though with 29 points in his last 25 games, including 15 points (5 goals and 10 assists) in an active 8-game point streak.

Wayne Simmonds has also been quietly putting together another good season. He has 9 points (7 goals and 2 assists) in an active 5-game point streak, and has potted 2 goals in each of his last 3 games.

The Flyers scored 3 PP goals against the Oilers on Saturday so expect Torts to really drill into the Canucks the importance of staying out of the box.

Who’s Out

The Canucks keep winning, but last night, they lost yet another player to injury last night. Following a Brian McGrattan hit, Andrew Alberts left with a suspected concussion and did not return. He joins Roberto Luongo, Alex Edler, Ryan Stanton, Alex Burrows and Jordan Schroeder on the sidelines.

The Flyers are without Erik Gustafsson, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Nov 052010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

They called it “the Gauntlet.”

I had first heard about it in my final days of Atom hockey in Ontario. It was whispered about in hushed, nervous tones, like people standing in the room with Mike Tyson during the ’80s.

Next year was the start of Peewee hockey (ages 11-12).

To play Peewee hockey meant running the Gauntlet.

What was the Gauntlet?

Near the start of the season a team would line up, single file, from the blueline to the goal-line, about six feet from the boards.

One player would start outside the blueline and skate down along the boards.

This player would get body-checked by every other player on the team.

Naturally, teammates at the time invariably included:

  • the grizzled 12-year old vets who hit puberty early, were already working on goatees and were easily a foot taller than the rest of us;
  • the crazy, fat kid who couldn’t handle the puck but now had a weight-advantage he could really use;
  • the bullies who saw this as an opportunity to take a seven-step skate and leap at a teammate.

This was my introduction to body-checking.

Thankfully I survived, and actually enjoyed the experience, although there were a few of my teammates who did get hurt, and others who’s interest in playing the game never quite recovered.

I often think about the Gauntlet when I hear the usual suspects’ debate concussions and hits to the head.

The term “debate” is used loosely here, since most of the influential voices in Canada (TSN, Sportsnet, NHL Network and Hockey Night in Canada personalities) are concerned mostly with the NHL, which, in the grand scheme of things, is the end-of-the-road for player development. These are generally conservative voices that want to primarily protect the status quo, for a variety of reasons (including business ones).

How nice would it be if one of these influential voices shifted the debate to how hitting and being hit is taught at the grassroots, and whether the culture of intimidation, nurtured from grassroots hockey into the NHL, is a good thing.

It’s these topics, at levels as early as Peewee hockey, which are the cause for what we’re seeing in the NHL.

Any solution applied at the NHL level is simply a band-aid – a short-term one until these other topics are fully explored.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY:

  • Mike Richards is the captain, and Chris Pronger has the reputation, but Claude Giroux’s leadership skills are earning raves from the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Speaking of the Flyers, there’s a bit of a love affair starting between goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and fans, who chant Bob after saves at home games. Could it be shades of Pelle Lindbergh?
  • Ethan Moreau’s broken hand has opened the door for Columbus Derek Dorsett, who’s playing an inspired, gritty game for the Blue Jackets. It will be interesting to see what happens when Moreau returns to action, and if his role is reduced. His reaction to a reduced role was one of the things that poisoned the Oiler dressing room.
  • What’s more upsetting – that the average ticket price Leaf fans pay is almost twice the average ticket price of anywhere else in the league, or that fans in Tampa, Buffalo, St. Louis and Pittsburgh only pay $5 for beer?
  • Damien Cox argues that the Ilya Kovalchuk story in New Jersey all started with an “no off-wing” systems approach by Assistant Coach Adam Oates. I’m pretty sure other teams in the league believe in the same system, including the Edmonton Oilers.
  • It may be part of Guy Boucher’s infamous system, but it’s still a bit odd to see a team play so much with one defenseman back, pretty much playing “safety.”
  • If this is Lindy Ruff’s last year in Buffalo, and the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, look for Ruff’s name to be at the top of the list to replace Ron Wilson as coach.
  • Dear Kelly Hrudey: Thanks for going on the Team 1040 and reminding us that there is an element of NHL hockey that is not only completely out-of-touch with fans, but quite frankly couldn’t care less about us. I look forward to booing you at every future opportunity.
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