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.

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.

Mar 272014
 

Nino Niederreiter elbows Alex Burrows in the head.

If you want to get your blood boiling early on a Thursday morning, watch the Minnesota feed of Nino Niederreiter’s elbow to the head of Alex Burrows.

“Ridiculous call”, they say. “Good, open ice hit”, they say.

In terms of homer announcers, this one tops the charts.

For all the heightened sensitivity to head shots and concussions and all that, the NHL, of course, agrees with them, and Niederreiter is scot-free and has been cleared to play in the Wild’s game tonight in St. Louis. In other words, the NHL has deemed his 2-minute trip to the box as sufficient penalty for coming at an opposing player from the blindside and lifting his elbow to hit his head.

I guess hits to the head are good hits again. His teammate, Matt Cooke, will be proud.

You be the judge.

Mar 262014
 

457470533_slide
(Photo Credit: nhl.com)

Despite their modest two-game win streak, the Vancouver Canucks have gained no ground in the standings because, well, the teams in front of them are keeping pace. (I mean, how hard is it to win 2 games in a row?? Oh yeah, the Canucks have won back-to-back games only for the first time in two months.) To make the playoffs, the Canucks must still move past the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, of course, but with only 9 games left in the regular season and still 6 points back of the 8th place Coyotes, they have no margin for error. Consider this: the Canucks can win all of their remaining 9 games, but they must still hope that both the Coyotes and Stars lose almost half of their remaining games in order to pass them.

Henrik Out Again

It seems like ages ago when Henrik Sedin was the league’s ironman. Now, after getting injured on an awkward hit on Sunday, he’s out again for the second time this season. He won’t make the Canucks’ two-game road, which makes their fight for a playoff spot that much tougher.

Lineup Change

With a goal and 2 assists in Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Shawn Matthias must have impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the first line with Daniel Sedin and Nicklas Jensen. (Well, that and the Canucks don’t really have a heck of a lot of options these days, eh?)

Predictions

Not sure how many people would agree with me, but as a confident Canucks fan, I think they’ll pull through and win this crucial game. I definitely think it’ll be a close game, but a Canucks win nonetheless. 3-2, maybe?

Mar 012014
 

Sure, the game had its moments. Like Ryan Kesler scoring – shorthanded – in his first game back from injury, in his first game since word got out that he had requested a trade out of Vancouver. Like Eddie Lack standing on his head again, allowing just one goal for the 6th time in his last 8 starts. Like Keith Ballard returning to Rogers Arena (playing in the game and not sitting in the press box).

But let’s be reality here. Canucks vs. Wild games aren’t the most exciting games at the best of times, and last night’s was no different. Perhaps fittingly, it ended in an extra long shootout – seven rounds, to be exact – that was only extra long because no one could score.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Sep 302013
 

On the eve of the start of the 2013/2014 NHL regular season, I preview the 30 teams, one division at a time.

Chicago Blackhawks

Photo credit: Grantland

Chicago Blackhawks

The Good

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and may very well have a chance at a repeat performance. After all, they retained much of their players, with Dave Bolland perhaps the only significant subtraction from the roster. Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger all seem ready to take on more responsibility.

The Bad

Especially with the hard salary cap and increased parity, it’s pretty darn tough to repeat in this league. The last team to be able to do so were the 1996/1997 and 1997/1998 Detroit Red Wings.

The Outlook

As much as it hurts to say this, I think the Blackhawks are, once again, the team to beat this season.

*****

Colorado Avalanche

The Good

After a few seasons in the cellar, the Avalanche are slowly assembling a good group of players up front. Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon are as good a young forward core as any team can ask for.

The Bad

Their defense is weak and their goaltending is inconsistent.

The Outlook

There may be hope on the horizon for the Avs, but at least for this season, they’ll have to go through some growing pains.

*****

Dallas Stars

The Good

The Stars may have given up first-line winger, Loui Eriksson, to the Boston Bruins, but in Tyler Seguin, they received someone with no. 1 center potential. In the same deal, they also managed to get Rich Peverley, who has potential to produce as a no. 2 center. Jamie Benn, a 6’2″ forward who averaged 0.80 points per game last season, is an emerging star. 23-year old Alex Chiasson and 2013 1st round draft pick Valeri Nichushkin look like they will fill some key roles in the lineup.

The Bad

There’s not a lot of depth in the back end after Alex Goligoski, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley. 39-year old, UFA signing Sergei Gonchar will help, but other than that will rely on guys like Brendan Dillon, ex-Canuck Kevin Connauton, Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn to improve.

The Outlook

This may be a bridge year for the Stars. The kids will get opportunities to play and gain some much-needed experience.

*****

Minnesota Wild

The Good

By signing Matt Cooke and trading for Nino Niederreiter, the Wild did well to improve their bottom-six.

The Bad

The top-six is top-heavy. After the no. 1 line of Mikko Koivu-Zach Parise-Jason Pomminville, the Wild will have to rely on youngsters, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, and hope that Dany Heatley can stay relatively healthy and able to chip in offensively.

The Outlook

After making a big splash and signing Parise and franchise defenseman Ryan Suter last year, there was a lot of optimism in St. Paul to start the 2012/2013 season. Expectations should be more tempered this season.

*****

Nashville Predators

The Good

Goaltending and defense will, of course, once again be the Predators’ strong suit. They had Seth Jones drop into their laps at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and Roman Josi looks like the real deal.

The Bad

The Preds’ offense finished dead last in the NHL last year; this year won’t be any better.

The Outlook

Sometime in the future, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and Taylor Beck may well provide Nashville with the offense they need. Just not with any regular frequency this season.

*****

St. Louis Blues

The Good

The Blues have incredible depth throughout their lineup and should once again be one of the hardest teams to play against. Already with David Backes, Alex Steen, Chris Stewart, Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko, they went ahead and added Magnus Paajarvi from Edmonton and ex-Canucks, Derek Roy and Maxim Lapierre. Their defensive corps consisting of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Jordan Leopold may be the best in the league.

The Bad

The Blues have only won one playoff round – in 2011/2012 – in the last ten seasons.

The Outlook

The Blues should easily make the post-season in the new Central Division, and certainly, they have the pieces to finally make it out of the second round of the playoffs.

*****

Winnipeg Jets

The Good

The Jets’ top-3 on d – Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian – can produce with the best of them. Up front, they added some depth behind Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little by signing versatile Michael Frolik and 20-goal man, Devin Setoguchi.

The Bad

Their defense isn’t that great defensively, playing in the same division as some very good defensive teams.

The Outlook

The Jets should be able to compete for one of the Western Conference’s wildcard spots.

Apr 302013
 

Vancouver Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 NHL playoffs

Photo credit: CBC.ca

As we await the first drop of the puck in the 2013 NHL playoffs, we at CHB put our reputations on the line and make our predictions for the first round. Like last year, we’ll keep a running tally of who makes the most correct predictions. And also like last year, the winner gets nothing but bragging rights.

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild

Clay: Chicago in 5. Chicago is simply too strong for Minnesota. There’s a reason why one team won the Presidents’ Trophy and the other got in on the last weekend of the regular season. Chicago has too much high-end talent – this won’t even be close.

Victoria: Chicago in 5. I hate to admit it but Chicago has been a force this short season and I don’t see the Wild taking any of the flame from their fire.

@cherry_grant: Chicago in 5. I hate saying this because I, as a good Canucks fan, hate the ‘Hawks. That said, I feel pretty certain that Minnesota will be decimated by them and I will be sad, but somewhat pleased to be basking in my correctness.

J.J.: Chicago in 4. Maybe I like the Hawks that much. Or maybe I just want to jinx them.

Matt: Chicago in 5. This comes down to simple physics: The Blackhawks are a team with firepower up front, adequate defense, and decent goaltending, while the Wild have a popgun offense that barely got them into the postseason. What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Clay: Anaheim in 7. While Detroit has more momentum heading into the playoffs, Anaheim had a better regular season including an amazing February when they won 11 out of 13 games. They’ve faltered a bit since then but I still think they’re a better team.

Victoria: Detroit in 7. If any team can pull off a come-from-behind and out-of-nowhere unexpected victory or 7, it’s Detroit. And as the Capitals have proven time and time again, if any team can perform an epic playoff meltdown, it’s a team coached by Bruce Boudreau.

@cherry_grant: Anaheim in 6. Mainly because they have Reverend Lovejoy on their team. (Note: I don’t actually care if his first name is Reverend or not, it will be to me either way.)

J.J.: Anaheim in 7. Given their roster turnover, both teams probably overachieved this season. Datsyuk and Zetterberg elevated their games at the end of the season, and Jimmy Howard has been tremendous, but Getzlaf, Perry, Bobby Ryan and company aren’t slouches either. Plus, I like the Ducks’ kids (Bonino, Fowler) a tiny bit more than the Wings’ kids (Brunner, DeKeyser).

Matt: Anaheim in 7. To answer the question a lot of people are asking, yes, the Ducks are for real. The team doesn’t have to rely solely on Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne because their young kids are getting the job done too. But don’t expect the Detroit old boys to go down quietly.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Clay: Canucks in 7. Very similar teams: strong goaltending and deep down the middle. Two main differences to me: the Canucks have a deeper blue line and the Sharks are horrible on the road. Game 7 at Rogers Arena may be the difference – stanchion or not.

Victoria: Canucks in 7. To be honest, other than a game against Chicago, the Canucks play hasn’t given me a ton of confidence. But they’ve beaten the Sharks in their sleep before so hopefully they can do it again, even if they’re scoring and defence are sleeping through games.

@cherry_grant: I’m going to say Vancouver, in 6. San Jose’s playoff hockey has been pretty weak in past years. Then there’s the whole “being a staunch fan” thing, which makes me want to say “VANCOUVER IN 4, SUCKAS!”

J.J.: Canucks in 7. If the Canucks team that played the Chicago Blackhawks last Monday shows up, they can beat any team in the league. If the Canucks team that didn’t show up for about 40 of the other games this season suit up against the Sharks, it’s going to be a quick exit and a long summer in Vancouver. I have to believe the Canucks can flip the proverbial switch.

Matt: Canucks in 7. What happens when two teams who have a reputation of being playoff “choke artists” meet in the first round? Both teams find a way to make it hard for themselves. With home ice and a healthy-ish lineup, the Canucks should normally get this done in five or six, but they’ll find a way to mess up a game or two.

(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Clay: LA in 7. I’m looking forward to these two big teams try to run each other through the boards. I believe that the Kings will prevail in the end: they hammered the Blues on the way to the Stanley Cup last year. It will be closer this year but with the same result.

Victoria: LA in 5. Kings don’t seem to have much of a Stanley Cup hangover, so I’m thinking they’ll at least get through the Blues without a meltdown.

@cherry_grant: Ewwww. St. Louis is my pick for this, in 7. Though really, nobody does as well against St. Louis as Gino Odjick.

J.J.: St. Louis in 7. The Kings have won 8 straight regular season and playoff games against the Blues. So of course, I’m putting my money on St. Loo.

Matt: St. Louis in 7. The last two teams to represent the West in the finals have been bounced in the first round? Coincidence? Probably, but why not keep the trend going? These two teams are strong defensively and physically and will beat the crap out of each other, but the Blues have more incentive to do it.

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders

Clay: Pittsburgh in 5. Crosby or not, the Penguins will over-match the Islanders. While New York might be a feel a good story, there’s a reason why the Penguins loaded up at the trade deadline. Fleury won’t have to be awesome for the Penguins to win this series; he just has to be good.

Victoria: Pittsburgh in 6. The last couple of seasons the Penguins have had a way of melting down in the playoffs against teams that they should easily beat. I think it’s time that trend stops. I think they think it too.

@cherry_grant: Pens in 7. Iginla will totally win it for them, single handedly! Right?!

J.J.: Pens in 5. You just know the Islanders will promote Evgeni Nabokov to the front office and bring back Alexei Yashin for some playoff punch, and cause a kerfuffle in what has been a relatively worry-free season in Long Island.

Matt: Pittsburgh in 5. The Penguins are this year’s “sexy” pick to win it all, but the fact the Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time in a gazillion years should provide them a little pep to steal a game. Otherwise, this isn’t a matchup that’s even close.

(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Clay: Montreal in 7. This is going to be an entertaining season to watch. The Senators will get a lift from the early return of Erik Karlsson but they’ll miss Jason Spezza. Look for Carey Price to find his game just in time to help his team squeak out a narrow victory.

Victoria: Montreal in 7. Ottawa is definitely on it’s way back from near disaster but Montreal is hungry after missing the playoffs last year. Habs want it more and they’re generally better at playoff battles.

@cherry_grant: Ottawa in 7. No reason for this choice at all.

J.J.: Ottawa in 6. Carey Price has owned the Sens recently. But Carey Price also has an 0.871 save percentage and has allowed 32 goals in his last 10 games.

Matt: Ottawa in 7. Montreal started the year on fire but have been mediocre down the stretch, while the Sens have been given a lift with Erik Karlsson — and potentially Jason Spezza’s — return. The Sens have been underdogs all season but won’t go away, why should the first round be any different?

(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers

Clay: Washington in 6. Washington and New York enter the playoffs as two of the hottest teams in the East and they were separated by only one point in the final standings. Ovechkin is on an amazing run right now and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Victoria: Rangers in 7. Both these teams always seem to struggle to get in and stay in the playoffs. But the Rangers have more fight in them and I predict Ovie will fall into his regularly scheduled playoff coma nap.

@cherry_grant: Washington in 6, which is a purely arbitrary decision because I have unreasonable, baseless dislike of the Rangers.

J.J.: Washington in 7. The Caps are peaking at the right time, losing just twice in April and posting an 11-1-1 record. Ovie is back in beast mode, and Ribeiro, Backstrom, Brouwer and Johansson have played great in support. Defenseman Mike Green is back too, which gives the Caps’ back end a different dynamic.

Matt: Rangers in 6. This might be a bold pick given the Caps were rolling in the second half, but I’ll take a stingy defense and all-world netminder over a vaunted offense. The Rangers have a core group that’s more battle-tested and playoff-ready (Callahan, Stepan, Richards over Ovechkin, Backstrom, Ribeiro).

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Clay: Boston in 6. As much as I dislike both of these teams, I must admit that I’m very interested in seeing how this series pans out. While Toronto is much improved, the Bruins are much more seasoned and playoff-tested. Jagr and Redden add to their experience.

Victoria: Leafs in 7. There is no rational thought process involved in this pick. If Leafs manage to pull this off then pigs really will fly. But I’d rather see pigs fly than Boston win so, oink! oink! Watch out for that jet, Wilbur!

@cherry_grant: Leafs in 7. I’m SHOCKED (and feel more than a little dirty) to say this, but GO LEAFS GO. I like the Bruins even less than the Blackhawks, so the Leafs had better continue being GOOD, for once.

J.J.: Boston in 5. It’s hard enough to tolerate the early media coverage now that the Leafs have made it back to the postseason for the first time in 9 years. I can’t imagine how insufferable things would be if the Leafs won a playoff game, never mind a playoff series.

Matt: Boston in 6. If there was an option to have both teams eliminate each other, I’d be picking it, just for sheer reasons fraught with anger and dislike. But there can only be one winner, and it’ll be the Bruins. The hard-nosed B’s will keep Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel under wraps, and Patrice Bergeron has established himself as a playoff force.

Mar 182013
 

When the Minnesota Wild signed BFFs Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to similar 13-year, $98 million contracts this off-season, some wondered whether or not owner Craig Leopold had finally lost his mind. Don’t get me wrong. Not that these outrageously big contracts weren’t deserved – Parise is a consistent 30-goal scorer and recorded a career-high 94 points in 2008-2009, and Ryan Suter is one of the top defensemen in the league with an average of over 30 points a season over the last 5 seasons – but Minnesota is still a relatively-small market team and Leopold cried poor not long after the deals. Committing $196 million to 2 players is no small thing.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

Courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


Fast forward to today and it seems like the Parise and Suter signings have paid off for the Wild. For starters, business is as ‘good as it’s ever been’ in Minnesota. On the ice, the Wild are now leading the Northwest Division, wrestling top spot again from the Canucks this weekend. And leading the Wild? Parise and Suter, of course.

Parise has found some good chemistry with captain Mikko Koivu and both have 22 points each (Parise has 11 goals). After a bit of a slow start, Suter has hit his stride and leads the team with 23 points (2G-21A).

Tonight’s game, the final meeting for the Canucks and the Wild this season, will be another battle for first place in the Northwest Division. The Canucks do lead the season series 2-1, but were trumped in Minnesota just over a week ago.

Canucks Record

13-8-6, 32 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 7th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Suter has 14 points in his last 10 games and hasn’t gone more than 1 game without a point since February 7, 2013. He is also averaging a league-high 27:16 minutes of ice-time per game.

Alex Edler has 4 points (1G-3A) and is a plus-3 in his last 2 games.  Though while his offensive contributions are welcomed by the currently offensively-challenged Canucks, his defensive breakdowns also seem to be more commonplace.

Who’s Not

Dany Heatley is tied for the team’s worst plus/minus with a minus-11 and has only managed 2 assists in his last 5 games and 6 points in his last 12 games.

Quickies

Mar 112013
 

Mired in a 3-game losing slump, the Canucks called a team meeting prior to facing the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night. Did it work?

Ummm…

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

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