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.

Jan 082014
 

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s admirable that the Canucks fought back from a 2-goal deficit against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s likewise impressive that they scored 4 consecutive goals, the last 2 within a 17-second span in the third period to take a 2-goal lead of their own. What sucks is that they blew a lead late – again. They allowed the Pens to tie the game late – 2 goals in 16 seconds with a minute left in the third period to be precise – and proceeded to lose 5-4 in the shootout.

The Canucks have now lost 5 consecutive games. In 4 of those games, they carried a lead into the third period. In 3 of those games, they had the lead with less than 2 minutes left.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Jan 072014
 

185352910_slide
(source: nhl.com)

Vancouver Canucks (23-13-8)

Pittsburgh Penguins (31-12-1)

By giving up the game-winning goal with 0.6 1.3 seconds left in OT to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks extended their winless streak to 4 games. And it doesn’t get any easier tonight as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the NHL’s Metropolitan Division by 17 – yes, 17 – points and have won 15 of their last 18 games.

Oh yeah, and the Penguins just got Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang back from injury.

Tonight’s game marks the first of the Canucks short, two-game home stand before going back on the road for 4 of their 5 games. It is the second and final regular season meeting between the Canucks and Penguins. The Penguins won the first their first meeting in Pittsburgh in the shootout by a 4-3 score.

Who’s Hot

Daniel Sedin assisted on all 3 Canucks goals against the Ducks, and now has 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) in his last 5 games.

Ryan Kesler has scored a powerplay goals in each of the last 2 games.

Unsurprising given their record, a few Penguins are on hot streaks right now. James Neal has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in his last 5 games. Sidney Crosby is on a 5-game point streak with and has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in that span. Malkin, who has been out since December 14th, scored twice and added an assist in his first game back on Sunday against the Jets.

Who’s Out

Injuries and injuries and injuries for both teams.

Luongo (ankle) remains day-to-day for the Vancouver Canucks along with forwards Chris Higgins (flu-like symptoms) and Zack Kassian, who got injured on Sunday against the Ducks when Tom Sestito accidentally got his skate up to his face. Defensemen Andrew Alberts (concussion), Alex Edler (lower body) and Ryan Stanton (ankle), and forwards Jordan Schroeder (ankle) and Alex Burrows (jaw) are on injured reserve.

For the Penguins, Chuck Kobasew (lower body) is day-to-day for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defenseman Paul Martin (leg), and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Andrew Ebbett (ankle), Jayson Megna (lower body), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (hand) are on injured reserve

Oct 202013
 

The Vancouver Canucks played the Pittsburgh Penguins in an early morning match-up so we get a dose of Sidney Crosby with our eggs and coffee.

And that’s not even the best part.

See, after globetrotting over the last few months, Lizz Moffat is back. And so is The Game According to Twitter.

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.

Rangers vs Islanders

Photo credit: MLB

Carolina Hurricanes

The Good

The top-line of Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty was one of the highest-scoring lines in the NHL last season, but the Canes have little scoring depth after that. Adding Jordan Staal last season helped address this, but at this point, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner can’t reliably be counted on to stay healthy.

The Bad

I think it says enough when the addition of Mike Komisarek on defense is considered an upgrade.

The Outlook

Things won’t be rocking like a Hurricane in Carolina this season.

*****

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Good

If Marion Gaborik, Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky can ever stay healthy, the Blue Jackets may actually boast some scoring punch on its top two lines. They still do have a lot of ifs, but there’s no denying GM John Davidson has the team moving along the right path.

The Bad

Like the Canes, the Blue Jackets don’t have a lot of team depth.

The Outlook

Columbus was built to bump and grind it out with the best of them, which, playing in the old Central Division, almost won them a playoff spot last season. The East is a different beast, however, and being in the same division as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders will force them to play a more wide-open game than they’d like.

*****

New Jersey Devils

The Good

With Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, already in the lineup, goaltending was never an issue in Newark. But now, they also have ex-Canuck, Cory Schneider, to take over when Brodeur decides to hang them up.

The Bad

After losing Zach Parise, the Devils finished 28th in goals per game in 2012/2013. Now, they’ve also lost their leading goal scorer, David Clarkson (Toronto), and 2nd-leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk (KHL).

The Outlook

While Brodeur and Schneider can keep the Devils close in games, regardless of how the team is playing in front of them, I’m not convinced UFA signings, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe can adequately replace the loss of Parise, Kovalchuk and Clarkson.

*****

New York Islanders

The Good

With John Tavares and Matt Moulson leading the way, the Islanders finished the 2012/2013 season with the 7th-ranked offense in the NHL. Now, it looks like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are poised to take another step in their development and help out. Ex-Canuck, Michael Grabner, can also be counted on to score about 20+ goals.

The Bad

The Isles don’t have much back on d. Yes, they’ll score a lot. But they’ll also let in a lot of goals.

The Outlook

If another youngster or two – maybe a Griffin Reinhart – then the Isles may very well compete for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

*****

New York Rangers

The Good

The Rangers may very well benefit from a gentler, calmer, kinder (sometimes too kind) voice behind the bench in former Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault. But also, AV will also benefit from having an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, a deep group down the middle (Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derrick Brassard and Brian Boyle), some solid players on the wings (Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan), and some good, young players stepping in (Carl Hagelin, Mats Zucarello and JT Miller).

The Bad

The Rangers’ special teams weren’t exactly special last season – their PP was in the bottom-third of the league and their PK was merely average – and they didn’t add anyone specifically to address them.

The Outlook

After the Penguins and the Capitals, the Rangers should take one of the divisional playoff spots. How far they go will depend largely on how AV can motivate a group that seemed to get stale last season.

*****

Philadelphia Flyers

The Good

On paper, the Flyers seem to always boast one of the strongest, most balanced teams in the league, and this season is no different. Up front, they already had Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, Sean Couturier and Matt Read in their top-nine. And then they added Vincent Lecavalier during free agency. In the back, they added offensive defenseman, Mark Streit, to a group that already included Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Luke Schenn.

The Bad

The Flyers’ playoff hopes hang on Ray Emery, who hasn’t been a no. 1 goalie since the 2006/2007 season, and Steve Mason, whose last good year as a no. 1 goalie was his rookie year in the 2008/2009 season.

The Outlook

As their goaltending go, the Flyers will go. But hey, it wouldn’t be Philadelphia-like any other way.

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Good

Where to start? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz highlight the attack, and Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen provide more than adequate support. 21-year old Beau Bennett looks good too.

The Bad

Marc-Andre Fleury is still the Pens’ starting goaltender while Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely.

The Outlook

The Pens should make the playoffs on the strength of their lineup alone. After that, all bets are off.

*****

Washington Capitals

The Good

Simply, the Caps’ offense. Alex Ovechkin is back. And so is Mike Green. Nicklas Backstrom scored at a point-a-game pace. Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer also improved. And while the league’s 5th-ranked offense and top-ranked power play lost second-line center, Mike Ribeiro, the Caps did replace him with Mikhail Grabovski.

The Bad

The defense is razor-thin. Green, fellow offensive defenseman, John Carlson, and defensive defenseman, Karl Alzner, head the group, but after that consists of some guys I’ve never heard of.

The Outlook

The Caps will make the playoffs, but will need some help in the back end to make any sort of an extended playoff run.

Jun 012013
 

Credit: NHL.com

The NHL’s Final Four starts today with the star-laden Penguins taking on the big, bad Bruins in the East.  In the West, it’s the talented Blackhawks against the defending champ Kings.

It’s very possible that many hockey fans – Vancouver Canucks hockey fans that is – are still undecided as to who to cheer for.  Thus, we here at CHB wanted to provide you with some suggestions.

Chicago Blackhawks

Recent History

The Chicago Blackhawks ousted the Vancouver Canucks in the second-round of the playoffs in both 2009 and 2010 before the Canucks got some revenge in the spring of 2011 in a thrilling seven-game first-round series.  Then in March 2012, just a few weeks before the start of the playoffs, Duncan Keith took out Daniel Sedin with a vicious elbow in the neutral zone, effectively leading to the Canucks’ disappointing first-round exit.

What’s to Like

Jonathan Toews, despite the occasional tantrum, is still a great leader and one of the hardest-working players in the league.  Patrick Kane has cleaned off his off-ice shenanigans and is very exciting to watch.  Patrick Sharp is one of the best snipers in the NHL.  Overall, the team plays an exciting brand of hockey led by their creative forwards.  And Brent Seabrook was born in Richmond if that makes a difference to you.

What’s not to Like

Duncan Keith.  Whether it’s concussing a Sedin or getting into it with a female reporter, the guy simply isn’t that likable.   As well, many Canucks fans still can’t get over those back-to-back playoff losses a few years ago.

Likability Score:  2.5/5

 

Los Angeles Kings

Recent History

The Canucks disposed of the Kings in six games in the 2010 playoffs.  Then, we all know what happened last year.  The Kings dominated the Canucks in the 2012 playoffs, much like they dominated every team they faced on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.  The Kings proved to be a very deep and rugged team, and goaltender Jonathan Quick was extremely strong.

What’s to Like

Jonathan Quick for one.  He is extremely athletic and absolutely never gives up on the play.  It’s very possible he could win back to back Conn Smythe awards.  Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are fun to watch (mostly) and are clean players (although David Booth might disagree).  Drew Doughty is an exciting player when he’s on his game.   Darryl Sutter is growing on me albeit very slowly.  And Willie Mitchell is still there.

What’s not to Like

Captain Dustin Brown has developed a reputation of being a diver, so much so that there are numerous YouTube “tribute” videos dedicated to his mastery of the craft.  It’s too bad, because at his best he’s a talented, scrappy player.

Likability Score: 3/5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Recent History

There’s hardly any to write of.  The Canucks didn’t play the Penguins in this lockout-shortened season, and prior to that they’ve only played once in a year. The games have ranged from the relatively-forgettable to the extremely-memorable (anyone remember Luongo’s overtime penalty shot save on Crosby at GM Place in December 2007)?  I must admit that I’ve been a Crosby fan ever since he scored the golden goal here in February 2010.

What’s to Like

If you’re a fan of offensive hockey, then Pittsburgh is your team.  Their forward depth is unbelievable with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Iginla, Dupuis, Kunitz, Morrow, Jokinen, etc and they often need to outscore their goaltending.  Kris Letang is a stud back on the blue line, and you have ex-Canucks Tanner Glass and Matt Cooke (more on him below).

What’s not to Like

Much like some fans vehemently oppose Lebron James and his cast of superfriends on the Miami Heat in the NBA, there could be some who want to see the Penguins fail after loading up at the trade deadline.  As well, Matt Cooke is extremely polarizing, despite being an ex-Canuck.

Likeability Score:  4/5

 

Boston Bruins

Recent History

As if you need me to actually type anything here…haha.  The Bruins beat the Canucks in the Stanley Cup final in 2011 in a spirited and emotional series.  Their January 2012 regular season meeting in Boston (an intense game that Vancouver won 4-3) is regularly cited as the start of the Canucks’ downfall last year.

What’s to Like

My parents taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all.

What’s Not to Like

Marchand.  Lucic.  Paille. Horton. Thornton. Chara. Julien.  And Tim Thomas….oh wait….

Likability Score:  0/5

May 312013
 

Of the four remaining teams in the NHL playoffs, three of them – the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings – are teams that beat the Canucks in the last 3 seasons en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

Go Penguins.

Here are our round three picks:

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Clay: Blackhawks in 7. This series will be an interesting clash of styles. Chicago is playing with some great confidence right now, having won three straight against Detroit. If the Hawks’ skill players can outplay the Kings’ skill players, then Chicago will win. While not as big and tough as the Kings, I think they can play tough enough to keep up. And Crawford shouldn’t worry about having to match Quick save for save; but he will have to avoid letting in a bad goal.

Victoria: Kings in 6. The Kings thrive at being the underdog without home ice. Also with two teams this closely matched in youth and Stanley Cup experience, goalies will matter most. Corey Crawford will crumble before Jonathan Quick does.

@cherry_grant: ‘Hawks in 7. Eff those guys, but ‘Hawks in 7. Gahhh, I’m getting tired of having to say nice things about Chicago, or at least saying not horrible things about those jerks! Go Blackhawks. *shiver*

J.J.: Blackhawks in 6. The ‘Hawks are a good team. Now only if the officials will let them showcase that skill.

Matt: Kings in 6. It pains me to write this, because it’s like trying to pick between which of the problem children you’d like to babysit at your house for another month. The fact is, Los Angeles is the more consistent team right now, whereas Chicago seemingly can’t be bothered to play their best hockey until they absolutely have to. This series will be a treat I’m sure, but I like the Kings’ chances of stealing a game on the road and holding serve at home more than the Blackhawks.

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Boston Bruins

Clay: Penguins in 6. The Penguins have been relatively untested so far in the playoffs so I’m intrigued as to how they will fare against the big, bad Bruins. I think that Pittsburgh will continue to outscore any goaltending issues they may have although Vokoun has been pretty solid (but not spectacular). In the end, I don’t see a team with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Iginla, and Letang being denied.

Victoria: Penguins in 5. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching superhero movies, it’s good always triumphs over evil. And the Bruins are evil. The end.

@cherry_grant: Penguins in 7. AS IF I’m going to pick Boston this time. I hope Pittsburgh and the mighty Iginla hand their asses to them, then hoist the cup, preferably with misty eyes and exploding with well-justified pride. that said, I don’t think it’ll be easy.

J.J.: Penguins in 5. I mean, how much longer can the green Boston defense play as well as they have?

Matt: Penguins in 7. This matchup may even be sexier than the other series. But I like a stacked Pittsburgh forwards group against a Boston defense which has been beset by injury. That isn’t to say the Bruins kids (Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and the like) have not filled in admirably, but they’re not matching up against Ryan Callahan or Nazem Kadri anymore; these are tried and true bonafide superstars they will need to hold off. The one X-Factor could be the physicality of this series; if the Bruins can pulverize the Penguins, it may swing the series in Boston’s favour.

May 142013
 

With the first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs behind us, it’s time to talk about more important things, like who’s leading the CHB playoffs prediction pool – that would be the Victoria, who correctly predicted 5 of the series winners.

Here are our round two picks:

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Clay: Chicago in 6. The Blackhawks have too much firepower and their forwards will overwhelm the Red Wings’ defence. Chicago may come out a bit rusty (given the 6 days between games) but they will shake it off quickly.

Victoria: Chicago in 7. It’ll go to 7 games because Jimmy Howard is the better goalie, but he’s not good enough to steal a series from a bunch of younger, hungrier Hawks.

@cherry_grant: I want to say Wings in 7, but I will instead say ‘Hawks in 6. Part of me hopes the Kings and the Wings win their series and eventually have to face off just for rhyme’s sake.

J.J.: Chicago in 5. I should know better than to underestimate the Wings, especially Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the playoffs, but the Blackhawks just have way too much depth and firepower.

Matt: Chicago in 6. Three of Detroit’s wins over Anaheim came via OT. What does that tell you? It could be that this is a team that never gives up, but it can also tell you the Wings are a team that just barely made it to the second round. They’ll put up a good fight but this is the end of the road for Detroit.

(4) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Clay: Kings in 6. While the Sharks dispatched the Canucks quickly, the Kings had a tougher first-round series yet also won four straight games. The Kings will be able to match the Sharks’ depth at forward and they have a stronger blue line. Look for the Kings to exert their will over the Sharks in this battle of California.

Victoria: Kings in 6. I’ve been attending a lot of Kings games and really can’t say enough how focused and calm they’ve been playing. Canucks laid down and gave up. Kings will not.

@cherry_grant: Kings. With genuinely no bitterness from being swept in the first round by the stinkin’ Sharks (okay, maybe a tiny bit of bitterness). I would rather see the Sharks win over the Kings (I think), but I just don’t see it, even though my last batch of picks proved my lack of psychic ability. (I won’t be sad to be wrong here.)

J.J.: Kings in 7. Kings started playing better as the playoffs rolled on. Who’ll dive more – Joe Thornton, Tommy Wingels or Dustin Brown?

Matt: San Jose in 7. My gut tells me that this is essentially a coin flip. Jonathan Quick has reemerged as the best goaltender in the playoffs after a woeful first two games, but this is a San Jose team that dispatched a bad Vancouver club with depth and terrific defense. Sound familiar?

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Clay: I mentioned in the last round that Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to be awesome; he just had to be good. Well, it seems like he might not even be good enough to start this series. Regardless, the Penguins have too much firepower for the Senators and they will dispatch of the lone Canadian team left.

Victoria: Pittsburgh in 4. Pittsburgh in 4. The Senators just don’t have the talent depth of the Penguins. And also Gary Bettman will want to get rid of that last Canadian team quickly. ;)

@cherry_grant: Pittsburgh in 5. I feel like a traitor going against the Canadian team, but not QUITE enough to not go against the Canadian team. Pens > Sens.

J.J.: Pittsburgh in 6. I would love it if Ottawa made it through, and if Fleury was still in net for the Pens, I totally would have picked the Sens. As it stands, the Pens have gotten enough good goaltending from their backup, Tomas Vokoun, to allow the Pens’ offense to do their thing.

Matt: Pittsburgh in 7. I want badly to say the Senators can win this series, but unless the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Marc Andre Fleury have a meltdown between the pipes, I can’t see even this gutsy Sens team overcoming the Penguins’ power up front. It’ll be a war though.

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers

Clay: Rangers in 7. The Rangers are playing good hockey right now while the Bruins had to squeak into the second round. The Bruins’ blueline is beat up, and I expect this to be a low-scoring series, with Henrik Lundqvist out-dueling Tukka Rask in the end.

Victoria: Rangers in 6. My call here is based on the fact that Lundqvist is better than Rask, and the fact that I hate the Boston Bruins more than anything else in the universe.

@cherry_grant: Bruins in 6. I hope they pound each other terribly and the winner of this series gets swept in the next round. Just kidding. Ok, no I’m not. I’m still picking the Bruins.

J.J.: Rangers in 6. Hmmm… to pick the team that beat the Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals or the team that beat the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals? In the first round, the Rangers showed they have some damn good balance throughout their lineup; meanwhile, the Bruins got a bit beat up, especially back on d.

Matt: Rangers in 7. Boston should’ve handled the Leafs in five or six games but took all seven plus a miraculous comeback to put them to rest. New York is riding strong defense and hot goaltending and if that trend continues, the Rangers have reason to be optimistic.

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 272013
 

Brendan Morrow, Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo credit: penguins.nhl.com

Every year, there always seem to be a team that gets a jump on their trade deadline shopping. This year, the Pittsburgh Penguins are that team. On Sunday, the Pens traded top prospect, Joe Morrow, to the Dallas Stars for veteran and former 30-goal scorer, Brenden Morrow. Shortly afterwards, they acquired defenseman, Douglas Murray, from the San Jose Sharks for a 2nd round draft pick and another conditional draft pick, the latter depending on how far the Pens go in the playoffs and whether or not they re-sign Murray after the season.

Certainly, Morrow and Murray fill some needs, but they paid some steep prices to get them. And perhaps, it gives us a glimpse of what it’ll take to load up for a lengthy playoff run in this shortened NHL season.

J.J.: Safe to say the Pittsburgh Penguins are going for it. But man, did they pay some hefty prices. I mean, is Brendan Morrow worth a Joe Morrow? Is this the “market”?

Matt: I refuse to live in a world where Brenden Morrow is worth a top defensive prospect and Douglas Murray is worth two 2nd round draft picks, so maybe I should see if the NHL has expansion plans for another planet. But that said, this IS the market; Ray Shero just got his Christmas shopping done early and all he has to do is put his feet up while the other GMs panic up to the deadline. I remember reading one GM’s comments that trades are harder to make more than ever. In this whacky, short season, do you agree?

J.J.: It’s definitely a seller’s market. With so many teams still in playoff contention – only 6 points separate 8th and 14th place in the West and only 7 points separate 8th and 14th place in the East – the cost of acquiring reinforcements for the playoffs are at a premium. I like Brenden Morrow, but his play – and his production – has declined drastically over the last couple of years, and the Pens still had to give up a good prospect to get him. And Douglas Murray is essentially a bottom-pairing guy and he still cost a couple of 2nd round draft picks (although the second pick has conditions attached to it). Can you imagine if the Canucks gave up 2nd round draft picks like water at a rave and all they got in return was, say, Keith Carney?

Matt: Wouldn’t that be a little foolhardy? What kind of GM would be stupid enough to do that? Or pay a 2nd round pick for four games of Mika Noronen?

No, but in all seriousness, this indeed is the market for trades these days. I can’t see the Canucks be willing to move picks in what is expected to be a deep draft this June. And stow the Iginla rumours because I don’t think that will happen either. That said, I think the Canucks should be taking a look at a serviceable second line centre this trade deadline.

J.J.: The Canucks definitely need some center depth. At this point, it seems that unless you wrap Chris Tanev’s body around Ryan Kesler, Kes’ health will continue to be a big unknown, and I would think that having to deploy wingers as centers for any extended period during the playoffs should be a huge concern. On top of that, it would be nice to get some added scoring punch and defensive depth.

But are they willing to pony up to acquire these kinds of players? Or do they even have the assets to acquire them? You’re right the Canucks probably aren’t willing to move a lot of draft picks, especially high ones, in a deep draft, and I’d hate for them to part with promising prospects like Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Frankie Corrado. So if these are what teams are looking for in return for depth players, what do they do?

Matt: I think at the end of the day we can’t expect too much out of Mike Gillis when next Wednesday’s trade deadline comes and goes. Like we’ve established, this is a seller’s market (with the exception of the goalie market, which is ice cold at this point). More importantly, the Canucks have all their draft picks for the first time in a long time; that importance can’t be understated in a deep draft.

Sure, Gillis and Gilman will kick the tires on a few potentially blockbuster type of trades involving players like Derek Roy, Steve Ott, or even Sean Couturier. But I’ve got this haunting suspicion that after the deadline passes and Gillis faces the media, he’ll simply say that they made some calls to see if there was a way to improve this team, realized that the asking price was too high, and decided to stand pat. He’ll follow that up by saying he’s confident in the team he has now, he’s looking forward to adding Ryan Kesler when he returns from injury, and they’ll see what they can do in the offseason to both improve his team and get under the $64.3 million salary cap.

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