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Interesting Stories From Each Playoff Series Pt. 2

 

New Puck Daddy: a look inside the pre-playoff series meetings teams have

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If you missed it, yesterday I wrote about the interesting stories I’ll be keeping an eye on from the five playoff series that started yesterday.  Today, I’ll be doing the same for the other three.  Without further ado….. MORE PLAYOFFS!

(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (7) Buffalo Sabres

Two things immediately spring to mind: the phrase “upset watch” and the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending.  If you’re as sick of hearing about it as I am mentioning it, blame Philly’s GM, not me.  It’s quite possible that the two things I just mentioned go hand-in-hand.

Sabres were solid down the stretch, Flyers, nahsomuch.

Let me be clear: I don’t think the Sabres will beat the Flyers.  Philly’s forwards are as deep – okay, deeper – than any other team in the NHL (Boston is in the conversation), and their defense is just too good, even with Pronger out.  Yes, they will have a tough time getting pucks behind Ryan Miller, but you may have noticed Buffalo is a seven-seed — as in, he’s been scored on before.

I’ll be watching to see if Bobrovsky can keep enough pucks out of the Flyers net to help the team avoid getting that upset seed planted in their head.  If he let’s a few shaky ones in during the series’ first contest or Buffalo wins game one…. things will be a lot more interesting.

Underlying story: What the shit happened to the Flyers down the stretch?  You want to peak at the right time, and they seemed like they were dragging their asses through a rut down the homestretch.  I’m curious to see if it was the fact that they didn’t have a meaningful game for like, two months, or if something has seriously gone awry with that team.  More reason to keep this series on upset alert.

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(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings

You know what I’m curious about?  If there’s any plausible reason we can dig up to say LA could win more than one game.  The statement Dean Lombardi has made over the past couple years – trying to bring in a big name like Kovalchuk, Iginla, just anyone who could provide some offensive help – leads me to believe he has a pretty good idea of where they need help to win.

Their talent isn't too old to win.... yet.

Then Kopitar gets hurt, and they’re left with…. Dustin Penner.

This, for the Sharks, could be like going through one of those arrow things in Mario Cart that gives you a burst of speed heading into playoffs.  As Dave Lozo told us, you either win early in round one or you don’t win the Stanley Cup (“The last 32 teams to win their first-round series in seven games have failed to win the Stanley Cup.“).  They could polish off LA early, rest up, and make a push.

Will the Kings give their fans some breath of hope, somehow, some way?

Underlying story: For me, two little stories: one, the Sharks killed it in the second half of the NHL season, so my question is, could this team be way better than most people think?  They’re still pretty stacked.

And two, Antti Niemi.  He’s taken slow but steady steps towards being one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders.  Another solid playoff run would have him cemented there for years to come.  Without being flashy, might we be watching one of the NHL’s best emerge?

*****

(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Montreal Canadiens

I’m excited to see if the Canadiens have any push-back in them.  I know I’ve been very outspoken about this series, but it’s for a reason – I just can’t find a reason to believe the Habs could beat the Bruins, for one simple fucking reason: the Bruins have better players.  Phew – how’s that for in-depth analysis?

These teams? They no like each otha.

It’s not even close.  And the Bruins have the most intimidating team in the league to top it off, because their tough guys can play.  They don’t have to send a brainless thug out there to get justice, they inflict pain just with the natural way their players play, and that’s no fun in a seven game series. 

Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton combined for 206 PIMS (for context, Clark Gillies never got 100 PIMS in a season), and these two combined for 56 goals on top of that.  Cammalleri and Plecanec scored a combined 41(in 15 less games) and are more one-dimensional players.

The Habs have a couple more players with Cup experience, so basically, the story I’m most interested in (much like the San Jose/LA series) is if there’s any reason to believe the Habs have a shot.  Maybe it’s that experience (I think they have four guys with Cups versus the B’s two), but thus far, I can’t convince myself that they won’t be overwhelmed in four or five games.

Underlying story: The interesting names in this series.  Can Tim Thomas play like he did during the regular season in playoffs, or will it be Tuuka Time before it’s all said and done?  Will Tomas Kaberle have a shot at his first Cup?  How will he hold up under the pressure?  Can Carey Price stay in the good graces of Habs fans? 

There’s just a lot of fun NHL stars to track in this one.  Can’t wait to see what unfolds.

*****

Night one of the NHL playoffs was as fun as to be expected.  Four of my five series winner picks won (save for Tampa), so we’re off to a good start.  I’ll check in on my gambling status early next week.  Enjoy tonight!

FJM’ing Lambert’s Links: Okay, I’m Actually FJM’ing His Predictions

 

Ryan Lambert is my colleague over at Puck Daddy, and as you well know by now, I often “FJM” (MST3K, whatever) his Monday column “What We Learned,” only not in a dickish way (still a decent helping of sarcasm, of course).  This week, he dropped a special treat on us all – 20 completely random predictions. 

I thought to mix it up and keep it fresh, I’d FJM those today.  Cool?  Cool.

20 Bold Predictions For the Upcoming Season:

 

1. There will be three 100-point scorers on the Capitals this year as Alex Semin plays big-time for a new contract.

I hope so, cause he’s on my fantasy team.  I predict at least one snipe from Semin this year that makes me obsessively rave over how hard he snaps the puck.  Scary.

2. Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) leads the league in power play goals and actually stays on the right wing for a considerable portion of the season. He and Zach Parise(notes) will also make Travis Zajac(notes) a fantasy hockey superstar.

Zajac a fantasy hockey superstar?  I hope so, cause he’s on my fantasy team. 

With the way they shoot, Kovalchuk and Semin remind me of each other.  There’s a similar look to it.  Also, I continue to be blown away that that little Russian goal scorer (Kovy) is 230 pounds of man.  I’ll call Kovy for 50.

3. The Rangers will make the playoffs this year.

Lundqvist would have to have one hell of a season for that to happen.  I think they rely too heavily on inconsistent players - that’s never a good equation for an 82 games season.  For them to get in, two of the following teams have to miss playoffs: Tampa Bay (no chance they miss), Ottawa (bubble), Buffalo (bubble) or Montreal (okay, they’re probably one of the two).

4. Olli Jokinen(notes) might actually not make any Flames fans cry this year. Not that he’ll score 60 points or anything like that to earn his contract, but he won’t be actively terrible.

Yeah, I see a resurgence coming too.  It’s one of the reasons (you’ll see in Wednesday’s PD predictions) I called Calgary to finish second in the Northwest, barrreeeely ahead of Minnesota.

5. Carey Price’s(notes) house won’t need to be under 24-hour surveillance because he’ll actually play well and no one will hate him.

Well, he can certainly be confident that the job is his.  Alex Auld?  Not like any good tenders were available or anything this summer, Montreal.  (Sorry for the cuts at your team, Habs fans – the team just seems so… slightly below average)

6. Taylor Hall(notes) will actually beat out Tyler Seguin(notes) for the Calder. But the Oilers will be last in the West again this year.

I really struggled doing my predictions, because frankly, I don’t the Oil are going to be awful this year.  At least not embarrassing, anyway.  Problem is, everybody else improved in the off-season too, so who could I put them ahead of?  I very nearly called the Avs to finish behind them in the Northwest, but just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

7. Brad Richards(notes) will go and put up yet another 90-plus point season and everyone will still act like he’s overpaid.

He’s one of those guys who’s had a great career, but I haven’t seen play much.  Apparently Tampa Bay and Dallas don’t get a lot of games on TV or something.  I also struggled with Dallas/Anaheim in the predictions, by the way.  Dallas is deeper, but that top line on Anaheim is insane.  I went with Anaheim, barely ahead.

8. The Blues will sneak into the last postseason spot out West this year, not entirely because of Jaroslav Halak(notes), but rather because all those kids will take a big step forward.

I almost made that prediction verbatim in a video blog last year.  Apparently it was a year early.  So yes, I whole-heartedly agree, their ceiling is 5th/6th in the West I think.

9. Rick Nash(notes) will continue to be awesome, with at least 40 goals, and no one in Columbus will care because the team is still going to stink.

Hey, I thought these were “bold” predictions.

10. Ryan Miller(notes) plays a one-man show in Buffalo for 70-something games and the Sabres still miss the playoffs.

Ah, that’s how you’ve got the Rangers getting in.  Makes sense, actually.  I thought they (along with Colorado) had an inexplicably good 2009-10.

11. The Tampa Bay Lightning power play will be the best in the East.

There’s a lot of great units with Pittsburgh, Philly, New Jersey etc, and I don’t think Tampa has the d-men you need to own that “best” honor.  It helps to have Pronger/Carle/Timonen and Martin/Goligoski/Letang type guys.  That said, Tampa’s top unit is insane, so the prediction makes sense. I just have to believe Stamkos is going to have someone in his shooting lane all year.  I watch from home and I’m on to where his missle launch site is.

12. Evgeni Malkin(notes) will round back into form this season. Something like 35 goals and 95 points.

Yeah, for sure.  He might be the toughest guy in the league to handle when he’s “on.” 

13. The Red Wings win the Central this year as heavy losses for the Blackhawks do more damage than people expected.

There, see, THAT’S bold. 

They were ten points behind Chicago in the regular season and lost in five to San Jose last year.  They basically added Mike Modano (Update: Oops, they added Hudler too, I’m an idiot).  So we have a pretty good idea where they’re at.  On the other hand, the Hawks dumped half their roster.  My prediction will be that people will be surprised that Chicago’s “fill-in guys” (Skille, Bickell etc) are actually really good players, and the team will win the Central again.

14. Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) will win the Vezina.

Sure, Buffalo will be worse (harder year for Miller), and Phoenix pays attention to team defense, which is more valuable than just having good defensemen.  Howard’s not there yet.  So sure.  Byz for Vez.

15. In a shocking bout of consistency, the Flyers will only dress six different goalies this season.

I mean, what the fuck is wrong with Bobby Clarke?    PATCH THE ONE HOLE IN YOUR DAM, DUDE.

16. Dustin Byfuglien(notes) will be a total disaster at the Atlanta blue line and get moved back to forward well before January.

Yep, a travesty.  Having him on the blueline voids most of his entire worth.  It’s like buying subs and an amp for your car and putting on pop music.  Or playing Bryzgalov at left wing.  Or using a sub sandwich as a pen.

17. The Florida Panthers will be the worst team in the league this year.

Co-sign.  Wish there was somewhere I could bet on that.  Really, they have better odds to win the Cup than the Isles, Bodog?  Eat me.

18. Jussi Jokinen(notes) will fall back to earth with a resounding thud. That 60-point season was a crazy fluke.

I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up of mascots.  Not to say he looks like a mascot, I just literally have no idea who that guy is beyond his name.  I’ll go do some research.

19. Anze Kopitar(notes) becomes widely recognized around the League as a superstar, as people tune into more Kings games to get an eyeful of Drew Doughty.

More people will tune into the Kings games in general, because they should be pretty darn good.  How intimidating will those all-black jerseys be if the team starts tearing up the ice?  That’s a great look on a good team.

20. Antti Niemi(notes) will do no better for the Sharks than Evgeni Nabokov(notes) ever did.

No, there’s no reason to believe he’s an upgrade, but if he’s on par and saves them four mill, that should make them better by allowing them to afford to keep an ever-improving guy like Joe Pavelski.

Halak Forces Game Seven, and Hey, The Bruins Un-Sucked

 

The Washington Capitals chucked 54 shots on Jaroslav Halak, and scored once.  Which can be frustrating.

As a forward, playing a goalie who’s kinda on fire is a funny situation to be in.  And not so much “haha” funny as much as “this milk smells funny”.  What are you supposed to do?

A common problem is that as a team, you’re usually too busy patting yourself on the back for generating so many shots to realize it’s time to switch game plans (but you hope your coach isn’t).  I mean, something has to go in eventually, right?  You think you’re really taking it to your opponent.  You think you’ll break him sooner or later if you just keep it up.  Throw it on net, throw it on net, throw it on net.  But there’s something different in the mindset between trying to score and just trying to get shots, which is all dumb coaches think they want you to do (see also: “shooooooot”-yelling fans). 

In these situations, the scorer’s mindset needs to be all about “getting to the foul line”.  As in, the type of shots you need to take on a piping hot Halak aren’t three pointers or give and go’s.  Remember, if you’re Washington, giving up three pointers is YOUR goalies specialty.  You have to recognize he’s on fire and get dirty.  You need to be on the glass, getting rebounds, banging by the hoop, and putting yourself in situations where even if you don’t score, somebody has to hack you to stop you.

If the tendy can battle through that for the rest of the game and hold on, hey, sometimes you just lose to a guy who’s on top of his game.  Also, in this situation, you may want to approach your teammate Alex Semin and see if he can take a few minutes out of his day to take his head out of his own ass.  Just, y’know, as a personal favour to you.


Clearly, I underrated Montreal (overrated Washington?) when I predicted this series would be over in three.  Halak and Cammalleri are two of the playoffs top performers so far (I’ve been suuuper impressed with Cammalleri’s shot – can’t say I watched a lot of Habs games this year), but I’m still not in the “Montreal is good” camp, or the “Montreal has a chance in game seven” boat.  But hey, they’re doing their thing, so “big ups” to them.

Last thing on this series: what a great diving call on Laperriere last game.  As a perennial Lady Byng style player (yeah yeah, nothing to be proud of), that sort of thing drives me bonkers, because I can’t imagine trying to do that.  I can’t even crawl inside the guy’s head to see what that skeezy thought process must be like.  It’s just another reason to love golfers who call penalties on themselves, isn’t it?  What a rat.

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Okay, so I ate shit on predictions yesterday.  One for three.  Buuut, you can’t stop me from making more.  I’m like a weatherman.

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I was gonna bash it, but I think I like it – I’m gonna start using the phrase “after the jump” like every current writer.  More on that after the jump.

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Just kidding, I’m not talking about it more.

So! 

The Bruins beat the Sabres.  Here’s why the Bruins might actually not be that bad:

Boston was a top seed last year. 

And the B's go on...

Okay, they lost Phil Kessel and, um, Chuck Kobasew, but their young studs like Krejci, Bergeron, Lucic and Wheeler all have an extra year of NHL experience. Your offense isn’t that different.

Contrary to what Detroit fans would have you believe, it was Boston who “led” the NHL in man games lost to injury this year.  We didn’t see a whole lot of healthy Marc Savard this year, and the guy happens to be one of the leagues premier goal scorers.

Their goaltending actually got better.  Tuuuuukkkka Rask played over half the games in Boston this year, and led the league in GAA and save percentage (1.97 and .931%).

Maybe they’re not a top seed, but they way they played down the stretch made you forget that maybe they can be good.  It’s crazy that they made round two after how they looked at times this year.  I desperately need Montreal to get eliminated, so teams don’t think it’s possible to be THAT BAD in the last few weeks of the year and still make the second round.  Wait, Philly already did that too?  Damn.

*****

Detroit and Phoenix play game seven tonight in Glendale.  Can’t wait!

How “Too Many Men On The Ice” Happens

 

Follow jtbourne on Twitter.

G’mornin’ friends!

Some wonderful hockey last night, wasn’t there?  The Canucks and Bruins games were great…. And let’s call a spade a spade: Miro Satan went from being a borderline waste of a paycheck to worth every penny in one play. 

We did good, weeee!

But anyways.  As you may have noticed, these great playoff games have been plagued by the same thing every hockey head will be talking about this morning: Too many men on the ice penalties.

So, for those of you pulling your hair out this morning going “how. the f**k. does that happen?”, I figured I’d help.

How “too many men” happens:

Where to start, where to start….

This penalty, though almost always publicly blamed on the coach (by themselves, by the commentaters) is nearly never the coaches fault.  It’s also almost never the defensemen’s fault (actually, I can’t ever remember a time when it was).

Yep, it’s us forwards.

Coaches call the next line by the center’s last name.  So for the Canucks, Sedin-Sedin-Burrows goes by “Sedin, you’re up”, and the two wingers just know that includes them, unless otherwise specified.  But specifications come often.

“Sedin, you’re up, Kesler, play left side”

Automatically, Burrows is supposed to know that means he’s not going, since he’s the usual left winger.

But sometimes, you just shut off after you hear your center’s name called, or there’s some crowd noise after the name, whatever.  So if it doesn’t register with Burrows that he’s not going, two left wingers end up jumping the boards.  In loud buildings and tight games, some coaches get super involved to make sure the guys know who’s going next, maybe by physically grabbing the usual winger and making sure he knows he’s not going.  Some coaches switch to shoulder taps and individual “you’re going’s” when the building gets crazy.

I know that Satan move well - it's called "indecision, with a side of talent", and it looks like patience.

Sometimes players are just brain-dead and think coach called their line when he didn’t, and they jump.  (This happens often when your center’s last names are, say, Morelli, Pelley and Nelly, like my BCHL team from many years back.)

Then, when coach calls your line, it’s the player’s responsibility to clarify who you’re changing for.  Like, physically, out loud, clarify it with your line mates, even if you’ve been changing for the same guys all season, every shift, because coaches are always tinkering with lines and forward positions.

Burrows is a good example – he can play left or right side, so if Vigneault double-shifts him once, he may have him play left with the Sedins, but right-side when he’s out there with Kesler’s line.

So the next guy, who thinks Burrows is a left winger says “I got Burrows” and his right winger will end up having to say ”nono no, he’s playin’ right side dude.”

If that conversation never happens, Burrows comes to the bench, both wingers jump out thinking he’s their change, and voila, too many men.

There are times, of course, when it is the coaches fault.  There’s a certain level of responsibility that lies with him to clearly communicate his next unit.  {I’ve only played on one team where the head coach didn’t run the forward lines, and for those who do run them, think about how time consuming that is.  Armchair coaches love to say “I can’t believe coach made (blank) decision”, but half the game he’s looking down at namebars on the bench or his scratch sheet in his hand to figure out which personnel he wants out there.}

Love this pic!

He has to make it clear who’s up, or he’s to blame (still, he’ll rarely admit it was his fault once the dressing room door closes.  Players have to listen closely).  But often, he’ll assign a line to go next, and only two guys will be able to change, while the third gets stuck out there (don’t change going into the d-zone, etc.).  So the coach, seeing two of the guys out there from the line he assigned, will sometimes think the change is complete, and call out the next line.

Let’s say the right winger is still waiting to get out there with his line, and the right winger on the ice changes.  It’s the coaches responsibility to notice this, and tell the right winger who still hasn’t got out with his two liney’s to ”sit this shift out, let’s start getting the next line out as a unit”.  Often, if the coach doesn’t make that fix, both right wingers who’ve been called will jump, and again, voila.  Too many men. (This usually gets caught if your team communicates well – if either right winger calls out his change, the other will usually hear that, and turn to the coach for a decision: finish this change, or start the next unit?)

There’s a million ways it can happen, but I think in general, I’ve covered the most common.  Hope I helped get your head around it.

Still, you’d love to know who caused the meltdown in the Sabres case, leading to the Bruins double OT winner.  Good rule of thumb – if you notice that the coach has sent a good player to the box (maybe one who’d normally kill penalties) after a too many men call – where he can pick who sits from the guys on the ice - it was probably that guy’s fault.  It’s priceless how often the scatterbrain who jumped the boards when he wasn’t supposed to gets chosen (in yell form) to go sit the two minutes.

Anyways, I’ll probably do some further playoff discussions in another post.  The “Too Many Men-ifesto” went on waaaayyy too long.

Happy Thursday!

(UPDATE: Upon further review, I can’t help but notice that even though I explain how it happens, I fail to mention that it shouldn’t.  A little communication goes a long way.

Also – Darren Dreger brings up a good point in his mini-blog today.  In the playoffs, matchups could be a reason why it’s happening so often.  When you’re matching the other teams top guy, the second he hits the ice, you’re supposed to change immediately to get out there against him, so you’ll often take the next forward – assuming you’re a forward – even if it’s not your exact position.  This leads to pure madness on the bench, and why some coaches shy away from trying to match lines)

2010 NHL Playoffs – The Leastern Conference

 

Washington Capitals (1)

vs.

Montreal Canadiens (8)

For whatever reason, I don’t like many teams that wear red.  For example, there’s just about nothing I want to watch less than a New Jersey/Carolina series, as attested by my coverage of said series in last year’s playoffs (blatant refusal).  To make those games worse, I feel like there’s just something grinding about watching the actual colour red play red.  Anyone feel me on that? (Mmm, aesthetically soothing Canucks colours…)

First round bye, weee!

For some reason, this red vs. red battle doesn’t bother me quite so much.  Like most hockey fans, I love to watch Washington.  And Montreal, though a puny little excuse for a Washington challenger, is kinda fun to watch this year too (fun like those tiny toy cars “Hot Wheels” were as a kid).

The only way Washington’s round one series had any hope of being interesting this year was if Philly had the eight seed.  It would’ve been awesome watching Carter and Richards going buck-crazy, being playoff performers out there, scoring goals….. and still losing by football scores, like 21-14.  Thatta been great.

Not much to say here, except the obvious: Washington just has way too much firepower to lose.  If the Canadiens give them so much as a scare, I fear for Washington when they play a better team.  I rate Montreal’s chances, as a percentage, at beat-it-dont-even-try.4%

PREDICTION: CAPITALS in THREE

*****

New Jersey Devils (2)

vs.

Philadelphia Flyers (7)

I think this was a tough card for New Jersey to pull, simply because I can’t believe how badly the Flyers have underachieved this year.  I mean, 88 points, in the East?  How is that possible, with their roster?  Before the season, I noticed that their back end had good transition/powerplay guys such as Pronger, Timmonen and Carle, and I remember thinking “crap, they’re gonna score a ton of goals this year.”

Combine that with with some of the games best forwards: Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Danny Briere and crew (Claude Giroux is no slouch. Hell, Van Riemsdyk is sick too.), and Philly has a wonderful hockey team.

So what the hell is going on there?

Dollar says he scored.

Riiiighht, goaltending, right.  I’ve seen this play before.

On the other side of the coin, I was completely surprised by New Jersey’s record this year.  Any time you have Brodeur in net, your team can’t be bad – but past him, I didn’t see a reason for them to have much success.  I knew Parise and Zajac were great, but then what? (That, and I kinda figured Elias and Langenbrunner were past their best-before dates…. guess not).  I kept waiting for this team to trip, but it never happened.

With the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils finally have that dynamic offensive punch you always felt that they lacked in the past.  It gives them two really solid lines (though they admit they can’t find a spot for Kovy that clicks), and combined with Brodeur, it’s become pretty clear that their season wasn’t a fluke.

{I have to point this out for the millionth time – can you BELIEVE that Kovalchuk is 230 pounds?  I’d have been off by 60 if you had made me guess two months ago.}

But looking at their D -  Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, Bryce Salvador, Colin White, Paul Martin, Mark Fraser, Martin Skoula and Anssi Salmela.  I dunno… it doesn’t feel very Cup contender-y.  They have, however, done a great job at keeping pucks out of their net this year (y’know, first-in-the-league-good, at 191 over 82 games – 2.32 per), but something about them makes me nervous.  ….And it probably has something to with NJ’s (okay, Marty’s) meltdown in the final minute of game seven against Carolina last year.

If you put the leagues most average goalie in the Flyers net - say, Dwayne Roloson – I think I’d pick them to win this series.  I like their roster that much more.  But Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk shooting on Boucher makes it a dicey situation.

In the end, New Jersey has done too good of a job defensively to lose their first playoff series, where defense and goaltending are emphasized.  I think they’ll see round two, but barely.

PREDICTION: DEVILS in SEVEN

*****

Buffalo Sabres (3)

vs.

Boston Bruins (6)

If I were the Buffalo Sabres, I would be pissed at how the final playoff seeds ended up falling.  They (like New Jersey) were so close to getting to play an obviously worse team like the Rangers or Thrashers.  But noooo, Boston and Philly had to get their shit together at the last second, and squeak in.

Shot! Save. Shot! Save. Shot! F**K!

This sucks, you see, because Boston and Philly aren’t as horrible as they desperately tried to convince us all they were this year.

One of the few guys pushing Ryan Miller for the Vezina this year is Boston’s Tuuka Rask.  Combine that solid goaltending with Buffalo’s Phoenix-like offense (three lines of second line forwards = good team/not great), and we may see some low scoring games – especially when you consider that Buffalo has the league’s best goaltender, and Boston can’t score (206 goals all year, good for second-to-dead-last).

But, every time you think a series is going to be a defensive suck-fest, it ends up amazing.  Using that logic, this could be a thrilling, high-scoring series.  The only people I care to see play are the goalies.  I’m not saying Derek Roy and David Krejci aren’t exceptional hockey players, I’m saying that nobody is circling dates on their calendar to see them when they come to town.

I see Boston being the better team in this series, bringing the play to Buffalo, shooting, skating, hitting, exhausting themselves, and Ryan Miller chucking up the frustrating stone wall.  Then I see the Sabres working hard and smart, capitalizing on a few nice plays, (maybe a powerplay or two?), and winning games by scores like 3-2 and 2-1.  They probably win a couple of the - oh, let’s say three – games that go to overtime.

I really wanted to pick an upset here – and the Sabres and Devils are definitely both on my “upset watch” list.  But Ryan Miller is the best goalie in the world today, and that counts for something in playoffs.  I’m siding with him.

PREDICTION: SABRES IN SEVEN

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

vs.

Ottawa Senators (5)

Congratulations, Ottawa.  You finished ahead of the slovenly pack of droolers in the East.  You stayed out of the “who’s gonna make playoffs” fracas.  And in the process, you convinced me that you’re actually a good team.  I was wrong about you.

Strike a pose

The bad news is, you’re basically about as lucky as the Coyotes in the West.

Had Pittsburgh caught New Jersey, as they should have, you’d be playing Jersey instead.  And I like your odds there.

What I don’t like, for you, is going up against the defending Stanley Cup champs, who are healthy, and about to flip it into “game on” mode.  You’re toast.

The Penguins probably slow-played their hand a little bit too much this year.  Didn’t do enough to grab the really high seed that guarantees they get to coast through round one.  Over the long haul of playoffs, having to play a good Senators team to start things off is really going to grind on them physically.

But as far as this series goes, Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh.  Between last years Cup champion team and this year, they cut off a couple guys that were acting as anchors, and picked up depth assets in guys like Jordan Leopold and Alexi Ponikarovsky.  You take a team that’s won the cup and make them better?  They don’t lose round one.

PREDICTION: PENGUINS in FIVE

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So that’s all she wrote for round one, folks!  I’ll keep a running total of how my predictions went as we go (though I won’t follow how many games it took to get it done – that’s really just there to demonstrate how confident I am in the winner I picked). 

GAME ONE OF M***********G PLAYOFFS STARTS TONIGHT!

THROW.    THE.    SNAKE.

Fights, A Conspiracy, Kovalchuk and Jeanneret

 

A buddy of mine from Kelowna, Ryan Beckmann, happens to live 10 minutes from my front door in Phoenix.  Having someone to BS about sports with has been a great way for me to come up with hockey topics/ideas/thoughts, because in the past, the couch hasn’t reciprocated with many viewpoints I hadn’t thought of.  The following are topics we’ve dredged up over the past couple weeks of beer and BS time (some of these may be expanded into column form shortly):

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Being big doesn't make getting punched any more fun.

Being big doesn't make getting punched any more fun.

*In hockey, there’s nothing cooler than a team leader fighting to make a statement.  Specifically, I’m talking about guys who don’t have to fight doing it to show their team, “f**k yeah this is important”, so teammates can see that “hey, if our goal-scorer is fighting, we damn well better step it up too”.

And even more specifically, I’m thinking of Iginla vs. Lecavalier in the Calgary/Tampa Stanely Cup final (the two best offensive players in the series, both of whom happen to be tough), and Thornton vs. Getzlaf in last years playoffs, largely so Thornton could prove to everyone in the stands and on his bench “yeah, this matters to me, I just happened to play a relaxed style of game, and it works.  Is this what you want me to do?  Switch to being this guy?”  Either way, very cool.

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Any chance the Flames had simply agreed to help Theo get some publicity before the release of his new book?  And that’s why the whole “comeback” fiasco?  Everything would suddenly makes sense, wouldn’t it?

Theo has a new book about to be released and wants to churn up some momentum and headlines to boost it’s sales.  He’s broke.  Nothing would do that quite like a “return to the NHL”.  He talks to the Flames about his idea (or someone else’s), and they agree to let him “tryout” as a thank you for his years of service, and suddenly he and the Flames are making headlines.  Is it that ridiculous?  Would you have heard about/been as interested in his new book if it wasn’t for his recent “comeback”?

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Ilya Kovalchuk is a bag of fireworks personified.  Is it possible to be less famous while being the second-most electrifying player in the NHL (behind Ovechkin)?

He’s thrilling.  I can’t think of someone who’s less celebrated while being one of the top five players in a major professional sport.  I know everyone knows he’s good and all that, but he’s rarely in the conversation with Crosby, Ovy, Malkin, Datsyuk etc.  I’d love to see him play in Toronto and get some media attention (or even better, NYR, so he could have the media plus good teammates - has the guy ever had a good teammate?  Name three players he’s had to work with).

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And on the topic of uncelebrated, can we get Buffalo Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret a few more mainstream jobs before he retires?  Can he start calling Hockey Night in Canada?  Can Versus get him to cover every game ever?  Something?  Someone get on this before he has an anyeurism from going Sabre-crazy – he might be the best in the biz right now (just listen to the first minute or so, and you’ll know who he is):

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Snuck out a 5-4 victory in Fantasy hockey this week, still without Hossa, and without Datsyuk playing.  Fear me, BBHL.  I’m almost back to .500.

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