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2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview Bonanza

In Hockey on April 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm

5281948Oh hey there, playoff hockey. Welcome back. Please, come in. Can I take your coat? Would you like a beer or are you more of a wine fan? Excellent, now please stay forever.

That’s right, we get playoff hockey back and I’m ready to actually do some writing for you loyal readers along with the binge drinking that comes with it. But as usual, work and video games got in the way of doing detailed breakdowns so I’m cramming everything into one post. I have avoided any preview material on the internet, so no one can alter my thoughts.

This is the part where I’m supposed to insert something funny before we get going, but I got nothing. I’m tired and the games are on, so let’s get this over with.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The fun and loveable Blue Jackets have a chance because Marc-Andre Fleury will be in the Pittsburgh net during the playoffs and damn it, it will make for an entertaining series at the very least. But too much Sidney Crosby and not enough support for Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky means the Pens move on. Don’t worry, their fans will still find plenty to complain about. Penguins in six.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
I have bounced back and forth on this series several times. Henrik Lundqvist vs. Steve Mason feels like it should be enough for me pick the Rangers alone, but I can’t help myself. Claude Giroux has been nuts after the team got off to a terrible start and he carries it over to the playoffs. Flyers in seven.

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
If any team in the East might give the Bruins a scare in the opening round, Detroit is the one that could do just that. This is great for the game because it throws the Red Wings into a series with someone that they could develop an intense rivalry with. It should be deja vu for the Bruins as far as round one goes this year, but the result will be the same. Boston is too good. Bruins in seven.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Everyone is sleeping on this series but I think it will be an entertaining slugfest featuring the game’s best goal scorer and Canada’s only hope. Early advantage goes to Montreal as they boast one of the best goalies in the world while the Bolts’ MVP (Ben Bishop) is out for at least game one. That’s enough for me to take the Habs. Montreal in six.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
Everyone in hockey has been waiting for the Avs to come crashing back to Earth based on their unsustainable fancy stats numbers and a goalie playing out of his mind. They’ll play former division foe Minnesota who would be primed for an upset if there wasn’t a giant question mark in the net. Avalanche in six.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Norris Division, we have missed thee. This series won’t be a throwback to the chaos that ensued during the Black and Blue Division’s heyday, but it’s going to be a war. St. Louis had the President’s Trophy in their sights before crapping the bed late in the year, giving us the matchup we all wanted one round early. St. Louis has been bad in every aspect of the game as of late and they’re going to need to get up for the Hawks before it’s too late. Chicago is too deep and the Blues have too many questions in net and on offense. Blackhawks in six.
Ed. Note: It was REALLY difficult to not rip on the Blues during that. Don’t worry, I’ll do plenty of that on Twitter.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
Fire wagon hockey will be present in every single game of this series as both teams love to get up and down the ice. Dallas has been a blast to watch and they have the edge in net with Kari Lehtonen over, well, whoever the hell the Ducks decide to play in net. Both teams have a superstar duo and plenty of secondary scoring. But the Ducks have Cam Fowler. That’s enough for me to make my pick. Stars in six. #CamSucks

Want to read an actual preview of the series? Check out our buddy Pierre Canard’s in-depth preview.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
My preview for this series is that I drink a lot and wind up in the fetal position because Antti Niemi can’t keep the puck out of the net. Yeah, I’m not going into much detail. Let’s just say I’m not optimistic and I don’t wanna talk about it and JUST LEAVE ME ALONE. Shit. Kings in six.

That’s it. If you want something more in-depth, I’m sure you can find about 5,283 articles on each series. Want more of an in-depth answer from me on the series in the West? Follow me on Twitter and I’ll be sure to answer. Also, follow along for the retweets, especially if you don’t like the Blues.

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Someone Didn’t Half-Ass It: Ducks-Stars Series Preview

In Hockey on April 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm

A good friend of the blog, Ducks’ fan Pierre Canard took some time out of his hectic schedule to take a look at the Ducks-Stars first round series. His schedule is more packed than mine and he knocked this bitch out in an hour. Stick tap to him, shame on me.

Stars+Ducks+Hockey_33847737_775397What a season it has been for the Anaheim Ducks. They start off the season with injuries and many questions on defence, a forward core that many said over preformed the season before, and an embarrassment of riches between the pipes. Despite projections league wide from analysts and fans (myself included) that the team may be due for a slight market correction from their 2013 Pacific Division win. I guess the Ducks heard/read about that, starting with an impressive first half that included a ridiculous 20-0-2 home record, eventually clinching the Pacific Division AND #1 Western Conference seed, finishing a single point behind Boston in the President’s trophy race. The Ducks’ D rallied around workhorses Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler (ed. note: #CamSucks), with role players and rookies stepping up to provide a solid depth corps. Scoring came easily (the team was second in the league in goals for), and goaltending, well, more on that later.

To start off the playoffs, Anaheim meets an old nemesis, Dallas. The long time “old alignment” Pacific rivals have a storied (but somehow forgotten) history, dating back to the battles in the 90’s that saw the teams really try to injure each other’s star players (look up the nights the late Ruslan Salei nearly killed Mike Modano or Craig Ludwig elbowing Teemu Selanne in what seemed to be a scene out of an MMA match). The teams met once in the playoffs, during the 2002-2003 Mighty Ducks stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final in a very exciting series.

Dallas saw a return to the playoffs (barely) after six years away from the big dance. The Stars relied heavily on the Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn combination offensively, and relied on a scrappy defense led by Alex Goligoski and Sergei Gonchar, with the always solid Kari Lethonen standing tall in net.

The X Factors:

ANA-
Goaltending: Anaheim showed off its goaltending depth with Jonas Hiller winning 29 starts, Frederik Andersen 20 wins, and highly touted prospect John Gibson winning all three starts. Hiller is the only playoff tested goalie Anaheim has, but seemed to lose his game towards the end of the season, eventually leading him to be a healthy scratch for the last two weeks of the season (eventually culminating in a series of published quotes showing his displeasure). Andersen and Gibson have shown cool composition on other major stages, but the Ducks self created goalie controversy may come to haunt them .

Slow Starts: Anahiem has had many come from behind wins this season, something that concerns most fans, as the Ducks usually don’t start to play until the second period.

Bruce: Coach Bruce Boudreau has won it all at other levels in his career, but he hasn’t had much NHL level playoff success. Is this the year he goes deep?

DAL-

Scoring: The Stars will need Seguin and Benn to show up and cannot afford to see their secondary scoring wilt if they want to stand a chance in the playoffs.

Experience: While the Stars do have leadership that has won before, the Stars are a very young team and will rely on the leadership that veterans like Erik Cole, Ray Whitney, Tim Thomas and Sergei Gonchar can provide. This is the first time in the “big show” for most of the Stars youth. If the seasons for both teams are a predictor, it will be a baptism by fire.

Defense: Dallas will require its quiet and relatively unknown defense to keep them in the series plain and simple. The Ducks are capable of being a big, nasty team.

The Ducks will win if: They continue to get secondary scoring, goaltending sorts itself out and the Ducks play like they can. Getzlaf and Perry always are threats, and supplemental goal scorers Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, Mathieu Perrault Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri need to keep contributing. Just a guess but Frederick Andersen starts, and is backed up by John Gibson. Leadership on the team and the team motto of “unfinished business” stemming from last year’s early playoff exit should hopefully motivate the team.

The Stars will win if: Scoring holds up, the Defense holds up and Dallas plays their game. As noted above, the scoring department is Dallas’ biggest worry- without it, they are in tough. Dallas’ defense will need to handle the size and speed Anaheim will throw at them, especially the Getzlaf-Perry-Maroon line. Dallas won the regular season series 2-1, and all of the games were very chippy, with Stars winger Ryan Garbutt frustrating the top line of Anahiem. If they can keep this up, Dallas may get Anaheim off their game.

Season series: ANA 6-3 W , DAL 6-3W, DAL 2-0W- of note Hiller started all of these games and was pulled in favor of Andersen in the sole Ducks win.

Prediction: Oh boy this is closer than most Ducks fans want to admit. I am obviously biased but Anaheim probably edges out the Stars. I don’t want to see it, but if there is an upset in the first round, it could be in this series. Ducks in 6.

I am Pierre Canard, and I would like to thank Ryan for the opportunity to post here. Feel free to have at it with me on Twitter @SargeTheDuck. Be sure to follow @icemancometh (Ducks beat reporter Eric Stephens) and @duckscolorman (Ducks Radio Dan Wood) for Ducks news, and super fans @ACKyleNichols and @duckstalkshow for excellent fan perspectives.

Additionally, follow the trio of misfits from the Battle of California; Earl Sleek, Spade and Jer. They’re funny and that sets them apart from the rest of the Ducks’ fan base.

RAMBLE RAMBLE RAMBLE

In Hockey on February 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Since the Super Bowl was a colossal disappointment tonight, I figured tonight was a good time to chime in with a few thoughts on the play of my beloved San Jose Sharks as of late.  Also, this is my first post under the influence of alcohol in quite some time, so if I make any grammatical errors, tough shit. I’m not fixing them

The Month of Death Meets Its Match
Today is Groundhog Day, which also means the Sharks are in the midst of a month that has seen them play some of their worst hockey over the last few years. Two years ago, the Sharks went 5-8-1 and tumbled from the top of the Pacific to outside the playoff picture. Last year, a 2-6-4 record during the month wiped out a promising 7-0 start and forced the team to make major (and helpful) changes to the team. Thankfully, the Sharks rebounded to make the playoffs before bowing out to those bastards from Los Angeles.

This year, the Sharks sit in second place in the Pacific with a 10-point cushion over the third place Kings (who are dealing with a scoring hex of their own). With a win over the defending champion Blackhawks already in the bag, the Sharks have three more games before the Olympic break. With only five games total in the month, there’s no chance of a long slide to happen again. And thank God. But is it important to finish strong before most of the team gets the month off? Yes it is. The chances of catching Anaheim are slim, but a few wins before taking some time off would be a nice boost heading down the stretch. Plus, it buys some of the injured guys a chance to get healthy. Speaking of which.

No More Body Bags
How this team has stayed competitive in a meat grinder for a division with all the injuries they have suffered is mind boggling. Sure, the injuries to Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl have put a serious dent in the offensive attack, but the worst thing it has done is deplete the effectiveness of the bottom six. Sure, they weren’t great to begin with, but sending out Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingles on the third line gives this team an advantage that several other teams don’t have.

I know injuries happen, but when Mike Brown is playing third line minutes, bad things are going to happen. That three-week break can’t get here soon enough so they can stop sending out the likes of Bracken Kearns and Eriah Hayes. It’s a testament to just how good the team’s top player have been this year. About them…

Two Contract Extensions Deserved
Holy shit have Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau been awesome this year. Even at age 34, these two guys have takes a team ravaged by injuries, thrown them on their backs and kept the team from falling off a cliff. I love Joe Pavelski, but his production as of late has been largely impacted by Thornton’s ability to get him the puck. Marleau has slid back to the middle on the second line and while he’s not scoring at the rate he was when Couture was centering him, #12 remains a player that teams have to pay serious attention to when he’s on the ice.

Look, I understand why people want to shit on a pair of contracts handed out to guys that are aging and have never won anything. But Thornton’s leadership and creativity is something that you’re not going to be able to replace immediately, even if he’s lost a step. As for Marleau, he still has great finish around the net and can still skate himself out of trouble, which is something that again players lose the ability to do. Throw in the fact that the contracts aren’t going to kill the team’s cap space and I don’t see where the vitriol comes from.

Then again, I can’t remember the last time Twitter reacted positively to a hockey player getting a new contract.

Doug, Go Get a Good Defenseman
The Olympic trade freeze is almost here and once the tournament is over, the NHL trade deadline will be upon us. No, the Sharks’ forward group isn’t the best right now, but getting healthy will be like making three or four trades without having to give up a damn thing.

On defense? Woof.

I like the nostalgia that I feel every time I see Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart take the ice in a Sharks’ sweater, but there is no reason for both to be in the lineup at the same time, let alone on the same pairing. I know that these guys aren’t easy to play against in the postseason, but when the Sharks run into a team with a third line that can put pressure on teams, these two are constantly getting exposed. If you can’t skate like you used to, staying in position is key and both (especially Stuart) lose their way in the defensive zone more than they should.

I’d love to see Doug Wilson flip one of the Sharks’ two second round picks for the Islanders’ Andrew MacDonald, but I have to think the Isles will want more than that for a rental player. But the Sharks’ GM is always aggressive, so it’s not out of the question.

The Havlat Conundrum
I can’t remember the last time a player for the Sharks caused as much outrage among fans as Martin Havlat. Maybe Brian Campbell. Whether it be for his contract, lack of effort, problems in the dressing room, health or God knows what else, the man has simply never been able to pick up traction since he arrived in San Jose. Now, he might have earned some of those criticisms, but as fans we don’t know what goes on in the dressing room and all we have is what we read online.

Has he earned the contract that Minnesota gave him? Not as a Shark he hasn’t. But a couple of freak injuries will do that to a guy. I know I’m in the minority, but I still think he’s a valuable member of this team for the remainder of the year. He’s probably not getting top-six minutes anytime soon, but he showed in the last few games that he can be effective on the third line. He was a puck hawk in the Edmonton game, but that effort isn’t always there.

Should this team get four of their five injured forwards back and healthy, sending out Havlat on the third line gives the Sharks an advantage other teams can’t match. Plus, I love the idea of keeping him around as a mentor for Tomas Hertl as he continues to adjust to life in North America. Plus, who knows more about rehabbing injuries than Martin Havlat?

*cries into pillow*

Net Presence
The last thing on tonight’s list is an ode to the two Sharks’ netminders. Last year, Antti Niemi bailed the Sharks out of a lot of games, kept the team’s head above water and led them into the playoffs. After a white-hot start this year, the Olympian started letting in soft goals and showing some old bad habits that were on display for the first two years of his time in teal. Since Nemo’s tenure with the Sharks started, he hasn’t had a backup to push him so he doesn’t lose starts.

Those days are over.

Alex Stalock has rebounded from a career-threatening injury to flourish in his first year with the Sharks. When Niemi was struggling, Todd McLellan made a ballsy move to send Stalock out against the Blackhawks a few weeks ago. The guy was sensational in a road win and went on to set the franchise record for the longest shutout streak. His play woke Niemi up and the Finn has been great over his last few starts.

The goalie is the most important position in the game and to for the Sharks to have two guys they can send out with confidence is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. And with Niemi playing a ton of minutes over the last three years, having Stalock give him a breather once every two weeks will only help going forward. Oh, and having Niemi backup Tuukka Rask at the Olympics would be nice too.

That’s all. It probably sucks, but what can ya do? Stick tap to Battle of California‘s Megalodon and Alex Stalock’s number one fan (and future ex-wife) Stace from The Canafornians for the links above. They’re much funnier than me, so read them daily.

The handle on Twitter is @rthomas_22. Next time, I’ll be sober when I write. Maybe.