Tag Archives: San Jose Sharks

On the Road to the Stanley Cup

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s a little for everyone. From traditional old-school matchups like the Pens and Flyers, to irksome bumps a team must get over like the pressure Nashville faces with Detroit. An interesting pairing in the West puts the Kings and Canucks in a must-see series.

The season starts here and now with a clean slate heading towards the coveted Stanley Cup. Whatever the ranking,the odds, the previous wins, teams have this chance once no matter what happened a few days ago. It’s now or never. The honor of making it to the playoffs can change the course of any team’s season.

East:

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5)Philadelphia Flyers– One of the best series to follow. The battle of Pennsylvania is always a regular season blowout. The Flyers have the talent in Claude Giroux and the moxy of Scott Hartnell to take on the challenge. With Sidney Crosby back for the Pens, Pittsburgh has the extra power-forward to take the points. Goaltending seems balanced in both nets. Pittsburgh can’t lose with Crosby. Pens win in 5.

(6)New Jersey Devils vs. (3)Florida Panthers The Devils have done a tremendous job this season rounding out their talent and finding ways to win. Though Brodeur was shaky in net early on, goaltending looks fixed for now. The Panthers have the momentum and the spirit to clinch this series. Panthers in 4.

(8)Ottawa Senators vs. (1)New York Rangers– New York clinched the East, so that would make this an easy series win…..not so fast. The Senators have had an upswing that could have them be the upset team. The Rangers may have some concerns and could take this for granted. Henrik Lundqvist wants this and has the tools to finish it. Rangers in 5.

(7)Washington Capitals vs. (2)Boston Bruins– Ovechkin and crew made it by an inch. Boston knows the path and with the depth, even top players for the Caps can’t get it done. Bruins in 4.

West:

(4)Nashville Predators vs. (5)Detroit Red Wings– Nashville always comes to face the Wings in the playoffs at some point. Detroit is the Preds’ brick wall. This year, with home-ice advantage, Nashville have the opportunity to swing it their way. Don’t underestimate the Wings performance this season. Hockeytown finds a way to win. Wings in 7.

(8)Los Angeles Kings vs. (1)Vancouver Canucks- Winner of the President’s Trophy, Vancouver is on a journey to win their destiny. Last season, the Canucks  lost in game 7 releasing chaos into the streets of Vancouver. Canucks can’t afford to lose again. The Kings have made an impressive run and will be formidable opponents. Quick can beat Luongo. Carter, Richards and Kopitar can beat Kesler, Burrows and at least one Sedin. The Canucks will take the series, but not without a fight in 6.

(7)San Jose Sharks vs. (2)St. Louis Blues– St. Louis will win. That’s all I can say. The Sharks have been a disappointment in many areas. The Blues have been an amazing team this season. Blues sweep.

(6)Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Phoenix Coyotes– Tight fight. The Coyotes just seem to find a way to win, but mostly goaltender Mike Smith has found a way to win and a nod for the Vezina. Chicago may not have it. The momentum going in to the series will determine the outcome. Coyotes in 7.

With the Western Conference team surge, the competition is fierce. The Eastern Conference has been the victim of sharp criticism for the sagging efforts of the traditionally winning side. New York serves as a good measurement of the talents of the Eastern teams. The West is growing in strength and the race was tight. The East brings the skill and sharpshooters,  while the West brings the intensity and passion play. What a great season it has been! Good luck to your playoff team and enjoy the games.

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Summer Hockey Hype

It’s only August and the hype has begun. After the woozying trades and trash, this summer read like more like a gossip column. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were expelled from Philly for bad behavior, LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi  was irked when he was traded damaged goods by Edmonton, and just recently Sean Avery was busted by the cops in Hollywood for shoving an officer.  

If you are sitting by the pool, then you have plenty of time to begin building your fantasy team. Whether you play in a competitive keeper league or drafting an entirely new team, consider the teams who have revamped their lines. However, buyer beware that not all top players perform as well as expected. Duncan Keith’s award-winning 2009-10 season did not carry the same weight in 2010-11. Sidney Crosby’s health is tenuous- one big hit and he could blowout.

Eastern Conference best bets:

New York Rangers- resigning Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan were crucial. Both players have developed their game and are the workhorses of the team. With Brad Richards joining the mix, the Rangers will be a fun team to watch and get behind. With Avery and Brandon Prust, expect some tough guy presence stopping any intruders near Henrik Lundqvist‘s crease.

Philadelphia Flyers– sign Jaromir Jagr. Who knows what to expect? He could be great or gruesome, but you don’t want to be left behind on this one. He snubbed other teams to join the Flyers because of their Cup contention coup. Max Talbot, Claude Giroux and a roster full of hot taletn can be yours if you do your bidding carefully.

Buffalo Sabres- coach Lindy Ruff is still calling the shots on ice, and with newly acquired talents look out. In net, Ryan Miller is one of the best in the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr will lend the blueline some direction helping Tyler Myers this season.

Carolina HurricanesJeff Skinner and Anthony Stewart are just two young players to watch in Carolina. Skinner, who won the Calder for rookie of the year, is first line, Stewart 3rd or 4th. Other young talent, Jamie McBain and Chad LaRose need to go on a watch list.

Tampa Bay Lightning– re-signing Steven Stamkos was a necessary requirement before GM Steve Yzerman could go golfing. With Stamkos secured, the Bolts will be out for blood this year. Vinnie Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis may be already drafted, so consider Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell for a stong support system.

Pittsburgh Penguins- with or without Sidney Crosby, the Pens put the pedal to the metal. All energy, all the time. Kris Letang should be on your list. Tyler Kennedy rocked last year and must be a consideration, same for Chris Kunitz and James Neal.

Boston Bruins– I’d sweep up Dennis Seidenberg. Tim Thomas is an obvious choice, but secured by keeper leagues. If the Stanley Cup win was it, then don’t go overboard with the Bruins. However, there are some good bets here in Rich Peverley, Patrice Bergeron, don’t forget Brad Marchand. I’ve found Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ferrence to be good for fights and scruffy play. Milan Lucic and David Krejci have inconsistent seasons but make good trade fodder.

Western Conference best bets:

Los Angeles Kings-  has a great building process in Hockeywood.  Anze Kopitar will be ready come ice time, and with Mike Richards as the extra kick, look out! Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are key defensemen. Jonathan Quick in goal is a great pick. Captain Dustin Brown didn’t let me down. Justin Williams was the sought after Kings player in our league rightly so.

Detroit Red Wings– always on the list due to the talent they foster. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom are tops on any list if you can get them. Goaltender Jimmy Howard may be a task to acquire but worth if you can make a trade after the season starts- sell low. Johan Franzen and defensemen Niklas Kronwall should be noted for scoring and hits.

Vancouver Canucks– they just couldn’t wrap it up, but that has been their issue. Lessons learned may help Ryan Kesler and the Sedins in creative ways to win. Consider Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and don’t be wary of goalie Roberto Luongo if you can get him.

Edmonton Oilers– I say this because the whole world will be watching the Taylor Hall/Ryan Nugent-Hopkins dynamic. Grab either player and be patient. Hall took some time to warm up and was passed all over fantasy leagues as owners became restless with his growing pains.

Chicago Blackhawks “Car Bomb”Carcillo  will explode in Chicago enforcing the Hawks second revival. This is a tough team who wants the Cup badly. Patrick Sharp is signed and you should do the same. He’s a quiet player who has his ups and downs, but delivers overall. If you can acquire Patrick Kane of Jonathan Toews, then work your magic. Andrew Brunette is a watch list candidate to see if he can generate something.

St. Louis Blues– I pick them every year due to the talent that passes through. Chris Stewart stands out for the Blues. David Backes is a sturdy candidate but can be unpredictable. Kevin Shattenkirk,Alex Steen and Andy McDonald did well last season and are good choices in the second to third-round. Remember to put Alex Pietrangelo on your list as a stellar young defenseman, and keep an eye on Matt D’Agostini.

Don’t see your team? Oh, well, take a look at some of the choice picks to find your best bet:

Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks)– The Sharks can beat the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs, but can’t seem to get further than that. Couture was nominated for the rookie of the year and deservedly so. Grab him before someone else does. Usually a second-round pick now that he’s on the radar.

Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)– Benn broke out last year and was quite dutiful to fantasy owners. If he lands in your queue, consider if you need a productive 3rd liner.

Devin Setoguchi (Minnesota Wild) – great during the playoffs with the Sharks. Minnesota has been on everyone’s radar to be big but remains in the middle. Perhaps Setoguchi can spark some oomph.

Your dream team is in your hands. Not all goes as according to plan and your backup choices can make the difference in all areas from trades to suspensions of a key player. Study the new and improved rosters if you haven’t been keeping up with the transactions this summer.

Summer is here

Red Wings fans have sobered up now that the Wings are gearing up for summer in Michigan. Time to get the boat out, head for the lake and fondly reminisce about what could have been. Next season for sure!

Lidstrom will surely retire after this season at age 41, six Norris Trophy wins and 4-time Stanley Cup winner. He’s won the Viking Award twice, which is given to the best Swedish player in North America. While Lidstrom may be bound for Sweden to retire, the Red Wings will be losing Mike Modano and Chris Osgood as well. The 2011-12 NHL season in Detroit will look different with new additions from Grand Rapids moving in.

Fine wine ages, and so must the Wings fledglings. This new flock will have their growing pains, but overall will maintain quality hockey for the fans and in the Western Conference. Detroit will not be in danger of sitting last in the race next year to make the playoffs.

Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar are just a few who have had some ice time in Detroit. Notable Griffins not ready for prime time include Gustav Nyquist from Maine and Brandon Straub from Colorado College.

We still will have Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen but how long will it be before Rafalski leaves? A few more productive years in Detroit, then he could be done or NHL rumors have focused on Rafalski as a trade option.

The new team will work under Babcock and Holland. Change is good so look forward to getting to know the 2011-12 team and think fondly of the 2010-11 Wings. Somewhat like the transition from Steve Yzerman heading to Tampa Bay, the triumph comes with perseverance. Detroit fans will not be denied a good game of hockey.

The playoffs continue with Tampa vs. Boston and the Canucks vs. the Sharks.

Boston is a Bunyan of a team with Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, and then some. Tim Thomas in net creates the beast within the Boston Bruins. I expect gritty games with incredible puck-in-glove action from Thomas. Boston bets: Marchand, Peverley, Recchi.

Tampa Bay boasts Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vinny LeCavalier and in net, Dwayne Roloson, who has been on will-call for a Stanley Cup trip. Other names you need to know: Purcell, Malone, Bergenheim.  Tampa won the Cup in 2004, then the lockout derailed the NHL for years. The experience on the Lightning is just enough to take out Boston.

Tampa Bay takes the series because they shut down Ovechkin to get here.

Vancouver Canucks stands for Canada. Ryan Keler will also take out anyone who gets in his way of this Cup. He was gyped out of the Gold, so now he must conquer the Cup. The Sedin twins are expected to get the job done as well. Roberto Luongo is a proven winner in net and so is his opponent. Gentlemen’s duel. Canucks who can make the plays: Bieksa, Burrows, Torres.

The Sharks have carried some playoff baggage that needs to get tossed. With Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi and Ryan Clowe, the Sharks look tough to beat. Clowe will clock Kesler I’m betting on that one. The Sharks have Joe Thornton. Plus, Dan Boyle has won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004.

Vancouver Canucks will move on, despite both teams having difficulty closing the deal.

Let the Octopi Fly

The Detroit Red Wings were the first to advance to  the second-round of NHL playoffs. Energized, the Wings swept the Coyotes with the depth in player skill the Wings are known for. The break means rest, which is essential for the Wings as Zetterberg and Franzen will make a return. The Red Wings do it every year and will continue to do so with the type of managment and care for their players. Red Wings fans are happy fans:Lidstrom was nominated for the Norris Trophy and Pavel Datsyuk nominated for a Selke. Jimmy Howard is holding his own and can keep the Sharks out of net to win.

San Jose has been enjoyable to watch, but the LA Kings stalled the Sharks.With Anze Kopitar out, the nimble netminder Quick is just one piece of the puzzle that fits so well in Los Angeles. This team continues to display the type of fan base and talent base to become an elite league leader. Going toe-to-toe with the Sharks was a bit unexpected. The Sharsk are tired, but pumped they made in through to the next round. Sharks defeated the Wings in three of the four games played during the regular season. The Sharks also eliminated the Wings last year in five games. Watch out for Ryan Clowe and Logan Couture as a powerful force on the Sharks.

The Sharks-Wings series will begin Friday in San Jose, with Game 2 on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Vancouver looked solid and on their way to annihalate the defending champs, but the Hawks found out how to play Luongo for a chance to defedng their turf. Fighting for a first round advancement, Alex Burrows buried the winning puck in net to grab the Canucks the series win, for the second year in a row. Ryan Kesler was also nominated for a Selke for his awesome season. Just like the Sharks, the Canucks got their workout but are propelled by adrenaline.

Nashville holds on to finally seek a Round 2 in the NHL playoffs. Anaheim was a tough hump to bump this season but give credit to Pekke Rinne who look unfazed most nights. Watch Rinne play against any team and the stun gun comes out as his stance rarely flusters. Barry Trotz, one heck of a coach, will see how his team rides the next curve with hometown boy and Hobey Baker winner, Blake Geoffrion. Smashville has smashed on through. This team is building a strong house.

The Vancouver-Nashville series is expected to start Thursday with a 9 p.m. game in Vancouver.

Western Conference final prediction: Detroit vs. Vancouver

I’m taking the Red Wings, because I always do. Vancouver deserves to battle it out with the best.

Ovechkin in, Pens out

Buffalo proved that goaltending does make a difference, but couldn’t surpass the fire of the Flyers. Miller had two shutouts in the series, but the tandem of Boucher and Leighton is brotherly love in true form. This has been a great series with higher scoring numbers. The Flyers wanted it more.

Boston and Montreal had quite a battle, but Boston moves on. Tim Thomas is a stable goaltender who will give the Philly boys a challenge. Boston is a good team, but the Flyers are scrappier.

The Philadelphi Flyers will face the Boston Bruins. The series will start Saturday afternoon at 3 EST. Classic east coast matchup.

Tampa Bay wouldn’t go away. With am 8-2 victory in Game 5 of the Pens-Lightning series, Tampa refused the exodus. That game was the turning point to rid the Pittsburgh Penguins a chance for the Cup. Sidney Crosby will recoup over the summer for a hopeful return in September. Tampa Bay’s victory is good news for the Southeast division and the growing hockey fandom down south. It’s also good for new GM Steve Yzerman. Goalie Dwayne Roloson was a great catch for Yzerman’s Lightining and will square off with the Caps rookie Neuvirth in goal. Tampa didn’t get the break as the Caps did.

Washington took back their spark beating the Rangers convincingly. This season, goalie Neuvirth illustrated his skill as former Calder Cup MVP. And he did it against Lundqvist who is the backbone of the Rangers. With Ryan Callahan out, the Rangers were down a man but the toughness expected of New York sputtered after two OT losses. Washington got a rest before the new clash in the East with their divisional rivals, the Lightining. Caps won 4 of 6 games during the regular season. This is a difficult series to predict.

Tampa will head to Washington on Friday to begin the series at 7 EST.

Eastern Conference final prediction: Tampa Bay vs. Philly

I’m riding the Lightining with their solid cast of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Roloson. While Washington is good, the playoffs cause the Caps to fumble.

Let the playoffs begin…

Congratulations to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who won the Frozen Four Saturday. It’s the first national championship in men’s hockey for the Bulldogs beating Michigan in overtime, 3-2.

Despite Michigan’s loss, Michiganders still have hope as the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs as the third seed in the West. Let’s look at the playoff pairings in the Western Conference:

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago
The Blackhawks eked in from a Dallas loss and will face the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy. Goaltending in Vancouver will be difficult to diffuse as Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider took home the Jennings Trophy for goaltending tandem. Beyond that, the Hawks have their work cut out with Daniel Sedin securing the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer with 104 pts.  The Canucks have an opportunity to win big in the first-round edging closer to the Cup. Chicago has tough talent but has not been as steady through injuries and malaise. The Hawks could make it tough for the Canucks, but Chicago has lost their Mojo. Canucks should wrap up the series, 4-2.

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles-
One of the best matchups in the playoffs. A must watch, especially for California viewers. Three teams from the Golden State have made it in illustrating the shift in power from the East to the West. The Sharks are at it again and seem more relaxed as they enter yet another playoff fun. The Kings are a tough crew with some awesome talent who are fun to watch. San Jose players who have upped their game include Ryan Clowe and Logan Couture who have given the Sharks some needed energy. The Sharks look poised this year. The Kings could be a spoiler, but still have some maturing to do. And without Anze Kopitar, the rest of the gang will surely fire back. Sharks could surprise the Kings with a sweep. The question is can Kings goalie Quick maintain his namesake in the series?

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix-
So many Coyotes fans are from Detroit. The Yotes have something to prove and could be a nasty pest for the Wings. Phoenix fans are pumped for the playoffs. Wings fans are confident, but without Zetterberg in the first game fans are concerned. Depth is key here- the Coyotes have played very well this year, while Detroit has had their ups and downs. Wings will take the series but Phoenix will fight and make it tight. Goaltending is a factor. Bryzgalov and Howard must play the best games of their lives to move on and both are capable. Tight race but Wings move on.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville-
It’s the Nashville curse- they get in and lose. Anaheim has struggled but have dynamic players in Cory Perry, the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer with his 50 goals. The Ducks are fighters and are scrappy. With home-field advantage, the Ducks could easily wipe out the Preds. Perry, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Ryan Getzlaf will score. Energetic play will keep this series one to watch. Too close to call, but Anaheim has more oomph to take control.

The Eastern Conference is looking extremely tough:

#1 Washington vs. #8 New York Rangers
A must watch for anyone. Ovechkin meets Lundqvist is a slice of heaven for any hockey fan. Washington has not done well in past Stanley Cup runs, but then New York wiped out last year against the Caps despite leading the series. This series will go down to the wire.

#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo-
Philly rocked last year and could be heading to the Cup finals if they can hold on. Buffalo has fought to stay in the hunt. Goaltender Ryan Miller has to be top-notch to get past the Flyers. Flyers’ goaltending has been a revolving door. Great playoff history between these two teams will give this series some bite. The Flyers can win if the goaltending is stable and can beat Miller.

#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal-
Can’t even begin to describe the fierceness of this rivalry, plus the animosity with the Chara-Pacioretty incident. A healing game on some level, but anyone’s game at this point. Price and Thomas are excellent in net, so grab a beer and pop some popcorn for this double-feature. This one will go to the end. Fighting is likely.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Tampa Bay-
Without Crosby and Malkin, the Pens have really shown the depth of their bench and that usually wins games. Staal, Talbot and Kennedy will continue the play that has kept them in the hunt. Tampa Bay lacks some playoff experience; however, with Martin St. Louis and Steve Yzerman as elder statesmen the Lightning will make the series tight. Yet, another good exhibition of players and punch and will come down to the wire if the Pens can keep it tight. Tampa Bay can do it if they shut down the Pens momentum.  Fleury is experienced and Roloson pulls out the stops.

Great games ahead and refreshing teams that have made it into the rotation make this year’s Stanley Cup run a must see.  Complete disappointment in Denver though. The Colorado Avalanche tanked this year after a good start. Recently, I saw Kevin Porter and Kyle Quincey on the day of Adam Foote’s retirement and they looked like someone had died. The loss of their captain in a losing year is a bummer. Better luck next year to all the teams who are heading to the golf course.

NHL All-Snub Game

Hey, NHL All Star Game– are you kidding me? His name is Jimmy Howard and you forgot to send his invitation.

Every year some player, who deserves to go, gets the snub generating drama to hike ratings. Red Wings fans are clambering for some justice. Right behind the Canucks in the Western Conference standings, the under staffing seems odd, yet the Canucks are sending three. With talent on both teams, it is strange that Detroit only has Lidstrom making the trip.  The NHL is bending backwards not to make this a Red Wings show, because they’ve slipped somehow and the injuries cannot look good for Detroit’s case. There is no doubt Howard has done his job and then some (22-7-3).

King Henry deserves a trip to Raleigh to showcase his tremendous skill for the promising New York Rangers but he’s propped up the Rangers for years. Fans of the Los Angeles Kings question the dismissal of goalie Quick, who has lived up to his name but not on the roster of All-Stars. Off to a great start, Quick has softened recently and reflects in his numbers (19-12-1).

The Western Conference rolls out Sharp, Kane, Keith and Toews in the Hawks section, who have the obligatory pass. Can’t snub the Stanley Cup champs. Patrick Sharp has had an outstanding year with 44 points. Vancouver gets a big nod with the Sedin brothers and Ryan Kesler. The Redemption for the NHL All-Star game this year is Dustin Byfuglien gracing the roster after last year’s snub.

The Staal brothers are well represented minus Jordan. Matt Duchene and rookie Kevin Shattenkirk will be there for the Mile High club. No Stastny listed either. With the absence of Chris Stewart in the line-up, Duchene has become a stronger leader on the ice. Stewart will be there next year or this article will be about that snub.

The NHL All-Star game really isn’t a game, rather a showcase light on the PIMs. Kesler and Backes could throw down for a few and I’d enjoy seeing that. Regards to the rookies who made it including Taylor Hall (EDM), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Cam Fowler (ANA) and Carolina Hurricanes own Jeff Skinner. San Jose’s rookie Logan Couture also made the cut, as he has become quite a catch in fantasy leagues.

Despite the snubs, someone is always forgotten. Semin, Zetterberg and Tavares are the hyped snubs this year. Western teams have excelled in play and popularity. Eastern players sell more jerseys. Since the NHL is based in New York, no stun in how this has been spun. Heading down south, the NHL is placing the southeastern pack in the forefront. Look what that division holds in Ovechkin, Stamkos, and Yzerman as the Bolts GM. Right time, right place. Load up on the BBQ and grits and take a gander at the skills competition, which really is the best part.

The coast with the boast

What’s with the love affair with the Western Conference? Los Angeles seems to be a hot bed for hockey now that Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Justin Williams is the supporting cast for Anze Kopitar- the depth of the bench holds great value. The youth movement hit teams like the Kings, the Avs and the Sharks. Couture is in, and the Blues are singing happy tunes.

The lowest team in the East lags behind the wins in the West by seven. Toronto’s fall from grace was heard around the league, yet the struggling Rangers pulled their team up with their groomed talent in Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. The West takes bigger chances. The East sticks to tradition. There is more pressure in the East to win, not so in the West. Ebb and flow. Los Angeles chose to rebuild and invest in marketing and public relations with the other Heidi. Colorado got lucky with some smart picks who were willing to take a salary reduction. Numerous reasons have put the West into high gear for now. The population influx in western cities is evident, but few are relocating eastward. Old school hockey fans live in the West now and expect a higher level of play from their NHL franchise. That’s how it goes in Denver, where you will meet people from the cold northeast looking for 360 sunny days a year in the Mile High City, and a hockey team. It’s the people who influence, the demand for the product. It’s pure demographics and market research before investing in the product. If the population pressures the management, more will be spent on building.

The Western Conference used to stop in Detroit. Since Chicago stole the show and grabbed the Cup last season, the westward migration continues. Vancouver, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix speak to the newest generation of hockey fans. Don’t get me wrong- the East is not dead by any means, but the trend shifts west for now. A generation has turned more aware of hockey, growing up with Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman as the superstars in the West. Gretzy in Edmonton, Los Angeles, and St. Louis brought more attention past the Mississippi.

Montreal, Philadelphia and New York have emerged recently to wow fans. Washington and Pittsburgh are no slouches, neither are Overchkin and Crosby, who still dictate hockey stats. Stamkos has become the new face of NHL hockey, and he’s in the East, and a beach league to boot. The expectations in the Eastern Conference are fierce and that has caused the stern look at the differences. The Western Conference has been under rated for so long, that the shock of their revival emphasizes the weakening of the East. Right now in the standings, in the West, Vancouver has 31 pts. and sits in the No. 2 slot, while Tampa Bay also has 31 pts. but sits in the No. 6 slot in the East. The consistency in the West allows an evening of the race in standings almost weekly. The hold on the top spot is tighter in the West, thus more competitive match-ups regularly. More attention to detail and fewer mistakes is a must if your team is facing stiff competitors.

The West has stayed competitive to keep up with the Red Wings over the years. Yes, I said it. Every team wants to keep up with the Wings, now and in the past. But for teams truly in the west, it seems ironic as the West touts the lone gunslinger mantra, yet the team concept translates well. Teams work well in an ambush. The East develops individual talent, so the team concept has dropped in significance, some have suggested. The Flyers seem pretty tight, as does the Rangers. Benchwarmers in the East aren’t as NHL ready as they seem to be in the West. The Tampa Bay Lightning is an eastern team benefiting from the knowledge through Steve Yzerman’s leadership. Stevie Y. learned from the best franchise team both on and off the ice.

Best bets for the Stanley Cup have pitted the Detroit Red Wings against the Washington Capitals. Another speculation could be Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. Some exciting possibilities have been created in this fluctuating season sending fantasy teams into clunkers and numerous hat-tricks. Great games are great gifts for any hockey fan, so may the season be magical!

Crazy Cup Year

Three teams are out that no one thought would be out. The Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals; the reigning Stanley Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins; and the iconic Detroit Red Wings will not grace the cover of magazines hoisting the Cup. This is the year of the crazy cup race.

The top two seeds in the Western Conference and the last two teams to get in for the Eastern Conference converge in a playoff series unlike most have ever seen. Emerging stars in the NHL are making a name for themselves this season, while old favorites are finally getting their due time.  Here are some notable personalities in this crazy cup race:

Michael Cammalleri- Montreal Canadiens

I’ve been following him since he played with the Los Angeles Kings. His injuries this season sidelined him for most of February, but returned just in time to push the Montreal Canadiens up the ladder to grab the last playoff spot. He has twelve goals in the playoffs matching records set by some of Montreal’s greatest players. Cammalleri deserves this fantastic trip he’s on always giving his all and it shows.

Joe Pavelski- San Jose Sharks

His name was flopped around fantasy leagues as a recommended pickup, but who knew this would be the year for Pavelski? He led the playoffs in scoring until Cammalleri broke the bank. Pavelski plays hard as if the other players are just minor inconveniences on his way to the net. Expect explosive plays from Pavelski.

Dan Boyle- San Jose Sharks

He’s had some hard luck in the series with the Avalanche, but rebounded with scoring. Boyle is also due some good karma. Praised as a top-five defenseman in the league, Boyle can electrify his way to the Cup. He’s a smart D-guy who’s always on the puck, but still minding his blueline.

Daniel Carcillo- Philadelphia Flyers

Nicknamed,” Car Bomb,” is no surprise. Fans don’t know if he’ll be scoring or getting a suspension. And the Flyers fans love that about him. He’s their secret weapon. Broad Street fans have a rousing number of tough guys to love with Scott Hartnell, and Arron Asham, but Carcillo brings a raw in-your-face attitude to the game. Some may criticize his penalties hurting the club, but sometimes the rebel rouser can get things fired up including scoring.

Dustin Byfuglien- Chicago Blackhawks

He’s been on fire in the playoffs! Super player, but lacked that spark all year. Buff is one of those all-around players whose contribution to the game may go unnoticed, but his skills lurk and emerge at just the right time. With a hat-trick against the Vancouver Canucks, expect him to play with heart against the Sharks. He’s my bet for the Blackhawks.

Evgeni Nabokov- San Jose Sharks

Yes, the San Jose Sharks have finally made it to the second round of the playoffs. There is hope for them to make it all the way, and Nabokov deserves a big round of applause for being one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. He’s absolutely the best heading into the battle for the Cup as his experience has lent him his composure and fortitude to be a champion.

Jaroslav Halak- Montreal Canadiens

This kid has proven himself, despite several setbacks. He’s beet hot, then not, then benched, and now playing for a chance at the coveted Stanley Cup. The miraculous Montreal Canadiens are a talented group of players, so you have to give it up for Halak making saves on Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, not to mention all the other superstars pummeling the puck Halak’s way.

Hats off to all the great players who have advanced toward Lord Stanley’s Cup. It’s been an amazing playoff run with some unexpected moments that will carry in to the remaining games. Taking the tiger by its tail seems to be the call for this season’s run, as it could be anyone’s game. All the predictions were so far off, and the reluctance to pick the Sharks has been an advantage for San Jose. If the Montreal Canadiens, as the eighth seed, can beat the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals, then the Stanley Cup champs, who’s to say they can’t win the whole enchilada?  I’d like to see them try to get past the San Jose Sharks who are chomping at the bit for their turn to hoist the Stanley Cup in the Shark Tank.

Hockeytown Bounces Back

As Nicklas Lidstrom celebrates his 40th birthday, he’ll get his wish of moving on in the playoffs. Every Red Wings fan sat on the edge of their seats waiting for the victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. We knew they’d win. You can never doubt your team, and Red Wings fans get harassed whether the team wins or loses. But are the Wings the most detested team moving into these playoffs?

I’ve never heard anyone despise Ovechkin and the Capitals. The Washington Capitals are fun to watch and the talent on the team works hard with much less fanfare than their captain. Ovi has been criticized for grandstanding by such notables as Don Cherry, but the guy makes plays. Ovi boasts he’s the greatest player in hockey right now, and maybe he is. But his antics don’t bother me, if he can play great hockey. Unfortunately, we won’t see Ovi postseason unless he decides to be a guest commentator on Versus.

I’m betting the most despised team would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt Cooke is not loved by anyone after his blow to Boston’s Marc Savard. The hit, incidentally, caused fast-track implementation of the ban on blindside hits. Sid the Kid also has a reputation that varies from spoiled to snub. Defending champs get that kind of dislike mostly because the fans want to see another team advance, rather than a dominant force. Just like the Red Wings, welcome the Pens to the circle of scorn.

Detroit will play San Jose in the second round. The Sharks didn’t want to play the boys from Hockeytown to advance because the Wings have momentum, but also because San Jose want to break their problematic journey kinks from year’s past. In what will be a great series, both teams have so much to give. San Jose needs to win as they have topped the charts for years. Their fans are poised to be champs. They want the Shark Tank to be deadlier than it has in the playoffs. Great season, but the Sharks have to deliver well into the next round. Good luck!

Detroit needs to win because it’s expected. Haters, fans and the media all expect Detroit to be in the race every year. With 19 playoff seasons, there’s a reason why passion in Hockeytown is ridiculously bonding. Families talk Wings, all over the country Michiganders become friends over the Wings, and more than not, random fans dig the style of Detroit’s play as purist hockey fans.

Whatever team may play for the Stanley Cup, first round playoff hockey is so compelling that the pundits brag about the excitement that no other sport has in such competition. What the Detroit Red Wings have done is enough to support their cause of winning the Stanley Cup. Drowning in the conference race, then taking over in fifth, and beating the fourth seed shows their climb and determination.  Losing for Detroit is not an option. Detroit fans have chewed their nails to the wick, but this week they’ll have to wash their gear for the next battle. So here’s a prayer a Red Wing fan sent to me:

“Our father who art in Detroit, hockey be thy name. Thy will be done. The cup will be won. On ice, as well as in the stands. Give us this day our hockey sticks, and forgive us our penalties, as we forgive those who cross-check against us, Lead us not into elim…ination, but deliver us to victory. In the name of the fans, “Lord Stanley”, and in the name of the Wings. Amen – LETS GO RED WINGS!!!”

I’m quite certain the Penguins have the same type of prayer or chant. With the rich history of the emerging teams, what’s amazing about this second round of the playoffs is four of the Original 6 teams are in. The Montreal Canadiens, The Boston Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks bring a rich tradition of classic hockey history and fandom. Can’t wait for the classic hockey banter, the retro-wear, but the biggest question is who will bring back the mullet?

Western Conference Wows

Experts have taken their picks, but the wow factor in the Western Conference has delivered on its promise of being the premier conference this season. So many teams have so many guns that can fire as seen in the jimmying of the standings. Now embarking into the depth of the quarterfinals, compelling match-ups make for some great hockey.

San Jose can beat Colorado. But how did the youngest team in the NHL stun the Sharks in the first game? Game 2 in the Shark Tank bit brutally on the Sharks who battled an unexpected talented eighth seed. The scoring was insanely upbeat with six goals in the second period as goals were exchanged back and forth in a rally to win. Desperation won that game for San Jose who could not lose on home ice in that situation. Devin Setoguchi stepped up after having a mediocre year and scored two goals including the OT goal to give the Sharks a lifeline. Much was expected of Setoguchi, but seems his fervor for winning is back.  Now that the series heads to Denver, the Avs may feel more relaxed but the Sharks are a great road team. Don’t forget the altitude in Denver that has caused gasping and tiring quickly of the visiting team. The Sharks took goaltender Craig Anderson to task in Game 3. With 51 saves on goal, and a goal in OT the Avs victory deflates the Sharks who trail in the series. Avs go up 2-1 in an anything goes attitude, totally Zen.

The Detroit Red Wings made it in decent positioning to meet the Phoenix Coyotes in their first road playoff game since 1991. Calder cup candidate, Jimmy Howard, has been put to the test by an impressive Coyotes team who proved they were not done in the desert. Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader returned from the minors just to make the playoffs and tenaciously took pucks away and made plays, including a goal to give the Wings the lead in the third period of Game 2. But Henrik Zetterberg rocked it with a hat trick, six shots on net, five hits, and won 10 of 19 face-offs, all in 17 minutes of ice time. Valteri Filppula also took home two goals and an assist. Coyote coach Dave Tippett has been praised for his turn around team making the playoffs and many say the choice candidate for the Jack Adams Award. Game 2 peaked with eleven points scored. Phoenix takes the lead in the series 2-1.

The Nashville Predators cannot be looked at as a pansy team who cannot beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Nashville is tough and they have nothing to lose. Shocking the Hawks at home with a 4-1 win must have caused some rioting on Michigan Ave. The downfall of Chicago could be their youth, but the productivity is there. The Nashville Predators are scrappers. No doubt the goaltending is a major issue with Antti Niemi lacking playoff experience, but can the blueliners keep the puck out of Niemi’s zone enough to win the series? Duncan Keith, Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook are heavy hitters and can take the Hawks to the next level if they concentrate. Nashville can sneak up on their opponent. Series tied 1-1 after the Hawks got their mojo back sticking the Preds with a Game 2 shutout.

I’ve been impressed with the Los Angeles Kings this year, but I’m not betting on them to win against the Vancouver Canucks. Taking the Canucks to overtime in Game 1 proved some stamina and skill in the Kings, and their passion is there. But the Canucks are approaching their time to take the whole shebang. Perhaps the Canucks blueline is weaker than most other teams, and the Kings have Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson who may be enough to keep the Kings in the race. The Canucks are running out of time to play for the Stanley Cup. The Kings finally have some success, but the Canucks have been rolling and need to prove they are for real.  Look at top line performances in Kopitar, Smyth and Williams versus the Sedins and Alex Burrows as an indicator in production. Series tied 1-1 after the Kings made a surprising OT push in Game 2 with a goal by Anze Kopitar.

My roots are in the West, so it’s been a pleasure to see the Western Conference build up some strong teams that have taken the critics away from the hockey dominant Eastern Conference. Not saying that the Eastern Conference games are not as thrilling, but that’s another story. I’d love to see the Buffalo Sabres rectify their 1999 loss to the Dallas Stars, and to see Ryan Miller rewarded for his monumental goaltending abilities.