Tag Archives: Stanley Cup

How West Coast Hockey has Won

Beach leagues and desert dreams have put the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes in a Western Conference final worth the wait. Making deals and trades to acquire players who are now showing their worth creates a must series to watch whether a west coast fan or not. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith have dazzled and proven that the goaltender isn’t out of style in the playoffs.

Vezina finalist, Jonathan Quick, has been the backbone of the Kings all season. With the addition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the chemistry of the duo have raised hope in raising the Stanley Cup in LaLa Land. The Kings are stacked with Stanley Cup winners and playoff veterans.

The Kings arrived at the final with huge upsets the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No.-2 seeded St. Louis Blues. Only captain Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty hadn’t won a playoff series. Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene lost in the Cup final with Edmonton in 2006 and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter lost with Philadelphia in 2010. Dustin Penner also won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Justin Williams has emerged as a scoring threat in the playoff run, as he did with the Carolina Hurricanes in defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Cup finals. Oilers at the time, Stoll and Greene are happy to be on his side of the fence for this run. Expect Williams to be a factor in the win.

Rob Scuderi was a “piece” of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 triumph. He got the nickname “piece” after he misspoke while intending to say he was just “one piece” of the team. Colin Fraser played three games of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup run, but what a run to be in.

The Kings have creativity and confidence on their side.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Mike Smith, a Vezina snub, to tackle the goals that the Kings will be tossing his way. Phoenix has battled ownership issues, dismal fan attendance, and a captain who didn’t have the best few seasons, until now. Forwards Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and veteran Ray Whitney are solid, but the defensive talents of Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are holding the ‘Yotes together. The Coyotes beat Nashville and Chicago to move on, but they didn’t sweep like the Kings.

Finally, better-than-good hockey has arrived in the west. The Western Conference has been plagued with underachievement for years and not being taken seriously. Kudos to those players who stuck with their teams, and congrats to the fans who have supported the beach and desert teams.

This will be an exciting series, but the Kings will win in 5.

Follow me on The Hockey Writers for analysis, predictions and commentary on the  Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

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How hot is it in Hockeytown?

It’s officially summer,  yet I’m writing hockey. I remember reading former Islanders PR guy Chris Nichols’ blog last summer and he was scolding readers about not being on the beach. He wasn’t sifting sand between his toes either. Plenty of time for beach and hockey since the NHL truly cranks year-round. You may get lucky and find some lag in the league in late July and August to enjoy ice in your drink, not on the rink.

The Canucks didn’t bring the cup home to Canada due to the scrappy Bruins outsmarting Vanouver in Game 7 of a phonemonal Stanley Cup series. Kudos to the Bruins for fighting through some tough obstacles to hoist the most prized award in all of sports. Still not as much on a Sedin bandwagon, but Ryan Kesler beating out Pavel Datsyuk for the Selke was an impressive feat. The unfavorable light of the reaction of the fans to the loss was sad. The Vancouver Canucks deserved a better reception than that for making the 2011 finals one of the highest ranking in years. Detroit has won championships but don’t burn the town down and we’re known for that in the Motor City.

Red Wings fans are aware that when Datsyuk is in tip-top form, the Wings will always be in contention. My focus of summer is how Detroit will rebound from Brian Rafalski’s retirement and rally for the inspired perserverace of Nicklas Lidstrom, who returns to Joe Louis Arena for a 20th season. The blueline will mantain strong leadership with Lidstrom and should be able to attract top talent if needed. The upcoming draft will also tell the future of the franchise. Detroit picks the starts only after the maturation period has peaked and the skill is ripe for the picking. Look for future Wings updates on the draft, signings and sightings as the summer dwindles.

I’ll say a few words about the Colorado Avalanche who got lucky with the No. 2 and No. 11 slot in the first round entry draft. Swedish winger Garbriel Landeskog will become a power forward the likes of what Chris Stewart brought to the team. Defenseman Duncan Siemens went as the No. 11 pick of the Avs. The Avalanche will be an interesting team to watch in a few years with Stefan Elliott, Ryan Stoa and Joey Hishon coming up through the ranks.

Joe Sakic has joined the front office and an Avs alumni group will be present for the Avs opener Oct. 8 when the Red Wings swoop in. The nice guy image of the Avalanche will prevail with Sakic as the vetern helmsman that Patrick Roy didn’t want to be. I’m ready for a team that isn’t so nice on the ice. C’mon, the Avs most feared fighter is Cody McLeod-a nice guy at heart who could double for Raggedy Andy. Blueliner, J-M Liles moves to Toronoto for a 2012 draft pick. My time writing about the Avs has been fun but will be tapering with this post as I prepare to move across the country to Rangers and Devils territory.

Great things are happening in New Jersey with prospects Jon Merrill from Michigan and the 2011 most NHL- ready draftee, Adam Larsson. The Flyers will hold interest for DU’s Matt Carle, and their spunk. I’ve been a Western Conference hockey fan most of my life so the Eastern Conference will be exciting. I’ll be near the city that never sleeps, and I will be losing sleep staying up for the Kings games.

Canucks’ luck or Bruins’s ruin?

The Vancouver Canucks’s Kevin Bieksa took a lucky shot and won a trip to the Stanley Cup final. Some say they were lucky and not deserving of the win. Hello, the Canucks won the President’s Trophy. Another view hoisted the Canucks as ruining the NHL market in the US….Americans have a long way to go before they are “in love” with hockey like the Canadians.

So do the Canucks just have luck or are they really all that talented? This hockey freak picked them to win it all. Vancouver will win in 5. Game 6 tops if Boston gets lucky with a skilled driller by Horton or Krecji.

Vancouver’s ability to close the deal has gelled. The Canucks top line, Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, have combined for more points in the playoffs than any other line. Throw in Ryan Kesler and it’s the cherry on top. The newbies, Chris Higgins and Cody Hodgson are call-ups who have stood up to the task. Defense from Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff , Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome will give the Bruins a run.

But really it’s about the goaltending between two Vezina Trophy finalist- Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. Luongo has won an Olympic gold medal on home ice and has the feel for Rogers Arena. He has hit some slumps, but is usually consistent. Thomas flailed a bit early in the year but convalesced into the oompa loompa he is in net. I give this battle to Luongo. And the Vezina.

Vancouver has fluidity, while Boston can look clunky. Boston’s dangerous weapons are to be feared and revered by the Canucks if they want to win. David Krecji is one of those quiet underrated players who shouldn’t be considered in that manner. Nathan Horton has been a remarkable gift from the Florida Panthers. Not only does Horton score, but he strategizes with pizzazz carrying seven points in the series with Tampa Bay along with Krecji.

You can’t talk about the Bruins without mentioning their captain, the road block that is Zdeno Chara. He’s received some heat this season for not playing like a top defenseman and the embroiled Paciorety incident, yet he still has been nominated for the Norris. Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference have made a difference on the blue line to the net for Boston’s defense. Ference gets in there like a ferret.

The Stanley Cup this year will return to the Western Conference and to Canada.

NHL Resolutions and Hesitations

The NHL is doing great. As a corporation, the profits and media coverage sit at some of the highest levels in years. With the Winter classic tradition and the jump in viewing numbers for the Stanley Cup playoffs, hockey is doing well in the US. The Hockey News even sported a daring cover recently posing the question- is hockey dying in Canada? Could this be the beginning of an end of hockey dominance?

Sidney Crosby and the Winter Classic was the NHL’s love affair with Crosby. Then Ovechkin is the bad guy in this scenario. Pittsburgh has taken dominance in the hockey world with the likes of the Red Wings and the Rangers. The Capitals are a fantastically talented team with Ovi at the helm. Have they just begun to play with the expectation that they are destined to win the Cup? Entitlement is dangerous territory. Complacency. Ovechkin may just like the other attention he is getting. This may be the year of the Crosby-Stamkos rivalry. Future Winter Classics coming to a beach near you.

Let’s talk the Los Angeles Kings. Captain Dustin Brown has made me a believer in his skills. Then take some Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar shake it all up and you produce. The talent doesn’t stop there. After the Gretzky project, the Kings fell from grace but have been jolted alive by talented lines at every turn. Quick wears the name well. Lots of hype in LA at the start of the season and the love shows. How about those St. Louis Blues and the Steenster?  Making the playoffs would be a real kick for all those underdog teams.

Please Lou, fix the New Jersey Devils. I can help. When I get to the Shore, I’ll give you a call.

The New York Rangers are back on Broadway as the stars. With Ryan Callahan out, the Rangers have a major player in Brandon Dubinsky- he can fight, score and just carry the swagger of the Blueshirts. Avery is sporting a new and improved image and throwing down like old times. Brandon Prust has awed with varied talent from assists to roughing. King Henry rocks as usual. It’s been a good year for the New York Rangers.

Detroit has some special young talent who are taking their role as a Red Wing seriously. Patrick Eaves is dishing out the goods with a hat-trick. Eaves knows how to win with his dad coaching up in Wisconsin and all. Justin Abdelkader is a Michigan boy, and every kid in Michigan idolized the Wings. He absorbed it all throughout his childhood. Jimmy Howard has raised the bar for goaltenders. Young but well trained, the role of the goaltender has been destabilized by the show of success between the net. One day you’re in and the other you’re out. Howard is so in and will be until a puck decides his fate. Wings are soaring again.

The Ryans have struggled this year and it is surprising after a great USA Olympic run for the Silver. The show must go on even for Ryan Kesler in Vancouver and Ryan Miller in Buffalo. Spotty and soaked at times, the inconsistency has me worried.
Let’s look to 2011 to be an outstanding year for the NHL and hockey in America.  Stanley Cup predictions aside, the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals may have reached their peak.  The Flyers and Wings could be winners in the race for the Cup.

Congratulations Chicago!

The Chicago Blackhawks are the new Stanley Cup champions, and as a salute, I’ve compiled my thoughts throughout the season on the talent in Chicago.

Norris Trophy Candidate for best defenseman led directly to Duncan Keith who ranked second with career highs in goals (14), assists (55) and points (69). Keith played all 82 games this season for the third time in his five-years with the NHL. Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2002 NHL draft, Keith went in the second round as the 54th overall pick. Keith also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Playing for the Team USA was Patrick Kane who drew more attention to the talent of the Blackhawks. Out of all the wingers, Kane was an anticipated star on the roster for crowds in Vancouver. Playing for the talented young Chicago Blackhawks, Kane has emerged with 64 points this year and a plus 17 rating.  He’s good and doesn’t make mistakes.

The Preseason reports could not ignore the emerging Blackhawks as Cup contenders. My pre-season rant of the Chicago Blackhawks- Take no prisoners.  Out for blood.  Now that the Hawks have Marian Hossa the team should be amazing. Right?  Let’s hope so after all the hoopla surrounding the team of Toews, Kane, Keith and some other good players that don’t get noticed as much:  Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, and Brent Seabrook.  Deep-dish pizzazz or digging deeper into a cheesy situation.

But one cannot ignore the quality players on the Chicago roster- great players for great fantasy teams. The stand-out for me this year was noted twice by me as a favorable fantasy pick:

Troy Brouwer (RW) Chicago Blackhawks.   If you don’t own a Blackhawk player, shame on you!  Pick one up now.  Brouwer is only 12% owned and may be your best Hawk bet right now as most of the team already has a spot on rosters.  His play has caught the attention of fantasy writer Matt Romig.

Troy Brouwer (RW) Chicago Blackhawks.   Chicago fans have had their down time, but this year the Hawks are a contending team who could be a challenge for San Jose.  Brouwer has been scoring and posted 19 PIMs in one game if you have a league where PIMs count.

Going into the playoffs, many hockey fans were not surprised by the Chicago run.The Blackhawks have been building from a dusty past. The surge in strength skipped a generation and is now a rip-roaring party for the new generation of Blackhawks fans. Dustin Bfugylien is the most underrated player on the team. His name is mentioned as a great player, but in the past he’s been a hit or miss. Now, his contribution to the team can explode further as he lends might and confidence to the game.

Captain Jonathan Toews has created cohesion within the team. Each game holds a goal, an assist or a hit from any one of the guys. The unsung hero is Joel Quenneville leaving the basement Avs and culminating in a conference championship two years after taking over in Chicago. And he’s going to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And Toews was named MVP and Stanley Cup Champion

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.