Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What A Finish

See?

That's what playoff hockey is all about.

There is nothing like a game 7, and we got two of them tonight.

I watched the entirety of the Rangers/Caps game. The Rangers were in control for the first two periods, and Sean Avery was playing a hell of a game. The puck seemed to be constantly in the Caps zone, and every time it went behind the net, it seemed that Avery was there to take it. He checked, and played hard. He made a beautiful play on the Rangers goal, winning a couple of battles against the boards to gain possession of the puck, and then made a nice pass to Dubinski, which led to Antropov's goal.

Through two, the Rangers controlled the play, and anytime the Caps got a shot on net, Lundqvist was there. Even the goal that the Caps scored was an ugly one (three deflections, two of them the most unlikely, could never do that again type).

Then the third period started, and the Caps suddenly remembered they were the better team, ultimately resulting in Fedorov's beauty of a snipe to make it 2-1.

I love Fedorov, by the way. The all time leading Russian playoff scorer scored most of those points while playing with a winged wheel on his chest. After time in Anaheim and Columbus, he fits so nicely on to this Capitals team with a bunch of young Russians around him to learn from his experience.

So thrilled that the Caps won.

Because of the half hour difference in start times, when the game in D.C. finished, there was a good 12 minutes left in the Canes/Devils game. Now, as I've stated before, I don't really care about either of these teams, except that I have Cam Ward in my hockey pool, and, well, it's playoff hockey, and a game 7 at that. It's worth watching no matter who it is.

It was 3-2 in favour of the Devils when I tuned in, and the game was pretty good. Fast paced, with chances going both ways. Finally, with under 1:30 left, the Canes tied it up, a nice goal from, well, I don't remember, and I'm too lazy to look it up. I feel like the name will come to me, but so far, nothing.

So then, I figure, we're heading for overtime, and overtime in a game 7 is the best part of any sporting even, (and perhaps the best part of anything ever), when Eric Stall breaks down the right side and rips a shot past Brodeur, putting the Canes ahead 4-3.

I cheered out loud.

That's right. I cheered out loud, in a game I really didn't care about, for a team I was rooting to win merely because their goalie is in my playoff pool.

But it was fucking exciting.

So, let's see how I did in my first round predictions.

I guessed Boston in 4, and Boston won in 4.

I guessed Washington in 7, and Washington won in 7.

I guessed Carolina in 6, and Carolina won in 7.

I guessed Pittsburgh in 7, and Pittsburgh won in 6.

I guessed San Jose in 7, and Anaheim won in 6.

I guessed Detroit in 5, and Detroit won in 4.

I guessed St. Louis in 6, and Vancouver won in 4.

I guessed Chicago in 6, and Chicago won in 6.

So that's a 6-2 record in the first round, and three of those six predictions actually did it in the amount of games I predicted.

I may be a semi-genius (the "may be" part of that sentence is where my modesty shines through).

I give myself a pass on the Sharks/Ducks series, because I thought that one was a toss up.

But I was way, way off on St. Louis. I just don't see the talent on Vancouver beyond the Sedins and Luongo. A strong team, for sure, but that's about it. And I thought The Blues could do it.

I was wrong. But it was close. 3 games decided by 1 goal, including the final game that went to overtime, and hard-fought games were they all.

Oh well, one glaring mistake in eight series. I'll take it.

So, let's get on to some round two predictions.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston vs. (6) Carolina

Well, I just don't see Carolina going past this series, but I do think they will fight hard. Cam Ward is a good goalie, and will keep the Canes in any game just enough to give them a chance to win.

But Boston is just a bit too strong for them.

Besides that, the playoffs are grueling, and Boston has had a week and a half off. This series starts on Thursday (I believe), and that gives Carolina one day off to rest, and prepare for the East's top team.

I think Carolina will push the Bruins, but not hard enough.

Bruins in 6


(2) Washington vs. (4) Pittsburgh

I do believe that the two series that everyone was hoping for in these playoffs was Detroit vs. San Jose, and Pittsburgh vs. Washington.

Well, we got one of them.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin, and Malkin vs. Ovechkin - the sub-plots in this one are endless. I think Pittsburgh is the favourite in this series to win, but Washington having home ice is actually an advantage in this series.

The Caps will be pumped, not being in the second round in 11 years, and the obvious rivalry between the two teams will bring an intensity to this series that will only make for some of the best hockey these playoffs will see.

Again, the Penguins have a few extra days of rest, and that can only help them, after a hard hitting series with Philly.

Washington came back from down 3-1 in the Rangers series, and that puts some serious momentum in their corner, but Pittsburgh has experience on their side.

The talent is deep on both teams (and perhaps a bit deeper on Washington), but Pittsburgh's top players combined, are better than Washington's top players combined, and that, along with their trip to the finals last year will be the difference maker.

Pens in 6


Western Conference

(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim

You know, I didn't watch much of that Ducks/Sharks series, but from what I did see, San Jose dominated. They controlled the play, attacked continuously, and really were the better team.

They just didn't score, and you can't win if you don't score.

That's where the difference lies in this series.

I truly believe that Datsyuk, Zetters, Hossa et al, will succeed where Thornton, Marleau and others didn't.

Hiller is playing phenomenally, and that's always a concern, but so was Steve Mason heading into the post season. The Wings scored 18 goals in 4 games on him, and from a very balanced attack. Every line the Wings have is lethal, and that's not something that San Jose can boast.

Sure, maybe our fourth liners don't score, but they can keep the puck out of the net. Can the same be said about Roenick, Grier, Lemieux, etc?

Anaheim's top line is scary. There's no doubt about it. But they can't be on the ice all of the time.

Detroit is a far better team, and while I do believe Anaheim will give them a challenge, I don't see it being much of one.

Wings in 5


(3) Vancouver vs. (4) Chicago

I just don't like Vancouver. I don't know why, but I've always had a dislike for them.

Which may account for my first round prediction of them losing, and it may account for my second round prediction of them losing.

They just aren't that deep of a team. They are talented, and when the Sedins aren't on the ice, they have Luongo who can bail them out of any trouble they may get into, and who could quite possibly steal a series for them.

Hell, he was probably the difference maker in the first round.

But I just don't see them making to the Conference finals.

Chicago is young, quick, talented, and has a roster full of future superstars.

Toews is playing like he's played in the league for 10 years, and they have one of the best defences in the league (shit, almost the entire corps could play for team Canada at the Olympics next year).

Vancouver has the rest, and the home ice advantage on their side. Chicago has everything else.

Hawks in 6

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Far, So Good

There's this girl I know, a sweet, wonderful girl, who cheers for the same team I do, that has asked me to blog a little more often. I suppose I can comply.

***

Well, the boys have finally showed up. These three games for the Wings have been the most complete games I've seen from them all year.

Every inch of the ice, the Wings are playing perfect hockey. All the big boys are playing wonderfully, and how great to see my favourite, Zetterberg (whom I've decided to dub Zetters) score two goals.

How about Commadore flying into the Wings bench on a missed hit on Cleary? I laughed out loud.

There's not really much to say about this game, except how thrilled I am to see the Wings playing so well.

***

Shame to see Ozzie lose the shutout with only 3:43 left. He was brilliant tonight. The Wizard of Oz has shown up when it matters.

***

Anyone ever notice how there's only an 'E' missing from Samuelsson's name to get the word 'useless' out of those letters? I will, from here on in, dub him 'Useless.'

***

So, I would really like to see the Sharks win tonight, the Ducks win the next game, then the Sharks win the one after that. Then I'm not sure. I don't really want the Wings to face the Ducks in the next round, but I don't really want to see the Sharks win at all. As long as that series goes long, and everybody for both teams tire themselves out, I'll be happy.

***

As I type this, Carolina has just scored with 0:00.02 seconds left, to win game four of their series, and tie it at 2-2. The only reason I have any, ANY, interest in this series, is that I have Cam Ward in my playoff pool, and he just got me two points.

***

Roy Halladay lost his first game of the season tonight. However, he should have gotten out of it with at least a no decision. Overbay, Barajas and Snider all came to the plate in the eighth with a man at third. Overbay drew a walk, so I don't blame him, but then Barajas came up with the bases loaded, and less than two outs, and lined out to Michael Young.

Ok. I'm not a major league hitter, so I can't really criticise. But you need to score that run, in a one run game in the eighth. Simply hit a fly ball into the outfield. Harder than it sounds, I know, but still, I blame Barajas for this loss.

Halladay's line: 8 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

***

This post is for you, pretty girl. Sorry it didn't say more.

Ich liebe dich.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Playoff Predictions

Let's get to it:

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston vs. (8) Montreal

Let's face it. This was not the centennial season Montreal was hoping for. They struggled and clawed just to make it into the playoffs, and are rewarded with facing The B's in the first round.

I actually chose The Habs to take the Eastern Conference this year, and now, they are the only team that I absolutely, 100 percent believe has no chance of making it out of the first round.

Now, Tim Thomas is playing way out of his league this year, but there's no reason to believe that won't continue. Savard has been out of this world, and Chara has been, well, Chara. Milan Lucic will pound players. Canadiens fans say that they can match Lucic with Laraque, but there's no way that Big Georges should even be playing. Lucic put up 42 points to match his 136 PIM's. He can play the game. He deserves to be there. Laraque doesn't. He shouldn't even be playing in the regular season, but I've already covered that. There is no way that he should ever see game time come the playoffs.

I'm sure Gainey doesn't agree with me.

The biggest problem here is Price. Last year, he was obviously not ready for the second season. That's ok. He's young, and it was great experience. But it became quite obvious early on this year that his confidence was shaken. This kid is projected to be the next great goalie, but the Canadiens have done nothing to protect him. He should have been sent down in November, let him dominate the AHL for awhile, and grow that confidence back. But the Montreal brass may have sent this kid's career into the toilet for good.

And if they didn't, Boston has a good chance to do it themselves.

Bruins in 4


(2) Washington vs. (7) New York Rangers

This will be billed as Ovechkin vs. Avery, but I don't think that will be much of a story. More likely, it will end up being Ovechkin, Green, Semin, Backstrom and Laich vs. Lundqvist. Because, make no mistake about it, Lundqvist is The Rangers' only chance to win this series. The thing is, he's good enough to do just that. He truly is.

Like the Canadiens, the Rangers probably shouldn't have made the playoffs, but they're here, and they were lucky enough to get to the 7th spot and face the Caps instead of being a spot lower and taking a trip to Bean Town.

The Caps are near the top in goals scored. The Rangers are near the bottom. The Rangers are near the top in goals against. The Caps are near the bottom.

Something's gotta give.

Caps in 7


(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Carolina

Is there a series I care about less? I'll tell you. There isn't. I hate the Devils, and I nothing the 'Canes. While I've always liked Paul Maurice, and even more now that he's in a post-Leafs world, I just can't muster any interest in this series.

I do hope Shanahan is amazing, because I'll always love Shanny.

Hurricanes in 6


(4) Pittsburg vs. (5) Philadelphia

Now here's a series I can sink my teeth into. The Battle of Pennsylvania should be great. It's a fiece rivalry from these cross-state foes. The goaltending at both ends have ups and downs - stellar one moment, shaky the next.

But it's really the offence in this one that's lip smacking. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on one side, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on the other.

This will be a goal fest, with checking hitting, speed, great passing, great play making, fun, fun, fun hockey.

This may be the best first round series.

Pens in 7


Western Conference

(1) San Jose vs. (8) Anaheim

Another great series. St. Louis really did both these teams a disservice on Sunday by winning their game against Colorado, and jumping into sixth place, moving Anaheim in the eighth spot and this first round matchup against the Sharks.

San Jose, looking to put an end to their playoff woes have drawn absolutely the worst opponent they could, outside of The Red Wings. Anaheim, on the outside looking in for most of the season, pulled it all together in the last month or so, and are looking almost unstoppable. With Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, they have youth, speed and talent. With Rob and Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger, they have proven winners, and experience. And between the pipes, they have a guy that won the 16 most important games of his life just two years ago in J.S. Giguere.

San Jose has Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo, Nabokov, etc. All superstars. All guys that have failed come the playoffs, though often being considered a favourite. Can they finally pull it together this year? I don't know.

I hate to call this one, because it's the series I'm the least sure of. It'll go seven. I'm pretty positive about that. Who'll win that last game? I'll give it to the Sharks only because they have the home ice advantage.

Sharks in 7


(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus

Columbus makes it's first ever playoff apperance against my beloved Wings. They split the season series, with Columbus prevailing 8-2 in one of those games. Rick Nash has been a Wing killer, with two hatricks against the boys from Detroit, and Steve Mason, quite possibly this year's Calder Trophy winner, has been amazing between the pipes for the Blue Jackets.

But Columbus simply can't match Detroit's talent. The big question for everyone concerning Detroit is Chris Osgood, but I just don't see it being a problem. I think Ozzie will be fine, and that leaves Columbus with no chance.

Detroit in 5


(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis

You just know that Mats Sundin is sitting in a pool of his own saliva right now as he looks at his first game in the playoffs in four years. I don't think he'll be the best player in the game, but he'll definately have an impact. Let the Sedins feed off of his veteren presence, and rack up some goals. And with Luongo in net, arguably, the game's best goalie right now, the Canucks will be tough to beat.

But I think St. Louis will do it. This team has absolutely no pressure on them. They weren't expected to be in the playoffs at all, and the most talked about thing in this series will be the fact that the Blues were in last place IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE as of February 15, exactly two months to the day that this series opens. They were the hottest team in the league since the all star break, and really have nothing to lose. If they win the series, great. If not, it's amazing that they made it at all.

St. Louis in 6


(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary

This will be a great series. Lots of speed, and talent.

It's really hard not to love Jerome Iginla. He is that true hockey player - strong, talented, feisty, smart, quick, and a great leader. Giving him a guy like Jokinen was a great move by Calgary, and it has worked out, for the most part. Bertuzzi has revived his game, though nowhere near where he was pre-scandal, but he should be a factor in the series. Phaneuf had an off year, but none of that matters anymore, and I'm sure the Hawks will be keeping their heads up when he's on the ice. Kiprusoff will, of course, be Kiprusoff again.

But let the Hawks roll out the future for us. Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane have the skills to rack up a lot of goals, and then add Havlat, Eager, Sharp, etc. Back on the blue line you have Campbell, Seabrook, Sharp, Keith, Barker. I mean, that's just an amazing defensive corps, and will be the difference maker in the series. It doesn't hurt that Khabibulin won a cup with Tampa Bay.

Chicago in 6

***

Favourite stat of the day: Last night, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox hit back to back homers. The 300th career homer for BOTH players. The odds of that happening have to be phenomenal.

This is why I LOVE baseball. It's all about the numbers. The game is fun to watch, and there's nothing like the battle between pitcher and batter, but I could enjoy a season of baseball without ever seeing anything more than the newspapers.

The stats, the facts, the history, this is what makes this game so much more than the game that's played on the field. While hockey has the slight edge in my heart, the sunny days of baseball are a thing of beauty.




Thursday, April 2, 2009

Well That Sucked, Didn't It?

St. Louis - 5
Detroit - 4

Terrible. Just terrible.

A Slaughter, Please

Is it me, or does tonight's game against the Blues feel important? I mean, really fucking important.

It's the gosh darned Blues, for Christ's sake. We've already beat them five times this season.

However, that two game losing streak heading into this one just makes me a bit apprehensive. We need momentum. Like, wrecking ball momentum.

I want a blow out tonight. I mean, a blow out that would put Paris Hilton in a room of half rate musicians to shame.

6-0 has a nice ring to it.

Because a close game doesn't cut it. These Blues are fighting for their playoff lives, and will being playing hard. They will be fighting for every inch of ice, pinching, checking, skating, trying to win a face off come April 15th.

If we let them stay close in this game, it's an embarrassment to the Wings. 3-2 sucks. 2-1 sucks even more.

It is time (way past due, if you ask me) that the Wings show that they are the cream of the crop, the guys to beat.

And an absolute blood slaughter of a desparate team seems like just the right message to send.

So here's what I want tonight.

A hattrick from one of Datsyuk, Zetterberg or Hossa (we have yet to score a hattrick this year). At least two points from at least two of those same three guys as well as Franzen, and at least a point from all four of them. I'd like at least a point, if not two or three from Lidstrom, plus at least a +3 rating. I'd like a goal from either Filpula or Hudler, showing that the top three lines will all contribute come playoff time. I'd like the fourth line to not allow a goal at all, and maybe score one if possible. I'd like a shutout from Conklin.

But, mainly, I want a blow out. I want to make St. Louis look like a minor league team.

I want to win. And I want to win big.

Anything less, and I'm worried heading into the final games of the season.

Oh, and P.S. Go Oilers Go.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Six Games To Go

Alright. Here we go.

Six games to go until the playoffs begin.

My beloved Wings have lost two straight, blowing a lead to the Predators on Sunday, and losing to the worst-in-the-NHL Islanders on Friday.


The concern here is two-fold. One, we are now four points behind San Jose for The President's Trophy. Which, aside from bragging rights, is a bit of an issue, should we meet San Jose, as everyone expects, in the conference finals. San Jose has been lights out at home, including two wins against Detroit (The Wings won the two games against the Sharks in Detroit).

That scares me a bit. But we'll face that when (if) we get there.

No, the bigger concern here is that, with two weeks left in the season, we have begun to lose to lesser teams. The Islanders game was bad, but I could have called it a one-off.

It's the Nashville game that worries me a bit more.

It's very possible that we could be playing the Predators come April 15 or 16. However, could Babcock be happy about these two losses? This article by Peirre Lebrun (via the On The Wings blog) says he might be.

It's an interesting theory, and I suppose it's better to lose games you shouldn't now rather than in the playoffs, but still, I thought we had our losing streak in January. Last year, it happened in February, when Lidstrom and a slew of others were injured, and the Wings went on an extended loss streak then. It was commonly accepted at the time that those two weeks of hardship lent experience the most experienced of teams, and helped carry them all the way to the cup in June.


But, to lose now is not ideal. We need to enter the playoffs on a strong note. Luckily, we have a fairly easy schedule to close the season out, with four of the remaining six games at home.

Let me state here that I will be happy with no less than five wins, and would definitely like to see a sweep of the home and home with Chicago in the last two games of the season.

Otherwise, not having home ice against the Sharks may not matter, because we might not make it that far.

***

Of course, the other worry in Motown is the goaltending.


Our number 1, Chris Osgood, with his two Stanley Cups, has been less than stellar this year. His .884 save percentage and 3.18 goals against in 42 games are just awful, and well below his career averages (.906 and 2.47).

It doesn't exactly instill confidence.

Our number 2, Ty Conklin has been significantly better than Osgood this year (.912 and 2.43). He has kept Detroit in almost every game he's played in, and I, as a fan, have felt much more confident with Conklin in net this year.

However, he has no playoff experience, other than six minutes played for the Oilers in their improbable cup run against the Hurricanes three years ago (and the reason the Oilers lost the cup, in many of their fan's opinions).

So what do you do? Go with the seasoned goalie who has been here time and time again, but who is having a pretty bad season. Or with the hot goalie whose playoff experience is mainly shaping his own ass groove into the bench and making small talk with the trainers.

Greg Wyshynski writes an intersting blog on this, suggesting we ride Conklin until he proves he can't handle the job. Then, and only then, hand the ropes to Ozzie and hope that he returns to his magic of last year when he took over for Hasek.

However, I disagree.

You have no choice but to start Osgood. He's been there. He's won games, series and Stanley Cups. He understands the pressure, and knows how to handle it.

I have the utmost faith that come playoff time, we will see The Wizard of Oz return to form, and help us defend Lord Stanley's Mug.

And, should he falter at all, we have an extremely capable backup waiting to take his spot.

***

Favourite Player Stat of the Day: Roy Halladay's Sring stats, 7 G, 33 IP, 4 BB, 25 K, 3.27 ERA, 2W, 2L.

Is this guy ready for the season, or what? See you on Monday in Toronto, Roy.