Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been played and out of the dust only two of the 16 teams to qualify for the tournament have been given a shot at hoisting the cup. The Boston Bruins, the Eastern Conference's third seed and the Vancouver Canucks, the Presidents Trophy winners and Western Conference's number one seed will begin their final push to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup tomorrow night in Vancouver.

The teams met only once during the regular season, on February 26th in Vancouver where Boston won 3-1. Boston last won the cup in 1972, going 0-5 in the finals since their last win. While the Canucks have yet to win the cup since entering the league in 1970, losing to the New York Islanders in 1982 and the New York Rangers in 1994.

The series will bring to the forefront one of the biggest goal tending battles in recent history, with Vezina Trophy candidates, Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins facing off. The top two goalies in goals against average through out the regular season, Thomas with 2.00 and Luongo with 2.11 will be taking to the ice.  Both goalies have had two shutouts and a 2.29 goals against average through the playoffs so far. The series may be decided in the crease, and by which goalie stands tall and carries his team to the cup.

Facing off against those goalies will be some of the top offensive threats that the NHL has to offer. Henrik Sedin, the leagues top point getter with 21 had an astounding conference final acquiring 12 points in just five games against the San Jose Sharks. Along with Ryan Kessler and twin brother Daniel Sedin the Canucks top forwards have amassed 55 points through three rounds of play.

The Boston Bruins are lead by Nathan Horton who has scored clutch goals for his team, scoring three game winners, and all eight of his goals coming in Boston wins. Along with Horton, David Krejci, who assisted on the game seven winner in Tampa leads the team with 17 points.

Along with offensive threats both teams boast very strong defensive cores. Boston brings the NHL's tallest player in 6'9" 255 pound Zdeno Chara, along with defensive partner and another big body in Dennis Seidenberg. The Canucks are lead by soon to be free agent gritty Kevin Bieska who scored the series clinching goal in overtime of game five eliminating the Sharks.

The team that turns out the strongest defensive effort and gets the strongest effort from their goaltender will be able to etch their names with past NHL greats on the Stanley Cup.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7 Preview

The Easter Conference Finals will be decided tomorrow, May 27th in Boston. Both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning will be heading into game seven looking for the deciding win that will propel the winning team into the Stanley Cup Finals to face the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Conference.

The Lightning forced a winner take all game, in Boston's TD Garden after closing out a must win game six in Tampa Bay. The Lightning over came a 2-1 deficit scoring three goals in the second period and surviving a Bruins' rally winning game six 5-4.

Tampa was supported by their number one line of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lacavalier, and Martin St. Louis, who combined for eight points on the night and scored the game winning goal off the stick of St. Louis. Boston on the other hand, obtained three of their four goals off of shots by David Krejci, who recorded the hattrick.

Boston's TD Garden will be an absolute mad house come time for puck drop, with the home crowd trying to will their home team into the finals, hoping they can see another set of home games in the next round. However, don't expect Tampa Bay to be shaken easily, having gone 6-3 on the road through out the course of these playoffs. Oh, and don't forget Lightning goaltender, Dwayne Roloson extended his unbeaten streak to 7-0 when facing elimination, can you say clutch.

Both teams will come into game seven having played 17 games, winning 11 and being one win away from having a shot at playing the Canucks and hoisting the Stanley Cup in just a few weeks.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tim Thomas and the Bruins Blank the Lightning

The Boston Bruins' 2-0 game three victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, gave the Bruins a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Tim Thomas anchored the Bruins in net stopping 31 shots, 15 of which came in the third period when the Lightning were desperately trying to tie the game. At one point in the first period Thomas decides to challenge himself by spinning after blocking a shot before making another kick save (see below).

The Bruins got an early goal from David Krejci, who found himself alone in the slot and deked around a scrambling Dwayne Roloson netting the puck just 1:09 into the first period. The Bruins would extend their lead to two in the third period after a shot squeaked through the legs of Roloson after Adrew Ference tipped a Michael Ryder shot from the point. The rest  was all Thomas coming up with key saves through out the game and not cracking during a pivotal penalty kill half way through the third period.

The Lightning, the team that scored the most goals through two rounds of play, will look to rebound and find their scoring touch before game four in Tampa. In order to do so they will have to find a way to get the puck past Thomas. Maybe jumping him in a dark alley before the game will do the trick, because once he is in his crease it's not an easy task.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tyler Seguin Flourishing In The Playoffs

Boston Bruins' rookie sensation Tyler Seguin did not play through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is definitely making the Bruins front office regret that decision with how he has responded to being thrust into the playoffs halfway through the tournament. Seguin has six points with three goals and three assists through his first two career playoff games. His first career goal (see below) quieted any critics that may have second guessed the decision to insert him into the lineup so late in the playoffs, and so early in his career.

A rookie that was credited with 11 goals and 11 assists in 74 games through out the regular season has made an immediant impact in the series. He scored the Bruins first goal of game one, and scored another highlight reel goal (below) just :48 seconds into the second period of game two which knotted the score at two a piece. He extended a Bruins lead to two goals later in the period off a feed from Nathan Horton ending the play going top shelf over Dwayne Roloson's shoulder. Seguin finished game two with two goals and two assists. Tyler Seguin has released some kind of rookie magic, like that of Logan Couture out west, scoring momentum swinging goals and dropping his name all over the score sheet. The Lightning have to regroup and find answer to Seguin quickly if they want to win this series.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lightning and Canucks Take 1-0 Series Leads

Both frames of the Stanley Cup Finals are now under way with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks taking the opening game's of their respective series'. 

The Lightning jumped out to a quick lead in both their series and game one in Boston.  The Lightning's Sean Bergenheim opened the scoring with his eighth of the playoffs and Brett Clark netted his first of the tournament just 19 seconds later in the first period. Before the Bruins could shake off the shock of the one two punch of the Lightning's first goals Teddy Purcell, on the fore-check, stole a puck behind Tim Thomas' net and jammed the puck by an unsuspecting Thomas for his second of the post season.

Rookie sensation, Tyler Seguin made his first NHL post season appearance and cut the Bruin deficit to two with the first playoff goal of his career before the end of the first period with a partial break away goal. Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, put the game out of reach when he scored is second of the post season, on a power play goal late in the third period. 

While the Lightning succeeded to steal away home ice advantage from the Bruins with a final score of 5-2 the Canucks won game one of the Western Conference Finals retaining their home ice advantage in Vancouver.

Both teams opened their scoring by capitalizing on mistakes made by the opposing goaltenders. In the first period Roberto Luongo received a dump in behind the net, but when attempting to clear the puck the he put the puck on Joe Thornton's stick. Thornton buried the puck before Luongo could return to the vacant net. 

Antti Niemi put his team in a similar situation when passed the puck along the board, putting his defenseman in a tough spot to get the puck out of the zone. Canucks fore-checkers forced a turn over and Maxim Lapierre received a pass out of the corner netting the puck past Niemi. The Sharks would answer later in the second with a power play goal by Patrick Marleau and take a 2-1 lead into the third period.

The Canucks would walk away with the game in the third period, controlling the tempo of the game and scoring two goals. Henrik Sedin scored the winning goal on the power play after receiving a pass from Christian Ehrhoff on the blue line and walked out of the corner around a sprawling Niemi.

The Confrence Finals pick up again on Tuesday, May 17th in Boston where the Bruins will try to tie their series with the Lightning at one game a piece.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Western Conference Finals

With the puck about to drop in Boston for the Eastern Conference Finals, the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are living up their last day of rest while they wait for their series to kick off north of the border in Vancouver. The Canucks finished off a very tough Nashville Predators in six games, while the Sharks avoided a near historic collapse beating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

This series brings together two franchises with a recent history of playoff failure. The Sharks are looking to make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history, while the Canucks are trying to make their first trip to the finals since 1994. The two teams are coming in as the top two seeded teams with the Canucks being the number one seed.

Both teams have had their share of scares through the first two rounds of the playoffs, surrendering 3-0 series leads and needing a game seven to finish out the series. The Canucks will look to Ryan Kessler to continue his stellar play through the next round, he had acquired 15 points through the tournament 11 of which came in the second round against the Predators. While riding on the back of Kessler they would probably like to get some more production out of star twin duo Henrik and Daniel Sedin who between the two of them only found the net twice in the Conference Semifinals. With the offensive weapons stepping up and Vezina candidate Roberto Luongo continuing to backstop the team when needed the Canucks may be able to ride into the Cup finals.

The Sharks are coming out of a series that may have taken its tole on the team, taking seven hard fought games to decide a winner. The Sharks have received stellar goal tending from Antti Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup last year with the Chicago Blackhawks and will be a key asset for the Sharks knowing what it takes to go the distance. Through two rounds the Sharks is lead by possible rookie of the year, Logan Couture with six goals and in points by Ryan Clowe, who has been listed day-to-day since the 10th of May, with 13 points.

What the series will come down to is which team's star players will produce and pull their team out of a hole or two. Patrick Marleau who scored the series winning goal for the Sharks last round, quieting some of his critics, had only found the back of the net twice previous to that goal, in the ENTIRE playoffs. Hello? Mr. Marleau it's the post season. While the Sedin twins often make defenses look silly with their tick-tack passing they were virtually invisible through the second round of the playoffs. The Sedins will have more room to move this round, playing a team that is much less gritty then that of the Predators, resulting in more offensive production for the two. Canucks in 6.

Friday, May 13, 2011

NHL Enforcer and Off Ice Nice Guy, Derek Boogaard Found Dead

Rangers' forward Derek Boogaard, 28, was found by family members in his Minneapolis apartment dead. There has not been a cause of death announced and autopsies are being conducted. On the ice Boogaard was one of the most feared fighters in the history of the NHL, rightfully nicknamed "The Boogey Man". However, off the ice he made an even bigger impact in charities such as Defending The Blue Line Foundation, a non-profit organization helping children of military members have the opportunity to participate in the sport of hockey.

Boogaard played in 277 games through out his career for the Minnesota Wild for six season and the past season with the New York Rangers. During his career he scored three times, one of the most memorable against the Washington Capitals ending a 234 game drought without a goal (see below), he added 13 assists and dropped the gloves 61 times and will be greatly missed.

Thought I would add this video as well. For an enforcer to have an entire stadium chant his name and give him that much of an ovation when stepping on the ice is just amazing. The hockey greats in heaven better buckle up their fight straps The Boogey Man is coming.

Granlund's Dirty Goal at The World Championships

Finland's Mikael Granlund, a Minnesota Wild prospect scored perhaps the best goal of the international tournament. After winning the face-off he beats two Russian defenders in the corner, taking the puck behind the net and jamming it home with a Michigan style goal. What a celly after the goal to top it off, down to one knee with a windmill as the cherry on top.

Eastern Conference Finals

The Eastern Conference Finals has been set for almost a week now but has fallen on the back burner with the thriller of a series between the Sharks and Red Wings taking the majority of the headlines. But with that series done, the NHL fan  base can look forward to the Conference Finals, in the east the Tampa Bay Lightning will face off against the Boston Bruins.

The Lightning are coming out of a series where they swept the east's top seeded Washington Capitals, making it look easy while doing it. On the other hand, the Bruins swept their Conference Semifinal match up against the Philadelphia Flyers as well. One can say both of these teams will not be lacking any rest when it comes time for puck drop on Saturday, May 14th in Boston.

The series puts to very similar teams against one another, very fast paced teams with strong goal-tending. Both Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson and Bruin goaltender Tim Thomas can steal a game for their team when playing at their best. Roloson pulled the Lightning out of some tough spots against the Capitals, allowing only 10 goals on 133 shots on net, while being 6-0 in elimination games in his career, can you say clutch. In the other crease is Vezina candidate Tim Thomas, who will win this years award for top goalie, and made easy work of the Flyers in four games allowing only one goal in two of the four games and seven through out the entire series. Watch for several SportsCenter Top 10 worthy saves through out this series.

A key component that will decide the outcome of this series will be how Zdeno Chara handles the speedy top line of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier of the Lightning. If the big man for the Bruins is able to keep the big three of the Lightning at bay the series may swing in favor of the Bruins. With those three under pressure from Chara the Lightning would have to rely heavily on secondary scoring, which has been there in Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie, but one can't imagine they would be as successful against Thomas as they were against the Capitals young net minder.

Where I think the series will be decided is special teams, the Bruins power play is down right horrible producing only 5% of the time through out the post season, thats scoring twice on 37 opportunities. While, the Lighting have scored on 27% of their chances, 12 of 45 opportunities. Look for Tampa Bays' penalty kill unit who has only allowed three goals after being shorthanded 54 times to completely shut down the Bruins' stagnant power play, and capitalize on several pivotal power plays through out the series.

Dwayne Roloson will out duel Tim Thomas, and the Lighting will once again gain a big lift from the teams secondary scoring when the big three are smothered by Chara's long reach. Lighting in 7.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mike Modano In, Johan Franzen Out

In tonight's game 6 Western Conference Semifinal Series between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings Mike Modano will be taking the place of an injured Johan Franzen. Franzen re-injured his ankle during game 5 and did not see any ice time during the Red Wings' third period come back of that same game due to the injury.

Bringing in Modano, a Detroit native, could provide the Red Wings with a boost in a game where they face elimination down 3-2 in the series. Modano only skated in one game during the Red Wings' first round sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes, where he also replaced Franzen, this addition brings another veteran into the Red Wings' line up. He has played in 136 playoff games through out his 16 seasons playing in the NHL amassing 118 points, scoring 46 goals and acquiring 72 assists.

Coach Mike Babcock reported that Modano would be filling in Franzen's spot on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. This could help take some of the pressure off of Datsyuk with Modano being able to take a few face-offs if Datsyuk is struggling. Babcock has also hinted that Datsyuk has injured his wrist, so Modano being able to step into the circle for and injured Datsyuk when needed could be the difference for pivotal face-offs during the game.

We'll see what kind of an impact Modano has on the game tonight when the Red Wings try to force a game 7 against the Sharks at 8:00 PM ET on Versus.

Monday, May 9, 2011

And the Oscar Goes To...

During game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinal series between the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks perhaps the best acting of the 2010-2011 NHL season  was offered up for it's followers. After a play where Johan Franzen and Joe Thornton went into the boards, Franzen swings his stick around, one handed mind you, catching Thornton in the shin. What occurred after would have gotten Thornton a nomination for any major acting award across the face of the Earth.

The look of agony on "Jumbo Joe"s face after the stick strikes his shin pad (one of the thickest pieces of equipment) is priceless. Diving during such a pivotal point in the series where the Sharks were up 1-0 in the game and could possibly eliminate the Red Wings if the Sharks win is total garbage. Sure players may play up a trip when a stick is in their feet and they're driving for a loose puck. But, this kind of a dive has no place in an already penalty filled NHL. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Red Wings Get A Pair Of Highlight Reel Goals

The Detroit Red Wings came into game 4 of their Western Confrence Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks on the brink of elimination. They fought off the Sharks to live to fight another day with some late game heroics by Darren Helm who scored the game winning  goal with 1:27 left in the third period.

In a game where the Red Wings needed their big guns to come up big, they sure did. Todd Bertuzzi and Nicklas Lidstrom each scored a jaw dropping goal to help their team acheive the win. Detroit's first goal came off a Bertuzzi back hand from the right face-off dot, a well placed shot to begin with but how he got there (see below) adds to the appeal of the play. Bertuzzi listed at 6'3" and 235lbs is one of the game's bigger bodies and for him to elude Danny Heatley with such a spin makes the move that much better.

The Wings made it 2-0 curtesy of another beauty from Lidstrom. Lidstrom received a pass from Dan Cleary out of the corner off of his leg, the puck bounced in the air and Lidstrom swatted the puck out of the air, from the high slot mind you, one hopping the puck passed the Sharks' Antti Neimi (see below).

In order for the Red Wings to continue the quest for the Cup they are going to need their star players to keep putting in goals, they dont all have to be like those above but they do have to make a difference.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Stanley Cup Eludes Oveckin and The Capitals... Again

Another NHL season concluded, and another dissappointing post season has been produced by Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Washington Capitals saw their season and chances at hoisting the Stanley Cup come to an end as they were swept 4-0 in a series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Confrence Semifinals.

It has come to be a little routine talking about dissapointing post season performances by the Capitals being they have been eliminated before the finals in every season since the '07-'08 season. They came into this seasons playoffs the East's top seed and supposedly commited to more of a defensive style game, nobody told the Lightning that, who scored 16 goals in the four games they played.

The star power did not show up for the Capitals in the seocnd round, except that of Alexander Ovechkin who ammassed 10 points (5-5) four of those in the second round. Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich both acquired 7 to round out the top three point getters on the team. Mmmm where was Nicklas Backstrom he only recieved two points through out the entire playoffs bothing coming on assists, he did know they were in the playoffs right?

Adding to the problems of not scoring the Capitals could not stop the Lightning's star players from making a difference. Lighting Captain Vincent Lecavalier gained six point (3-3), Martin St. Louis adding five points (2-3), and Steve Downie with five points (1-4) through the four game series. Along with the stars coming through the Capitals could not stop the Lightning's role players, especially Sean Bergenhiem who found the back of the net four times through out the series, and seemed to be kryptonite to the Capitals, scoring many key goals in the series.

Given the continued failure by the Capitals expect to see some big changes during the offseason, trying to shake things up and find a winning combination. A Bruce Boudreau firing may not be in the cards as Capitals General Manager George McPhee said he expects Boudreau back as the head coach next season. Watch the Capitals closely during the offseason.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Canucks Take Game Three After Questionable Call

Game three of the series between the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks proved to be just as entertaining as the rest of the series has been. The Predators jumped out to an early lead by David Legwand, the Canucks would answer with goals by Ryan Kessler and Chris Higgins and took a lead late into the third period. Until Joel Ward wrapped the puck around the net into the slot and got a good bounce with about seven minutes left in the third. The teams went into overtime for the second time in the series.

A good overtime where both teams traded chances through out the entirety was rudely interupted by a very questionable hooking call to Preadators capatain Shea Weber (see below).

The Canucks' Ryan Kessler would score his second goal of the game during the ensuing power play and give the Canucks a 2-1 series lead. For a ref to make such a game changing call is ridiculous, in overtime of the Stanley Cup Playoffs none the less. Boy did Kessler sell that hook until the whistle blew, locking the stick up under the arm and batteling along the boards until the penalty was called. In overtime the refs should nearly put away their whistles and definately not call tick tack penalties like this one.

The Predators were screwed here in a the tightest series of the playoffs where they have taken the Presidents Trophy winners, the team who scored the most goals during the regular season to overtime once, double overtime once, and held them to a one goal game in the other. For the game to be decided on a power play from such a BS call does not give the series justice.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The World Championships, The Stanley Cups Neglected Relative

The World Championships take place every year during the last few rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, once again the games are underway in host country Slovakia. The World Champioships prove every year to be a sub par version of the Olympics where the rosters are made up of players from teams that did not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and choose to come if selected.

Why have it? The event has very little star power through out all of the rosters, seriously if Cal Clutterbuck is on team Canada that shows the talent selected to participate in this tournament. Not that the players selected are no good, but most are not the top line elite players that we see in the Olympics. However, there are some big names scattered through out the tournament like Rick Nash, Jaromir Jagr, and Ilya Kovalchuk but many big name players choose to pass up the tournament and focus on resting up during the NHL off season.

This can be a good experience for the younger skaters like Jeff Skinner, Evander Kane, and Mikhail Grabovski to stay on their skates for a few more weeks and gain some more experiense with some of the best players in the game. But other than that people will not change the channel from the game seven overtime thrillers, or the series prolonging saves that make the Stanley Cup Playoffs until the cup has been lifted and the beards have been shaven.

Perhaps the tournament is put on to give some of the usual Olympic under dogs a chance to win on a big somewhat big stage. Who knows maybe the annual national tournament will pick up some credibility and more of a following in the next few years, with channels like Versus showing more of the tournament action. Until then the World Championships will remain somewhat of a neglected ugly twin to the Stanley Cup that never really gets is spot in the lime light.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kings' Dustin Brown Nominated for NHL Foundation Player Award

For a third consecutive year the Los Angeles Kings captain, Dustin Brown finds himself nominated for the NHL Foundation Player Award. This award is given to an NHL player recognizing their considerable amount of charity work outisde of the NHL and in their community.

Brown is commited to charity as much as he is hockey. Brown is not like most of the rich who donate to charity, Brown gets involved with programs that he donates to even if that involves him getting his hands dirty and working with the organizations themselves. Brown has been involved with KaBOOM! a program that has built playgrounds in his hometown of Ithaca, New York and was head of a daylong build in Carson, California where he helped build and set up the playground along with rounding up some of his teammates to tag along with him. Brown partially funds the program himself by donating $50 a hit through out the season.

Along with that Brown is involved in Kings Community Corner, which gives tickets to underpriveldged children, efforts to help childrens hospitals and hockey camps throught out Southern Califronia. Through his Twitter account Brown raise money for support in Japan by donating $1 for evey new follower her gained through a period of seven days, he raised $9,245 and presented it to the Red Cross in a ceremony before a Kings game on March 21st.

Following Brown on Twitter (@DustinBrown23) one would see he frequently takes his charitable work with him from day to day. He oftens pays for the people behind him in line whether it be in a drive thru or at a store, an action he calls Make My Day.

Brown is deserving of this award after being nominated but not winning the award the two previous seasons. The winner of this award and the rest of the NHL awards will be presenented in Las Vegas on June 22nd.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Vezina Candidates Shinning in Playoffs

The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL goaltender seen as the best at his position in the league, and is decided on by a vote by all NHL General Managers. This years finalists Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, and Tim Thomas shined through the regular season all surpassing the 30 win mark while maintaining a save percentage of 92% or better. This regular season confidence and success in all cases has carried over into this years post season with stellar play by all three goalies.

Tim Thomas shined in game one against the Flyers, and he was highlighted even more by the lack of goal tending at the other end of the rink through out the game where the Flyers changed goaltenders mid game yet again. The other two finalists are put against one another in a series between the Predators and Canucks where through two games there has been plenty SportsCenter Top 10 worthy saves like the one below, where Pekka Rinne saves the game in the first overtime of game two.

It is saves like that that have gotten the Predators to where they are today, tied with the Canucks 1-1 and heading back to Nashville where they will look for another Vezina worthy performance out of Rinne to grab a series lead.  Luongo remains solid like always, except for the goal that tied game two with under two minutes to play, and seems to have shaken off his first round jitters where he was pulled in back to back games. Thomas kept the Bruins in the game with saves at key times while the guys in front of him pulled away on the scoreboard.

All the goalies will continue to play their hardest and try to carry their teams into their respective Confrence Finals while strengthening their bids for the Vezina.