Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stanley Cup Preview: Senators vs. Rangers*

It's surprising to see both these teams where they are. They key players on the Rangers are all having great seasons. And the Senators are back in the playoffs much earlier than anyone could have predicted.

Both teams, however, ended the regular season on losing notes. The Rangers lost the President's Trophy to Vancouver, and the Senators fell from 7th to 8th place.

Special teams are normally a factor in the playoffs, but the Rangers' weak Power Play (23rd in the NHL) won't be able to take advantage of Ottawa's mediocre PK unit. Meanwhile, the Rangers' outstanding PK (5th best) should be able to quiet Ottawa's solid Power play (11th best). This series will be determined 5-on-5.

Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He struggled against Ottawa this season (9 goals in 3 games), but in the past he's always been able to shut down the Senators.

Ottawa has some weapons, and they'll win a few games in this series to make it interesting. But they're too young at key spots, they make too many small mistakes that become breakaway opportunities (which the Rangers are excellent in converting), and the Rangers are just a little bit deeper than they are.

Rangers in 7.

Series schedule:
1: Thursday 4/12 - 7:00pm - OTT @ NYR - NHL Network
2: Saturday 4/14 - 7:00pm - OTT @ NYR - NBC Sports
3: Monday 4/16 - 7:30pm - NYR @ OTT - CNBC
4: Wednesday 4/18 - 7:30pm - NYR @ OTT - CNBC
5: Saturday 4/21 - 7:00pm - OTT @ NYR - NBC Sports
6: Monday 4/23 - tba - NYR @ OTT - tba
7: Thursday 4/26 - tba - OTT @ NYR - tba

Stanley Cup Preview: Sharks vs. Blues*

This is a new role for both teams. The Sharks are the 7th seed underdogs and the Blues have the 2nd best record in the NHL.

People think this is the recipe for an upset. The Sharks have no pressure on them, they have some considerable playoff experience, and nobody really knows much about the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues have an excellent tandem of goalies in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. They're the two biggest reasons the Blues allowed a mere 165 goals this season (2.01 per game). The next best were the LA Kings at 179 (2.18 per game).

The Blues are also one of two NHL teams with 30+ home wins. The other being the Red Wings, who had a losing road record. The Sharks were a .500 team on the road. It'll be tough for them to win games in Missouri.

And even though the Sharks have won a few series the past few seasons, any team with Joe Thornton carries that expectation of disappointment.

Furthermore, Antti Niemi has struggled to recapture his Cup winning form.

One thing that gives me doubts about St. Louis is that they don't have one true goalie. Two goalies works well in the regular season, but in the playoffs you have to stick to one guy. If I were a betting man, I'd stay away from this series, or even place a few bucks on the Sharks as an underdog.

Blues in 7.

Series schedule:
1: Thursday 4/12 - 7:30pm - SJ @ StL - CNBC
2: Saturday 4/14 - 7:30pm - SJ @ StL - CNBC
3: Monday 4/16 - 10:00pm - StL @ SJ - NBC Sports
4: Thursday 4/19 - 10:30pm - StL @ SJ - NBC Sports
5: Saturday 4/21 - 7:30pm - SJ @ StL - CNBC
6: Monday 4/23 - tba - StL @ SJ - tba
7: Wednesday 4/25 - tba - SJ @ StL tba

Stanley Cup Preview: Blackhawks vs. Coyotes*

The Coyotes won the Pacific Division, but finished dead last in the NHL in attendance. When will the NHL take this prospering team and move it to a city where people actually give a damn about hockey?

Chicago led the League in attendance, by the way.

The Blackhawks should get Jonathan Toews back from a concussion, but who knows how long it will take him to play to form. He's going from rehab to playoff hockey, so he's going from 0 to 100 in half a second.

The Coyotes have a slight edge in goaltending, as well. The generically named Mike Smith had a breakout year with a 2.21 GAA and a .930 SV%.

Chicago gives up a lot of goals (2nd most goals allowed by a playoff team), so if Smith can slow down the Blackhawks' prolific offense just a little, the Coyotes could take advantage of Chicago's inability to prevent goals, and edge out a few games.

Both these teams have struggling PP units, but Phoenix is adept at killing penalties, and Chicago's PK was 27th in the League. That might be bad enough for Phoenix to score a few man-advantage goals.

I can see Phoenix winning this series in several ways. And the only way I see Chicago winning it is if goalie Corey Crawford plays like he did in last year's playoffs. But he hasn't been able to do that since, well, last year's playoffs.

Coyotes in 6.

Series schedule:
1: Thursday 4/12 - 10:00pm - CHI @ PHX - NBC Sports
2: Saturday 4/14 - 10:00pm - CHI @ PHX - NBC Sports
3: Tuesday 4/17 - 9:00pm - PHX @ CHI - CNBC
4: Thursday 4/19 - 8:00pm - PHX @ CHI - CNBC
5: Saturday 4/21 - 10:00pm - CHI @ PHX - NBC Sports
6: Monday 4/23 - tba - PHX @ CHI - tba
7: Wednesday 4/25 - tba - CHI @ PHX - tba

Stanley Cup Roundup: Day 1*

Thank you NBC/Universal for broadcasting all the games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on NBC, NBC Sports, CNBC, and NHL Network. This is the greatest sports tournament in the world, and it's nice to be able to watch as much of it as possible.

Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (OT) - Flyers lead series 1-0
This game was decided in the few square feet in front of the net. The Penguins dominated the crease in the 1st period (Chris Pronger's absence was very notable) and went up 3-0. Then the Flyers fought for that real-estate, eventually tying it off a tip in a few feet in front of the net. Then winning it when Jordan Staal let Jacub Voracek sneak in the backdoor. This series was the most hyped, and Game 1 lived up to expectations. And it was just a post and/or an offsides call from going Pittsburgh's way.

Game 2 Friday night.

Predators 3, Red Wings 2 - Predators lead series 1-0
Rinne won this game for Nashville. It wasn't that Howard had a bad game though. Some really freaky bounces allowed Nashville to play with a lead for most of the night. I was actually impressed with how well Detroit played. Howard looked sharp, and they killed all 6 Nashville penalties (including an extended 5-on-3). This series will be pretty good.

Nashville might lose Shea Weber for a game or more. At the end of Game 1, he grabbed Zetterberg's head and bashed it into the glass. This was as the final whistle blew. Every year, the NHL likes to declare that they're clamping down on "message sending" in the playoffs. We'll see if they actually do anything about this message.

Game 2 Friday night.

Kings 4, Canucks 2 - Kings lead series 1-0

Vancouver lives by the Power Play, and last night they died by the Power Play. The Kings scored 2 goals with a man advantage. And despite incessant praise from the announcers, Robert Luongo just wasn't very good. He wasn't bad, but nowhere near as good as his defenders claim he is. The other Canucks were up to their old tricks. Kesler got a penalty for embellishment. Byron Bitz has caught the Canucks' disease and got a 5 minute boarding penalty, and a 10 minute misconduct. The rest of the team generally whined and moaned about only getting 5 Power Plays.

Game 2 Friday night.

Tonight's games:
7:00pm - Senators @ Rangers - Game 1 - NHL Network
7:30pm - Capitals @ Bruins - Game 1 - NESN/NBC Sports
7:30pm - Sharks @ Blues - Game 1 - CNBC
10:00pm - Blackhawks @ Coyotes - Game 1 - NBC Sports

Celtics Win With Heart

Down in Miami, the Celtics shot the lights out. It was a pretty to behold, high scoring, high flying win. This was tougher, grittier, harder. The Celtics showed their heart in this game.

Think about this. The Celtics shot 19% worse last night than they did in Miami. And they still won. Thanks mostly to Rajon Rondo. Who recorded yet another triple-double. 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 20 (yes, 20) assists. That's 19 straight games with 10+ assists for Rondo.

He made all four of his free throws.

The Celtics could be the most dangerous team in the NBA once the playoffs start.

They're up in Toronto Friday night, the start of back-to-back-to-back games and 4 road games in 5 days.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Bruins vs. Capitals Preview*

I'll be honest. I'd prefer it if the Bruins were playing against the team from the Canadian capital, not the American one. Simply because the B's matched up very well against the Sens. Ironically, the Bruins beating the Senators last Thursday is why they're not facing them this Thursday.

Washington has been one of the most intriguing teams in the NHL all season. Ovechkin scored 38 goals, but as a whole, the Caps didn't score like they have in the past. They were 10th in the Eastern Conference in scoring.

Tomas Vokoun had a good year and beat the Bruins 3 times, but he's out with a groin injury. Michael Neuvirth is also unavailable. So 22 year old Braden Holtby will be in net. He has 18 career starts and 21 games under his belt. And 0 playoff minutes.

The Capitals' offensive production comes from a few key people. Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Jason Chimera accounted for 36% of their team's goals. The first line of Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer combines for 32% of their goals. So if Chara and Seidenberg can shut that line down, Washington loses 1/3 of its offense.

Ovechkin scored about a third of his goals on the Power Play. So if that gets slowed down, Washington will struggle. The Bruins won the Cup last year because they were able to shut down opponents' Power Plays.

The Caps shouldn't be overlooked. They have defensemen that can contribute to the offense (3 with 9+ goals). And they'll be playing with nothing to lose. They won 38 games in regulation and OT this season. The Bruins won 40. This is a team that can win.

This is the Bruins' series to lose. Thomas has looked sharp lately, but was sluggish only a few weeks ago. The Krejci line has been inconsistent all year. There are health concerns on the blue line. Boychuk and McQuaid are very physical players, and without their services, the defense isn't as intimidating.

McQuaid is out for Game 1, and Boychuk will be a game-time decision.

If the Bruins don't jump on Holtby early, or if Holtby stands on his head and wins a game in Boston, then the Caps will feel a surge of life and give the Bruins a tough series. But if the Bruins put Washington down early, they won't come back up for air.

Bruins in 5.

Series schedule:
1: Thursday 4/12 - 7:30pm - WSH @ BOS - NESN/NBC Sports
2: Saturday 4/14 - 3:00pm - WSH @ BOS - NBC
3: Monday 4/16 - 7:30pm - BOS @ WSH - NESN/NBC Sports
4: Thursday 4/19 - 7:30pm - BOS @ WSH - NESN/NBC Sports
5: Saturday 4/21 - 3:00pm - WSH @ BOS - NBC
6: Sunday 4/22 - tba - BOS @ WSH - tba
7: Wednesday 4/25 - tba - WSH @ BOS - NESN