Well, how do you like
hockey now? At one point I was predicting all of the series perfectly fine,
then real life got in the way. I almost had Pittsburgh in 6, then David Steckel
had other ideas. It’s just too bad the rest of his Washington team didn’t. I
almost had Boston in 7 – then the most ironic thing happened – Scott Walker, a
player much maligned in Boston because of a particular incident with Aaron Ward,
ended up adding insult to injury late in the first overtime period. Thankfully,
the other two series ended the way I predicted, or else my credibility may have
been seriously in question. As it worked out, I got 3 of the 4 winners correct,
and the right number of games, also in 3 out of 4. Not bad at all.
They said it
would take a few years for the new parity and rule changes (or the enforcing of
them) to make for some close games and ultimately, close playoff series. Can
you honestly at this point argue against any of the four teams and their chances
to win it all?
my job is to pick the winners, here we go. I make absolutely no guarantees,
though, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. All I know is if the rest of the
playoffs are as good as they’ve been so far, we’re in for a real treat.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Carolina Hurricanes
Last round we
had Crosby vs Ovechkin. Now we have Kane vs Abel – or in hockey terms,
Jordan vs Eric – Staal, that is. Both have been to the finals before. Only one
has won it all. Now it’s a fight to decide who gets the right to challenge
again for the silver hardware. So what do you do if you’re the parents? Easy -
Yes, it’s true,
the Staal parents are staying put in Thunder Bay while this series unfolds, and
depending on what happens, maybe a good idea. I just hope they are able to
watch the games on their big ranch they showcased in the NHL.com TV ad earlier
this year, rather than, as we saw, make their own highlights.
Certainly, older Eric
has had the lion’s share of highlights during the playoffs. The Carolina
Hurricanes have had such a great playoff record since moving from Hartford, it’s
almost uncanny nobody saw them coming. Certainly New Jersey didn’t. Boston
definitely didn’t. Most importantly, neither did I. But now, the stats are
just ridiculous – if Eric scores, the Hurricanes win. If Scott Walker
instigates a fight and his partner doesn’t reciprocate, he will burn you in OT?
Apparently. Let’s be quite frank here – there are legions of Boston Bruins fans
who will feel ripped off over what happened in Game 7, but the fact of the
matter remains, both teams played their hearts out. Boston laid it all on the
line, and so did Carolina. Good old time hockey. Now, we have another series
which should follow suit.
Why I’m picking Carolina to win:
Notice something – I’m refraining from saying “Why (insert team here) should
win”. It’s a lot more complicated – I really don’t know who “should” win at
this point. If you look at the matchups on paper, Carolina should not win. The
reason the “Cardiac Canes” are here is because they’ve managed to execute their
game to perfection, probably better than any team still skating. It got them to
the Cup final in 2002, it won them the Stanley Cup in 2006 (which has haunted my
dreams ever since), and could very well win them another in 2009, or at least,
as far as I can tell, should get them back to the finals. Cam Ward – is there
another goalie with a better chance of being the starter in Vancouver at the
2010 Winter Olympics? Even if the puck stops here for Carolina, he has to be
strongly considered given the way he has played. I already mentioned the
ridiculous stat when Eric Staal gets on the scoreboard – the team wins. And has
there been a more clutch player in the playoffs than Jussi Jokinen? It seems
Calgary got the wrong Jokinen at the deadline, because Jussi has been
outstanding. They no longer have Aaron Ward on defense, but they still have a
pretty good blue line. Joni Pitkanen has put up a lot of minutes. Dennis
Seidenberg has not only produced, he has thrown his body around. Joe Corvo
continues to be a calming presence. Rod Brind’Amour continues to be one of the
best face off men in the game. Two more X factors for you – Chad LaRose and
Sergei Samsonov. While, it’s going to take more than puck in the face to keep
Rod from playing at this time of year, if you don’t have guys to actually move
the puck once you win the face off, you’re going nowhere. Luckily, Samsonov and
LaRose both know what to do when the puck is on their stick. This Carolina team
right now just has that karma about them, they can do no wrong. I see no reason
why this can’t continue, even against an explosive and experienced Pittsburgh
team. Both teams are pretty even on the experience front as far as I’m concerned.
How can Pittsburgh get back in the finals?:
Continue to execute their game to perfection, but get everybody on board. So
far, Eric is leading brother Jordan in every category. While Jordan has started
to pick it up of late, he will need to produce as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni
Malkin will be the center of attention. I have to wonder just how healthy
Sergei Gonchar really is after taking the hit from Ovechkin in the last series.
This series is going to concentrate more on who is up front – for the most part,
both teams have no name defenses – Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are
hardly household names. Toronto and Boston fans know Hal Gill, and Dallas fans
will remember Phillipe Boucher, but they are not in the same caliber as some of
the names we’ll talk about in the West. In net, Marc Andre Fleury has to be
better, period. Cam Ward and the rest of the Hurricanes will rip him apart if
he keeps letting in the soft goals from the bad angles. If you look at some of
the timely and weird goals the Hurricanes have scored, and how well their
goaltender has been when under attack, you have to wonder why this series won’t
be done in 4 (they almost had the Bruins in 5 with Tim Thomas in goal). And quite frankly, if the Penguins don’t tighten up on defense
and if Fleury doesn’t play the series of his life, it may very well be. Most
importantly, stay disciplined. Carolina has been very good on the power play.
Of course, one has to think if Pittsburgh can use their home ice to their
advantage it will pay dividends.
I like the fact
Pittsburgh was there last year, but I just have this feeling Carolina is
hungrier to get back there. Given how they’ve gone about business so far, is
anybody but them going to prove me wrong?
Hurricanes in 7
Detroit Red Wings vs Chicago Blackhawks
The Outdoor Classic
moves indoors. They thought it was ridiculous for me to suggest on January 1st
these two might meet for the Conference title. Well, how do you like me now?
No two teams in the West played more consistently all season, except maybe for
San Jose and Anaheim, and we all know what happened to them in the end.
Is anybody getting
the feeling Detroit is just running out of gas? Sure, they grinded out the last
series and last game to the dying minutes, like I thought they would, but don’t
forget, one of the games went to triple overtime! While it’s true experience
wins championships, has any team played more hockey than the Detroit Red Wings
over the last five years? Yet, they still keep getting it done in a Salary Cap
marketplace. The experience may speak for itself, but I just wonder what will
happen if and when they face a little adversity, like being down more than a
game in the series.
Why I’m picking Chicago to win:
I like their youth, I like their speed, and I like the veteran leadership they
have. Nikolai Khabibulin has been a much better and more consistent goalie than
Chris Osgood in my opinion, if we perhaps take away Game 7 of the
Detroit-Anaheim series. I just get the sense Osgood has not been truly tested.
I mean, the Blackhawks just beat Roberto Luongo for heaven’s sakes! Roberto
freaking Luongo, who up until this season was probably up there for Team Canada
consideration. Now everybody’s talking about Cam Ward. Here’s the scary part
for me – Patrick Kane is the only player to score a hat trick in this year’s
playoffs, and it was during a clinching game. Jonathan Toews has been
consistent, but he hasn’t had a game like Kane’s Game 6 versus Vancouver where
he just explodes. But Chicago has secondary scoring too, in Dustin Byfuglien
and Kris Versteeg, not to mention Martin Havlat. Speaking of Team Canada –
after the performance of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook so far, how do you not
name them to the team? And as if they haven’t been good enough, how good has
Brian Campbell been, not to mention Cam Barker? Keith and Seabrook have been up
against their opponent’s top players – Iginla and Jokinen during the Calgary
series, and the Sedin twins during the Vancouver series. I know I said I wasn't
betting against the defending champs until they get knocked off - well, I lied.
I actually think Chicago could be the team to do it. It's been a great run for
Detroit, but I feel the younger team will prevail here. Plus, I can't get that
damn Fratellis "Chelsea Dagger" song out of my head. Really, haven't Chicago
fans suffered long enough? What can I tell you, it gives me goose bumps to see
them having a good time again. It certainly has been a long time coming.
So how on earth does Detroit overcome Chicago
and get back the finals?: First of
all, shake off the fatigue factor of Game 7. Get Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik
Zetterberg on the score sheet. Neither one of these two have been close to
their production of last year’s Stanley Cup run. To use an old cliché, your
best players have to be your best players. While it’s been true for Chicago,
for Detroit it’s been overshadowed by the heroics of Johan Franzen and Marian
Hossa. Chris Osgood has silenced the critics so far, but he needs more
performances like his Game 7 against Anaheim if the Red Wings are going to keep
Chicago at bay. At some point, I just wonder how the older and more tired legs
of Detroit are going to compete against the young and determined legs of
Chicago. We saw during the Outdoor Classic how the Red Wings were able to
neutralize the speed and force the issue, which caused the Blackhawks to take
penalties. How many times do you think Joel Quenneville has used footage from
that game in coaching sessions?
All I know is,
no matter who wins, this series is going to be a blast. I know Detroit is
putting on their brave game faces, but I really think they are going to have
their hands full here.
Blackhawks in 6
And this is how I see it – it’s why
they’re called predictions – so may the best team win, and let there be hockey!
WHO IS THIS GUY? – PLAYOFF EDITION
By now, we all know Patrick Kane and
Jonathan Toews, but who is the guy with the funny name – Dustin Byfuglien
(pronounced BUHF-lihn), native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chicago’s 8th
round draft pick in 2003, 245th overall. Who is this big guy who
parks himself in front of the net every chance he gets, since when do big guys
score in the NHL? Who does he think he is, Ryan Smyth?
Believe it or not, he started out his hockey career and was drafted as a defenseman, but
has quickly graduated to right wing, and for good reason – he can get into the
dirty areas of the ice and cause problems for the opposition, but still look
after his own end as well. A veteran of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and
Prince George Cougars, as a member of the Norfolk Admirals, he was named to the
AHL’s second all star team in 2007. He was called up to the Blackhawks on
November 3, 2007, after scoring 7 points in 8 games with the Rockford Icehogs.
He has called Chicago home ever since thanks to his big body presence and soft
hands around the net. Of course, it didn’t hurt to get a goal his first shift
against the St. Louis Blues, and his first career hat trick versus the Phoenix
Coyotes on November 30, 2007.
The longer the Chicago Blackhawks
remain in the playoffs, the more of a household name Dustin is becoming. I
mean, if the goalie can’t see the puck, he can’t very well be expected to stop
it, can he?
Dustin Byfuglien – another gem from the lower doldrums of the draft.
ALONG THE BOARDS
One of our local sportscasters on
Sportsnet in Ottawa, Ian Mendes, has just written his own blog about how he
doesn’t want a Chicago-Carolina final – he goes so far as to pray to the hockey
Gods, begging them to not let it happen – but then he goes on to talk about how
Scott Walker has joined an exclusive Game 7 overtime winning goal club with the
likes of Russ Courtnall, Stephane Matteau, and, David Volek? With all due
respect to Mr. Mendes, and I do enjoy reading his blog, I really do, but am I to
consider this a good enough reason why we shouldn’t have two rosters Team Canada
will be doing a lot of scouting of over the coming months showcased on the
biggest hockey stage there is? Myself – I say bring it on! Everybody loves an
underdog, don’t they? Everybody loves to see the proverbial best get beaten,
don’t they? I mean, isn’t this why Mendes covers the Senators in the first
place? It’s been twenty five years since two teams faced each other in the
final two years in a row, why on earth should Pittsburgh play Detroit again?
Now, if you thought Sean Avery taking a summer job at Vogue was a great story, I think this
one may have topped it. As most who follow hockey know, our old friend Patrick
Roy has a son, Jonathan Roy, who has also pursued a hockey career of his own.
Well, evidently things haven’t gone as well as they did for his father (I mean,
who knew the Habs don’t draft French players anymore?). Roy has released a Pop
album, and has been more or less dubbed “The King Of Pop” by the Quebec Scope, a
free Francophone entertainment publication. On a recent cover of the magazine,
a nice play on words “Le Nouveau Roy De La Pop”. OK, first of all – you can’t
be the self proclaimed king of pop when there is already one (Michael Jackson
has held the title for years, even after all of the adversity he faced). You
definitely can’t call yourself a king when nobody outside of your province has
even heard you – unless of course, you’ve been on You Tube lately and happened
to come across this clip:
I don’t know,
I didn’t think Jonathan was too bad of a player, when he wasn’t beating up
goalies. Don’t look for a Juno nomination anytime soon, this much I know for
sure. Puckin’ Around, where you never know what I’m going to uncover in the
hockey world, do you? (or my co-webmaster for that matter, who actually
translated the story for me).
If you looked up the phrase “won’t take no for an answer” in your favorite English
textbook, you’re bound to see a picture of Jim Balsillie in future editions.
The Blackberry mogul who previously tried to aggressively go after the
Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators is now looking to buy the Phoenix
Coyotes out of bankruptcy, or whatever they are, and move them to Southern
Ontario. And he has the money, sponsorship and desire to back it up. Of
course, the very fact the Coyotes are in bankruptcy court to begin with has sent
shockwaves through the NHL, and for all intents and purposes, league brass is
not amused. Well, this whole situation will get its day in court next week,
merely to decide who actually controls the team, the NHL or majority owner Jerry
Moyes. Now, should the courts rule Moyes is in control of the team and not the
NHL, then obviously he’d be free to sell the team to Balsillie, who would then
have to be approved by the 29 other NHL owners and the NHL board of directors
before the team goes anywhere. While he hasn’t come right out and said it, Gary
Bettman has made it more than evident of his distaste for Balsillie’s aggressive
behavior, testifying on court documents he’d rather see the team move back to
Winnipeg before Hamilton. This, of course, has done everything to bring
excitement to one of my favorite hockey sites out there:
worry about the precedent something
like this will set, and I’m certainly not the first to bring this up, and I
won’t be the last. If the courts rule Moyes is still the legal owner of the
team and not the NHL, as they are arguing, then with such a ruling would have
every right to file for Chapter 11, and subsequently sell/relocate the team. If
this precedent gets set, what is going to stop owners in Nashville, Atlanta,
Florida, or anywhere else a team falls on tough financial times? Even NY
Islanders majority owner Charles Wang was recently quoted as saying he regrets
buying the team (that damn Alexei Yashin, eh?). As Gary Bettman has stated
repeatedly, relocation of a team should be a last resort, even though four teams
have relocated during his tenure. I will say this, though, if Bettman is to
have his way, and he claims he doesn’t have a vote, but last time I checked he
is still the commissioner of the league – if Bettman has his way, Balsillie will
never be involved in the NHL in any way shape or form, no matter how much money
he throws on the ice. Furthermore, if this is allowed to happen on Bettman's
watch, then what? What about all he has worked so hard to build? A
team failed in the salary cap era? No way, can't be! In any event, I
know in a short period of time, Balsillie has managed to generate a lot of
excitement in Canada. Probably it will turn out to be unwarranted, because what
the folks in Hamilton and Winnipeg and even our own Prime Minister doesn’t seem
to realize is the NHL is an exclusive club. You do not and cannot buy your way
into it. But here’s the flipside of this argument, and what my deepest fear is
over this whole thing – if Balsillie does get his way and if the precedent is
set for team owners to throw in the towel at will, what is going to stop a mass
flea market of teams for sale? – and will it become the beginning of the end of
the NHL, and do we end up with a new league altogether in 5-10 years? And I’m
not only talking about the Nashvilles, Atlantas and Floridas of the world. What
about storied teams like Montreal, who are currently for sale, Toronto, who for
years have been trying to get a second team? And, ultimately, what would such a
move mean for teams who just a few short years ago were also on the verge of
bankruptcy? Will we finally get a team in Las Vegas? No matter what happens,
you can be sure you have not heard the end of this story. I will give you an
update next round.
Also next round, we’ll go over the nominations for the NHL Awards and look at some of
the players eligible for the draft near the end of June, not to mention the end
all be all, the final playoff series of this hockey season.
For now, enjoy the games (and don’t
forget, I blog during or after all of them)! I know I will.
More Puckin' Around...