Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Western Conference Playoffs: Round Two

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Anaheim Ducks (8)

"Revenge is a dish best served cold" or in this case served "on" cold. In the 2007 playoffs, the Red Wings dominated the Ducks, yet still found a way to lose in 6 games. Two years later, these two meet up with each having won a Stanley Cup since that playoff encounter. Coming off a huge upset of the Presidents trophy winning Sharks, the Ducks are now looking to knock off the defending champs. Sorry quackers, but it isn't happening. The Wings are a better team than they were in 07 and even better than they were last year when they won the Cup. Unless Chris Osgood has a meltdown, there is no way the Ducks should come out of this alive. Anaheim gave the Sharks a lot of powerplays in their series and if they do the same to the Wings in this one, it'll be over quickly. Wings get revenge take this series in 5 games.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs Chicago Blackhawks (4)

Its been so long since the Canucks have played a game it probably feels like they've been eliminated. Going into this series, that could be a problem for the Nucks as the Blackhawks will have had enough time to rest, but not get rusty. It should be another tough series for the Hawks and will probably go 6 or 7 games. Luongo did great against them in the regular season while the Bulin Wall was shelled by Vancouver twice. Its a tough call, the series looks to be pretty even, but I like the Canucks, with the extra rest, to come out on top in 7 games.

The eliminated teams

San Jose Sharks - My first reaction to seeing the Sharks upset by the Ducks was surprise, but then I thought to myself, "Why am I surprised? Its the Sharks! They can change that logo of the Shark eating the stick to a Shark choking on one." Despite racking up 117 points and winning the Presidents Trophy, the Sharks once again choked hard in the playoffs leaving their fan base and hockey experts shaking their heads in disbelief. The problem with this particular team is simple, the parts don't match machine their trying to build. Former Wings coach Todd McLellan came to San Jose with the idea that he was going to install Detroit's system and they would play like the Wings. The only problem is the personnel didn't match the system. The Wings system requires a good puck moving defense, three or four lines of speedy forwards that can backcheck, pass and possess the puck most of the time. The Sharks simply don't have those kind of players. The defense looks strong, although Rob Blake will most likely retire leaving a hole on the blue line and I'm starting to question whether or not Nabokov can be counted on to be a good playoff goalie after letting in some soft goals in this series. As for the forwards, beyond Thornton and Marleau, who do they have? Setoguchi? Cheechoo? Michalek? These are fringe second liners on most teams and should not be counted on to score most of your teams goals.

The Sharks don't need to "clean house" as some people have suggested, but they do need to make a few big changes starting with Joe Thornton. Thornton looked out of place in this series. He was forcing passes, not taking shots and showed no leadership qualities at all. He commands a big salary and will never fit in this particular system. So I would get rid of Jumbo Joe and look to replace him with a Marian Gaborik and/or Marian Hossa type of player. Which, by the way, are both are UFA's at the end of the season and both fit with what the Sharks are trying to do.

Calgary Flames -Alright, I think its time. They've proved it every year since reaching the Finals in 04 and now they are deserving of this glorious label... overrated. On paper, this team looks stacked. Iginla, Jokinen, Cammalleri, Phaneuf, Kiprusoff, but when it gets to crunch time, this team simply doesn't have the guts to get it done. For all the praise and hype Jarome Iginla gets, in three of the last four years he's scored less than 40 goals. He's a good goal scorer, but not an elite talent like everyone seems to think he is. Kiprusoff also hasn't lived up to the hype. His win total stays around 40 every year, but his GAA has gotten worse and worse and didn't look like himself at all in the playoffs. The addition of Olli Jokinen made them a darkhorse in some people's minds entering the playoffs, but once again the Flames burnout quickly and have to some tough off season decisions to make regarding personnel.

St. Louis Blues - Wait a minute. The Blues were in the playoffs? No seriously, the St Louis Blues. They were in it? Hmmm... I must have missed that. It seemed like before the playoffs really got underway the Blues were out of it. Andy McDonald looked really good for the Blues, but that was about it. Chris Mason looked good as well, but good isn't good enough in the playoffs. It'll be interesting to see next year if this playoff appearence was a sign of things to come or just a fluke.

Columbus Blue Jackets - The Blue Jackets waited ten long years before qualifying for the playoffs. Unfortunately, they'll have to wait a little bit longer to get their first playoff win. The team and franchise that had zero playoff experience ran into a team that couldn't have more, the defending champion Red Wings, and were swept. That's a very tough first draw for anyone. Super rookie Steve Mason looked very Clark Kent-ish with a GAA way over 4.00 and the Jackets offense scored a grand total of 2 goals in the first 3 games of the series. So they gave up a ton of goals and at the same time couldn't score any. Well at least they can say they were there, right? That's something.

2009 Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round Two

Boston Bruins (1) vs Carolina Hurricanes (6)

After decimating their old rival the Canadiens in the first round, they'll meet another old friend from the Adams... sort of. The Bruins looked every bit like the number one seed in the first round and are looking to flex their muscles against a team that literally stole their first round series. Cam Ward was spectacular, but the Canes won two games they had no business winning in the final minutes of their series against the Devils. Their magic won't work in this series and the B's will take this one in 5 games.

Washington Capitals (2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

Don't be worried, everything's alright. That giddy little creepy laugh you hear is just Gary Bettman. He has the dream series he's been looking for and the national networks will be sure to cram it down everyone's throat, making every non-Penguin and Capital fans hate Crosby and Ovechkin even more. The series itself should be great though. Yours truly predicted a Caps comeback after going down 3-1 to the Rangers, but this round will be much tougher. The Rangers had ZERO scoring and relied on King Henry to play like a god throughout their first round series. This Penguins team can score. Caps rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov hasn't really been tested in the NHL, so its too early to tell if he's the real deal. So with the question mark in goal and the fact that the Penguins have the experience and are better built for the playoffs, I have to give the edge to the Penguins but I don't see them taking it in less than 7 games.

The eliminated teams

New Jersey Devils - Wow, when I saw how the Flyers were eliminated from the postseason, I thought "That is the worst way you can lose a series". Then the Devils had to go ahead and one up that. They were 80 seconds away from playing the Caps in the second round. However, once those 80 seconds ticked away, the Devils were no longer in the playoffs. This Devils team had all the components to make a long playoff run this spring, but nobody really played up to their talent level. The defense was bad, the offense was highly ineffective, mostly due to Cam Ward, and Marty Brodeur, "the greatest goalie in the history of the game", blew a lead at home in Game 7. It will be a long summer for the Devils who will have a lot to think about while they're watching everyone else compete for the Stanley Cup.

Philadelphia Flyers - My favorite headline from, "Penguins steal series from Flyers". Seriously? The only time the Flyers even looked remotely like a playoff team was when the Penguins didn't play their "A" game. My detailed, well thought out assessment of the Flyers is... they suck. They were dominated last year and they were dominated again this year as far as I'm concerned. They blew a three goal lead, at home, with the season on the line. There's no excuse for that. Biron was lousy again. The coaching was bad again. Richards actually played worse in this series compared to last year. Their was never any doubt in my mind as to who was going to come out on top in this series. I would've bet my house on it.

Having said that, this team isn't that far from becoming a serious contender. They need to drop the dead weight. They need to fire John Stevens and for the love of God, get a goalie already! Its been the same story for the last 20 years with the Flyers. Great team, crappy goaltending. I thought Bobby Clarke was just simply blind to this defect, but apparently the entire front office can't see this either. Personally, I hope they never figure this out, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.

New York Rangers - I really can't say that I'm surprised by this. Aside from having an elite goalie, what exactly did this team have going for them and don't say a 3-1 series lead. The fact that they made it this far with this little offense is astounding. In a 1-1 elimination game, the Rangers registered exactly ONE SHOT on goal in the third period. Way to show a sense of urgency guys. This team was simply not that good. Take away Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers become the New York Islanders with older players.

Montreal Canadiens - Sorry that the 100th year anniversary of the franchise had to end with a loss to one of your most hated rivals, the Boston Bruins. But that's what you get for cheating in the all star voting. This may be the last time we see the Habs in the playoffs for a few years. They need a massive overhaul and if they're lucky maybe they'll be able to unload Carey Price on some unsuspecting team before they realize they bought a lemon. This is a franchise with a long history of success and greatness, but its time to rebuild. Just making the playoffs isn't good enough for this city or any Canadian city for that matter. Every off season it seems like they put a band aid on a bleeding gash and wonder why it didn't hold. Its time to start over, build from scratch and get back to being the Montreal Canadiens.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

John Stevens = Michael Therrien

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Once upon a time, a young, talented hockey team in PA struggled and finished with the worst record in hockey. During that season they turned to their minor league coach to get his young crew in order and help develop them into stars. After failing to make the playoffs, they turned things around dramatically, finished with over 100 points and made the postseason the very next year. But since then, his team has out grown him and they need someone better than a minor league coach. Sound familiar? It should, it's the story of former Penguins coach Michael Therrien. It's also the story of current Flyers coach John Stevens.

Unlike the Penguins, the Flyers are holding onto their dead weight. Apparently, getting decimated in the Conference Finals by your cross state rival isn't enough to lose your job. Apparently, falling apart at the end of the season and losing home ice advantage on the final day of the regular season when you held it for months isn't enough to get fired. Apparently, not getting the most out of your players is good enough for the Flyers these days.

Watching Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter finals against the Penguins had to be agonizing for Philly fans. This playoff match up picked up right where it left off with the Pens beating the hell out of a poorly coached and undisciplined team. It was just one dumb penalty after another. Also, can someone please explain to me why Martin Biron is still in the net for the Flyers? Can someone check backup goalie Antero Niittymakis' butt? I think he may be super glued to the bench. I'm not saying that Niittymaki is the answer, but when you send out someone that gets murdered time after time against a specific team... QUIT putting him in! Biron had a 3.37 GAA with a .877 save percentage against the Pens in the regular season this year and in last years' conference finals, Biron surrendered 4 goals or more in 3 of the 6 games played. It's quite clear that the Penguins own Biron and putting him out there is as gruesome as the natives serving a scantily clad woman to King Kong.

There's a saying that you "get what you pay for". The Flyers are paying for a minor league coach and are getting what they deserve for keeping him employed for this long. As I said with Therrien and the Penguins, this Flyers team will never win a championship with John Stevens as their head coach.

Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Western Conference Playoffs

San Jose Sharks (1) vs Anaheim Ducks (8)

In the final days of the regular season, the seedings at the bottom of the stack got shaken up quite a bit. Unfortunately, it did not shake in the Sharks favor. The President's Trophy winning Sharks will get their biggest division rival and 2007 Stanley Cup champions in the first round. Lucky them. An upset isn't out of the question here, the Ducks have played the Sharks very tight all season, but I think the worst that will happen to San Jose is that they're unable to eliminate the Ducks quickly and will have to endure a long series against a team that loves to play physical. Sharks in 6.

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

The defending champs will start their quest to defend their title against a team that will be making its first ever playoff appearance. The regular season series between the two is 3-3, but again, none of that matters in the playoffs. This Columbus team is very young and inexperienced. Despite the huge disadvantage in goaltending, the Wings should roll over the Jackets in 5 games, 6 if Osgood continues to play poorly.

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

For a while it was looking like it was going to be a goaltending duel between Roberto Luongo and Steve Mason of the Blue Jackets. Instead it'll be Roberto Luongo and CHRIS Mason of the Blues. This watered down version of a good series is still very intriguing though. The Blues have been red hot in the second half and could possibly have Paul Kariya back for Game 1. If you're looking for an upset in the first round, here it is. Blues in 7.

Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs Calgary Flames (5)

This isn't exactly where the Flames envisioned themselves finishing after acquiring Olli Jokinen at the deadline. Nevertheless, they're in the playoffs and are always a pain to eliminate. That's good news for them as they'll play a team that hasn't eliminated anyone from the playoffs since 1996, the Chicago Blackhawks. This young Hawks team has beaten the Flames all four times they played each other this season, but is entering their first post season in seven years, while the Flames have a lot of playoff battle tested players on their roster. Flames in 6.

2009 Eastern Conference Playoffs

Boston Bruins (1) vs Montreal Canadiens (8)

Ahhh yes, nothing like an old Adams division rivalry to get it started. It won't have Ray Bourque or Patrick Roy, but that shouldn't make it any less exciting. These two teams met in the first round of the 2002 playoffs with the Bruins owning the number one seed and the Habs knocked them off in 6 games. I hope Habs fans got their fill back then because history isn't going to repeat itself. Montreal's goaltending is shaky at best with Carey Price and they will be without the services of Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Markov. The Bruins beat them 5 out of 6 times in the regular season and I don't see this ending any differently. B's in 5.

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

Last season, the Caps were knocked out of the playoffs because they simply didn't show any guts. The Flyers pushed them around, did whatever they wanted to Cristobel Huet and lost out in 7 games. This year, they better show some balls because they have Sean Avery and the New York Rangers to deal with. The Capitals have infinitely more talent than the Rangers, but if they don't show up looking to play "playoff hockey", they'll get upset again. Having said that, I think the Caps will bombard Lundqvist with shots and knock out the Rangers in 5, maybe 6.

New Jersey Devils (3) vs Carolina Hurricanes (6)

Here's an interesting matchup between two teams going in opposite directions. The Devils looked like they were going to grab the top seed, then fell apart at the end. The Canes on the other hand have been streaking late in the season and grabbed the 6 seed. Of course, none of that matters now. Its playoff hockey where everything changes. The Devils have the depth, the scoring, the defense and the fresh goaltender in Martin Brodeur to make a big postseason run. Devils in 5 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Philadelphia Flyers(5)

Congratulations Penguins! You worked really hard to get that home ice and will now get to face... the Philadelphia Flyers. Yay. This is like in the Price is Right where you pass on the good showcase in hopes of getting something better, but you get a fridge and a dining room set. You could have gotten something better if you had stayed put, but now you're getting something lousy. Sure, the Pens will beat the Flyers, there's no doubt in my mind about that, but its not going to be a quick 5 game series like it was last year. Its going to be a rough and tumble six or seven game series that will leave the Pens tired and beat up going into the second round. Not the kind of first round opponent you want to play when you're hoping to go deep into the playoffs. Penguins in 7.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cujo deserved better

It wasn't even a month ago that we were celebrating Martin Brodeur as the winningest goaltender in NHL history. Last night, we turned our attention to the other end of the spectrum when Toronto Maple Leafs goalie, Curtis Joseph lost to the Buffalo Sabres 3-1, tying him with Gump Worsely for the most career losses (352). A lot of Cujo's critics are using this as the opportunity to gloat and make such ridiculous remarks as "See? I told you he sucked and now he has the record to prove it!". Well for starters, he's tied for the record and unless he plays this Saturday, which he isn't expected to, the 41 soon to be 42 year old goalie probably won't play another game ever. As for him "sucking", nothing could be further from the truth.

Joseph never won the Stanley Cup or any personal award for his performances, but he did win 454 games, good for 4th all time. That puts him ahead of guys like Sawchuk, Plante and Esposito. That's some pretty good company for a guy that "sucks". He was the ultimate hard luck goalie. Joseph never fell into the right situation. Everything he accomplished was done almost entirely by himself. He started out with the Blues where he got absolutely shelled, night in, night out. For two straight seasons, Joseph faced more rubber than any other goalie in the league. Before the start of the 95-96 season, Joseph was traded to the Edmonton Oilers where he began to really make a name for himself. In the 97 playoffs, Joseph engineered a huge upset over the heavily favored Dallas Stars in the first round. Cujo just made one incredible save after another and it wouldn't be the first time he would do it either in the playoffs. The very next season Joseph and the Oilers fell behind the favored Colorado Avalanche, 3-1 in the first round. At that point, Joseph took over, surrendering only one goal in the final three games of the series leading to another stunning upset.

With his reputation as a big time playoff performer growing in the summer of 98, Cujo signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he would blast into super stardom over the next four seasons. Joseph won over 30 games in his first three years with the Leafs (29 wins in the 4th season), finished as Vezina runner up twice and led the Leafs to the Conference finals twice. In 2002, Joseph turned in another spectacular playoff performance leading the Leafs to the conference finals. Playing a broken left hand, Joseph nearly pulled off another big playoff win, but fell short in 6 games.

With his unforgettable and gutsy playoff run still in everyone's mind, the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings signed Cujo to a huge contract to replace the retired Dominik Hasek. For the first time in his career, he was playing on a team that actually played defense and he wouldn't be counted on to be a one man defense like he had been. Unfortunately, Joseph's seasons in Detroit were very rocky. In 03, he played well, but lost to a red hot goalie in JS Giguere. In 04, he posted a 1.39 GAA, but still lost out in the second round to another hot goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff. In both years, Joseph was the scape goat for the losses and left Detroit after the NHL lockout. With Joseph entering his late 30's, there wasn't many takers for his services. He played his final years for Phoenix, Calgary and then back to Toronto.

Cujo deserved a better ending to his career than what he got. A goalie that can steal a series and single handily beat some of the best teams in the league deserved better. He deserved to have his name on the Cup or at the very least, have a shot at it. If he had played his entire career in Detroit or played for a team like Colorado or New Jersey, people would be debating on whether he's the greatest of all time. He played for bad teams almost his entire career and the fact that he still won 454 games says a lot more about him, than the 352 he lost.