Friday, April 27, 2012

Because it's the Cup - Round 2 Begins TONIGHT!

Are there 4 worst teams in the East left for a Pens fan?? Go Western Conference!
After three epic game 7's, the first round is in the books but let's take a look back on how we got to this point this week.  Game 7s are special.  Throw home ice advantage out the window (not that it matters anyway) and it's just 2 teams batting to play another day or go home.

Wednesday night in Boston the defending champs took on the feisty Washington Capitals.  Tim Thomas versus Braden Holtby has been the match up to watch all series and this one did not disappoint either.  Every game here was decided by one goal including this overtime winner by the Caps' Joel Ward to take the series:

I won't get into the ridiculous racial tweets from Boston fans about Joel Ward, who's black, scoring the game winner.  All I will say is it is embarrassing.  It doesn't represent the city or team well and those losers should get a life.  Pros and cons of the Internet right?

Last night there were another two epic finishes to hard fought series.  The Rangers taking the series after being down 3-2 and winning the final 2 games over Ottawa and down in South Beach last night the Florida Panthers battled back from a 2 goal deficit to tie the game in regulation and playing the Devils hard going into the 2nd overtime! Unfortunately it was not enough as rookie Henrique ended it with this:
I was really impressed with Florida's fan base last night.  They've been bad a lot of years and they showed last night if the team is competitive, they can be a VERY loud building.  The whole crowd stood the entire OT periods and the end of the third.


Let's see how I did based off my predictions!  Back on January 1st, I had Philadelphia and Chicago in a rematch in the Finals.  Not going to happen.  Here's what I said a couple weeks ago before we started:

  • #1 NY Rangers over #8 Senators 4-2
    • I was nearly right in this one as it went 7 games instead of 6.  A bit of a scare for New Yorkers but the #1 seed moves on.
  • #2 Bruins over #7 Capitals 4-3
    • I nailed this in terms of it going 7 games but I picked the wrong team.  The Caps showed some tenacity I haven't seen from them in previous playoff runs.
  • #6 Devils over #3 Panthers 4-1
    • I got the winner right but I totally underestimated how good the Panthers are.  The Devils are going to be a tough match up for Philly.
  • #4 Penguins over #5 Flyers 4-3
    • To say I misjudged this series is an understatement. Yes it went 6 games with the Flyers winning but it could have been a sweep.  The OT winner in game 1 shattered the Pens "reality" of how good they thought they were.
  • #1 Canucks over #8 Kings 4-3
    • Another series I totally whiffed.  The Kings took down the defending West champs in easy fashion over 5 games.  Could be seeing a LOT of change this summer in Vancouver.
  • #7 Sharks over #2 Blues 4-2
    • My batting average is looking terrible so far in the West.  I thought the playoff experience would benefit San Jose but the Blues really are just that GOOD. The Blues handled this series in just 5 games.
  • #3 Coyotes over #6 Blackhawks 4-3
    • Finally, one I nearly nailed! After the Hossa hit, I thought Chicago may rally and take it 7 games but Phoenix G Mike Smith had other ideas as they won the series in 6 games for their franchises first series win in the desert.
  • #4 Predators over #5 Red Wings 4-3
    • I felt really good about Nashville and they proved me even MORE right in this series taking it in just 5 games.  Where does Detroit go from here?

OVERALL - Not counting the actual series standings, I went 2-2 in the East and 2-2 in the West for an actually decent 4-4 overall record.  The NHL is at a different level when it comes to parity.  Who would have thought before the season that Boston, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, San Jose, Chicago and Detroit would all be eliminated in the first round? Not that many...


Fun fact: There's a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 seed all left.  Yay for math nerds!

#1 NY Rangers vs. #7 Washington Capitals (Season series split 2-2; each went 1-1 at home)
  • In terms of national prominence, this is the premiere series of the 2nd round.  One of these 2 teams will get over the "hump" and finally get back to a conference finals.  The Rangers did not impress me overall in the first round, especially offensively.  The Caps did impress me, especially head coach Dale Hunter.  This one is headed for 7 games.  In the end I think it may be destiny for this Rangers squad as Lundqvist just can't be beat as Caps rookie G Holtby withers down the stretch.

Gainer's Pick: NYR 4 - WAS 3

#4 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils (Season series split 3-3; Flyers finished 1 point ahead in standings)
  • On paper this is a crazy even match up.  On the ice, I think it could be a different story.  The Flyers in the first round showed how dynamic they truly are on offense.  If it becomes a shootout like it was with the Pens, the Flyers take this series in a sweep.  However! The Devils play a system that usually doesn't let teams get past the 2 goal marker.  Brodeur will be the difference maker in this series but it's not enough to stop the Philly train.

Gainer's Pick: PHI 4 - NJD 2

#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings (Kings took 3 of 4 including a 1-0 shootout on 3/22)
  • These two teams allowed the fewest amount of goals in the first round each allowing only 8.  Their last two regular season games were 1-0 games including a goal-less Kings shootout victory.  This will be a very HARD hitting series with low goal scoring and excellent goaltending/defense.  Look for special teams to be the difference here.  I like what LA has on their power play over any kind of production St. Louis generates.  LA's G Quick, riding his Vezina nomination, will own this series.
Gainer's Pick: LA 4 - STL 3

#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators (Season series split 2-2)
  • In terms of national prominence, this series is the worst.  Two southern markets who won't draw well but have rabid fan bases.  What's on the line? Either franchises FIRST appearance in a Conference Finals.  Similar to the other West series, this one is about goaltending and defense.  Look for this one to be low scoring as well but the Predators are just too strong overall.  X-factor? Phx G Mike Smith. He may feel snubbed over his enemy G Pekka Rinne getting a Vezina nomination over him.
Gainer's Pick: NSH 4 - PHX 2

Conference Finals Predictions:
East - #1 NY Rangers vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers in a Winter Classic Rematch!
West - #4 Nashville Predators vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings


Since my last update on Monday, we've had the nominees come out for Masterton Trophy, GM of the Year, Vezina Trophy, Norris Trophy, and today's Hart Trophy.  Here's the breakdown of each:

The Masterton is awarded to the player who has shown the most perseverance and dedication to the sport of hockey over the past year.  Each team nominates one player from their team and these 3 (all Canadien teams!) were selected (in order of how I think they'll finish, it's a toss up because it's a feel good award, not stat based):

1. Max Pacioretty - LW, Montreal Canadiens
After taking a vicious hit from rival Bruin Zdeno Chara last season, Max suffered a fractured vertabrae and a concussion that ended his season.  He came back this year and scored a career best 33 goals and 65 points.  Here's the nasty hit into the turnbuckles that no longer exist because of this hit!

2. Daniel Alfredsson - RW, Ottawa Senators
The 39 year old Captain had offseason surgery and wasn't sure if he was coming back for a 16th season.  He did and led the Senators back to the playoffs.  He was also a team captain in his home city's hosting of this year's All Star Game festivities.  On top of it, he scored 59 points including his 400th career goal.

3. Joffrey Lupul - LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Lupul has has his own back problems since 2009 as well as a blood disorder that almost ended his career.  Losing nearly 30 pounds, Lupul fought back with a career best 67 points in just 66 games to form a dynamic duo with Phil Kessel.  The future is bright for Toronto!

GM of the Year
1. Dale Tallon - Florida Panthers
He took over a team that hadn't been in the playoffs since 2000.  He brought in 10 NEW players and a first ever head coach.  Guess what?  They were 1 shot away from being in the second round.

2. Doug Armstrong - St. Louis Blues
Doug went out and signed a few veteran players to help his young team including goaltender Brian Elliot who set numerous records this season.  He also fired his coach early in the season and brought in Ken Hitchcock who went 43-15-11 and won the Central for the first time since 2000.

3. David Poile - Nashville Predators
A seemingly yearly contender for this award, he's the only GM in Nashville's history.  Building off last year's first ever series win, he locked in goalie Rinne long term and added several key pieces at this year's trade deadline.  They look like a big favorite to host Lord Stanley this season.

Vezina Trophy is awarded to the best goalie. 
1. Jon Quick - Los Angeles Kings
He started 69 games and won 35 of his teams's 40 games.  He led the league with 10 shut outs, 2nd with a 1.95 goals against average, and 5th with a save % of .929.  He's just a stud and why the Kings are where they are.

2. Henrik Lundqvist - New York Rangers
Up until the final month, I would have said he'd be a lock but he didn't play too well and missed some games.  However, he won 39 of his team's games while only starting 62 (career low).  He was in the top four in the NHL in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts (eight).

3. Pekka Rinne - Nashville Predators
This guy is a workhorse.  He played in 73 of the 82 games and led the NHL with 43 wins.  He was seventh with a .923 save percentage while facing the most shots in the League (2,153). He also had a 2.39 GAA and five shutouts.  

Norris Trophy is awarded to the defensemen judged as the best all-around at his position.
1. Shea Weber - Nashville Predators
Weber, tied with Karlsson, led all defensemen with 19 goals including a league best 10 power play goals and a career best 49 points.  He had 51 takeaways while averaging over 26 minutes of ice time a game.  He quarterbacked the NHL's best power play and played 2 minutes of shorthanded time as well.  He finished second last year.

2. Zdeno Chara - Boston Bruins
35 year old Chara just keeps getting better.  He set a career high with 52 points and was a +33 overall.  He played in his 1,000 game and was named the other captain in the All Star Game.  This is his fifth nomination and he won it in 2009.  At 6'9", 255 lbs, this guy is a monster.

3. Erik Karlsson - Ottawa Senators
This young stud led all defensemen with 78 points which was good for 10th in the ENTIRE league and the most points by a d-man in 6 years.  He was also a +16 after being a -30 last year.  He led the NHL with 67 takeaways and helped the Sens get back to the playoffs after finishing 13th a year ago.

Hart Trophy is awarded to the NHL's Most Valuable Player
1. Evgeni Malkin - C, Pittsburgh Penguins
I think Geno wins in a landslide.  With Captain Sidney Crosby out for the majority of the season, Malkin led the entire league with 109 points and 2nd with his first ever 50 goal campaign.  After blowing out his knee last season and missing the playoffs, Malkin took his game to another level and made the Pens offense the best in the NHL. I could write a novel about how good this guy is, I'll be shocked if he doesn't win.  Check out this goal of the year candidate!

2. Henrik Lundqvist - G, New York Rangers
See above for stats!  However, he is only the 8th goalie to be nominated for this award since 1980.  No goalie has been nominated since 2007 or won since 2002.  Goalies just don't win this award so it's an uphill battle for Henrik.

3. Steven Stamkos - C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven became just the 20th player in league history to score 60 goals in a season.  He finished with a career high 97 points which was good for 2nd in the NHL.  He played all 82 games for the third straight season, while averaging a career-best 22:01 of ice time.  He will ultimately be hurt by Tampa not getting back in the playoffs but he kept them in the hunt!