Monday, May 14, 2012

NHL Playoffs Week #6: The Conference Finals

Down to the final four teams.  The next step is playing for Lord Stanley's Cup.  It's gut check time.  What do we have? Well, a couple of division rivals.  One that is rather new and one that is rather old.

Last night kicked off the festivities with the Kings heading to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes in game 1.  With an empty net goal, the Kings sealed a seemingly close 4-2 victory.  However this was not the case if you watched the actual game.  Los Angeles dominated every facet and the Coyotes were lucky to be in it.  If not for this hilarious goal, the Kings would have walked away from this one pretty handily.

As you can see, a guy scored from mid ice.  That never happens!  LA goalie Quick was not "Quick" enough wocka wocka.  Luckily for the Kings, this one did not matter.  The Kings have now started the playoffs 6-0 on the road and are 9-1 overall.  Not bad for an 8 seed.  Captain Dustin Brown continues to impress on the top line with Kopitar.  The Kings rattled the Yotes' goalie Smith all night and if Phoenix hopes to not be the Canucks or Blues, they will need to give him help.  Particularly on the power play.  Unfortunately for them, the Kings have killed off 24 straight one man advantages.  Phoenix's special teams will be the difference in the series if they hope to advance or this one ends "Quick." The season series was split 3-3 but I like the Kings in 6.

It's what we now call the Sean Avery Rule, watch what he does in front of the Devils goalie Brodeur...

Across the country, the Eastern Conference Finals start tonight with a heated divisional rivalry that dates back many decades: The Hudson River Rivalry.  The last time they met this late was back in 1994 when the Rangers ended up winning not only the series but the whole darned thing.  The only positive thing for both teams?  The travel.  the Prudential Center to Madison Square Garden is only a 10 mile swim away.  Neither team will have an excuse for travel weary legs.  The Devils have been the most impressive team in the East side of the playoffs this year.  They are clicking on all cylinders.  Similar to the West, this match up features two high profile goalies.  You have Vezina and MVP nominee Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers taking on future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur of the Devils.  Marty is 40 and literally has nothing left to accomplish to complete his resume besides going out on top.  Having just turned 30, Lundqvist is in the prime of his career trying to go from elite goaltender into "the best of all time" conversation.  Check out the epic history between these two teams here.

Both teams have guys that been there and done that including coaches.  Both teams have played in game 7 adversity.  What will be the difference at the halfway point of the playoffs?  The go-to guys.  This is the time of year when your best players have to be your best players.  We saw it last night when the Kings had Kopitar and Brown step up.  The Devils need Parise and Kovalchuk to be dynamite whereas the Rangers need Richard and Gaborik to light it up.  My gut tells me of the 4 I just named, whomever has the most points at the end of this series, his team will be advancing.  The regular season series was won by the Rangers 3-2-1.  On that note, the Rangers do it again in 7.

Kings over Coyotes 4-2
Rangers over Devils 4-3

The best possible scenario for the league is a New York - Los Angeles Stanley Cup Finals.  Huge markets = huge ratings.  Detroit, Chicago, and Boston have all won Cups since the lock out being 3 of 4 of the original American teams in the NHL.  Will the Rangers complete the cycle?  Let's just say I just don't want to be watching Phoenix and New Jersey come the first of June.  

How busy are the guys at the Staples Center going to be? Lakers, Clippers and Kings, not fun!  They said it takes 2.5 hours to change everything over.  That's just not the floor/ice but the whole arena makeover.


Not even 48 hours after losing game 7 to the Rangers, Capitals head coach Dale Hunter stepped down from the position this morning.  He cited family reasons.  I don't blame him.  The Capitals are an enigma of a team.  They have yet to advance past the 2nd round of the playoffs since drafting Ovechkin.  When Hunter took over for Boudreau earlier in the regular season, I didn't like the move but he got them on track come playoff time.  I personally think he just didn't like being an NHL head coach.  Too many personalities and it became not as fun.  He's been highly involved with a powerhouse junior hockey team the London Knights in the past and it's well known he enjoys developing younger players.  Don't be surprised if he's back in that arena shortly.  Heck he only took this job as a personal favor to the GM McPhee.  In the meantime, the Caps still look for answers.  I honestly think it's the GM's fault more so than any of the head coaches.  When it's the GM's fault, you can also blame the players.  They just haven't fit together for a deep run.  They'll screw up this coaching search somehow!

He's the one pointing haha
In local news, the Columbus Blue Jackets removed the interim tag of head coach Todd Richards and have signed him to a 2 year deal.  Richards was an assistant to former coach Scott Arniel and took over halfway through the season.  Richards becomes the 6th coach in franchise history.  By the way, the team will only be entering its 12th season in 2012-2013.  After an abysmal start, Richards took the helm and guided the team to a 18-21-2 record.  Is that great? No.  Is it better than only winning 11 games in the first 41? YES!  CBJ even went 11-8 in March and April including winning 5 of their final 6 games.  They hurt a lot of bubble team's chances and cost some teams important seeds.  Nonetheless, it's not the sexy move many of the fans hoped for to guide this ship through it's most turbulent offseason ever.  With the ongoing Rick Nash saga, many fans would rather see General Manager Scott Howson gone.  That is also why I don't think many coaches wanted this job during the search.  No coach felt safe under Howson.  Richards already knows what he can do with this lineup and as the former coach of the Minnesota Wild, he has experience.  

What's next for the Union Blue?  Everything hinges on what happens with Captain Rick Nash this summer.  We are led to believe he will be traded at the draft at the end of June.  If a trade goes down, it will define Scott Howson as the "guy who traded Rick Nash."  Depending on its return, it will decide Howson's fate as well.  Richards was given 2 years to right the ship.  Howson will most likely only get one.  Getting a good return for Nash and getting a good goaltender will be priorities 1a and 1b over the next couple of months.  Good luck Mr. Howson, you're gonna need it!