Monday, May 24, 2010

Stanley Cup Final Four: Western Conference

Now we move West, a short distance to Chicago, and then a long way to San Jose!

Chicago vs San Jose

Chicago comes in after another tough series against Vancouver. Chicago is getting it done on the road, which they will need to do in this series as they are giving away home ice for the first time in this years playoffs.

How good on the road? They've won five straight games on the away, and have only lost one game overall outside from the United Center.

One again, Chicago pressed Vancouver in their own end with tenacious fore checking and got through Luongo. Can they do that against San Jose? I finished this up in MS Word after game one...and so far I think so.
Leading the way offensively was Jonathan Towes. He's red hot with now with 21 points in 13 games. Patrick Kane, ever dangerous, leads the team with 7 goals. Defenceman Patrick Keith and Duncan Keith have been getting it done at both ends for the Hawks.
As for some surprises, Dustin Byfuglien has scored 5 goals, but many of them have been clutch red lights. Marian Hossa is now in his third straight conference finals, and has been steady, although unspectacular. You never know what to expect from him. But right now, he leads the team in an unlikely category: penalty minutes (19). None of them have been at bad times...but that does show some grit, now doesn't it. That has always been something that I felt Hossa lacked in '08 and '09.
Among other defenceman, Brent Sopel and another surprise, Niklas Hjalmarss, have really been getting it done in their own end.
Goaltending? Antti Niemi is getting better with every series. Yeah, he got shelled some games against Vancouver, but is playing so well that Cristobal Huet has almost become and afterthought in goal. Having won game 1 against San Jose (44 saves, by the way), Niemi is making the most of his first ever season in the playoffs at the NHL level.
San Jose has been no less impressive then the Hawks as evident by their series against Detroit. For those who remember, the fierce fins won their first ever playoff series against Detroit back in 1994. And now, years later, they had to again weather the storm to beat them.

5 games? Yes, it was. But all four wins by San Jose were by 1 goal, and San Jose showed their poise by coming back to win that crucial game 3.

For San Jose, the offence is more spread out than Chicago. Pavelski, Thornton, Heatley, Boyle and Clowe ALL have more than 10 points. Right behind them is Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau with eight points.

On the defence, in addition to Clowe is Douglas Murray and Jason Demers. Don't overlook their offence, either. Combined they have 11 points in 12 games. And lets not forget about the ageless Rob Blake. This is his forth decade of playing, and at age 40 years, he is providing a good veteran presence.

Evgeni Nabokov has stepped it up in the postseason, putting up numbers on par with Niemi. I'm not about to overlook his game one performance against Chicago: 38 saves in a narrow 2-1 loss.

But that loss may set the tone for the series. Statistically, it's close. But the reality is the Hawks come in with last years semi-finals experience and the hunger to go at least one step farther. San Jose, I think, is probably glad that they're appearing in their second conference finals in franchise history. That tells you something.

Prediction: Chicago in six games


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 24 May. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 24 May. 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stanley Cup Final Four: Eastern Conference

And now we have two...unlikely teams in the East. The West was a little for expected.

Not since way back in '93 have the Habs (I should call then, "The Halaks") advanced so far. Now they've got back to back game seven wins, on the road, no less.

Can this continue. Hot goalies, even of the unexpected source, can carry you a long way.

Winning two series has come with a bit of a cost. Andre Markov got hurt in the Pens series and could be gone for the rest of the postseason. Also Hal Gill, who blocked many a shot, has been stitched up after all that rubber to his back leg. How well he plays in any one's guess. Ditto for Spacek, who has missed more than a few games. Subban has certainly picked up the slack, though.

But the real story here is Halak. Here's his story:

Czeck born and all of just-turned 25 years, he has been the story of the playoffs. No, he's not Ken Dryden (6 games played prior to an amazing playoff run in '71). Nor is he Roy (just one full season plus 20 minutes in a game the previous season, prior to going on a run in '86).

But, boy, has this guy been good! Let me throw you a few stats of his...

14 games played
8 wins
6 losses
464 shots against (An average of 33 shots against per game)
430 saves
2.63 goals against average
.927 save percentage

Probably more impressive is his performance in the clutch. Five difference times he has faced a do-or-die game situation. Down 3-1 to Washington and 3-2 against Pittsburgh. Here's what he has done in those five games:

5 Wins
0 Losses
210 shots against (That's an average of 42 shots against in important situations)
202 saves
1.60 goals against average
.962 save percentage

Now that's grand!

The Canadians have used the system of (team) shot blocking and clear the man in front. Although, I have felt that neither the Caps nor the Penguins got enough bodies in front of Halak. Still they got some timely scoring!

Providing that is Mike Camalerri. 12 goals and 18 points in 15 games. So many of those tallies have been important. Plus you have Brian Gionta with 7 goals. Now, other than that, their offence has not much this spring.

But with they need it? I think against the Flyers, they will.

As for the Flyers, their path to the semi-finals has been nothing less remarkable than Montreal. And they, too have paid a price for their advance.

They've needed two goalies. First Brian Boucher, who was red hot. He got Philadelphia past the Devils and then got hurt helping Philly past the Bruins, after being down 3-0. He won game 4 in OT, no less, then had to be replaced by Micheal Leighton, who continued the shutout in game 5 and then proceeded to capture game six and seven. Game seven was also won on the road.

Leighton is more like Ken Dryden than Halak, he's played just 103 games since joining the NHL back in 2002/03. This is his first ever postseason at the NHL level. Lifetime, his regular season record is 34 wins, 40 losses and 20 ties/OT and SO losses. He was third on the Flyers this year in games played among goalies.

But with Ray Emery and now Boucher out for the rest of the season, Micheal has found his calling and stepped into the spotlight admirably. His numbers, including game one of this series against Montreal:

4 games played (one in relief)
3 wins
0 losses
1.12 goals against average
.959 save percentage

Very impressive. Can this continue? Maybe a better question is can all this magic by the Flyers continue?

Philadelphia's two centers, Danny Briere (8 goals) and Mike Richards each have 17 points in 13 games. Claude Giroux is averaging a point a game (13 points in 13 games). Chris Pronger has another gold medal earlier this year, another conference finals in the spring, and is getting it done at both ends (11 points in 13 games).

What about injuries? Lapierrier has been out since the New Jersey series, as has Brad Richards. There is a chance that both could return, but it will not be until later this series, at the earliest. Simon Gagne returned in the Bruins series, and has a point all five games since returning. He also has 5 goals in that stretch. So he's back near 100%

The deciding factor could be if the Flyers get done what the Caps and Pens didn't: getting bodies in front of the net. No matter how good the goalie is, if he can't see it, he can't stop it. I watched game one of this series (A 6-0 Philly win) and the Flyers did exactly that. They've got a team to do just that for seven games if needs be.

Prediction: Philadelphia in six games


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 22 May. 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Playoff Predictions Round 2: Western Conference

Now for the Western Conference, where all will not be quite.

Detroit vs San Jose

The Fierce Fish advanced thanks to Joe Pavalski (5 goals) and Ryan Clowe (8 points). Nabakov was great, with a 1.76 GAA and .926 S%.

The six game victory over Colorado will not erase some of their past postseason miss deeds, but here comes a chance for redemption for San Jose. They have the home ice advantage, plus Detroit might very well be tired after the length (7 games) and travel (game 7 was on the road) after their first round battle.

The key for San Jose will be the first two games at home. They have to try to stop Detroit from stealing one of the first two games, as winning in Detroit has been a tough go for the Sharks. In the event of a game seven, or even the crucial game 5, San Jose can look to the friendly confines for support.

Detroit won a back and forth series against Phoenix. And rookie goalie Howard deserves at least some credit as it was his first ever playoff series. Perhaps the play of Halak (Montreal) overshadowed his strong performance; but still, winning a game 7 on the road in your very first playoff series shows a lot of poise.

Can it continue? Perhaps. I've always been a believer in the, "Further you advance, tougher it gets" point of the playoffs. For a rookie goalie, this is no exception.

But the offence? Nine Detroit players registered 5 or more points in the seven game showdown. Goalie Nabakov can expect a strafe attack from game one on. Zetterberg and Datsyuk in particular were in their usual playoff best mode.

Even so, I'm going with San Jose to break the jinx.

Prediction: San Jose in seven games.

Vancouver vs Chicago
Prepare yourselves for what might be the most interesting series of the playoffs so far...and maybe of the entire postseason for that matter. There two teams DO have a history.

Immaterial, but I still get a laugh out of a playoff game played almost 30 years ago between the Hawks and the 'Nucks. Remember, bad refereeing against Vancouver in game 2 of the '82 Semifinals? What do you do...Why you surrender of course!

Ah, what it must have been like to see the above live.

More recently, the two teams met last year. At one point in the series, it was 2 games to 1 for Vancouver, plus they had a lead in game 4 with just three minutes left. Alas, the Hawks tied it and then won the game in overtime. All the games were fairly tight, but in the end, Chicago prevailed in six games, winning the finale 7-5.

I think the 2010 series can trump last years. For Vancouver, you have Luongo, who staggered a bit against the Kings, but was "on" when he had to be. That kind of a series where you're not at your best and still win anyway may help Roberto. As mentioned before in my first round prediction, his Olympic experience should shatter the myth that he's not a "money" goalie. A performance like that here, could turn even more doubters to believers.

I've already become a believer in this team. Beating a Kings team with over 100 points was no small feat. They did it with Daniel Sedin continuing his regular season pace (85 points in 63 games to 10 points in 6 games). Brother Henrik was a little off. But is 8 points (7 assists) that much off? In the playoffs, he's been there when needed. As has Mikael Samuelsson. This guy is on a tear! 7 goals and 11 points in just 6 games! Kesler and Demitra chipped in to balance the offensive attack.

Chicago? Shaky at times against Nashville. They too, were tested. Six games later, they were rewarded with a well earned victory. Lets start with the most important position, goalie

Niemi symbolized the Blackhawks. Brilliant at times, erratic at others. Nevertheless, his two shutouts cannot be overlooked, and neither can his supporting cast. And while were on the subject of goaltending, lets not forget about the other goalie, ready and willing to step in. Maybe I should have said, "Goalies"!

Cristobal Huet once played goal for the Montreal Canadians. Yes, in the playoffs. Now that alone should point to "knowing what it's like", come playoffs. His regular season play was not that far off Niemi's. And should Annti Niemi and Huet both fail, the is still Corey Crawford, who was called up recently. Here's a goalie who grew up in the Quebec Major Junior League, and has some playoff experience at AHL level. The Hawks will probably not use him, but he's still another goalie who can develop as a possible backup.

Chicago's offence in the playoffs was spread out, as was it during the regular season. You have Jonathan Toews with 8 points, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all with with 7 points.

Niklas Hjalmarsson had a strong series against the Preds on defence for the Hawks, as did Brent Sopel.

The offensive depth of this team is something that may prove to be a little too much for the Canucks to overcome.

Prediction: Chicago in six games.


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 11 May. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 11 May. 2010.