How the West Will Be Won

How the West Will Be Won

Western Conference predictions

Round 1:

(8) Chicago over (1) Vancouver

(7) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose

(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix

(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville

Round 2:

(8) Chicago over (3) Detroit

(4) Anaheim over (7) Los Angeles

Round 3:

(4) Anaheim over (8) Chicago

Vancouver (1)        vs. Chicago (8)

Last Cup Win: Vancouver (never), Chicago (2010)

Why the Canucks will win: The team won the President’s Trophy (117 points), Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings Trophy (185 goals-against) and Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy (104 points). This team is built to win now and this is probably the first of their two-year window of opportunity to do just that.

Why the Blackhawks will win: Their nucleus from last year’s championship is still in tact despite losing several key pieces; and Patrick Kane brought his playoff-mullet back.

Vancouver’s most important player: Whichever player replaces Manny Malhotra (eye injury) as the third-line center; his ability to win key face-offs and his lead-by-example attitude will be sorely missed.

Chicago’s most important player: Captain Jonathan Toews has led the Hawks’ playoff push in the second half and he will need to continue with that effort to help his team advance past the Canucks.

Vancouver’s biggest question mark: Can Luongo finally beat Chicago? Two years in a row the Canucks were sent packing for the summer by the ‘Hawks; if Vancouver does win the series will it be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things?

Chicago’s biggest question mark: The Blackhawks will try for a second consecutive spring to win the Cup with a rookie goalie. Corey Crawford had a stellar season, but can he duplicate Antti Niemi’s 2010 success? If Crawford falters, Chicago can always send in Marty Turco.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Vancouver (Mikael Samuelsson), Chicago (Dave Bolland, Toews, Troy Brouwer, Marian Hossa, Kane, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Jassen Cullimore, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook).

PREDICTION: HAWKS IN 6 Luongo may be crying again after this one as the rejuvenated champs begin their defense of the Cup by eliminating the Canucks swiftly.

San Jose (2)            vs. Los Angeles (7)

Last Cup Win: San Jose (never), Los Angeles (never)

Why the Sharks will win: San Jose’s players have a lot of playoff experience, just not too many winning experiences though. The additions of Antti Niemi and Ben Eager (who won the Cup with Chicago last season) should help, but will it be enough for this underachieving bunch to finally make the Finals?

Why the Kings will win: Two words — Jarret Stoll. One of the NHL’s most underrated players is very important to LA’s success. He was a key cog in the Oilers’ run to the ’06 Finals and whether it’s winning a key face-off or scoring a clutch goal, you can expect to see Stoll’s name a lot if the Kings are to do some damage this spring.

San Jose’s most important player: Dany Heatley, He had a very un-Heatley like season this year (26g-38a), but he can make that a distant memory if he’s clutch in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ most important player: Jonathan Quick, He’s made the big saves all season long and is the rock solid foundation of the Kings’ stingy defense. With the offense hurting, he will have to steal a game or two for his squad to advance.

San Jose’s biggest question mark: Niemi, yes he won the Stanley Cup in the Windy City in 2010, but the ‘Hawks defense was and is a lot better than the Sharks’ blueline.

Los Angeles’ biggest question mark: Where will the Kings’ goal scoring come from with their top two scorers (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams) sidelined? Paging Wayne Simmonds

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: San Jose (Dan Boyle, Eager, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Niemi), Los Angeles (Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Williams)

PREDICTION: KINGS IN 7Quick will steal two games, including Game 7 in the Shark Tank.

Detroit (3)              vs. Phoenix (6)

Last Cup Win: Detroit (2008), Phoenix (never)

Why the Wings will win: Detroit has too many savvy and talented players to lose in the first round right? Look for Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano to have big impacts in this opening round series.

Why the Coyotes will win: For two consecutive seasons now Phoenix has hovered around the NHL’s elite with back-to-back stellar regular seasons. Obviously this is not a fluke and captain Shane Doan just might get out of the first round for the first time in his career.

Detroit’s most important player: Johan Franzen aka ‘The Mule’ is an absolute proven playoff beast — 69 points (35g-34a) in 75 career playoff games — and if Phoenix has any hopes of surviving this series they better find a way to corral the large Swede; he also has 11 playoff game-winning goals.

Phoenix’s most important player: Ilya Bryzgalov
is the backbone of the Coyotes and could be the biggest factor in knocking the Wings out. His 36 wins and seven shutouts this season place him among the NHL’s elite netminders going forward.

Detroit’s biggest question mark: How healthy is Henrik Zetterberg is the main question in the Motor City; if he is at less than 100% the Wings could be ripe for the taking against the hungry Desert Dogs. He will definitely miss Game 1 with a left leg injury.

Phoenix’s biggest question mark: Can they finally get past the big, bad Red Wings? They should be motivated and know what to do after being eliminated in seven games by Detroit in last year’s first round.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Detroit (Pavel Datsyuk (2), Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski (3), Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom (4), Nicklas Kronwall, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom (4), Kris Draper (4), Brad Stuart, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Chris Osgood (3), Modano), Phoenix (Bryzgalov, Ray Whitney)

PREDICTION: RED WINGS IN 7 Experience wins out for the Wings, but they will get another scare from the gritty Coyotes.

Anaheim (4)           vs. Nashville (5)

Last Cup Win: Anaheim (2007), Nashville (never)

Why the Ducks will win: Who on Nashville can stop Corey Perry? No one in the league has been able to contain the league’s leading goal scorer (50) in the 2nd half, so good luck Preds.

Why the Predators will win: Defense wins championships, and Nashville has two of the NHL’s premiere defensemen (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) plus a Vezina Trophy candidate in Pekka Rinne.

Anaheim’s most important player: I think it will be Saku Koivu’s time to shine in the first round. With all of the defensive attention (and rightfully so) being paid to the Ducks’ top line, watch out for the Finnish dynamic duo of Koivu and Teemu Selanne to wreck havoc.

Nashville’s most important player: If Rinne can stand on his head (and get in his opponents’ head) the Ducks might be in trouble here. His numbers (2.12 GAA, 33 wins, .930 save %, six shutouts) speak for themselves, but his ability to take over a game can’t be measured in numbers. Nashville’s penalty killers (fifth overall) will be tested against Anaheim’s power play (third overall).

Anaheim’s biggest question mark: Who’s in goal for them? Is it All-Star Jonas Hiller, vagabond Dan Ellis or head case Ray Emery? If one of these tenders steps up the Ducks will be hard to eliminate and SoCal could be celebrating their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Nashville’s biggest question mark: Who the heck is going to score for this team? They have only two 20-goal scorers (Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist) and obviously rely on defense and scoring by committee. If Mike Fisher and JP Dumont find their scoring touches, the Predators could pull off the upset.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Anaheim (Ryan Getzlaf, George Parros, Perry, Selanne, Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, Andreas Lilja), Nashville (none)

PREDICTION: DUCKS IN 5 The Ducks will be too powerful for the gutsy Preds; the series will only go five games, but each game will probably have a 2-1 final score.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Off the Ice with…Martin Biron

Recently I was able to screen New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron long enough to ask him a few questions about the life of an NHL goalie, as well as his favorite movie, TV shows and what he brings with him on road trips. Biron is a 33-year-old from Lac St. Charles, Quebec, who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the first round (16th overall) in 1995. Over his 13 NHL seasons his record is 212-178-49 in 469 games, with 26 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save pct. He is considered one of the ‘good guys’ of the NHL, always a good interview and trust me — he has never met a microphone he didn’t like. His best season to date was probably in 2001-02 when he won 31 of the 72 games he appeared in for the Sabres and posted a stellar 2.22 GAA.

Biron finally made the Sabres roster as a regular during the 1999-2000 season, as the backup to future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and finished the year with a 19-18-2 record and five shutouts. In total he played parts of nine seasons in Buffalo, but never really had a hold on the number one goalie job. After finally taking over when Hasek left to play in Detroit, Biron broke his thumb and the Sabres called up Ryan Miller, who is still the starting netminder in Buffalo’s crease today (see: 2010 Vezina Trophy, 2010 Silver Medal for Team USA). During the 2006-07 season, Biron was dealt to Philadelphia and the following season he helped lead the Flyers to the East Finals before losing against Pittsburgh. He stayed in the Philly for a total of two and a half seasons and in 2009-10 he served as Dwayne Roloson’s backup with the New York Islanders, but he had only signed a one-year contract there. This past summer, he inked a two-year deal with the Rangers, to give All-Star Henrik Lundqvist (who has been overplayed) some more games off.

So far this season he has done exactly what the Rangers have asked of him — in seven games he is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a 2.33 GAA. So just who is Martin Biron off the ice? Read on:

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first win in the NHL?

Martin Biron: “Oh, I remember I got called up from Rochester (AHL) to play against Dallas at home, in Buffalo; I was having a pretty good year in Rochester, (my second year there). A bunch of my buddies from Pee-Wee hockey and Bantam hockey from Quebec City decided to drive up, so they were at the game. I remember Rob Ray made a joke, a funny comment before the game, between warm-ups and the start of the game, he said: ‘Don’t worry Marty, if it doesn’t go well, you’ll get over it; we all do.’ It was a subtle comment, but relaxed me before I had to play against the defending champion Dallas Stars. I played a solid game, we won 2-1; it was one of those days where I don’t remember what happened in the game. It was so crazy and I’ve played so many games between now and then, but I remember little things like that. At the end of the game — the excitement of having your first NHL win was incredible. Then we had a huge snowstorm, so the next day we got snowed in and didn’t have practice; so I got to sleep in and enjoy the first win a little bit more! A couple of days later we played Philadelphia and tied 1-1, so I had a really good week my first week in the NHL.”

DR: Do you have the puck from that first win?

MB: “I do. It’s at my parents’ place right now on a plaque in the basement. I’ve got a picture that my sister-in-law got me in a frame, and it’s engraved: first NHL win, Dallas 1, Buffalo 2 with the date. It’s kind of funny because I have my arms up and I’m on one leg celebrating the win (smiles).”

DR: What are your memories from the day you were drafted?

MB: “It was so exciting. It was in Edmonton in 1995, there was a lot of excitement in not knowing where you were going to be drafted. Was I going to go in the first round or not? I had talked to a lot of teams, but funny enough I hadn’t talked to Buffalo at all. Four picks before Buffalo was to pick made a trade — they traded (Alexander) Mogilny to Vancouver and in exchange they got (Mike) Peca and an extra first round pick. They picked Jay McKee with that pick and then about three picks later it was their time again and I was sitting there and saw the NHL people coming over to my section, cameras starting to get ready; I kind of had an idea that they may take me with that second, first round pick. I heard my name and when I went on stage I remember posing with the team’s personnel, just standing there and one of the guys said to me ‘You can wave to the crowd.’ I kind of just waved my hand and was shy, didn’t know what to do really. It was a very fun day — my whole family was there, it was a lot of excitement.”

DR: Do you have a best friend in the NHL?

MB: “Yeah, me being a goalie it’s kind of funny because a lot of guys are usually good friends with their D-partner or their linemate; for me as a goalie, you play with so many guys and you get to be good friends with your goaltending partner. Over the years I’ve gotten to be really good friends with JP Dumont, in Buffalo we were roommates together. I am really, really good friends with Danny Briere, we were roommates together in Buffalo after JP left for Nashville and then we played together in Philly for a couple of years. Some of the guys I have played with I stay close with in the summer like Jay McKee, Michael Peca — those are guys that in the summertime in Buffalo we do the family thing, going out together and always keep in touch; text or talk once in a while during the year. Those are probably the closest group of friends I have around the league right now.

DR: Do you have a favorite sport other than hockey?

MB: “I do, I’m a big golf fan; I like to play, but I don’t play as much as I used to. My little guy is six now and he wants to play, so it’s fun. We go to the range and go to the course a little bit. I love baseball; I’ve always been a big fan of the game. I loved it growing up; I still play slo-pitch during the summer. That’s so much fun during a nice summer day. I’d say those are my two top sports outside of hockey.”

DR: What’s your favorite movie?

MB: “Movies kind of change, they come and go. It depends on what kind of mood you catch me in. One of my favorite movies would be The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Every time that movie is on I get drawn to it, I like the excitement of it and the mental aspect of it; I think it’s a really well done movie. It’s one of those you pop into the DVD player once in a while just to watch it again.”

DR: What’s your favorite TV show?

MB: “I love The Office, my wife and I watch it all the time. Now she’s gotten me into Modern Family, that show is so funny; definitely one of my favorites. Another one that I like is Entourage, I got to meet the guy that plays E (Kevin Connolly) being in Long Island last year and he’s a huge Islanders’ fan. It’s kind of fun when you get to meet somebody and see them on the TV. Those are my favorite TV shows right now.”

DR: Typically, what do you bring on a road trip?

MB: “Typically I bring my iPad, my Kindle and I will bring a change of clothes depending on how long the trip is. My iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle are usually the things that I bring with me everywhere. I never liked to read much, and my wife got me a Kindle a few years back and now I’ve read so many books on that thing. I don’t know, I’m just a gadgety kind of guy, so I think that thing is kind of cool. I always have that with me and I always carry my Bible with me, we are a Christian family and with the kids; it’s always something I like to go back to. Those are the things that always stay in my bag and the rest of the things, they change around depending where we go and how long I am gone for.”

I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Martin Biron and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you’d like to see a player asked, let me know:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com