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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MacLean + Arnott = Devilicious

First off congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks and captain Jonathan Toews for winning the 2010 Stanley Cup; it looks like Toews and Patrick Kane are the next faces of the NHL — sorry Sidney Crosby, your time is up!

Earlier this week the Devils announced that the franchise leader in goals (347) John MacLean was named New Jersey’s new head coach. Johnny Mac was an assistant for several years until last season when he coached their AHL team (Lowell Devils) to their first playoff appearance in eons. Apparently that was enough seasoning for GM Lou Lamoriello, who was satisfied that MacLean is ready to take over the head coaching vacancy for the recently retired Jacques Lemaire. As far as I see it this is a safe move, but if the Devils struggle out of the gate I wouldn’t put it past Lamoriello that MacLean could get the axe by Thanksgiving. I doubt that will happen (you never know), but hopefully he can at least get the Devils out of the 1st round of the East in 2010-11. Also a nice touch that one of his assistants will be one of the classiest guys in the game, another old friend/coach, Larry Robinson.

Earlier this afternoon the Devils acquired an old friend in Jason Arnott from Nashville for young Matt Halischuk and a second round draft pick in 2011. Arnott is a hero in Devil-land, thanks in part to his double-overtime Cup-clinching goal in the 2000 Finals against Dallas. His presence gives New Jersey a bonafide no. 2 center behind Travis Zajac and should help to re-ignite Patrik Elias, who hasn’t been the same player he was before the lockout; it will also allow Elias to move back to his natural left wing position.

Could the other member of the high-scoring  ‘A-line’ (Petr Sykora) rejoin the Devils too? Highly unlikely, but again with Lamoriello, one never knows. Arnott is in the last year of a deal that will pay him $4.5 million this season, so if I had to guess I would say this could take the Devils out of the running to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. However, if Trader Lou can move around a few more bodies (i.e. Brian Rolston), maybe Kovalchuk could still stay in NJ and give the Devils the best trio of left wingers (Zach Parise, Elias, Kovalchuk) in the NHL.

Next up: the NHL schedule is released on Tuesday, the NHL awards are on Wednesday and the 2010 NHL Draft is on Friday and Saturday. On July 1 free agency begins!!

Stay tuned, it’s sure to be a busy summer!

IRON MEN

In honor of the kick-ass IronMan 2 movie, here are the 88 NHL players that played in all 82 of their teams games this past season.
Quick Hits: Calgary had 7 players appear in every game, including defenseman Ian White (traded midseason from Toronto) who played in a league-high 83 games. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin led all Iron Men in points with 112 and Toronto’s Colton Orr had the fewest points (six) among those who played in every game. Colorado was the only team that didn’t have at least one player suit up for all 82 games. Only three rookies survived to play in every game — NY Isles’ center John Tavares, Dallas winger Jamie Benn and Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers.

Anaheim: Jason Blake, Corey Perry
Atlanta: Maxim Afinogenov, Tobias Enstrom, Rich Peverley
Boston: Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler
Buffalo: Tyler Myers, Jason Pominville, Henrik Tallinder
Calgary: Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Niklas Hagman, Jarome Iginla, Eric Nystrom, Matt Stajan, Ian White
Carolina: Tom Kostopoulos
Chicago: Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp
Colorado: none
Columbus: RJ Umberger, Antoine Vermette
Dallas: Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Stephane Robidas
Detroit: Todd Bertuzzi, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart
Edmonton: Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Dustin Penner
Florida: Keith Ballard, Michael Frolik, Bryan McCabe, Steven Reinprecht
Los Angeles: Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar
Minnesota: Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Brunette
Montreal: Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec
Nashville: David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Ryan Suter
New Jersey: Travis Zajac
NY Islanders: Matt Moulson, Mark Streit, John Tavares
NY Rangers: Artem Anisimov, Dan Girardi, Olli Jokinen, Michal Rozsival, Marc Staal
Ottawa: Chris Phillips, Jarko Ruutu
Philadelphia: Claude Giroux, Ian Laperierre, Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Kimmo Timonen
Phoenix: Adrian Aucoin, Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle
Pittsburgh: Craig Adams, Jordan Staal
San Jose: Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley, Kent Huskins, Patrick Marleau
St. Louis: Brad Boyes, Jay McClement, David Perron
Tampa: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos
Toronto: Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, Colton Orr
Vancouver: Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Henrik Sedin
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

If You’re Not First, You’re Last; but…

Normally that’s how I see things: ‘If You Ain’t First, You’re Last’ — Ricky Bobby; but after seeing how Team USA played at the Winter Olympics, a silver medal isn’t too bad for a group that no one was too familiar with and no one gave a chance to medal in the tournament filled with powerhouses.

So I felt I should thank the 23 players that made me not only proud to be an American, but proud to be a fan of American hockey. Thank you guys for giving us a scintillating two weeks of hockey and hope you can bring home the gold in 2014.

Team USA 2010:
Goalies
Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas & Jonathan Quick

Defenseman:
Tim Gleason, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Brooks Orpik, Brian Rafalski, Ryan Suter & Ryan Whitney

Forwards:
David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Patrik Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Malone, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan & Paul Stastny