Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Eastern Conference predictions

Round 1:

(1) Washington over (8) NY Rangers

(7) Buffalo over (2) Philadelphia

(3) Boston over (6) Montreal

(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Tampa Bay

Round 2:

(1) Washington over (7) Buffalo

(3) Boston over (4) Pittsburgh

Round 3:

(3) Boston over (1) Washington

Washington (1)      vs.    NY Rangers (8)

Last Cup Win: Washington (never), NY Rangers (1994)

Why the Capitals will win: They aren’t intimidated by the Rangers or their goaltender whom has been known to get in some of his opponents’ heads (see: New Jersey Devils). Washington is also one of the deepest teams in the league and they will wear their undermanned first round opponent down.

Why the Rangers will win: They spanked Washington twice this season (6-0, 7-0) and when they are on their game, the Blueshirts have all of the necessary components to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league; solid goaltending, timely scoring and team defense will lead New York to the upset win over the Caps.

Washington’s most important player: Tempted to say Alex Ovechkin, but it’s Mike Green; if he is healthy and has fresh legs he could bury the Rangers (a team that has taken a penalty or two) with his power play prowess.

New York’s most important player: The soul of the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, if he falters, they are cooked. He’s only won two playoff series in his career, but his league-leading 11 shutouts this season tell you that he is capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Washington’s biggest question mark: It has to be the goaltending, despite the fact that they won the East with three goaltenders — two of them rookies. Michal Neuvirth will get the nod to begin the series, and that’s probably the right call. He won back-to-back Calder Cups for the Hershey Bears and was victorious in 27 of his 48 starts with the Caps this season.

New York’s biggest question mark: Which version of Marian Gaborik will show up in this series? Will it be the same Gaborik that had only 48 points (22 goals) in 62 games this season or will he become the two-time 40-goal scorer that the Rangers are paying for?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Washington (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble), New York (Chris Drury, Ruslan Fedotenko)

PREDICTION: CAPITALS IN 6 — Gaborik and Lundqvist will show up and the Rangers will put up a fight, but Ovechkin will eliminate them with a hat trick in Game 6.

Philadelphia (2)     vs. Buffalo (7)

Last Cup Win: Philadelphia (1975), Buffalo (never)

Why the Flyers will win: Since the start of last season’s playoffs Philadelphia has probably been the best team in the NHL. With the talent on this roster they should walk all over the Sabres, but only if their power play finds itself. This season they ranked 19th in the NHL out of 30 teams, with a putrid 16.6%. Offensive juggernauts that were ranked ahead of them: Buffalo, Colorado, Atlanta, Minnesota and Ottawa.

Why the Sabres will win: They have Ryan Miller and the Flyers don’t; it’s as simple as that. He has won playoff series as the favorite and the underdog in his career, and Buffalo is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. If Miller is at less than 100%, then the Sabres will be in trouble.

Philadelphia’s most important player: Chris Pronger’s presence alone will make a difference in the series, but only if he’s healthy enough to be there. His absence over the final weeks of the season is the reason the Flyers crashed and stumbled out of the East’s top spot.

Buffalo’s most important player: Aside from Miller, it’s Thomas Vanek who very quietly had a solid season — 73 points (32g-41a) in 80 games. If Drew Stafford can get into one of his hot streaks it will make a big difference in the series.

Philadelphia’s biggest question mark: As always since Ron Hextall left, it’s goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but lurking behind him are somewhat proven veterans in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Buffalo’s biggest question mark: Can Tyler Myers and the Sabres’ defensive corps stop the flock of talented Flyers forwards is a good place to start; also how will smallish rookie Tyler Ennis (who had a real nice season) hold up in a seven-game series against the rugged Philadelphians?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Philadelphia (Nick Boynton, Sean O’Donnell, Pronger, Kris Versteeg), Buffalo (Rob Niedermayer)

PREDICTION: SABRES IN 7 — Miller shines as Buffalo wins a l-e-n-g-t-h-y Game 7 in Philadelphia.

Boston (3)       vs. Montreal (6)

Last Cup Win: Boston (1972), Montreal (1993)

Why the Bruins will win: Boston’s depth is only matched by Washington in the East as far as I’m concerned, especially when your top three centers are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley. The addition of Tomas Kaberle really balanced out the defense in Beantown too.

Why the Canadiens will win: If I had to pick one team in the East that would give Boston the biggest challenge, I’d say Montreal. These two teams know each other inside and out with all of their legendary battles throughout time. Also how will Boston react after blowing a three games-to-none lead in last year’s East semi-finals.

Boston’s most important player: Tim Thomas is the easy choice here, if he continues playing the way he did during the season (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 save %, 9 shutouts), the Bruins should be able to choke-out the sometimes offensively challenged Habs.

Montreal’s most important player: Where were you this season Scott Gomez? Horrible season (7g-31a, minus-15 in 80 games) from one of the veterans on the Canadiens, but during last spring’s run to the East Finals he put up 14 points in 19 games. If he can get on that type of run it would be much appreciated in Montreal.

Boston’s biggest question mark: The Bruins had a great year, but after choking away last season’s opportunity to beat the Flyers in the semis, anything less than a trip to the East Finals would be a failure. It will be interesting to see how they react if they get Montreal into an elimination game.

Montreal’s biggest question mark: Last season’s dramatic run was led by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Carey Price’s turn and judging from the season he just had (38-28-6, 8 shutouts) he could be a difference maker, not only this season but for many, many more to come.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Boston (Mark Recchi (2), Shawn Thornton), Montreal (Gomez (2), Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel)

PREDICTION: BRUINS IN 7 – Boston will bend, but won’t break as they hold off the Habs; Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, will have a monster series.

Pittsburgh (4)                vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Last Cup Win: Pittsburgh (2009), Tampa Bay (2004)

Why the Penguins will win: They have an elite goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal will not only shut down Steven Stamkos, but he’ll also chip in a few big goals.

Why the Lightning will win: Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Lightning can focus their attention on solid team defense and timely goals. Whether or not Stamkos and Simon Gagne can score multiple times will be determining factors in the series.

Pittsburgh’s most important player: It will be all of their penalty killers; they led the league killing off penalties at an 86.2% clip and if they can shut down Tampa’s powerful power play the series could be a quick one.

Tampa Bay’s most important player: If he becomes a playoff-beast once again, it will be the league’s second leading point getter Martin St. Louis (99 points). He’s a proven playoff performer (48 pts in 45 games) and if he gets hot the Pens will become postseason spectators.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question mark: If there is a small chance he can play, does Pittsburgh risk everything and put Crosby out there? If Crosby doesn’t play, who else besides Staal is going to contribute offensively?

Tampa Bay’s biggest question mark: In the 2006 playoffs, Dwayne Roloson led the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and then blew out his knee in Game 1. That was the last time he played in a playoff game, so five years later it’s hard to tell what you are going to get from the veteran netminder.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Pittsburgh (Chris Kunitz (2), Craig Adams (2), Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Michael Rupp, Max Talbot, Eric Godard), Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis, Pavel Kubina)

PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN 7 — The Lightning prove to be a valiant opponent but Fleury will top Roloson in a wild Game 7

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

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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

Evander Kane KO’s Matt Cooke

Ninety-nine percent of the hockey world wants to give Atlanta rookie Evander Kane a big thank you after his one-punch knockout of Pittsburgh’s pest Matt Cooke which you can see here:

Kane KO’s Cooke

With all of the interest Kane has garnered this weekend, I figured it would be a good chance to revisit the interview that I did with the 18-year-old Kane back on October 16:

Getting to Know… Evander Kane

Dan Rice – Columnist

Recently I was able to catch up with Atlanta Thrashers rookie Evander Kane and ask him a few questions about how his first month in the NHL has been. Kane is an 18-year-old center from Vancouver, British Columbia that the Thrashers selected 4th overall in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. In eight games the 6’2”, 190 lb., Kane has not looked out of place at all, tallying five points (3g-2a) and he is averaging 13:53 of ice-time per game, a number that has slowly increased as the season moves on. And yes, he is named after the boxer Evander Holyfield and got to meet the pugilist before the season started: http://thrashers.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?catid=656&id=

So just who is Evander Kane? Read

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your draft day?

Evander Kane: I remember I was pretty nervous, and I didn’t think I was going to be too nervous, but after the first two picks I started getting really nervous. After the third pick was done I was sweating pretty badly (chuckles); I remember Dan Marr (Atlanta’s Director of Amateur Scouting & Player Development) winking at me from the stage up there and I knew I was going to Atlanta. It was a pretty special moment and something I’ll never forget.

DR: What do you remember about your first goal? (Kane’s first goal was scored in his second NHL game in St. Louis against goaltender Chris Mason).

EK: I remember Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) and Pevs (Rich Peverley) making some good plays, and I remember them trying to get me the puck; it was probably the best pass I’ve gotten since being in the NHL. I just wanted to put it away and I was really excited (when I did). It was good to get it out of the way early, a lot of excitement.

DR: Do you have the puck?

EK: Yeah, I think Bogo (Zach Bogosian) picked up the puck for me and the Thrashers are framing it for me; nice job on their part.

DR: Are you superstitious or do you have a pre-game routine?

EK: No, not really. I’m not a big superstitious guy; I have a routine, but nothing major.

DR: Who’s been your roommate on the road so far and how has it been?

EK: I’m paired with defenseman Mark Popovic. He’s a great guy; he’s fun to hang out with — so it’s been going good. I’ve enjoyed spending time with him.

DR: Favorite TV show?

EK: TV show would probably have to be “Two and a Half Men.”

DR: Favorite movie?

EK: I’m a big fan of “Rush Hour 2”, “Happy Gilmore”, “Dumb and Dumber”. I like goofy comedy movies I guess (smiling).

DR: Favorite sport besides hockey?

EK: I used to be really big into soccer — I like the World Cup. I like football and basketball too, those would be my two other main sports.

DR: I know you’ve only been on the team for a few months, but who is the biggest prankster or joker on the team?

EK: I’d have to say Eric Boulton.

DR: What’s the best advice someone gave you coming into this season?

EK: Probably my Dad; he said, ‘Just don’t change your game, play your game and good things will happen.’ I think so far I’ve tried to do that and I’ve been successful, so I want to continue that.

DR: Has there been any one player that has helped you the most through this first month?

EK: Yeah I think a guy like Colby Armstrong, who’s a real vocal guy, he’s somebody that’s real easy to talk to; he’s been a big help — for me — trying to get used to the group. Guys like Ilya Kovalchuk, anytime they give you a boost it makes you feel good. Definitely those two guys and the (whole) team have been great.

I hope everyone enjoyed learning more about Evander Kane and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you want asked, feel free to let me know:

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com. He can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.