Road Warrior Canucks Escape New Jersey with 2-1 Win

Vancouver 2               Devils 1

The Vancouver Canucks came into Prudential Center on Friday night with the NHL’s best road record (21-10-2) and then left the arena with another road win, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1, by holding off a torrid attack over the game’s final 40 minutes. The Devils were unable to tie the game thanks in large part to Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who made 30 saves and was easily the star of the game.

“We’ve played five games in seven nights, in seven different cities,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said of his team, who managed only 16 shots on goal after playing and winning the previous night in Detroit. “It’s very challenging to say the least, obviously there was nothing left in the tank tonight. Our guys did everything they could on the ice and we were very fortunate tonight to get some unreal goaltending.”

Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome started the scoring 8:44 into the game when he alertly followed up on a shot from his partner Christopher Tanev that Martin Brodeur couldn’t control. The puck deflected off of the paddle of Brodeur’s goal stick and careened directly to Rome who scored his fourth goal of the season.

The Canucks doubled their lead to 2-0 when Mason Raymond fired a wrist shot past Brodeur 2:07 into the second period; Raymond’s shot from just outside the right face-off circle hit Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene’s skate before eluding Brodeur. After that goal New Jersey really picked up their game and began firing quality shot after shot at Schneider, who was gobbling them all up while allowing very few rebounds.

David Clarkson finally solved Schneider (scoring for the third consecutive game) when he converted his 24th goal of the season on a nifty pass from Patrik Elias into a wide open net side at 11:30. Elias faked as if he were about to shoot the puck and then sent a perfect slap-pass to Clarkson for an easy tip-in goal.

The Devils continued to increase the pressure on Vancouver over the final two periods, but Schneider was there at every turn, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced. “He’s a good goalie, I played against him in college,” said New Jersey defenseman Matt Taormina after the team’s first loss in five games. “Every year he has backed up (Roberto) Luongo really well, he can be a starter almost anywhere. He’s a really good goalie who’s hard to get a lot of rebounds off of. We just couldn’t bury our chances that we needed to.”

During the game it was announced that New Jersey had traded defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Pamieri and Stephane Veilleux and two draft picks to Minnesota for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He should provide help on the Devils power play, as 40 of his 60 career goals have come during man advantages. Devils coach Peter DeBoer is happy to have another piece added to his roster heading towards the playoffs. “He’s experienced, he can move the puck, we’ve got a pretty good handle on this guy. Patrik (Elias) knows him, assistant Dave Barr worked with him in Minnesota, Jacques Lemaire coached him in Minnesota; I think all of the reports I’ve heard are very positive.”

Prior to the game there was a brief ceremony to honor longtime television play-by-play voice of the Devils — Mike “Doc” Emrick. He stepped away from the position during the summer to spend more time at home after 21 seasons of work with the team and the franchise brought him back so the fans and some of the players could say thank you. He can still be heard on NHL games that air on NBC and NBCSN, as well as the hockey portion of the Olympics.

Game Notes: With the assist on Clarkson’s goal, Elias now has 13 points in 15 career games against Vancouver. Brodeur fell to 6-12 in 18 career games against the Canucks, by far his worst record against any NHL team. Ilya Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:34 and defenseman Kevin Bieksa led the Canucks with 23:57. Rome led all players with four blocked shots, while Devils’ winger Steve Bernier led all players with six hits. Zach Parise led all players with seven shots on goal, four players on Vancouver had two each. New Jersey (35-21-4) is off until Sunday afternoon when they host Tampa Bay (27-26-6) and Vancouver (39-16-6) will finish their road trip that same afternoon in Dallas (31-26-4).

Dan’s 3  Stars of the Game:
#1 — Cory Schneider (Van) — 30 saves, win (14-5-0)
#2 — Mason Raymond (Van) — gw goal (7)
#3 — David Clarkson (NJ) — goal (24)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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Three More Weeks Until Hockey is Back…

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, so I will try to cover a variety of topics here:

Congrats to the Boston Bruins who won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 @ Vancouver. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were off the charts in that series, and Tim Thomas’ performance was legendary. That Claude Julien guy that coaches the B’s is pretty good, it’d be nice if the Devils had a coach like that…

The Atlanta Thrashers (and their fugly uniforms) are gone and the Winnipeg Jets are back! It’s a shame they won’t be wearing the old uniforms, but a new beginning does deserve a new look and I think I like what I saw from the logo and the uniform scheme.

My sincere and deepest condolences to the families of all of the hockey players that passed away this summer. I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Russia with the plane crash and I still cannot erase the images of Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasyunov’s faces from my mind; hopefully they didn’t suffer. They will all be missed and never, ever forgotten.

So the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov to play goal this season, making him the 500th goalie they have employed since Martin Brodeur became a New Jersey Devil and the 1,000th netminder since they last won the Cup in 1975. They also traded their two best players — Jeff Carter and Mike Richards — in separate deals that did not bring back equal value and signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Good luck with that.

It seems certain that Sidney Crosby won’t be ready for the start of the season, but could suit up at some point in 2011-12. Concussions are a delicate issue and Crosby’s career could be derailed like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya before him. Intentional head shots must be eliminated from the game, but certain players (ahem Criesby…) are also responsible for protecting themselves and need to stop admiring their passes.

Don’t be surprised if the New York Islanders (that’s right, I said it) make the playoffs this season. IF they can stay healthy! John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson seem primed to have big seasons and hopefully Evgeni Nabokov can add some stability to what has been a blue cross and blue shield crease the last few seasons.

The Rangers added the biggest fish in the free-agent pool in Brad Richards, but have we not learned anything over the past six seasons — the team that signs the top free agent never wins the Cup. They did make one right move this summer — naming Ryan Callahan their new captain.

The Devils had a semi-quiet offseason after selecting Adam Larsson with the 4th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They were able to rid themselves of Colin White and Brian Rolston’s ridiculous contracts, and they were able to re-sign Andy Greene and Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg. Both Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise have been cleared to start the season, but Travis Zajac may not be back until December after tearing his achilles tendon during an off-ice workout; Zajac’s team record consecutive games streak will end at 401. Cam Janssen is back with NJ and Petr Sykora could be too — he will be in training camp on a tryout basis. The new coach is Peter DeBoer who was fired from the Florida Panthers, the same DeBoer who helped the Cats reach 94 points a few years back — a remarkable feat in itself with the roster he was given. I predict Mattias Tedenby will net at least 20 goals this season and Jacob Josefson will have 30 assists as they help lead the Devs back to the playoffs after last season’s hiccup.

Boston begins defense of it’s Championship on opening night (October 6); the Rangers open in Sweden against the LA Kings the following day (October 7); the Islanders (vs. Florida) and Devils (vs. Philly) both begin their seasons on Saturday October 8; and the new Winnipeg/old Atlanta team makes it’s debut on Sunday October 9 vs. Montreal.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

After 45 days of playoff hockey, tonight at 8 pm on NBC the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals begin as the Boston Bruins face-off against the Vancouver Canucks. Normally I’m not one to pat myself on the back, but it was right here in this very blog on April 13 that I predicted the Bruins would reach the Finals; I also had Anaheim going to the Finals, but hey, we can’t get ’em all right, right? On May 4 though, I told my buddy Nelson that the Bruins-Lightning series would be an entertaining watch (which it was) and that Boston would prevail in seven games (which they did).

I’ve felt since the last day of the season that the Bruins were primed for a deep run at Lord Stanley’s Cup and although Vancouver will be a worthy and challenging opponent, when it’s over Boston will be celebrating its first Cup win since 1972. The B’s are just a deeper team I feel, even if Manny Malhotra were to miraculously play in this series.

Players to watch: Boston — Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg
Horton has been stellar in his first postseason run, including two Game 7, game-winning goals…the first time that has EVER been done in NHL playoff history. Lucic will be a force to be reckoned with and I’m not sure anyone on Vancouver will be able to match-up effectively against him. Seidenberg is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league and is a shot-blocking goblin; his defensive awareness is a big reason why Boston survived against a spunky Tampa team.

Players to watch: Vancouver — Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo
Kesler in the last two years has become one of my favorite players to watch and in this postseason he hasn’t disappointed. Whether it’s a clutch goal or a clutch defensive play, this guy can do it all; as they say in baseball, this guy is a five-tool player. Burrows is the perfect fit on the line with the Sedin twins, as he provides some grit and muscle in front of the net while Henrik and Daniel do their thing. He will probably have at least three goals in this series. Luongo is four wins away from reaching the mountain top that so many expected he would reach a lot earlier in his career, but perhaps all of his trials and tribulations were necessary for the Jean Girard-lookalike to finally get here. He was great last series, but the Sharks are well, the Sharks and the Bruins won’t make it easy on him this series.

Prediction: Bruins in 6 as Zdeno Chara becomes the first Slovakian captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup

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.

Interesting grading system…

I found an interesting grading system that someone came up with on the comments sections of one of TSN.ca’s stories after his beloved Vancouver Canucks were dismantled by the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 2:

F = Failed to make the playoffs (14/30 teams = 47%)

C- = Seeya in the first round (8/30 = 27%)

B = Bounced in the second round (4/30 = 13%)

A- = Almost made the Finals (2/30 = 7%)

A = Ah! So close! (1/30 = 3%)

A+ = All the way baby! (1/30 = 3%)

A ‘B’ isn’t bad (only 13% of the teams did better) even though we certainly would have liked an ‘A+’

Merry X-Mas Devils Fans

The hockey world was stunned last night when the Atlanta Thrashers traded superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils for rookie Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier & NJ’s first round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.

The deal immediately reminded me of one that GM Lou Lamoriello pulled off almost ten years to the day when he swapped Denis Pederson & a young Brendan Morrison to Vancouver for another Russian sniper — Alexander Mogilny — on March 14, 2000.

The Mogilny deal was very successful as the Devils made two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating Dallas in 2000 and losing to Colorado in 2001. Can this deal work the same magic? Given the fact that the Lamoriello didn’t have to gut the team to acquire Kovalchuk and the fact that he can still make another move or two before the trading deadline, I would say this puts New Jersey as strong contender to represent the East in the Finals (along with Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Washington).

Besides the question of is Lamoriello done dealing, another big question will be is Kovalchuk a rental? The 26-year-old turned down an offer of over $100 million over 10 years  from Atlanta, but would he take less to stay with an established Cup-contending team? Time will tell, but I’m glad that Kovalchuk is on our side now.

Sedin Twins + Sloppy Devils = Ugly Loss

Here is the link to my recap of the Devils 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night:

Sedin Twins + Sloppy Devils = Ugly Loss

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Alexander Edler (Van)– goal (2), 2 assists (17)

#2 – Daniel Sedin  (Van) – gw goal (2), assist (7)

#3 – Henrik Sedin (Van) – 2 assists (16)

Line Combos/d-pairings:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner
Rolston-Elias-Bergfors
Halischuk-Niedermayer-Zharkov
Peters-McAmmond-Pikkarainen

White-Mottau
Greene-Salvador
Fraser-Corrente

Vancouver:
D.Sedin-H.Sedin-Burrows
Raymond-Kesler-Samuelsson
Hansen-Wellwood-Bernier
Glass-Johnson-Rypien

Bieska-Mitchell
Edler-Ehrhoff
Salo-O’Brien