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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stanley Cup Playoff First Round Predictions

The Stanley Cup playoffs are beginning tonight.  The Western Conference Playoffs feature some interesting match-ups, including a few re-matches from last year.  Onto the predictions:

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks
Don't let the standings fool you, there is a 2-point gap between #4 and #8 in the West, so the Chicago Blackhawks are much more dangerous than they look.  The Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks seem almost too perfect, with top-notch offense and defense.  They have the unfortunate task of trying to defeat last season's Stanley Cup champions, the same team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in the last two seasons.  While the Canucks have the apparent advantage, they do not have the clutch ability of the battle-hardened Blackhawks, who have made a habit of winning when they need to.  While the Blackhawks are finally starting to get healthy, the Canucks are falling apart a bit.  The Canucks haven't had much to play for in a while, so they will stumble out of the gate and won't recover.
Prediction:  Blackhawks in 7

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings
The Sharks seem to get pretty deep into the playoffs every year, and now they have the Stanley Cup-winning goalie from last year to go along with a balanced team.  The Kings recently suffered injuries to their top-2 scorers, too.  While the Kings are resilient, they won't have the scoring talent to beat the Sharks.
Prediction:  Sharks in 5

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes
It's deja-vu all over again.  The Coyotes have to face the formidable Red Wings in the first round again, but this time the Red Wings are without leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg.  Once again, the Coyotes rely on a strong goalie and defense while getting offense by committee, but they are a stronger team than last year.  The Wings will have to try to advance again with Jimmy Howard who is a decent goalie, but he is no match for Ilya Bryzgalov.  It took the Wings 7 to beat the 'Yotes last year, and the balance has shifted this year.
Prediction:  Coyotes in 6

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
Corey Perry had an amazing run to end the regular season, hitting 50 goals and vaulting himself into MVP contention.  The Ducks' high-flying offense is about to hit a brick wall named Pekka Rinne, who has perhaps the most absurd goaltending numbers in the NHL.  The Predators will shut down the Ducks offense and will be able to do just enough damage against stop-gap goalie Dan Ellis to squeak by.  That's not to say it will be easy.
Prediction:  Preds in 7

Onto the East
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers
No point making a reasoned analysis of the Caps, I'll just say Caps in 5 like I always do. 

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres
This is an interesting one, two very good teams with a lot of high strength areas and gaping holes.  The Sabres had just enough talent to get into the playoffs and are now losing players to injury.  The Flyers also have key injuries, but they are starting to get healthy.  The Sabres' strength is goaltending while the Flyers' strength is neutralizing good goaltending.  The Flyers' goalie situation isn't good, but they'll be well-rested at least.  The Flyers won't make the Cup Final again this year, but they're not losing now.
Flyers in 6

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens
It's a good thing this isn't Wimbledon where you have to win by two games, because this one is going 7.  In the biggest grudge-match of playoffs, these two teams both have enough talent to scare you and enough emotion to close the other team out.  There's no easy way of predicting a coin toss, so I'll just have to do it with style.
Canadiens in 7

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Bottom line:  No Crosby, no advancing.  Not against this team.  The Lightning have too much offense for the Penguins to match with only one top center on the ice.  Jordan Staal is an excellent player, and Bylsma is a great coach, but a 2-line team like Tampa is going to eventually make the Pittsburgh offense moot while clutch goalie Dwayne Roloson will make life difficult for what offense the Pens still have.
Lightning in 6

NHL Trophy Predictions

The end of the regular season is here again, it's time to predict the trophy winners.  The following are the predicted trophy finalists in predicted order of finish.  Keep in mind the New York sportswriters are on strike, so it's very unlikely a Ranger, Islander, or Devil will win anything.  I'm kinda in a hurry here, so here goes.

Hart Trophy - the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.
1. Corey Perry, Anaheim
2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
3. Tim Thomas, Boston
Perry took the league by storm at the end of the season to become the only 50-goal scorer.  He's still within spitting distance of the leading point-getter, Sedin, but Sedin had so much help this year.  Thomas just 'cause.

Ted Lindsay - Most outstanding player - players pick
1. Corey Perry, Anaheim
2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
3.  Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The New York Media strike won't affect the players, and this usually goes more or less the same way as the Hart.

Lady Byng Trophy - The most gentlemanly player
1. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
2. Loui Eriksson, Dallas
3.Patrick Marleau, San Jose
St. Louis had 99 points and 12 penalty minutes.  This is a pretty safe bet.

Selke Trophy - The best defensive forward
1. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver
2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington
3. Mike Richards, Philadlephia
This award is, again, awarded to the forward who excels at the defensive aspects of the game.  Kind of like the charging penalty, sportswriters usually award it for something other than what it was meant for.  So, the best 2-way player this season is likely going to be 40-goal scorer Ryan Kesler, who blocked
It's time Backstrom got some credit for his role in the great defensive turnaround of the Caps.  69 hits, 64 blocked shots, 73 takeaways, winning 52.5% of 1,315 faceoffs, 1:26 per night on the PK, and a +24 rating, he's gotta get some attention.

Norris Trophy - The best defenseman
1. Shea Weber, Nashville
2. Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
It's time Shea Weber finally got the credit for being the great defenseman he is.  Lubomir Visnovksy is the leading defenseman scorer, and that guy always seems to finish second.  Nick Lidstrom is kinda like Team Finland in the Olympics, you never really expect them to win or do much, but they always end up in the top 3.

Vezina Trophy - The best goalie
1. Tim Thomas, Boston
2. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York
Tim Thomas came back, broke into your house, kicked your dog, took your halloween candy, and then ran away with it too fast for you to catch up.  It's not fair he can do what he does at age 36, but that's how it is.  That Luongo guy was ok, too.  Pekka Rinne of Nashville deserves credit, but like when he should have been a Calder Finalist, he'll get ignored again.

Calder Trophy, Rookie of the Year
1. John Carlson, Washington
2. Jeff Skinner, Carolina
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago
Total homer pick, but Carlson is easily the best rookie defenseman in the league this year.  He might not get as much attention as a guy like Subban because people probably forget he's a rookie.  Skinner had a bunch of points and Crawford had a bunch of wins.  yadda yadda yadda.

All-Rookie Team
F - Jeff Skinner, CAR
F - Logan Couture, SJ
F - Michael Grabner, NYI
D - John Carlson, WAS
D - P.K. Subban, MTL
G - Corey Crawford, CHI

Masterton Trophy - Perseverance and whatnot
1. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota
2. David Booth, Florida
With all of the head-shot concussion stuff going on this year, it's gotta be one of them.

Jack Adams - Coach of the year
1. Dan Byslma, Pittsburgh
2. Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay
3. Lindy Ruff, Buffalo
It's the hat, man. Boucher got Tampa to the playoffs, for goodness' sakes, and his assistant coach has brain cancer.  And I always pick Lindy Ruff because he's still coaching in Buffalo. 

The the post-season all-star teams:
First Team
LW -Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
C - Henrik Sedin, Vancuover
RW - Corey Perry, Anaheim
D - Shea Weber, Nashville
D - Lubomir Visnovksy, Anaheim
G - Tim Thomas, Boston

Second Team
LW - Alex Ovechkin, Washington (I know! It's like picking Al Del Greco #2)
C - Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
RW - Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
D - Nick Lidstrom, Detroit
D - Keith Yandle, Phoenix
G - Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

Friday, March 4, 2011