Between the Pipes – NHL Recap and 1st Round Stanley Cup Playoff Preview
Well start growing your hockey beards it’s that time of year. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and try and break it down. BTW I love Wikipedia, it makes life so much easier. Also in case your wondering if going to the Olympic scoring system (Teams get three standings points for winning in regulation, two points for winning in overtime or in a shootout and one point for a team that loses in overtime or a shootout) would have had any impact on this season the answer is basically no. Exhibit A is here, the only difference is Nashville finishes ahead of Los Angeles and the New York Rangers gets in over Montreal. So basically only Rangers fans are upset right now. If you’re wondering I did not take that photo. I’ve discussed the current point system before here. I’m just annoyed the final spot came down to a shootout. I really think the overtime needs to be made at least ten minutes.
1 Washington Capitals vs. 8 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: split 2-2
Playoff History: They have never played each other, well there’s a first time for everything.
Star to Watch: Alexander Semin because he needs to step his game up to the next level in the playoffs for the Capitals to have a chance at the Stanley Cup.
X-Factor: With Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev gone Tomas Plekanec is the man in Montreal. He produced a goose egg in three games in last years playoff. He will need to play well for Montreal to have any chance.
Goalie Problem: Both teams have problems and they both might go with a two headed monster in net. But I think in Montreal’s case they stick with Jaroslav Halak. He’s certainly played better down the stretch and earned it. As for the Capitals they said the plan on rotating between Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. I say go for it because if there is any round which you can afford to experiment it would be this one. Have them play every other game and go with the hotter one.
Fun Fact: Washington has scored 101 more goals this year than Montreal.
Prediction: The Washington Capitals should sweep the Canadiens unless Varlamov/Theodore truly suck it up.
2 New Jersey Devils vs. 7 Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series: 5-1 Flyers
Playoff History: 2-1 in favor of the Devils, last meeting was in 2004 which the Flyers won in the 1st round.
Star to Watch: Ilya Kovalchuk because the spotlight is on him. He was acquired for the playoffs and now it’s his time to shine. He has only played in four games in the postseason before but he’s surrounded by a group that’s been there before. I expect the Devils to continue to jumble their top two lines to find a good fit for everyone including Ilya.
X-Factor: Can Chris Pronger stay out of the penalty box? He sure had a problem doing so in Anaheim at key moments. However, last year was the first year he averaged under one PIM a game in his postseason career.
Goalie Problem: The Flyers employed a three headed monster in goal this season and lost two of its heads to injury and were left with just Boucher. This is his second stop in Philly and he was last in the playoffs with them in 2002 where he only played in two games. He played well in the must win against the Rangers.
Fun Fact: Philadelphia had the 2nd highest PIM this season while New Jersey had the 3rd lowest. I smell fights though.
Prediction: Well despite the advantage of the Flyers in the regular season, the Flyers have played poorly down the stretch and are lucky to have made the playoffs. The Devils are still mad about being bounced in the 1st round the past two seasons. I think they and Brodeur have something to prove, Devils in six or seven.
3 Buffalo Sabres vs. 6 Boston Bruins
Season Series: Boston 4-2
Playoff History: 5-2 Boston, though Buffalo has won the last two meetings the last one being in 1999 in the 2nd round.
Star to Watch: Well slim pickings in the star category but I’d have to say Michael Ryder. Marc Savard is injured, Phil Kessel is gone and it’s up to Ryder to lead them in playoff scoring like he did last year.
X-Factor: How will Calder candidate Tyler Myers hold up? Myers was phenomenal playing for the Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs last year and he will need to deliver again.
Goalie Problem: Neither of these teams have one, unless you consider choosing between Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas a problem. Personally I call that a luxury.
Fun Fact: If Tuukka Rask plays most/all of the round, this match-up will feature the top two goalies in GAA and SV% this season.
Prediction: Buffalo in five games because the Bruins just don’t score enough and goals will not be plentiful on Ryan Miller.
4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5 Ottawa Senators
Season Series: split 2-2
Playoff History: Bad blood between these two. They didn’t meet last year as Ottawa didn’t make the playoffs but they met the previous two years in the 1st round and here they are again. The first time the Senators beat the baby faced Penguins who vowed revenged next year. They got their revenge with a sweep and supposedly tanked on purpose to draw the Senators in the first round.
Star to Watch: Evgeni Malkin because he hasn’t been healthy lately but when he has been in the lineup he’s still been effective. The key to the series (but mostly other series) might be how often he can play.
X-Factor: Can Kris Letang (3) and Brooks Orpik (2) both score more goals in the postseason than they did in the regular season? Probably.
Goalie Problem: Mac-Andre Fleury hasn’t played all that well the last month except for three games. But playoff off time is generally when Fleury shines so he should rebound nicely. If not we might see some of Brent Johnson. Brian Elliot gets some much needed experience for Ottawa.
Fun Fact: The winner in each of the two previous playoff meetings went on to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals first to the Ducks and then to the Red Wings, will that happen again?
Prediction: Pittsburgh should win this probably in five games but possibly a sweep. The Senators are probably one of the weakest five seeded teams in some time.
1 San Jose Sharks vs. 8 Colorado Avalanche
Season Series: split 2-2
Playoff History: They have met three times in the playoffs before, the Avalanche hold the series lead 2-1. They haven’t met since the 2004 playoffs when San Jose bounced them in the 2nd round.
Star to Watch: Patrick Marleau, people rag on Joe Thornton a lot, but where the hell does Marleau disappear to in the playoffs? He has 11 points in 19 games and a -2 the past two seasons. With the addition of Danny Heatley he does have a little less pressure but now he has no more excuses.
X-Factor: With all that Colorado youth I’m sure they’ll have no pressure and continue to play as normal. That might be a probably if San Jose ratchets up the intensity but Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk and Stephane Yelle have sure been here before.
Goalie Problem: Craig Anderson has been overworked this year and it’s by far the most amount of games he as ever played in the NHL in one season. Subsequently he started to wear out at the end. He was stupidly not rested in a meaningless game against the Kings. Way to go management. Evgeni Nabokov will need to put last year’s playoff debacle against the Ducks behind him and play better.
Fun Fact: San Jose has only been past the 2nd round once. Colorado has been past the 2nd round six times. San Jose has been around four more years as a franchise.
Prediction: Honestly this is probably the hardest series to predict. I can actually see the Avalanche beating the Sharks. Whatever happens, it’s going seven games but I’ll just say Colorado for the hell of it. Prove me wrong San Jose.
2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. 7 Nashville Predators
Season Series: Chicago 4-2
Playoff History: None, then again the Predators haven’t been around that much.
Star to Watch: Jonathan Toews because he really needs to have a breakout campaign in the playoffs for Chicago to reach where they want to go. Anchoring Hossa, Kane and/or Sharp should help him reach his potential.
X-Factor: The Predators have never been out of the 1st round and they sure would like too. I’m sure the fans in Nashville really don’t care.
Goalie Problem: Antti Niemi has played really well down the stretch with a .927 SV%, except for the game against St. Louis. If he keeps it up we won’t see Huet. Nashville is a good first round opponent for Niemi as they aren’t exactly an offensive powerhouse. He only faced Nashville once this year and wasn’t stellar with an 800 SV% and a 4.00 GAA.
Fun Fact: Chicago has been to the playoffs 54 times and Nashville four times, not including this year.
Prediction: Chicago in five. I expect big things from Chicago this year; then again they made it all the way to the conference finals last year. Chicago just has way more talent than Nashville. I’m amazed Nashville finished as high as they did.
3 Vancouver Canucks vs. 6 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: Vancouver 3-1
Playoff History: 2-1 Los Angeles and not since the 2nd round in 1993 when the Kings made it to the Stanley Cup finals.
Star to Watch: Way too many to mention here. I’ll have to say Anze Kopitar vs. Henrik Sedin in the head to head center match-up, fun times indeed. Henrik obviously has the experience advantage and his new Art Ross hardware.
X-Factor: We have the inexperienced defense of the Kings, minus Scuderi and O’Donnell of course, vs. the banged up Canucks defense. I think we will be seeing some high scoring games.
Goalie Problem: What has happened to Roberto Luongo? If Luongo can regain his form the Canucks may go for, if not they could get bounced in the 1st round.
Fun Fact: The only win this year that Los Angeles had over Vancouver, the Kings scored eight goals on Luongo.
Prediction: Well this will probably be the most fun of all the first round series and another hard one to predict. It should go seven but I guess I’ll take the Canucks.
4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. 5 Detroit Red Wings
Season Series: split 2-2
Playoff History: Only met one other time in 1998, Detroit won in the 1st round.
Star to Watch: Shane Doan returns to the playoffs with the Coyotes for the first time since 2002. He’s the only one left from that team as well. Doan will need to step it up for the Coyotes to have any chance at all.
X-Factor: How much do the Red Wings care? I mean they’ve been there done that a few times before. Phoenix on the other hand has not accomplished anywhere near as much. Between their ownership problems, their surprising season and not making the playoffs in eight years it should make for an interesting dynamic. At least fans finally came out to support the Coyotes. I’m looking forward to the WhiteOut.
Goalie Problem: Jimmy Howard doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience and neither does Ilya Bryzgalov. While Howard has none, Bryzgalov did play a few games for the Mighty Ducks including three consecutive shutouts.
Fun Fact: Detroit has been to the playoffs 55 times (not including their days as Cougers or Flacons) and Phoenix five times, not including this year.
Prediction: Try as I might, I can’t see any scenario that the Coyotes beat the Wings. Then again I couldn’t have seen any scenario in which the Coyotes would obtain over 100 points. Lightning can strike twice but in this case I think the Wings experience wins out, so Detroit in six.
As for Stanley Cup Final prediction I say the Washington/Pittsburgh winner against Chicago. I’m not sure who I would pick and I know it’s a cop out not to pick a winner and to also not pick between Pittsburgh and Washington but it really depends on how the goaltending for Washington and Chicago fair in order to pick. Part of me wants Chicago to lose in the finals so that Marion Hossa can be on the losing side three years in a row. The hilarity that would ensue for everyone but him, I know Schadenfreude, I’m a bad person.
Fights of the Week
Special thanks to hockeyfights.com for making this section a little easier to do.
Matt Cooke vs. Evander Kane
Well we had a few KOs this season but this one might take the cake. I’m guessing Matt Cooke will want a rematch next year.
Trevor Gillies vs. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond
A decent back and forth fight with a weird start.
Micheal Haley vs. Rod Pelley
A decent back and forth fight with some good punches.
Goat of the Week
Marc Staal – New York Rangers
Marc Staal’s bad pass attempt to another Ranger, I can’t identify, who wasn’t even looking for the pass sets up Mike Richards breakaway goal.
Things I like
1. Ten years of over 100 points for the Red Wings. That is consistency and it’s really tough to do in this day in age of the game.
2. The Boston Bruins scored three shorthanded goals all during the same penalty. To think that Boston had problems scoring all year, they just needed to be shorthanded. Although they were the 29th shorthanded scoring team so maybe it was just an anomaly.
3. Seven teams in the Western Conference had 100 points or more. Wow. Yet many people wonder why I and many others think the West is the superior conference. Of course you get a point now for an overtime loss but you used to get a point for a tie which a lot of these games could have ended if there wasn’t a shootout.
4. Standing Ovations for Mike Modano (maybe retiring), Keith Tkachuk (retiring) and Teemu Selanne (maybe retiring) during their final home games. Of course two of those three players made up a phenomenal line on the Winnipeg Jets. Tkachuk and Selanne teamed with Alexi Zhamnov in the early to mid 90’s. I didn’t see them play because who televised Winnipeg Jets games (and I was like 12 haha) but I did have their hockey cards. Scott Niedermayer also might have played his last game but he’s a defenseman so no one cares. I’m just kidding but my gut tells me Selanne and Niedermayer will both be back.
Things I don’t
1. NBC did one of those patented NBC moves. Only one game had a game that meant something to both teams, the New York Rangers vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. You can argue that Detroit and Chicago meant something but only whether they would move up a spot or not, which is not a big a deal as winner gets into the playoffs. So NBC shows the Capitals vs. the Bruins, ugh. And people wonder why the NHL can’t get a bigger following in the states, bonehead moves like that is why. Now I know that the Caps game was at 12ET and the Rangers vs. Flyers game was at 3ET but I’m pretty sure they could have moved the game up if they wanted to show it.
2. When NBC was going over the standings and possible playoff matches they had the Flyers vs. the Capitals and then they said of course the Rangers could win and get in instead. Of course they failed to mention that if the Flyers won they wouldn’t play the Capitals because they would leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens and the Canadiens would then play the Capitals. I guess that would have required too much research on their part. Between NBC’s sheer stupidity and no one carrying versus I can’t think of a time the NHL had worse broadcasting partners. Unless of course you count that FOX glow puck debacle.
3. Four teams in the West that didn’t make the playoffs finished at or above the 88 points the 7th and 8th seed Flyers and Candiens had in the East. Hmm… doesn’t seem fair. Of course Detroit shouldn’t even be in the West seeing how they’re even more East than Atlanta is.
4. Ranges in the shootout, I mean Gaborik wasn’t even one of the first three shooters and Lundqvist picked a bad time to suck in the shootout after playing an awesome game.
Stat Line of the Week
04/11/10 Pittsburgh 6 vs. NY Islanders 5
Crosby made a run for the records he could get and while he came up short on the points record, he did end up tying Ovechkin for 2nd. He also ended up tying Stamkos for the goal lead at 51.
Did You Know?
The playoff beard tradition was started by the New York Islanders in the early 1980’s. It seemed to work as they won four cups in a row in the 80’s.
This Week in Hockey History
Special thanks to the Hockey Hall of Fame site for making this section a little easier to do.
April 08, 1937 Referee Clarence Campbell officiated his first Stanley Cup match in Game Two of Finals, a 4-2 win for Detroit over the Rangers. Campbell, who became third league president in NHL history in 1946, gave out three penalties.
April 09, 1980 Bob Sauve recorded first shutout in Sabres playoff history, 6-0 over Vancouver in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Preliminary Round. Gil Perreault scored a goal and added two assists.
April 10, 1982 L.A. Kings staged their famous “Miracle on Manchester”, scoring 5 goals in the third period to tie the Oilers, then winning 6-5 on an overtime goal by Daryl Evans. The win gave the Kings a 2-1 lead in the best of 5 series vs Edmonton.
April 11, 1994 Tom Barrasso stopped 32 shots for his 21st career shutout as Pittsburgh clinched the Northeast Division title with a 4-0 win at Ottawa. Jaromir Jagr led the scoring with three assists.
April 12, 1960 Montreal’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard scored his 82nd (and final) NHL playoff goal in Game 3 of the Finals against Toronto. Canadiens beat the Leafs 5-2, and won again two nights later for the 1960 Stanley Cup Chamionship.
April 13, 1997 Mario Lemieux picked up two assists in his final career regular season game (until his comeback in 2000-01) as the Penguins lost 7-3 at Boston. The two assists gave Lemieux 122 points, and his 6th NHL scoring championship, in his 12th season.
Based on the likelihood of winning the Stanley Cup
4. New Jersey
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.