Archive for April, 2011

Skating Around: A low-flying Predator, punchless Blackhawks, Bertuzzi’s revival

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Steve Sullivan, the often unsung wnner of the 2009 Masterton Trophy for dedication to hockey, gives the Predators grit and leadership in their tough series against the Ducks. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

The most under-the-radar series in the first round is the Nashville-Anaheim matchup. Well, everything that involves the Predators usually ends up under-the-radar (and had the Ducks not gotten lots of stretch run attention due to the great play of Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, this series would be submerged even further in hockey fans’ collective consciousness). And if it’s possible to be an under-the-radar player in an under-the-radar series, that guy would be Steve Sullivan.
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  • Published On Apr 15, 2011
  • Canadiens and Bruins renew ancient clash

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    Contrasting styles, cultures, genuine enmity and high stakes are on tap as these Original Six rivals meet in the playoffs for the 33rd time in their storied histories. (Photo by Michael Ivins-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    There is probably no more bitter rivalry in North American professional sports than the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, whose 85-year antagonism returned to full-scale, blood-boiling warfare this season.

    The puck drops tonight on the final chapter of this season’s hostilities, the 33rd meeting of these Original Six teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and if it’s anything like the six games the teams played during the regular season, this best-of-seven will overflow with great goaltending, good hard hockey, the classic battle of speed and skill vs. size and strength, and, very likely, a few little dust-ups, unkind words and even some blue oaths.
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  • Published On Apr 14, 2011
  • Cup Predictions: Too much monkey business

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    One thing is clear in my crystal ball: uncertainty. (Walter Iooss/Sports Illustrated)

    By Stu Hackel

    A guy I know was asked every year, year after year, to predict which team would win the Stanley Cup. He always answered, “The Rangers.” This went on for decades. The thing was, he hated the Rangers and I think he did it because by picking them, he figured he’d jinx them and they’d never win. Finally, in 1994, the Rangers won the old mug and he was right. Even though he’d been wrong annually for a few decades up until then, he went around crowing, “I told you so!” He fancied himself as The Great Predictor.

    This is the time of year when many in the media are asked to peer sagely into the future, stroke their whiskered chins and tell the world who they think will win a series or a conference or even the Stanley Cup. SI.com even had a brave tradition of asking its writers to compile the entire bracket, NCAA basketball style, and forecast who would advance round by round, and which two teams would be shaking hands at the end of the Cup final, which one would skate off and which one would get the big silver chalice from Gary Bettman.

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  • Published On Apr 13, 2011
  • Eastern Conference playoff thoughts

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    Alexander Ovechkin and the newly defense-minded Capitals will be tested by the never-say-die Rangers. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    The chase for the Stanley Cup begins on Wednesday and while there is often a clear-cut favorite — or a few favorites — this playoff field seems more wide-open than at any time in the last few seasons.

    It’s hard to say that any team this year can be considered the kind of pre-playoff Cup pick that, for example, the Red Wings or Penguins have been in recent springs. None of the 16 clubs come into the tournament without significant strengths or significant questions.

    One of our late March posts focused specifically on goaltending for the teams in contention, and now we can take a little broader look at the matchups and offer some brief thoughts — nothing too comprehensive here — on how things might play out in the first round. Here’s a look at the Eastern Conference. (CLICK HERE for some thoughts on the Western Conference first round.)

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  • Published On Apr 12, 2011
  • Western Conference playoff thoughts

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    The Cup-favorite Canucks must weather their playoff nemesis. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The chase for the Stanley Cup begins on Wednesday and there is often a clear-cut favorite — or  favorites — this year’s playoff field seems more wide-open than at any time in the last few seasons.

    It’s hard to say any team can be considered the kind of pre-playoff Cup pick that, for example, the Red Wings or Penguins have been in recent springs. None of the 16 teams come into this tournament without significant strengths or significant questions. The first round is especially fraught with danger for higher-seeded teams. In fact, in the last three seasons, 10 of the 24 first round series were won by the lower seed.

    One of our late March posts focused specifically on goaltending for the teams in contention, and now we can take a little broader look at the matchups and offer some brief thoughts — nothing too comprehensive here — on how things might play out in the first round. Here’s a look at the Western Conference. (CLICK HERE for some thoughts on the Eastern Conference first round.)

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  • Published On Apr 12, 2011
  • Memories of a hockey hero

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    Former coach and NHL scouting director E.J. McGuire was the definition of a true hockey man as well as a tireless innovator who had a major impact on the game he loved. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    E.J. McGuire was a hockey hero. Not the kind of hero who, like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry or Jonathan Toews, pulls on a sweater and does magical things such as scoring big goals in packed arenas and triggering wild celebrations. No, E.J. McGuire was the kind of hero who fans don’t really see, a guy who quietly dedicates his life and all his considerable talents to create the Crosbys, Ovechkins, Perrys and Toewses you cheer for.

    In empty arenas, behind benches, observing from the stands or press boxes and in small offices with computers and video screens, E.J. spent decades probing like a scientist, trying to figure out how to make hockey players and the game itself better. It became his life’s mission and he was damn good at it, although he probably would never have put it that way. He just loved being in the game and contributing what he could to a team effort. He did not seek any glory other than the personal satisfaction of a job well done.
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  • Published On Apr 08, 2011
  • Are the Flyers in real trouble?

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    The Flyers sorely miss Chris Pronger’s towering presence and mean streak. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    They’re last season’s Eastern Conference champion and a Stanley Cup favorite now. They have seven 20-goal scorers in their lineup, and one more tally by Ville Leino will give them eight. They have great centers and a solid and deep defense corps. They have one of the game’s best young captains and a very good mix of youth and veterans. But the Flyers’ play in the last two months is not making an encouraging case for their chances of going far in the playoffs.

    As The Globe and Mail’s fine columnist Roy MacGregor wrote last weekend, it’s always wise to not take too seriously any team that plays unusually well or unusually poorly in the last couple of weeks before the season ends. So it should be easy to dismiss Philadelphia’s play in its last 10 games, in which the Flyers have gained only nine of a possible 20 points. But the team’s struggles have gone on longer than 10 games.

    On Feb. 17, the Flyers were atop the East with a seven point lead over second place Tampa Bay. Since then, they’ve gone 8-11-4, picking up just 20 of a possible 46 points, and they now trail the Capitals by four points for the top spot with the Bruins only two points behind. The Flyers have said that their big lead made them complacent and got them into bad habits that they’ve been unable to break. Or that they were so busy looking forward to the playoffs that they forgot about the present. Those are plausible reasons, although the Canucks certainly didn’t have that problem in the West. They just kept getting better.

    “It will be a quick offseason if it keeps going the way it’s going,” forward Scott Hartnell told reporters this week (video)

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  • Published On Apr 07, 2011
  • Riotous ending to the regular season

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    The emergence of the Ducks and Corey Perry (10) as a 50-goal scorer and bona fide Hart Trophy (MVP) candidate are among the many late-season surprises and thrills on tap this year. (AP Photos)

    By Stu Hackel

    There are times when a hockey blogger struggles to find something worthwhile to write about. You just run out of ideas. But now, 1,200 games have been played, only 30 remain, and when the regular season dwindles to a precious few days and the races for playoff positions — so hotly contested these last six months — hang on every shift, there is no shortage of storylines. In fact, there can be too many. Today is one of those days.

    The NHL has taken to releasing daily fact sheets on the ultra-competitive nature of this season. One mind-boggling release shows just how wide-open the playoff races are four days shy of the finish line. Wanna know where your team will end up and who it might play in the first round? Fuhgetaboutit. It will go down to the last day.
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  • Published On Apr 07, 2011
  • Torres keeps Headshot Theatre rolling

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    By Stu Hackel

    Headshot Theatre is staying open late this season, maybe all the way into the playoffs, as Raffi Torres of the Canucks clobbered the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle in the video above during Tuesday night’s 2-0 Edmonton victory. The blow earned Torres a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. We’ll learn sometime before Thursday, when the Canucks host the Wild, if Torres will be suspended.

    Looking repeatedly at all three angles on the replay, it’s not clear that Torres actually led with his elbow. In fact, it looks more like contact was made with his shoulder. And if Hockey Ops sees it that way, too, Torres might not get any time off. Or he might, since Eberle’s head was targeted. Or he might not, because he was traveling north-south, which removes the blindside element. Hey, you never know.
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  • Published On Apr 06, 2011
  • The Rangers’ youthful innocence is missing from the Blackhawks

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    The young Rangers are up and coming, but Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has had considerably less support to work with this season and it shows in his team’s play. (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Their seasons on the line, two Original Six teams found themselves in the eighth and final playoff spots in their respective conferences as the week began. The New York Rangers had only a two-point advantage on hard-charging Carolina in the East and needed a win on Monday night at home against Boston. By now, you probably know the Rangers trailed 3-0 before clawing their way back to victory and jumping into seventh. It was a game that had coach John Tortorella praising his team’s desire and fortitude, which he attributed in some measure to its youth and innocence (video).

    The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, on the other hand, are trying to hang on to their one-point advantage over Calgary in the West, and they skate tonight in Montreal. A year ago, the Hawks were a young, fresh club set to embark on the strong run that would culminate in the franchise’s first Cup in 49 years. Now, the rigors of salary cap management and significant injuries have shorn them of their innocence, not to mention the depth that served them so well last spring.

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  • Published On Apr 05, 2011


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