Archive for April, 2012

Mayhem reigns in Stanley Cup playoffs

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By Stu Hackel

After watching too much go too far during the last five days, I think it should be obvious to anyone who has any sense of proportion that the Stanley Cup playoffs are out of control. There have been head-rammings, sucker punches, maulings and ambushes, all of which is apart from the more commonplace vendettas, elbows, crosschecks, spearing, charging, knee-to-knee shots and line brawls that we’ve come to expect each spring.

This isn’t just hard hockey. It is, as one of the sport’s prominent personages called it during the first phone call I got on Monday morning, “a disgrace.”

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  • Published On Apr 16, 2012
  • First thoughts on the first round

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    Often a scapegoat, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo played well but was victimized by his teammates’ desultory effort in the Game 1 loss to the keep-it-simple Kings. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    In the dressing room at our regular Tuesday night skate, the guys were talking about the playoffs and which teams might do what, and it seemed to me that a case could be made for each of the 16 clubs winning their opening round series. That’s how even things looked going into the tournament. Judging from the first seven games, it sure does look that even, with five of the seven being one-goal decisions, another a de facto one-goal game with an empty-netter. Four of the seven went to overtime.

    It’s ridiculously early to be thinking about this but, just as a point of reference, the record for most one-goal Stanley Cup playoff games in year was set in 2007, when 51 of 81 games were decided by a single goal. That’s followed by the 48 one-goal games out of 89 games last spring, the 46 out of 86 in 2001 and the 46 out of 83 in 2006.

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  • Published On Apr 13, 2012
  • Weber’s attack deserved suspension

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    Shea Weber’s value to the Predators enabled him to escape serious punishment for his reckless act in Game 1 vs. the Red Wings. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Earlier this week, I spoke with a friend who is employed in hockey and heard him grouse about some of the pre-playoff stories he’d read in the media. He singled out Michael Farber’s essay on this site along with some others, and complained that they shifted the focus from the purely competitive part of the game, the Xs and Os, to the specter of how a concussion or two might impact the tournament.

    “The Concussion Lottery, 2012,” Comrade Farber called it as he pondered the vast uncertainty and the timing of when and for how long marquee players might be lost to their clubs due to brain trauma. A team could be lucky like the Penguins and get stars such as Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang back for the playoffs, or unlucky like the Flyers and lose Chris Pronger for the duration. It’s a crapshoot, as so much of the playoffs can be.

    My friend, who is a very bright man, wanted to make the point that we pukes in the media just love to take the focus off the game and smash the NHL at every opportunity.

    Well, after watching Shea Weber use Henrik Zetterberg’s head to test the firmness of Nashville’s plexiglass in Game 1 of their playoff series last night, hearing a number of commenters justify and excuse this deranged attack, and then learning that Weber was only being fined $2,500, it occurred to me that if the NHL was truly serious about punishing unhinged behavior like Weber’s, perhaps we pukes wouldn’t be so rude as to actually write and talk about it.

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  • Published On Apr 12, 2012
  • First Round Keys: Western Conference

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    If fan whipping boy Roberto Luongo plays poorly against the offensively-challenged Kings, calls for backup netminder Cory Schneider will ring from the rafters in Vancouver. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    If you’re looking for Stanley Cup predictions, you’ve come to the wrong place. As we’ve previously written, predictions are a waste of time. However, we’re willing to take some stabs at what is each playoff team about. What do they have to do to win? What must they avoid to prevent things from going south?

    So here are the keys to the first round match-ups in the Western Conference.  You can find the Eastern Conference here.

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1) vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS (8)

    Canucks – Who they are and how they win: They shook off a late season malaise to finish 8-1-1 in their last 10 — much of the time without Daniel Sedin – while playing dominant hockey down the stretch and capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. A superskilled team with a some bite, Vancouver has the best offense in the conference and, potentially, a strong power play. The Canucks have  refined their roster this season a bit, adding depth with a solid offensive performer in David Booth, a proven shutdown center in Sami Pahlsson, and some menace in Zack Kassian. The defense corps excels at moving the puck forward, and the only question in goal is which guy, Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, will finish the series.

    What could go wrong: If Luongo plays poorly, Schneider remains an unknown when it comes to carrying a team in the playoffs. The power play struggled in the second half and if Daniel Sedin’s concussion symptoms keep him sidelined for an extended period (he was ruled out for Game 1), that probably won’t help its improvement.  Even if Sedin returns, the Canucks, who haven’t always gotten secondary scoring,  will need it if the defensively proficient Kings can shut down their top line. And superior physicality could allow the Kings to win more battles along the boards, in the corners and in the slot. L.A.’s stiffling defense has the potential to frustrate the Canucks into taking penalties. If things go wrong and the Vancouver fan base turns on the team, that could be a significant negative. And Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick is good enough to steal this series.

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  • Published On Apr 11, 2012
  • First round keys: Eastern Conference

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    Of concern: Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist showed signs of wearing down as the regular season wore on. (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    If you’re looking for Stanley Cup predictions, you’ve come to the wrong place. As we’ve previously written, predictions are a waste of time. However, we’re willing to take some stabs at what is each playoff team about. What do they have to do to win? What must they avoid to prevent things from going south?

    So here are the keys to the first round match-ups in the Eastern Conference. You can find the keys to the Western Conference here.

    NEW YORK RANGERS (1) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS (8)

    Rangers - Who they are and how they win:  This team is all about character and sacrifice, starting with captain Ryan Callahan. The Rangers play with unmatched passion, and their shot-blocking and energy are exceptional. They don’t lose a lot of races for the puck and they take hits to make plays. They roll four lines and have better team speed than some think, especially up front, which gives them a dangerous quick-strike offense. Some  people believe New York is a one-line team, but it had decent secondary scoring this season and, because coach John Tortorella has juggled lines all year, he can probably correct any imbalance. Solid defensively, the Rangers keep opponents to the outside and have world-class goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist.

    What could go wrong: . The Rangers’ shot-blocking and physical sacrifice could lead to injuries and a depleted lineup. Lundqvist was not at his best in the late going and that would be problematic if it continues in the postseason. They also don’t have a great power play and taking advantage of those opportunities in the postseason is crucial. The Rangers could get frustrated if their power play falters. The worst thing they could do is be overconfident or take Ottawa too lightly. The Senators are just as fast a team and they have played well against New York all season.

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  • Published On Apr 10, 2012
  • What’s next for the season’s also-rans

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    Both the Stars and Flames are in for some serious evaluation — in Dallas, it starts in the front office; in Calgary with a veteran roster that may require turning iconic captain Jarome Iginla into trade bait. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    While everyone is talking playoff matchups and predicting the number of stitches that doctors will need to close the combined wounds of the Penguins and Flyers, there are 14 other clubs who are packing up for the summer and planning for next season. Here’s a roundup of the NHL’s also-rans and what might be in store for them during the offseason. We’ll start at the bottom of the league and work our way up.

    Columbus – Yes, the Blue Jackets won seven of their last 11 games and ownership continues to back the hockey department, but the team’s dreadful start when so much was expected, its last place finish, the coaching change, the fan protest, and the Rick Nash mess all made for a dreadful season. The future of interim coach Todd Richards is uncertain, but the huge question mark is Nash’s fate. If he is traded — which is widely expected — what will embattled GM Scott Howson get in return? Will it be enough to reverse this club’s direction and win back the many discontented fans? Michael Arace of The Columbus Dispatch summed it all up over the weekend.

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  • Published On Apr 09, 2012
  • Smith is Coyotes’ saving grace

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    Mike Smith has given Coyotes fans something to cheer about down to the regular season’s final days. (Chris Pondy/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Most of the stories that the world outside of Arizona has read about the Phoenix Coyotes during the past few years have been about the viability of the franchise in Glendale, a location that was doomed from the start. It’s a sad tale about an orphaned hockey club, and it’s been made even sadder by the fact that the franchise’s tenuous situation has obscured what the team has done on the ice.

    That was, to some extent, the reasoning that motivated the NHL Broadcasters Association to select Coyotes coach Dave Tippett as the winner of the 2010 Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year, a deserved honor considering how he kept his players focused and competitive amidst the constant distraction and uncertainty of the club’s off-ice business. For that, Tippett deserves the award every year.

    Tippett has done another good job this season, and the Coyotes — who look more in danger of departing Arizona than ever — clinched a playoff berth Thursday when the Dallas Stars dropped their game in Nashville.  The coach is not the only reason the Coyotes once again found their way to the postseason. GM Don Maloney has done great work with a limited budget. Ray Whitney, who is a mere 39 years old (he’ll be 40 in a month), has had a truly remarkable campaign, his 51 assists ranking sixth in the league. His 75 points rank 14th in the scoring race.

    But even Whitney’s fine play can’t overshadow what Mike Smith has done in goal.

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  • Published On Apr 05, 2012
  • Mad Mike Milbury’s act is obsolete

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    Mad Mike Milbury often slings sexist cliches like “hit ‘em with your purse.” (Photo by Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    At some point, Mike Milbury is going to have to come to terms with the 21st Century. His future employment as a hockey opinionist on television may depend on it, but the contemporary world is obviously not one in which he is comfortable or happy.

    For a few years, since he left the employ of Charles Wang and the Islanders — we won’t bother rehashing his many questionable moves as Isles GM other than to say they were how he picked up, and even embraced, his nickname “Mad Mike” — Milbury has done triple duty as a studio voice on Hockey Night in Canada, NESN and NBC/Versus/NBC Sports Network. It’s a passionate voice, that’s for sure, and hockey is a passionate game. On the surface, it seems like a good match.

    Milbury’s problem is that his passions too often go unchecked. He clearly has trouble controlling himself when the camera is on and the mic is live, and he says things that reveal thoughts that really don’t do his image much good. He may not care about that, but he’s also a spokesman for the networks who employ him and the sport he’s worked in for pretty much his entire career. In those capacities, he is not exactly a shining representative.

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  • Published On Apr 04, 2012
  • Down the stretch they come…

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    The Sharks-Kings season-ending home-and-home could have a big impact on the West’s playoff field. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how the Eastern and Western Conference playoff races were shaping up for the top and bottom qualifiers. Not surprisingly, the races for postseason positioning appear as though they may not be settled until Saturday, the final day of the regular schedule, setting up the possibility of some real drama before the even bigger drama of the postseason gets underway next Wednesday.

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  • Published On Apr 03, 2012
  • Playoffs ’12: The West — Who’s set in net?

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    It’s possible that the Predators’ impeccable Pekka Rinne may be wearing down from his heavy workload. (Scott Kane/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s the oldest adage in the game: You win in the playoffs with great goaltending. But sometimes you win with only good or just average goaltending (as we pointed out a year ago when we looked at how the postseason clubs were fixed at the position on the eve of the annual tournament), but no one can deny how much Tim Thomas meant to the Bruins in their march to the Stanley Cup last season. His winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP marked the 15th time that a goalie has been so honored since the trophy was first presented in 1965.

    Suffice to say, it’s hard to go anywhere in the spring if you have a leaky guy standing — or falling — in the crease, so with the playoffs only nine days away, here’s how the each Western Conference clubs goaltending shapes up. Click here for our Eastern breakdown.

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  • Published On Apr 02, 2012


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