Archive for May, 2012

Keys to the Eastern Championship

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Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been playing with a suspected bad back, must continue to be productive against New York’s tough defense and stellar goaltending. (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

They’re not good neighbors, as we saw a few times this season, but that can make for great hockey when the Devils and Rangers hook up. Yes, there will be echoes of 1994, when New York won the Eastern Conference championship in the second overtime period of Game 7, but that was long ago. With the exception of Marty Brodeur, who is still in goal for the Devs, almost everything and everyone has changed, including the way each team plays: The Rangers are now the more defensive oriented club and the Devils are the team that might be stronger offensively. But both play a strong all-around game and this series will be a treat.

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  • Published On May 14, 2012
  • Keys to the Western Championship

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    The Coyotes must do a better job of protecting goaltender Mike Smith through all three periods as the games will be close and the Kings have the firepower to strike late. ( Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    We move to the playoffs’ third round on Sunday, and anyone who tells you they predicted before the postseason began that the Coyotes and Kings would meet for a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final should not be trusted. But here they are, two unlikely foes that have both peaked at the right time, knocked off favored opponents, gotten timely scoring, and thrived on defense and stellar goaltending. Any team that combines those elements belongs in a conference championship series.

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  • Published On May 11, 2012
  • Shotblocking trend draws fire

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    Hurts so good: Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) takes one for his team by blocking a shot. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Is shotblocking ruining hockey? Judging by what some commentators are saying, you’d think so. They claim it has dampened the great skill of the game’s best players and diminished the entertainment factor of the playoffs. You’d also think it’s the main ingredient in teams winning or losing.

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  • Published On May 10, 2012
  • Overconfidence is Flyers’ downfall

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    High-priced goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is the obvious scapegoat, but the Flyers’ demise was a true team effort. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    There’s no brotherly love in Philadelphia today. All three of the city’s major sports teams dropped games on Tuesday night: the Phillies blowing a 4-0 lead to the Mets, the 76ers failing to clinch their series against Chicago, and the Flyers being eliminated by the Devils. That last one is, as hosts Mike and Ike said on their WIP Radio midday show, “the deepest wound of all.”

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  • Published On May 09, 2012
  • ‘Muddy’ Coyotes and their sale move on

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    After less than a thousand showed up at a “Save the Coyotes” rally in 2009, fans are now flocking to Jobing.com Arena to witness the team’s stirring but unlikely playoff run. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It was a day of big possibilities in Glendale, and unless the Coyotes go on to win the Stanley Cup, May 7 could go down as the biggest date in the franchise’s NHL history, both in Arizona and Manitoba. Not only is it the day that this team reached the conference championship round for the first time, but there were some strong signs that, after years of ownership uncertainty — three of those years under the caretaker stewardship of the league itself — some stability might be ahead.

    Just like the Coyotes’ chances of going all the way, the team’s sale to Greg Jamison’s group is no sure thing. Regardless, it was momentous evening for hockey in Arizona.

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  • Published On May 08, 2012
  • Giroux’s hit on Zubrus gives Shanahan second chance to get ruling right

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    Though Dainius Zubrus of the Devils ultimately wasn’t injured, the headshot he received from Claude Giroux (not pictured) was egregious enough to merit a disciplinary hearing. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Will the NHL show courage and suspend Claude Giroux for Game 5 of the Flyers’ series against the Devils? A disciplinary hearing took place on Monday morning and Giroux certainly deserves a ban for targeting the head of the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus late in the second period of Sunday’s Game 4, which New Jersey won, 4-2, to push Philadelphia to the brink of elimination. But to remove Philly’s best player from the lineup in a potential elimination game would be a bold a move for Brendan Shanahan and the league’s Department of Player Safety. It would, however, show that they’ve learned from an earlier mistake.

    UPDATED: The NHL has suspended Giroux for one game. Here is the league’s statement and Shanahan’s video explanation.

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  • Published On May 07, 2012
  • Playoff pressure on goaltenders is more intense than ever

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    Brian Elliott’s sudden reversal of form is the last thing the Blues need in their 0-3 hole against the Kings. (Harry How/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s a cruel world in which goalies live. The numbers may tell us they haven’t been this good since the days of Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, Tiny Thompson and Frank Brimsek but — then as now — gaudy regular season stats are meaningless when the playoffs roll around. The Blues’ Brian Elliott may have posted eye-popping numbers between October and the first round, like a 1.56 goals-against average and .940 save percentage, but in his last three games against the Kings, his  performance has been abysmal and will likely leave a lasting impression.

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  • Published On May 04, 2012
  • Can Blues rise against rugged Kings?

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    The Blues hope to get defenseman Alex Pietrangelo back from his injuries, but it will take a team-wide effort to get St. Louis out of its surprising funk vs. the Kings. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    What a curious little theme we’ve had going recently in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — addition by subtraction. The Devils were forced to play without sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and came up with a fine road performance in beating the Flyers 4-1 on Tuesday. The Capitals cut into Alex Ovechkin’s ice time in Monday’s Game 2 and beat the Rangers 3-2 (although he was certainly out there a lot in Game 3′s near-doubleheader loss to New York). The Predators, playing poorly and down 2-0 in games to the Coyotes, suspended their two top scorers for Wednesday’s Game 3 at home and pulled off one of their trademark textbook  victories, a 2-0 Pekka Rinne shutout.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for the Blues earlier this week. They were without their best defenseman — maybe their best player — in Alex Pietrangelo for Game 2 at home against the Kings, and rather than respond positively to the adversity, they played their worst period in memory, falling behind 4-0, never recovering, and ultimately losing 5-2. Now, they must skate in Los Angeles for the next pair, and the upstart Kings have a chance to put them in the sleeperhold.

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  • Published On May 03, 2012
  • Ovie-Hunter truce a ticking bomb?

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    Frankly, Capitals coach Dale Hunter doesn’t give a damn what Alexander Ovechkin thinks about his diminished playing time during this postseason tournament. (Chuck Myers/MCT via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    As the Rangers and Capitals continue their second round playoff series, one player has been and will continue to be the focus of attention — Alex Ovechkin. A few years ago, that might have been because he was the indisputable motor driving the Capitals, but now it’s because he is not.

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  • Published On May 02, 2012
  • Radulov, Kostitsyn hurt Predators and themselves by getting suspended

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    The Predators are mum, but Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov will be sitting out Game 3 vs. the Coyotes for allegedly violating their team’s curfew before Game 2 in Arizona. (Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    As we sit here on Tuesday, few could have guessed that the Nashville Predators would be trailing in their second round series 0-2 and facing the danger of early elimination at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes. The Preds are, after all, a team known for stellar defense and attention to detail, attributes that invariably lead to postseason success.

    But that requires everyone adhering to a team concept, and when word came down late Tuesday morning that the Preds were suspending both Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn — probably their two most skilled forwards — for Game 3 for violating team rules, one draws the unmistakable conclusion that not everyone is buying in.

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  • Published On May 01, 2012


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