NHL Conference Finals predictions

In my last set of predictions, I correctly predicted the winner of each second round series. I had the Penguins winning in 7, the Bruins in 6, the Blackhawks in 6, and the Kings in 7. That improves my “record” of predicting series outcomes to 10-2 this postseason, which I won’t complain about. As it turns out, the remaining 4 teams in the playoffs are the last 4 teams to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins won it in ’09, the Hawks in ’10, the Bruins in ’11, and the Kings in ’12. If the NHL could have its dream pair of conference finals’ (in terms of TV ratings), it would probably look something like the way it does now.

So with that, here are my conference finals’ predictions.

Western Conference Finals

1-5 Matchup:

56 vs. third_jersey_logo

Season series: Blackhawks 2-1-0 against the Kings.

It took both of these teams seven games to advance to the Western Conference Finals, but they are both more than deserving of being here. The Sharks and Red Wings both played fantastic in the second round, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. The Kings are back in the WCF’s for the second year in a row, and are now looking to advance to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final. Much like last year, Jonathan Quick has become the story of the L.A. Kings. He has played unbelievably, to say the least, and is on his way to another Conn Smythe if the Kings win the Cup. In their series with the Sharks, L.A. failed to win a game on the road, but won all 4 at home. Over the last 2 postseasons, no one has been even close to being as successful on home ice as the Kings. While I wouldn’t label them as a bad road team, they are definitely a different team when not on home ice. Obviously in this series, they will not have the home ice advantage, which may or may not hurt them based on their track record. I said before the playoffs started that it would be interesting to see what type of goal scoring the Kings would get in this postseason. Through two rounds,  their leading point producer, Mike Richards, has only 10 points in 13 games. Jeff Carter is second on the team with just 8 points. To compare, the Blackhawks have 4 guys with at least 9 points, and two with 11. In this series with the Hawks, the Kings need to use their size to their advantage. They are one of the heaviest teams in the league in terms of weight per player, and they have the ability to be one of the best hitting/checking teams in hockey. That style of play has worked well against the Blackhawks all season long, which bodes well for L.A. In the regular season, the Blackhawks ranked second in the league in G/G. This postseason, L.A. ranks first in GA/G, thanks in large part to Jonathan Quick. They will need this trend and the play of Quick to continue in this series.

As for Chicago, it would appear that they have finally “arrived” to the playoffs. Through about the first 9 games or so of this postseason, they were still stuck in regular season mode. As a result, they fell into a 3-1 hole against the Red Wings before turning things around in Game 5. They are currently riding a 3-game winning streak into this series after pulling off one of the best comebacks in franchise postseason history against Detroit. Corey Crawford has been pretty darn good for the Blackhawks this postseason and has been overlooked by many when discussing the Hawks. He single-handedly kept the Blackhawks in almost every game against Detroit. If it wasn’t for their random inability to score goals, they could have won that series in 5 games because of Crawford. He will need to keep that up this round because odds are the Blackhawks aren’t going to be scoring a whole lot on Quick. In Game 5, Joel Quenneville reunited the defensive pairings of Keith-Seabrook, Oduya-Hjalmarsson, and Rozsival-Leddy. Those were the pairings for more than half the regular season and during their 24-game point streak. As a result, the Blackhawks won the last 3 games against Detroit to advance. Keith and Seabrook are pretty safe bets to play well this series, but I believe that the Oduya-Hjalmarsson pairing will be a big key to the Blackhawks’ success. If they play well, the Blackhawks normally win games. Depth will be another big factor for the Hawks. They have arguably the deepest team in hockey, which was a big reason for their win over Detroit. If the top 2 lines for Chicago can be effective offensively (the Toews line was quite against Detroit), then the third and fourth lines are what could put them over the top against L.A. The absolute biggest concern for the Blackhawks in this series is their lack of physicality. The Kings are going to take runs at any Blackhawk they can, especially the stars, and the Hawks will need to respond accordingly. Whether that means successfully battling through it or hitting back, they will need to do something if they want to win. This should be a fantastic series.

-Chicago wins series, 4-3.

Eastern Conference Finals

1-4 Matchup:

2518158277_cf0b185de3 vs. Boston-Bruins-Logo

Season series: Penguins 3-0-0 against the Bruins.

This is the matchup that I really wanted to see in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both of these teams were near the top of the league throughout the whole regular season, and now they will play for a birth to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins needed a dramatic seventh game victory over Toronto to advance to the second round, but only needed 5 games to oust the Rangers. They looked very, very good against New York and seem to be playing their best hockey of the year right now. Tuukka Rask has been good for Boston with a 2.22 GAA and a .928 save percentage, but not great. He gave up some weak goals through the first two rounds, but he cannot afford to do that again against Pittsburgh. The Penguins will get plenty of tough goals as it is, so Boston and Tuukka Rask cannot afford any soft goals-against. Defensively, the Bruins are one of the best teams in hockey. They are very deep on the blue line, especially with Seidenberg and Ference coming back, and their forwards are some of the best defensive forwards in the game. Patrice Bergeron, a Selke Trophy finalist, will need to shut down either the Malkin or Crosby line of Pittsburgh in this series. Offensively, David Krejci leads the league in points this postseason with 17. Nathan Horton currently ranks fifth in points, while Zdeno Chara ranks 13th, and that’s as a defenseman. As a team, they rank second behind Pittsburgh in G/G this postseason. Much like Chicago, one of Boston’s biggest strengths is their depth. Their third and fourth lines will need to produce against Pittsburgh for them to win this series.

The Penguins rolled through Ottawa in the second round without much of a problem. In the second round alone, Pittsburgh scored 22 goals. That’s pretty ridiculous. Malkin, Letang, and Crosby rank second, third, and fourth respectively in points this postseason, which is rather impressive. Offensively, the Penguins need to keep doing what they’ve been doing. There’s not much else to say about that area of their game. Defensively, they could be better. Of the 4 teams remaining in the playoffs, the Penguins rank last in GA/G. Tomas Vokoun, however, has stepped up big time in relief of Marc Andre Fleury. While he hasn’t been perfect, Vokoun has gotten the job done. When playing on a team that scores as many goals as the Penguins, a goalie can afford to not be perfect every game. However, that is no excuse to play bad in this series. One of the biggest strengths for Pittsburgh in these playoffs has been their powerplay. They rank first in PP percentage at 28.3 percent. I would not count on them to score as many power play goals against Boston, which means that their G/G could go down in this series (it will be tough for them to score 22 goals again). In all honesty, I don’t know what more there is to say about the Penguins. They’re playing the best hockey of any team this postseason and are showing no signs of slowing down. Having said that, I don’t think this will be another quick series.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-3.

I have both series’ going 7 games, which is a testament to how good the final four teams are. This should be an epic round, and I can’t wait for it to begin.


Game 7

169140836_slideGame 7, arguably the two best words in professional sports. Tonight, the Blackhawks and Red Wings will conclude their final playoff series as conference opponents in what only seems like a fitting way, Game 7. Many people, myself included, didn’t think that this series would ever reach this point after Detroit took a commanding 3-1 series lead with their Game 4 victory, but here we are.

Let’s take a quick look back at the first 6 games of this series:

Game 1

The Blackhawks dominated Game 1 and won by a final score of 4-1. They forchecked as well as they have all year long and pretty much did whatever they wanted to against the Wings. Whether it was tired legs for Detroit after their series with Anaheim or simply a lack of energy, they looked awful and the Hawks looked phenomenal.

Game 2

It was as though there was a role reversal in this game. The Blackhawks looked like the Red Wings of Game 1, and the Wings looked like the Blackhawks. Detroit dominated much of the game and made the Blackhawks look like they were skating in mud the whole game. The Wings controlled the puck for much of the game and never let the Hawks get anything going. Detroit won 4-1.

Game 3

Back on their home ice, the Wings again were the much better team in Game 3. They controlled most of the first two periods and jumped out to a 2-0 lead heading into the third. After a Patrick Kane breakaway goal, Andrew Shaw scored what many thought was the tying goal, but the referees ruled goalie interference and the goal was taken away. Detroit would score one more time in the third and won the game 3-1.

Game 4

The Blackhawks actually played well in this game. They played with a major sense of urgency and desperation, but it just wasn’t enough. Corey Crawford held the Wings to just 1 goal (they would add an empty netter), but Jimmy Howard shut out the Hawks. This was the first time all season that the Blackhawks had been shutout. The final was 2-0.

Game 5

The Blackhawks knew they had to win or they were done, and that’s just how they played. Surprisingly, they scored 2 power play goals, and one of which was by Jonathan Toews (his first goal of the playoffs). Similar to Game 1, the Blackhawks controlled almost the entire game and won 4-1.

Game 6

The Hawks started off with a strong start in this game and scored another power play goal about 5 minutes into the game. Detroit would answer back with the next two goals, one of which was a very soft goal allowed by Crawford. Then the third period happened. Michal Handzus got an early goal to tie the game in the third, and this propelled the Hawks to a dominating period. Bryan Bickell would score the go-ahead goal just minutes later, and Michael Frolik would score on a penalty shot to give the Hawks a 4-2 lead. Detroit scored late in the period, but that was it. Hawks won 4-3.

And that brings us to tonight’s Game 7. Both teams now have their backs against the wall knowing that it’s win or go home. I would expect the Blackhawks to continue playing with the momentum, but Detroit isn’t going to just lay their sticks down either. It will be interesting to see if Mike Babcock switches up his lines at all tonight, for instance by putting Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the same line.

Here are my keys to a Blackhawks victory in tonight’s game:

  • The Blackhawks second line. Hossa, Handzus, and Bickell all scored a goal in Game 6, and this line has provided a major advantage for the Hawks over the last 2 games. Detroit has yet to find an answer for stopping this line, and if they can’t stop them again tonight, they could be in trouble.
  • Corey Crawford. While Crawford has played pretty well all postseason, he has still given up some soft goals from time to time. I thought for sure that the bad goal he allowed in Game 6 would cost them the series. He needs to eliminate any bad goals from being scored on him tonight and come up with some big saves.
  • Oduya/Hjalmarsson. When this pairing plays well, the Hawks generally win. Now that Quenneville reunited these two as well as Keith and Seabrook, the defense has played a lot better. I am confident that Keith and Seabrook will be big again tonight, but Oduya and Hjalmarsson will be key. If they can shut down the Wings forwards, I like the Blackhawks’ chances.
  • Home ice. I honestly believe that playing on their home ice will be a huge plus for the 169490335_slideHawks. They have played their best games this postseason at home, and in this series in particular. Detroit has looked like a completely different team on the road in this series (despite Game 2). The United Center will be deafening tonight, which the Blackhawks have stated they will feed off of.

I don’t think that tonight will be like Games 1 and 5 in which the Hawks dominated on home ice, but I do believe they will be the better team tonight. Jonathan Toews has been a different player over the last 2 games, and if he steps up in a big way tonight like he did 2 years ago in Game 7 against Vancouver, the Wings will be in trouble.

If you are unsure how to handle a Game 7, you’re not alone. Here’s some tips:

-Watch the game where you feel most comfortable, whether that’s at home, in a bar, or even at the game. Watch it where you aren’t afraid to act like a 4 year old, make loud noises, or voice some profanity.

-If you’re like me, you’ll get so nervous to where you can’t eat for hours before or after the game. Don’t freak out, it’s normal.

-Have something to help you through the game. I like chewing sunflower seeds just to help my nerves. You may choose something else, but do something to help you along.

-DO NOT watch the game with anyone who isn’t a diehard fan. There is nothing worse than watching a big game with someone who wants to talk the whole time or focus on other things.

Puck drops in 5 hours. I hope we all make it through this night with out too much difficulty. Just remember, you’re not the only one who will be freaking out the whole game. All of Chicago and Detroit will be as well.

Go Hawks!

Red Wings put Blackhawks on the brink of elimination

169382078_slideWell, what seemed like a season from a dream has turned into a nightmare for the Blackhawks. The President’s Trophy winners are now just one more loss away from being eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals. Most people were expecting this team to at least make the Stanley Cup Finals, if not win the whole thing. Now, the Hawks could be on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in NHL postseason history.

After running over the Wings in Game 1 of this series, the Blackhawks have lost 3 straight for the first time all season. Also for the first time this season, the Blackhawks were shutout in Game 4 by a score of 2-0. This is not the best time for them to be running into a string of “firsts.” In these last 3 losses to the Red Wings, the Blackhawks have looked tired, frustrated, bad, and even really good at times. Most of all, they haven’t been able to score.

After ending the season as the highest scoring team in the West, the Blackhawks have scored just 2 goals in their last 3 games. Considering it is the playoffs, that is unacceptable. What’s also unacceptable is their power play, or lack there of. The Blackhawks have had 25 power plays this postseason, and they have only scored on 3 of them. In Game 4 against Detroit, the Blackhawks were given three power plays and only managed to get a combined one shot on goal. One of those power plays came with about 5 minutes left in regulation with the Wings leading 1-0, and the Hawks failed to register a shot. Those power play numbers are flat out embarrassing and a disgrace, which leads me to my next topic.

While the Hawks are not yet technically eliminated from the playoffs, they don’t stand a very good chance of advancing past this round. Stan Bowman said at the trade deadline that he felt confident in the “group” (meaning the Blackhawks) and that no big duncan-keithchanges/trades were needed to help their chances in the postseason. I, along with many other Hawks fans, felt that Bowman was entirely wrong and couldn’t be further from the truth. Watching this team during the regular season, it was clear that they needed a true number 2 center and possibly even a bigger, more physical winger or two. So what did Bowman do? He traded for Michal Handzus who was a regular healthy scratch for the San Jose Sharks. His reasoning? Handzus was good at faceoffs.

If you look at the Blackhawks’ biggest weaknesses in this series against Detroit, their inability to win faceoffs might be their most glaring one (aside from the power play). For the playoffs, the Blackhawks have won 48 percent of their draws, which is not good. Michal Handzus, Stan Bowman’s “big” acquisition at the deadline, has won 46 percent of his faceoffs. If he isn’t winning faceoffs, Handzus is a worthless player who can’t skate, has no offensive ability, and refuses to use his 6’5″ frame to his advantage. Basically, he should be benched. My point here is that for the past 3 seasons, Stan Bowman has stated at the trade deadline that he “likes the team the way it is” and that no upgrades via trades are needed. How has that philosophy worked out for you Stan? Take a good look at Pittsburgh, Boston, or even L.A. (all 3 of which are poised to advance to the next round). All three teams addressed their needs at the trade deadline by making bold moves to acquire players such as Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Jaromir Jagr, and Robyn Regehr, and each move has paid off. If the Blackhawks do not advance to the next round, or even the Stanley Cup, then someone needs to really evaluate Bowman and his position within the organization.

Another thing to look for if the Hawks don’t advance is changes to the coaching staff. The Blackhawks’ power play, as I already stated, is pathetic. There is WAY too much talent on this team for their PP to be so bad. While some of the blame obviously belongs to the players, I believe a lot of it should fall on the coaching. Not once have I seen the Blackhawks try using a different power play system to get things rolling. They constantly try skating the puck into the offensive zone where they then have it stripped at the blue line. Can’t Quenneville or Jamie Kompon (their power play coach) look at video of the Penguins, Sharks, or even the team they’re playing right now, the Wings, and see how these other teams are being successful? Maybe they are, but it sure as heck doesn’t appear so. The bottom line is this. Jamie Kompon has not done the job that he was hired by Quenneville to do: make the power play better. Kompon was highly criticized in L.A. the last few seasons for this same reason before he was eventually let go. Still, Quenneville chose to replace Mike Haviland with him, and therefore Quenneville should be questioned as well.

With the way things are going right now, all signs are indicating that the Blackhawks will not advance past this round. If that comes true, then the organization as whole needs to be reevaluated and the proper changes need to be made. Whether it is the players, management, and/or coaching staff, someone is not doing their job. This team is good, but could have been made better. This team also has a ton of talent, but it isn’t all being utilized by the coaching. While I still believe that it is entirely possible for the Hawks to win Game 5 on home ice, I am not too confident that they will win 3 in a row against a very good Detroit team.

If this team doesn’t advance, pay close attention in the following weeks to any changes that will be made.

Blackhawks now in a hole

169140836_slideFor the first time this season, the Blackhawks find themselves facing some major adversity. This is something that they, nor us fans are really used to. After their 24-game point streak to start the season, the Hawks were pretty much assured a playoff spot without much doubt. Not once this year have they had to play a very meaningful game, until now. Sure, they played a 5-game series against the Wild in the first round, but not once did Minnesota actually put the Blackhawks in a hole, or threaten their Stanley Cup hopes.

With their Game 3 loss to Detroit, the Blackhawks are now down 2-1 in their series with the Wings, with Game 4 scheduled for Thursday night. Their loss in Game 3 was definitely a tough one to swallow after Andrew Shaw had a goal taken away from him early in the third period that would have tied the game at 2 apiece. According to the referee who made the call, Andrew Shaw “interfered” with Jimmy Howard and did not allow Howard a fair chance at making the save. Replay after replay of this play showed that there was absolutely no interference on Shaw’s part, and the Blackhawks got blatantly screwed. This call changed the entire complexion of the third period and gave all the momentum back to Detroit. Still, this is no excuse for losing the game, although it didn’t help.

In Game 1, the Blackhawks used their speed to their advantage and basically skated circles around each Red Wing player on the ice. They forchecked as well as they have all year long and had numerous extended offensive zone shifts. To make it simple, the Blackhawks dominated the first game of this series.

Games 2 and 3, however, were quite different. In Game 2, the Wings were the team with livelier legs and more energy, and at times they were skating circles around the Hawks. It looked as though Detroit was playing a Game 7, and the Blackhawks were playing a regular season game. Game 3 was better for the Hawks, but it still took them 2 periods and a 2-goal deficit to really get going. Even then, they just couldn’t get the job done. They eclipsed the 40-shot mark, which is always good, but ran into a hot goalie and determined defense while doing so.

Detroit is forcing the Hawks to play a dump and chase type game, and they have not allowed the Blackhawks to utilize their speed since Game 1. Along with that, the Wings are playing much more physical than the Wild ever did in round 1, and that seems to be bothering the Hawks. Almost every time this year that a team has tried to play a physical game against Chicago, the Blackhawks have lost. They are not equipped to handle such physical pressure. They get thrown off their game and end up playing in what seems like a “scramble-mode.”

The Blackhawks have been most successful in this series when they have been able to run their cycle in the offensive zone and make clean, quick passes. When they can generate their offense from the blue line and have their defensemen be effective with the duncan-keithpuck in the offensive zone, that is when the Blackhawks’ offense is at its best. Against Detroit, this is more of what they are going to need to do from here on out. The Wings are not letting the Hawks get many two on one/three on two rushes. They are forcing the Hawks to chip the puck in behind Jimmy Howard and go retrieve it. This is why it is imperative for them to get their d-men involved along the blue line and help spread the Wings’ defense out to create more space in the passing lanes.

For the first time this year, the Blackhawks are facing a must-win game in Game 4. They cannot afford to go down 3-1 against Detroit. The Hawks need to be smart and disciplined from start to finish next game and beat the Wings between the whistles. Andrew Shaw cannot continue to take penalties after the whistle has blown, and Bryan Bickell cannot let his emotions get the best of him with Dan Cleary. Yes, the Blackhawks PK has been perfect this postseason, but you can’t keep poking the bear by taking bad penalties.

A number of people didn’t take Joel Quenneville or Jonathan Toews too seriously last round when they both said that the Blackhawks need to play with more energy and intensity. See what happens when you take a round off? Now the Hawks are struggling to find that playoff intensity that is needed to win postseason games, and it is costing them.

Expect to see a desperate and determined Blackhawks team in Game 4. If you don’t, then they’ve got a big problem and could be on the golf course next week sometime.

NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals predictions

So as it turns out after last night’s pair of Game 7’s, I went 6-2 in predicting the outcomes of the first round. I’m pretty proud of myself to be honest with you. What a comeback by the Bruins! I’ve never seen anything like that in hockey. The city of Toronto will be in mourning for the next month, that’s for sure.

Alright, the predictions.

1-7 Matchup:

2518158277_cf0b185de3 vs. 2bkf2l3xyxi5p0cavbj8

Season series: Penguins 3-0-0 against Senators.

Next to the Sharks, I think the Senators were by far the most impressive team in the first round. Maybe even more impressive than San Jose, but that’s debatable. Ottawa survived the intensity of their series with the Canadiens and flat out dominated them between fights. Goal scoring was not an issue in that first round for the Sens, as they averaged exactly 4 goals per game (good for second behind Pittsburgh). Everyone was seemingly producing and tallying points for Ottawa. Meanwhile, Craig Anderson played a phenomenal series in net and shut down the Montreal offense. He has been one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL in recent years, and now he is finally starting to get some respect. This guys is for real. For Ottawa to beat Pittsburgh, Anderson is going to need to be great again. The Penguins have arguably the league’s most potent offense, and they rely on that offense to win them games. If the Senators can play solid defense and get good goaltending, we might have ourselves an upset.

As for the Penguins, they have to be a little concerned after the way they performed against the Islanders in the first round. Sure, they won the series without going to a 7th game, but a lot of people feel that series should have been over with a lot sooner. I’d say that in 3 or maybe even 4 of those games against the Islanders, New York dominated the play. The fact that Pittsburgh still came away with a victory in that series is a credit to their depth and talent. However, that series also exposed some weaknesses of the Penguins. Marc Andre Fleury is no longer their starting goalie after yet another bad first round performance. Thomas Vokoun is their guy in goal now, and they’ll need him to be solid from here on out. Over his career, Vokoun has been a pretty streaky goalie, so we’ll just have to see which side of him shows up in this series. Also, Pittsburgh’s defense is very beatable. The Islanders proved this. For Pittsburgh to win this series, their blue liners are going to need to be a lot better than they were in round one. Ottawa has one of the hottest offenses right now, and that could be an issue for Pittsburgh’s defense.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-3.

4-6 Matchup:

Boston-Bruins-Logo vs. 144


Season series: Rangers 2-1-0 against Bruins.

It took 7 games for both of these teams to advance to the second round, and thankfully for us NHL fans, we have our second series consisting of two Original 6 teams (the other being Chicago-Detroit). Incredibly, this is the first postseason meeting between these two teams since the mid ’70’s. In their first round series with Washington, New York got great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, and timely scoring from a number of players. Derick Brassard (acquired from Columbus at the deadline) has been huge for New York and was a key component to their first round victory. Other than him, however, no Rangers forwards were really that great in the first round. They ranked 10th in goals per game after round one, and that needs to improve. They will be going against a much better defense in the Boston Bruins in the second round. To me, the biggest question with New York is their scoring. They have the weapons to be a good offensive team, but they just haven’t produced like one all year long. They absolutely have to be better against Boston. One thing going for the Rangers, however, is the fact that they have Henrik Lundqvist on their side. He can single-handedly win any series.

The Bruins are lucky to still be alive right now. After trailing 4-1 midway through the third period of their Game 7 against Toronto, it looked for sure like the Leafs would pull of the upset. However, Boston never gave up and willed their way back into the game, scoring 2 goals with the goalie pulled in the final minute and a half of regulation time to tie it. Patrice Bergeron scored the eventual game winner in overtime to send the TD Garden into a frenzy. Now, that they’re in the second round, the Bruins need to wake up and play their game. They were ugly, slow, and downright sloppy at times against Toronto. That can’ happen anymore. Tuukka Rask played alright in the first round, but we all know he can be better. He’ll need to be. Offensively, Boston ranked 5th in goals per game in the first round, which isn’t bad. On the flip side, they ranked 9th in goals against. That needs to be better. All year long, the Bruins have prided themselves on their defense and goaltending. Those two areas need to improve for them to advance any further in these playoffs. One advantage that they have over New York is experience. Boston is just 2 years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and they still have a number of players from that team on their roster. Those guys that have won the Cup need to step up and lead the team.

-Boston wins series, 4-2.

NHL Western Conference Semifinals predictions

Hard to believe that the first round is already over, at least in the West. There are two Game 7’s tonight in the East between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and the Rangers and Capitals. As it turns out, I did pretty well with my predictions for the first round of the series’ that have ended. In the West, I said that the Blackhawks would beat the Wild in 5 games, and they did. I had the Kings beating St. Louis in 6, and they did that as well. I thought Ottawa would win their series in 6 games, but they won it in 5 instead. The Islanders gave the Penguins a run for their money, but Pittsburgh won that one in 6 games, while I thought they’d win it in 5. The Sharks-Canucks series was pretty shocking to everyone I think. I had Vancouver in 7. As for the Duck-Wings series, I said the Ducks would win that in 6. So overall, I went 4 and 2 in predicting the series’ that are finished.

Now, let’s get to our second round predictions.

1-7 Matchup:

56 vs. Detroit-Red-Wings-Logo

Season series: Blackhawks 4-0-0 against Red Wings.

I think it’s pretty fitting for these two rivals to have one last playoff series against each other before the Wings move to the Eastern Conference. Most people had Anaheim knocking Detroit out in the first round, but the Wings were able to pull off the upset. I think it’s safe to say that Detroit is playing their best hockey of the season right now, and Jimmy Howard is at the top of his game. The top guys of the Wings (Zetterberg and Datsyuk) really stepped up in the first round and were a big reason as to why the upset was made. While Jimmy Howard is certainly a force between the pipes, the Wings’ defense is what gives me doubts about this team. There isn’t a really great player on their blue line, and they don’t have a whole lot of depth there either. The defense and Jimmy Howard are really going to need to be outstanding in this series for the Wings to have a chance.

The Blackhawks are coming off of a pretty interesting first round victory over the Minnesota Wild. While the Hawks did win that series in just 5 games, the 8th seeded Wild gave the Blackhawks some problems. They clogged the neutral zone, limited the passing lanes, and forced the Hawks to play a dump-and-chase type of game. For a lot of that series, the Blackhawks looked slow and not in “playoff-mode.” Maybe they were playing down to the level of their competition, or maybe they just weren’t really revved up for that series. Whatever the case was, the Blackhawks need to step up their game and take it to a new level against the Wings. Corey Crawford, who was great in the first round, will need to continue his strong play. Dave Bolland will be back for the Hawks centering the third line, which is a good addition to the lineup. I think the speed and talent of the Blackhawks’ forwards will overwhelm the Wings’ blue liners in this series, and that will end up being the difference.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

5-6 Matchup:

third_jersey_logo vs. sharks_new

Season series: Kings 2-1-1 against Sharks.

I don’t think any team in the league was more impressive in the first round than the San Jose Sharks. They absolutely dominated their series against the 3rd seeded Canucks and were the first team to advance to the second round after the sweep. Antti Niemi was great in the first round, just like all year, and the Sharks’ offense was clicking on all cylinders. Defensively, the Sharks were pretty impressive as well. Dan Boyle played a great series, and the decision to put Brent Burns at a forward position proved to be a key one. The Sharks’ power play came up big all series long against Vancouver, and they’re going to need that to continue. Scoring 5 on 5 against L.A. and Jonathan Quick won’t be easy. One thing that concerns me about San Jose is the fact that they played so well in the first round. This may sound odd, but I worry that the Sharks may have played the best series that they could have, and now they can only go down hill from here on out. I don’t think that they can continue playing the way they did in round one on a consistent basis moving forward. We’ll see…

As for the Kings, they bounced back rather nicely after losing the first two games in the first round against the Blues. After those two losses, L.A. won 4 straight to win that series and eliminate St. Louis for the second year in a row. Jonathan Quick was outstanding over the final 4 games in the first round, and it appears that he may now be back to his Conn Smythe mode. If so, that’s a bad sign for San Jose. The Kings’ offense was not bad in the first round, but they did have some off-nights. This was their problem during last year’s regular season, but they turned things around for their Stanley Cup run. While I don’t think that their offense will be as inconsistent as it was during the 2011-2012 season, I am not sure that they are consistent enough to win the Cup this year. However, defense and goaltending win Stanley Cups in this league, and L.A. has both. This is a team that I can see making it to the Conference Finals and maybe even the Cup, but that’s about it. This should be a good series nonetheless.

-L.A. wins series, 4-3.

Check back in the next day for my Eastern Conference predictions.


NBA officiating is a joke

After watching as much NBA basketball as I do, I am really becomming disgusted with the way games are being officiated these days. Tonight’s Game 3 between the Bulls and Heat really put me over the top regarding this topic. It’s as though the referees are trying to make themselves a part of the games nowadays instead of making he proper calls.

For examples of what I am talking about, watch the replay of Game 3 between the Bulls and Heat. Marco Bellinelli was called for a defensive foul on Lebron James when he literally did nothing. James was the one who practically pushed Marco to the floor, yet because his name is Lebron James, he gets the call to go in his favor.

Another absolutely horrible call came towards the end of the game when Joakim Noah and Chris Bosh both went up for a rebound (Noah won the rebound). Prior to jumping, yes Noah had his hand on Bosh’s back (like every other NBA rebounder), but it wasn’t a foul! However, the refs blew the whistle and called a foul on Noah, which sent Bosh to the line for two game-changing free throws.

If you haven’t noticed, almost any time big named player has a shot blocked, a foul is called. Pay attention to this he next time you watch a game.

There are plenty of other examples that I could mention, including James’ flop when pushed by Mohammed, but I won’t get into them. My point is that NBA referees are deciding the outcomes of games, not the players, and it makes me sick. Just because one guy is a “superstar” and the other guy isn’t doesn’t mean that the “star” should automatically get the call. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about it unless the league takes action, which they won’t.

It has honestly gotten to the point where I no longer want to watch the NBA. I’m sure I’m not the only one who this feels this way. It’s sad that things have even gotten to his point, and there appears to be no changes forthcoming.

Blackhawks up 3-1; Great playoffs so far

imageWith last night’s 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks now have a 3-1 lead in their first round series and will look to eliminate the Wild on Thursday night. For really the first time in this postseason, the Blackhawks actually played a “playoffs style” of hockey in Game 4, and it payed off. Joel Quenneville said after their Game 3 loss that he wanted to see a more “intense” team, while Jonathan Toews said he wanted to see the Hawks actually play like they were in the playoffs.

For the first three games of this series, it looked as though the Blackhawks were still playing like it was the regular season. They weren’t being physical, they weren’t playing with desperation or intensity, and they flat out weren’t playing playoff hockey. Minnesota, on the other hand, was playing playoff hockey. Especially in Game 3, they were hitting anyone in a white jersey without regrets, scoring ugly goals, and making life miserable for the Blackhawks.

In Game 4, the Blackhawks finally changed their style of play and played a playoff-type game. They still weren’t very physical, but they played a gritty hockey game and quit trying to be so “cute” with the puck. In the playoffs, you need to have a lot of traffic in front of the net and get a lot of shots on goal. You can’t afford to try and make highlight reel plays that often don’t even result in a shot on goal. I thought that the Blackhawks did a better job of getting away from that “highlight reel” stuff last night and just got pucks to the net instead, which was good.

While I was more pleased with the Hawks’ offense last night than I was in games 1 or 3, I am still very disappointed in their unwillingness to get physical. I can’t even begin to think of the number of times someone on the Hawks has had a chance to hit a Wild player into the glass, but instead pulled up short and tried to poke check imagethe puck away instead. In Game 1, Andrew Shaw put a big hit on Torrey Mitchell (who had the puck) behind the Wild net, which separated Mitchell from the puck. This led to a turnover, and Bryan Bickell scored the game winning goal on the Hawks’ ensuing possession. In Game 4, Andrew Shaw again put a big hit on Adam Falk in behind the Wild net, separated him from the puck, and Bryan Bickell scored after picking up that loose puck created by Shaw’s hit. My point is that the few times that the Hawks have decided to get physical and create turnovers off of hits along the boards, good things have happened. The Wild have been doing a lot more of this than the Blackhawks, and they have generated a ton of scoring chances by doing so. This is the playoffs, and the Hawks are refusing to get physical. If they want any chance of winning another series, they’ve got to play tougher.

Defensively, the Blackhawks’ d-men have been outstanding in this series. Game 4 was probably the best defensive game that they have played in the this series, and it led to a shutout. Not many teams have all 6 defensemen playing as well as they are for the Hawks.

Corey Crawford has looked really good so far in the first round. He has come up with a number of big saves to keep the Hawks in games, and in Game 4 recorded his second career postseason shutout (the first being in Game 5 against the Canucks in 2011).

Moving forward, the Blackhawks would obviously like to finish off the Wild in Game 5 back at the United Center. To do so, they’ll need to play with speed, physicality, and more offensive zone-time. They are much more talented than Minnesota, and they need to show that in Game 5. Often the toughest game of a series is the one in which you can eliminate your opponent. I’d expect the Wild to play their best game of the series, and the Hawks need to counter their desperation.


Who would have thought that San Jose would sweep Vancouver? I had the Canucks winning in 7 games. I also said that the team with the better power play would win that series, and as it turns out, San Jose had the much better PP. Alain Vigneault has probably coached his last game behind the Canucks’ bench.

The Detroit-Anaheim series has turned into a great one. The Wings took Game 4 in overtime to tie the series at 2 apiece heading back to California. I still think the Ducks will finish this one off in 6, however.

After dropping the first 2 games in St. Louis, the defending champs won both games back in L.A. and head back to the Gateway to the West looking to make it a third straight victory. Jonathan Quick has bounced back nicely after a shaky first couple of outings in this series. I will stick with my original prediction of the Kings winning in 6 games.

Out East, the Penguins find themselves tied 2-2 with the 8th seeded Islanders heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. New York has looked very good at times in this series, but also pretty weak at others. Like I said in my predictions before the first round started, Marc Andre Fleury could be the weakness of the Pens. He might not even get the start in Game 5 after the way he’s played. The winner of Game 5 will win that series.

Talk about a rivalry that’s started in the playoffs…. Montreal and Ottawa are engaged in what might be the most physical, dirtiest playoff series in the last decade. That being said, Ottawa took Game 4 in overtime and now leads that series 3-1. I predicted the Sens in 6, and I’m sticking to it.

After winning the first 2 in Washington, the Capitals dropped Game 3 in New York. The Rangers will look to tie that series up tonight at MSG. Henrik Lundqvist will be the key to Game 4 in my opinion. I predicted the Rangers in 7. I’ll still say this goes to 7 games, but there might be a different winner.

Boston has looked pretty good through the first 3 games against Toronto. They regained home-ice advantage with their win in Game 3, and they’ll look to go up 3-1 tonight. I said Boston in 5, and it looks like that could be the case.

Blackhawks take Game 1 in OT

167823962_slideIt wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win. The Blackhawks and Wild needed overtime to decide the outcome of Game 1, and Bryan Bickell ended up scoring the big goal to win it for the Hawks by a score of 2-1. Many people, myself included, predicted that this would end up being a quick series (and it still may be), but I did not expect the Blackhawks to look so lethargic in Game 1. At times, it looked like they were skating in mud.

Maybe it was a case of the Blackhawks shaking off some rust, or maybe it was them trying to play through some playoff jitters. Whatever the case may have been, they simply did not look good for the first 2 periods of last night’s game. Their passes were off the mark, they were only getting one shot per possession, and they rarely sustained any pressure on the Minnesota defense. It was one of the sloppiest games that the Hawks have played all year.

Corey Crawford did not help anyone feel comfortable about last night’s game when he allowed a very soft goal to Cal Clutterbuck early in the first period. It was the exact type of soft goal that we got too used to seeing in last year’s playoffs. To Corey’s credit, however, he bounced back and played a great game from then on and did not allow another goal.

Marian Hossa scored on the powerplay in the second period to tie the game at 1 apiece after a beautiful feed from Patrick Kane. This had to be big for the Blackhawks’ confidence to get a powerplay goal right off the bat in the playoffs. After all, it’s not a secret that their powerplay was rather bad this season.

Late in overtime, an unbelievable bank-pass high off the glass from Johnny Oduya to Viktor  Stalberg created a 2-on-1 between Stalberg and Bickell. Stalberg retrieved the pass, pulled 167823973_slideup, and hit Bickell with a perfect pass to give him a 10-foot breakaway on Josh Harding. Bickell was able to slide the puck through Harding’s five hole to win the game and send the U.C. into a frenzy.

Many analysts on the NHL Network brought up the fact that the depth of the Blackhawks is what will win them series’ in the postseason. That is exactly how they won Game 1, with the third line getting the OT goal.

So, what to take away from Game 1:

  • Josh Harding played very well in Niklas Backstrom’s absence after not starting a game since Jan. 30. Could he be the Wild’s starter the rest of the way?
  • Ryan Suter played 41 minutes. He isn’t going to have anything left in the tank by Game 3 if that trend continues, and he’s the Wild’s only hope on the blue line.
  • Corey Crawford looked very good and came up with some huge saves late in the game and overtime.
  • This may have been the best effort that the Wild could have possibly given, yet they still couldn’t come away with a victory.
  • If you’re the Blackhawks, you have to feel confident knowing that you didn’t play well, the Wild did play well, and you still won.

I would expect to see a much different Blackhawks team come Game 2 on Friday night. The Wild are going to need to duplicate the way they played in Game 1, or else they’re going to have big problem on their hands.