Blackhawks, Central Division update

15-_DSC2491-toresizeTonight the Blackhawks host the Blues in what is hands down the single biggest game of the season, so far. The Blackhawks currently sit third in the Central Division with 102 points, while the Blues are in second with 103. The first place Predators, meanwhile, have played one more game (79) than both the Hawks and Blues, but only hold a one point lead over St. Louis in the standings. Needless to say, things have become pretty crammed in this division, which makes tonight’s game between the Hawks and Blues as large as it is. If the Blackhawks win in regulation, they will own sole possession of second place in the Central. If they win in overtime or a shootout, all three teams atop the division will be tied with 104 points through the same amount of games.

I would expect tonight’s matchup at the United Center to be as close to a playoff atmosphere as a game can get without it actually being the playoffs. Both Chicago and St. Louis understand how important and crucial it can be to end up with home ice advantage in the playoffs, especially if the two teams end up playing each other in the first round. At the same time, both teams are also aiming for first in the division. With Nashville not playing their best hockey lately, it has allowed both the Hawks and Blues to realistically set their sights on winning the Central. So there are two pretty big things partially at stake tonight. I say partially because the Hawks and Blues meet again on Thursday, with that game being in St. Louis.

While winning the division seems like it should be the obvious desire for each team in the Central, it may not be. Here’s why:

With the Ducks most likely finishing as the top team in the West, that means the Central Division winner will get the number one wild card team. That team just happens to be the red hot Minnesota Wild, who look like they have that position locked up. The Wild have been arguably the NHL’s best team since they signed Devan Dubnyk a couple of months back, and I can guarantee you that no one wants them as a first round opponent.

Let’s say that hypothetically the Ducks slip up here in the last week of the season and the Central Division winner ends up as the top team in the West. They would then get the number two wild card team. If the season ended today, that team would be the defending champion L.A. Kings who always seem to become a completely different team come playoff time. Again, no one would welcome that first round matchup. The Winnipeg Jets are actually tied with the Kings in points right now (the Kings hold the tie breaker) with the same number of games played, and depending on how the final week of the season plays out, they could end up with the number two wild card spot. While I’m sure everyone would rather take on Winnipeg than L.A., the Jets are no pushover. Just ask the Blackhawks who have only beaten the Jets once this year.

So while winning the division sounds nice, the reality is that whoever wins the Central will most likely have a first round date with Minnesota, or possibly L.A. or Winnipeg.

As for the second and third place finishers in the division, they’ll play each other in the first round. If I am the Blackhawks, I think the best case scenario is taking second in the division with Nashville finishing third. Playing St. Louis in the opening round is not the best idea, especially with Patrick Kane likely out until at least the second round (although Quenneville has NOT ruled him out for round one). Pekka Rinne always has the ability to beat a team on his own, and the Hawks have struggled offensively lately, but I would still take that matchup over one with the Blues.

I hesitate even discussing a topic like this because the second you say you’d prefer to play one team over another, they beat you. That’s just how sports generally seem to work for whatever reason.

This is going to be one hell of a finish to the season over the next week. Tonight’s game between the Blackhawks and Blues means a ton to both teams, as well as the Predators. Obviously it’s still too early to say who will finish where in the standings, but tonight will give us a good idea of who may want “it” more.

Switch flipped?

15-_DSC2491-toresizeAfter four consecutive underwhelming performances against non-playoff teams that led to a grand total of two points, the Blackhawks have reeled off two straight victories against a couple of the toughest teams in the Western Conference. On Sunday night, it was the Jets that watched the Hawks “go through the motions” for the first 40 minutes of the game before turning it on in the third period and pulling off a last second win on the road. Then last night at the United Center, the Kings fell victim to a rather dominant performance by the Blackhawks that ended with a final score of 4-1 in favor of the home team. Just like that, the Hawks went from being in a Wild Card spot to one point behind the Blues for second in the Central, and four behind the Predators for first place with one game in hand.

Their victory over the Kings may very well have been the best all around performance we’ve seen from the Blackhawks this season, and it came without arguably their best player in the lineup. Right from the opening puck drop, you could see that the Hawks were playing with more energy and desperation than they have in quite some time. They were relentless on the forecheck and kept L.A. pinned in their own end for long stretches at a time. All four lines contributed with either goals or strong shifts that seemed to wear down the Kings.

It is performances like the one we saw last night that make you believe this team, the Hawks, still have all the potential in the world to roll right through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup. When they come out playing with energy and desire like we saw against L.A., I’m not sure that there’s a team in the NHL that could win four out of seven games against the Blackhawks.

Scott Darling proved a big point to me last night. After letting in possibly his softest goal of the season right at the end of the first period, he bounced back in the second and third periods by making a number of big saves without letting in another goal. This showed me that he is strong mentally and won’t let one hiccup lead to another and another. He was quoted after the game as saying something along the lines of “The guys told me not to worry about that goal and that they would get it back for me.” Sure enough, the Hawks struck twice in the first couple minutes of the second to get a 3-1 lead in the game. When a goaltender feels that his team has his back and has confidence in him, that almost always propels him to stronger performances on the ice. The same goes for Corey Crawford, who will undoubtedly be the team’s starting goalie for the playoffs.

With the Hawks now coming off of back-to-back huge wins and 80 straight minutes of solid hockey, they cannot let up. They absolutely need to continue to build off of these last two games and use them as building blocks moving forward. With two more games remaining against the Blues, and one against the Wild, the Blackhawks will need to put forth their best effort to beat those teams and secure a good seed in the playoffs. Second place in the Central is certainly not out of reach by any means. Nor is first for that matter. At the same time however, if they falter in the final two weeks of the season, they could be looking at a Wild Card spot to open the playoffs. My point again: don’t let up.

Patrick Kane update

Kane skated during the Hawks’ optional practice yesterday morning and apparently did everything but take contact and slap shots. Quenneville said afterwards that Kane continues to look real quick and solid on the ice, and that “good news” could be coming soon. Does this mean that the 12-week recovery period may be less? We can only hope.

Things starting to click for the Blackhawks

130107_gq_trout_aEarlier in the season, not that it’s late now, the Blackhawks were struggling to win hockey games. They would win one, lose one, win one, lose two, and so on. The biggest reason for that was their inability to score goals. As I said in a previous blog, that trend was destined to hit a brick wall. This team is too talented and gets way too many shots on goal to not be among the league leaders in goals by season’s end. Well, here we are at the beginning of December, the Blackhawks fresh off their annual Circus Trip that took them out west for six games where they won five of those six and have won eight of their last ten overall. Needless to say, that whole goal scoring problem kind of disappeared.

The Hawks’ Circus Trip was bound to be a telling one with regards to this year’s team. Either they would come limping home after getting beat up pretty badly against some of the league’s best teams, or they would come back to Chicago looking like one of the NHL’s best. Fortunately, the latter scenario is the one we are currently looking at as the Hawks get ready to play their first home game tomorrow night in quite some time.

On the six-game road trip out west, there were a handful of things that we learned or continued to see from this team:

  • First of all, Corey Crawford is on pace to be an All-Star this year. He’s currently third in the NHL in goals-against average, fourth in save percentage, and sixth in wins (all among goalies with at least ten games played). He started every game on the Circus Trip (14 straight since returning form injury) and was really good in pretty much every one of those games. I’m seeing no signs of him slowing down.
  • The Hawks’ penalty kill continues to dominate opponents. They rank first in the league with a 91.3 kill percentage.
  • The Blackhawks rank second in the NHL in goals-against per game at 2.00. In fact, the top four teams in that category, and five of the top six, are all in the Central Division.
  • Patrick Kane is starting to be himself again. He dominated the latter half of the road trip. None of this is a good sign for the rest of the league.
  • Going along those same lines, the Hawks’ second line of Versteeg, Richards, and Kane was absolutely dominant over the last three games of the road trip. All three players are playing great at the moment, and we are finally seeing the Versteeg and Richards we were all hoping for.
  • Defensively, the Blackhawks look fantastic. The top two pairs of Keith-Seabrook and Hjalmarsson-Oduya were great out west. The third pairing of Rozsival-Rundblad/Clendening is a work in progress because of the inexperience of Rundblad and Clendening, but they haven’t looked bad. Losing TVR was big, but not insurmountable.
  • The Hawks dominated some of the league’s best teams out west, all without Patrick Sharp in the lineup. He’s due to return sometime very soon.
  • Oh, and remember that whole “we can’t score” thing? The Blackhawks now rank eighth in goals per game and are tied for first in goal differential.

Two stats that I just mentioned, the Hawks’ PK and goals-against per game, often mean a lot more than goals scored per game. NHL teams, especially the Hawks, will get their goals, but if you can’t keep the puck out of your own net, you’re screwed. Last year’s Stanley Cup champion, the LA Kings, finished the season first in goals-against per game. The year before that, the Blackhawks finished first in goals-against per game, and we all know how that season ended. Going back all the way to the 2010-11 season, all teams to win the Cup finished top five in goals-against per game. A huge part of that stat is how good a team is on the penalty kill. If you’re getting scored on while down a man, your goals-against average will rise. Right now, the Hawks’ PK and goals-against per game numbers are incredibly good, and there’s no reason why any of that should change. Come playoff time, those numbers mean a lot more than goals scored.

So the bottom line here is that the annual Circus Trip for the Blackhawks taught us that this team is a force to be reckoned with. It took them a while to finally start firing on all cylinders, but now they are and they look to be one of the leagues top three teams. That’s not to say that they won’t hit some bumps in the road between now and April, but this team appears to be well poised for yet another Stanley Cup run.

Now we just have to wait for April to come around…

Blackhawks in an unsustainable goal drought

130107_gq_trout_aThe Blackhawks are currently losers of their last two games, both by one goal, and find themselves with a mediocre record of 6-5-1 on the year. Tonight they’ll be going up against a very good Canadiens team at the Bell Centre in Montreal, one of the league’s toughest road venues. All signs are indicating that tonight could be another disappointment for an almost desperate Blackhawks team. While that may end up coming true, I’m going to do my best at explaining why any night now could be the Blackhawks’ breakthrough game.

There’s a whole lot about the Blackhawks that doesn’t make sense right now. They are fifth in the entire NHL in fewest goals against per game with a 1.92 average, third in the league on the penalty kill with a 91.9 kill percentage, and have allowed the sixth fewest shots per game in the NHL. Yet their record is 6-5-1, which makes you scratch your head. Then you look at their offensive numbers, and those don’t really compute to a 6-5-1 record either. The Blackhawks lead the NHL in shots per game with an average of 38.4, which is a ridiculous number, but they rank twenty-sixth in goals per game at an average of 2.25. How can a team lead the league in shots and score such a low number of goals?

Well, there’s somewhat of an answer to that question. You can average 50 shots per game, but if those are not real quality shots, you’re not going to score goals. That’s the problem with the Hawks right now. They are putting the puck on net better than anyone in the NHL, but the quality of their shots has not been great. Their net-front presence has been severely lacking for the most part, and it is imperative to have someone, or multiple guys, standing in the shooting lane screening the opposing goalie. Too often this year have the Hawks all been spaced around the outside of the shooting lanes and not in front of the goalie obstructing his vision. That is not a hard fix and something that they’ve never had too much trouble with in the past, so I’m expecting some improvement there real soon.

Another problem that the team has had, especially recently, is the fact that they keep running into hot goalies. Two games in a row at home now they have been shut out by a rookie. In Toronto this past weekend, the Hawks had over 25 shots in the third period (most were actually quality shots) and failed to get just one past James Reimer for the tying goal. Last month at home against Calgary, the Hawks registered 50 shots on goal, only to lose the game in overtime 2-1. It’s been that type of luck that the Hawks have faced this year. A team with as much talent as the Blackhawks will see that luck change sooner than later.

Here is why we should stay optimistic. This will most likely be the lowest point of the year for the Blackhawks, at least I would hope. They really aren’t playing bad hockey right now, although certain areas definitely need improvement. If they were playing awful hockey and losing these game, then yeah I’d be worried, but that’s not the case. They are one of the best teams in the NHL at keeping the puck out of their net at even strength and on the penalty kill, which is a must come playoff time. Sure they’re not scoring right now, but that’s bound to change. The numbers that the Blackhawks are putting up right now are unsustainable, in a good way. A team that generates as many shots as they do will not be kept from scoring like this for too much longer. It’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open and this team starts to look like the team we’ve become accustomed to over the past 5 years.

If you need anymore optimism, take this: last year’s Stanley Cup winner, the L.A. Kings, ranked twenty-sixth in goals per game and first in fewest goals against per game. In the 2011-12 season in which L.A. also won the Cup, the Kings ranked second to last in goals per game, and second in fewest goals against. I’m not saying that the Hawks’ offensive numbers will stay that low, but the point I’m making is that the good teams who are great defensively are the one’s who win Stanley Cups. Right now, the Hawks would fall into that category.

Their breakthrough performance should happen anytime now. Numbers don’t lie.

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

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Honestly, who would have thought that THIS would be our Western Conference Finals matchup heading into the playoffs? After the first round of play, I think everyone’s original predictions had been pretty torn apart, but even then, I don’t think many people would have predicted that these two teams would meet in the Conference Final. I had L.A. beating St. Louis in 7 games, so I partially got that one right. The Kings didn’t waste any time in ousting the Blues. As for the other series in the Western Conference, I said that Nashville would prevail in 6 games. Obviously I mis-fired on that one. Either way, here we are with the Coyotes and Kings ready to square off with the chance at playing for the Stanley Cup on the line. Let’s start with Phoenix.

After their first round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, I get the feeling that many people felt that was as much damage as this team was capable of doing. I felt that same way. Well, I, and some of you, were proven wrong. In their series with Nashville, the Coyotes played phenomenal defense and held the Predators to just 9 goals in the series. A lot of that is due to the play of Mike Smith in net, but I’ll get to him in a little bit. We saw it in the first round against Chicago, and we saw it again against Nashville. The Coyotes are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL. Because of the fact that they do not have a ton of fire power or superstars, each and every player on that roster is forced to give 110% effort every second that they are on the ice to make up for their lack of fire power, as previously mentioned. Their defense has really stepped it up in the playoffs as well. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is turning into a superstar on the blue line. The kid is just 20 years old, but he is playing like a 10 year veteran. On more than one occasion, he has been referred to by hockey analysts as a “future Norris Trophy winner.” That’s how good he has been for the Coyotes in these playoffs. Him, along with Keith Yandle and Rostislav Klesla, have been playing some of the best defense that we have seen this year, which has led to 2 straight playoff series victories. Now, how about the play of Mike Smith in net for the Coyotes? He is third among active goalies still in the playoffs in goals against average, and leads all playoffs goalies this year with 2 shutouts. Without him, Phoenix would not be where they are right now. If they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, they need to keep on doing what they have been doing. Their defense needs to stay strong (currently second in goals against per game), and Mike Smith has to continue his hot play in net. Offensively, they cannot rely on getting many “pretty” goals against Jonathan Quick. They will have to find a way to score some ugly goals against L.A. if they want to advance.

The Kings have pretty much rolled through the playoffs thus far, knocking out the number 1 seed Canucks in 5 games, and now the number 2 seed Blues in just 4 games. Jonathan Quick is 8-1 in net for L.A., and ranks first in goals against average. Heading into the playoffs, many people questioned whether the Kings’ offense would be strong enough to beat Vancouver in the first round. Well, it was. Heading into the second round, the same question was asked: “Will their offense continue to produce enough goals against St. Louis’ defense to beat them in a 7 game series?” Again, the Kings proved that their offense is good enough to beat one of the best defensive teams in hockey. Through all of this, no one has really questioned whether or not Jonathan Quick is good enough to beat these teams, and rightfully so. He is a Vezina Trophy finalist, and most people expected him to play that way in the playoffs, which he has more than done. Offensively for the Kings, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have led the way, with 11 and 10 points respectively in these playoffs. Brown also leads the team in hits, with 39. The L.A. captain has really stepped up his game through the first two rounds, and they will need him to continue doing so moving forward. If the Kings want to continue their winning ways and eliminate the Coyotes, they need to out-work and wear down Phoenix. Right now, the Coyotes have a ton of confidence heading into this series coming off of their first 2 playoff series victories since moving to Phoenix. The Kings need to come out in Game 1 on the road and play a great game to take away some of the Coyotes’ confidence. If L.A. can continue to produce offensively against yet another top goalie in the league in Mike Smith, they should be just fine in this series. With Jonathan Quick playing the way he has been playing lately, goals will be tough to come by for the Coyotes, who are already somewhat of an offensively challenged team. Along with Quick, the defense in front of him has been playing excellent through the first two rounds (ranked first in goals against average), making it that much tougher for the opposition to score. This team has been firing on all cylinders through the first two rounds, and I don’t expect that to change. This is going to be a very defensive series with not a lot of offense, so special teams will play a huge role in the outcome of this series.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-2.

NHL Western Conference Semifinals Predictions

Well, I got 2 of my 4 predictions right coming out of the Western Conference after the first round of play. I had both St. Louis and Nashville advancing, and they did. I was pretty surprised that neither the Blackhawks, nor the Canucks advanced, especially the Canucks. But that just goes to show you how important goaltending is come playoff time. All 4 remaining Western Conference teams got through the first round thanks to their goalies. I can’t remember a time when all 4 remaining Western Conference teams were based on defense and goaltending, rather than offense, although one could argue that the Kings are an offensive team.

So having said that, lets take a look at who I think will be moving onto the Conference Finals.

 

vs. 

If you want a low scoring series, then this should be a good one for you to watch. The goalie matchup here is phenomenal, with Brian Elliott of the Blues going up against Jonathan Quick of the Kings (I believe Quick will be named as a Vezina Trophy finalist tomorrow, along with Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Smith). Let’s start with the Blues in this matchup.

St. Louis is coming off of a great first round victory over the San Jose Sharks that took just 5 games. In those 5 games, the Blues held the Sharks to just 8 goals. Defense was the name of the game for the Blues in that series, and it worked about as good as they could have asked. All year long, St. Louis has been a defense-first team. Some people wondered, myself included, if that style of play would be able to get the job done in the playoffs. I didn’t think it would. Much like they did all season, the Blues proved me wrong. Even though I had them advancing to the second round, I had them doing it in 7 games. I honestly believed that their style of play would come back to haunt them in a playoff series. It didn’t, however, and they rolled over the Sharks to advance to the second round for the first time in 10 years. If they are going to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they need to step it up offensively. Yes, they averaged just under 3 goals per game against the Sharks and have the second best powerplay in the playoffs so far, but Jonathan Quick is one of the toughest goalies to score on in all of hockey. The Blues are going to need their powerplay to continue producing goals. Also, they are going to need to score a handful of sloppy goals off of rebounds. Jonathan Quick stops just about every shot that he sees, which means that the Blues MUST put bodies in front of the net to screen Quick as much as possible. This will also help create rebound opportunities.

As for the Kings, they need Jonathan Quick to continue his incredible play. Not many people thought that L.A. would upset the Canucks in the first round, let alone in just 5 games. The biggest reason for that upset was the play of Jonathan Quick in net and their team defense. The Canucks were one of the best goal-scoring teams this year in the regular season, but were held to just 8 goals total in the first round. That’s really saying something about the Kings’ defense and goaltending. We’ve known all year long that the Kings have the potential to score a lot of goals with the offensive firepower that they possess. Their problem throughout most of the regular season, however, was their inability to produce goals, which didn’t seem to make sense. They ranked second to last in the NHL in goals per game this year, just ahead of the Minnesota Wild. If you look at some of the names on the Kings’ roster such as Kopitar, Richards, Brown, Stoll, Doughty, and Carter (who they acquired at the trade deadline), you would think that this team should have been one of the best at scoring goals. Well, they decided to pick up their game in the first round against Vancouver, and it paid off. If L.A. can get their top forwards to keep producing goals and points, and if their defense and goaltending plays the way it did against the Canucks, this is going to be a very tough team to knock out of the playoffs from here on out.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-3.

 

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I was shocked that the Coyotes were able to knock out the Blackhawks in the first round. I really did not believe that their offense would be good enough to get the job done. I also underrated the skill of Mike Smith. He put on one of the best performances I have ever seen in Game 6 against the Hawks. Nashville, on the other hand, did not surprise me with the way they played against Detroit. Their defense was simply too much for Detroit’s offense to try and score on, not to mention the play of Pekka Rinne in net. That guy is a star.

So, what does Phoenix need to do to win this series? It’s actually a pretty simple concept, but not an easy one to complete against the Predators. They need to outscore Nashville. The two goalies in this series are two of the best in the game right now, and it is going to be an extremely low scoring series because of that. The Coyotes do not have a ton of offensive firepower, but they do have a group of guys who know how to score some ugly goals. In their series with Chicago, the majority of the Coyotes’ goals came on deflections, or plays that started from behind the net. They are a very good team at winning battles along the boards, especially in their offensive zone, which lead to a handful goals against the Hawks. In Game 6 specifically, they won a few board battles behind Corey Crawford, which lead to one-timer goals with the passes coming from behind the net. Another thing that Phoenix needs in this series is for Mike Smith to stay hot. He ended the first round with maybe his best performance of the season in Game 6. If he can carry that type of play over into the second round, and if the Coyotes can muster up some ugly goals, they will have a decent chance at advancing. Another thing that Phoenix has going for them is their ability to win on the road. They were 3-0 in Chicago during the first round, which is a HUGE factor in winning a playoff series.

For Nashville, they need to keep on playing the way they have played pretty much the entire season. Even though they don’t have the big scorers like Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Detroit, they still find ways to score. They ranked 8th in the NHL this season in goals per game, which surprised a lot of people. They also ranked 1st on the powerplay this year, which again had a lot of people caught off guard. Even with those impressive offensive numbers, this is still a defensive-minded team. They have the top d-pairing in the league, in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and a top 5 or 6 goalie in Pekka Rinne. They shut down opposing offenses by clogging the neutral zone and shutting down the passing lanes. If their defense ever does get beat, then Pekka Rinne has been there to bail them out all year long. Simply put, this is NOT an easy team to score on. Against Phoenix, the Predators need to be good on their faceoffs. The Coyotes beat up the Hawks pretty good in the first round at the faceoff dot, which helped them especially on the penalty-kill. With Nashville entering the playoffs as the number one powerplay team in the league, they will need to win the key draws on the powerplay. If they can outscore the Coyotes on the powerplay in this series, they should definitely win. Phoenix’s powerplay is one of the worst in the league, so by scoring powerplay goals against them, Nashville would be giving themselves that much more of an offensive advantage in the special teams department. While we’re on the topic of special teams, let me say this: The team that wins the special teams play in this series will end up winning the series. 5 on 5 scoring is not going to be easy for either team, which means that powerplay goals are going to decide the outcome of most of these games. With that said, Nashville has a major advantage over Phoenix in terms of their powerplay’s effectiveness.

-Nashville wins series, 4-2.

 

 

Penguins, Canucks Eliminated

Who did you all have winning the Stanley Cup this year heading into the playoffs? I’m guessing most of you had either Vancouver or Pittsburgh. I know I had the Penguins going all the way. Well, we’re all wrong. In what has been one of the most unpredictable first rounds in recent NHL history, both the Penguins and Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs today.

The Penguins-Flyers series was a great one. Lots of physical play (sometimes too much), and tons of scoring. We all knew that the Flyers would be a tough out, but I don’t think too many people had them eliminating the Penguins. With Crosby back and healthy, the Penguins seemed like they would be too deep of a team to knock out. Also, I know that I for sure didn’t think Bryzgalov would be good enough to beat the Penguins 4 times, but he did. The Penguins lost an absolute heart-breaker in Game 1, and never really seemed to recover. Marc-Andre Fleury was nowhere near his regular self for the first 3 games of this series, and his lack of confidence really hurt him and his team. Also, the Penguins as a whole appeared to have lost all hope after going down 2-0 in the series. Yes they physically showed up in Philadelphia for games 3 and 4, but I’m not so sure that they showed up mentally. For a team with as much experience as the Penguins, I never saw this bad of a series coming for them.

Out west, the Kings just scored in overtime to beat the Canucks and eliminate them from the postseason. Even though I predicted the Canucks would win this series in 6 games before the playoffs started, I did say that Jonathan Quick has the ability to change the outcome of this series. Well, he did just that. This guy is one of the top 5 goalies in the game, easily, and he definitely proved that in this series. The Canucks goalie situation, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the Kings’. Roberto Luongo lost the starting job to Corey Schneider after Game 3, thus bringing up the question of who the starting goalie will be for the Canucks to start next season. Many people are already talking about the possibility of Vancouver trying to trade Luongo and his huge salary, but I don’t see that happening. Sure someone would gladly take his talent, but no one is going to want his enormous contract. Throughout this series, most, if not all, of the Canucks’ weaknesses were exposed by the Kings. The Vancouver front office is going to have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, and they will have plenty of time to do it.

I am as stunned as every other hockey fan that both Pittsburgh, and the President’s Trophy-winning Canucks were both eliminated in the first round. That just goes to show you that the NHL salary cap really is a good thing. Unlike the NBA, you really can’t confidently predict a Stanley Cup Finals matchup, let alone a Stanley Cup winner. The talent is so spread out in the NHL due to the salary cap, which is exactly what the league wants.

With the Flyers’ victory in the first round, they have to be a top candidate to make it to the Finals out of the east. As for the Kings, they will need Quick to continue to dominate if they want a chance at the Cup.

Thanks for reading.