Friday, April 29, 2011

Second Round is Now Open

The second round was ushered in on Thursday night by a defensive spectacle between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators, where fans of the 'taking care of your own end' style of play would have had a lot to enjoy.

The Canucks came away with a 1-0 win, thanks in large part to a great defensive game from everyone involved, limiting the Predators to only 20 shots and keeping their real scoring chances to a serviceable number, so Roberto Luongo could make all the saves necessary for the win.

The Predators were relying quite heavily on their goaltender, Pekka Rinne, all game and he was absolutely stellar in the loss, making 29 saves of his own, really keeping his side in it for the whole 60 minutes.

So, with the shutout, Luongo picks up another 4 points in the pool, while the only other player in the pool that picked up a point in this game was Kevin Bieksa, he had an assist on the only goal of the game.

Since it was only night one of round two, I can easily pick out the five teams that had the Bieksa/Luongo combination on their team, picking up the maximum 5 points from last night's action.

The Preds were able to welcome back their Box 1 representation in the pool on Thursday night, as Martin Erat returned to their line-up from an upper-body injury, widely speculated to be a concussion, but that won't be confirmed or denied until after the playoffs, I'm sure.  Nevertheless, Erat did return, but his return didn't bear much fruit, since the Predators were shutout.  He will be a player to watch in this season, since he has played well against the Canucks all year.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonWith all that being said, there are no revelations in the Game-Winning Goals department, as Christopher Higgins was the goal scorer for the Canucks, a non-pool player, taking away bonus points from teams that could desperately use them.

I'm hoping for a bit more luck in the second night's worth of action on Friday night, since the bonus points are one of the best things to write about in this pool.

Our leaders remain at 10 each, while the unlucky basement dwellers in this column only have 3 each.

Tonight's Games

What are we to be expecting in Game One of the Lightning and Capitals series? If I had to guess, I would say that the Lightning, fresh off their Game Seven victory over the Penguins, should still have a lot of confidence in their offense to give the defensive-minded Capitals a good runaround.  The Capitals may be at home, but playing in hostile environments is something the Lightning will have to do, if they continue on in these playoffs, I think they'll be getting used to it.

If the Lightning are to win this one, I'd be looking at Martin St. Louis to have a great game and lead the way, while Jason Arnott would be my clutch pick for the Caps, as he'll be leaned upon in either end to help the team pull out a Game One win.

The Red Wings and Sharks will renew playoff hostilities on Friday night with Game One of their second round series going in the Shark Tank (HP Pavilion) in San Jose.  If the Red Wings are as healthy as we are being led to believe, we could be in for one hell of a game.  There is a belief out there that the Red Wings will see the return of both Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen tonight, so they will likely be matching up against the likes of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau all night long.

That being said, I think this will turn out to be more of a match-up between key defensemen, as the goalies will just have to be good enough to get the wins.  Nicklas Lidstrom will have to dig down in his bag of tricks to help find a way to stop a great Sharks offense, while Dan Boyle will be the guy to help guide the Sharks power play through a very stingy Red Wings penalty kill.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Second Round Preview in the Pool

On Thursday night, the second round of the NHL playoffs kicks off with the Vancouver Canucks playing host to the Nashville Predators.

In the season series, the Canucks and Predators split their four meetings, 2-2-0, winning a game at home and one on the road.

In the pool, the Canucks have a distinct advantage of favour, having 94% of their possible selections to the Predators' 23%.  Daniel Sedin is the most popular player in the pool, taken 54 out of 76 times, while the entire Nashville team has 53 selections in total, Cody Franson leading the way with 10 picks.

The leading point-getter out of the first round between these two teams is Roberto Luongo, who finished with 10 points in the seven game series against the Blackhawks.  The Predators leading point-getter in the pool is Pekka Rinne, who finished with 9 points.

Key injuries: Nashville was still missing Martin Erat to an upper-body injury in Game Seven, which he suffered when he was hit by the the Ducks' Jarkko Ruutu, but it sounds like he'll be good to go for Game One on Thursday night.  Colin Wilson continues to sit for the Predators, as I have him listed as a healthy scratch, likely because of his age.  I don't expect this to change.  The Canucks lost the services of Sami Salo in Game Six against the Blackhawks, a lower-body injury, said to be a leg injury and he is not expected to be in the line-up for Game One.

The other Western Conference series sees the Detroit Red Wings take their veteran act into San Jose to take on the offensive juggernaut Sharks.  This series will be the late game on Friday night.

The Sharks took the season series, going 3-1-0 against the Red Wings, losing one tilt at home.

In the pool, the Sharks hold a slight edge in the selections, having picked up 80% of their possible picks, compared to the Red Wings and their 75%.  Joe Pavelski leads all Sharks in picks going into this series with 42 teams taking his name in Box 5, while the bulk of the Red Wings support comes from Dan Cleary in Box 7, who picked up 34 selections.

The top pool player in the first round between these two teams was Jimmy Howard, who finished with 8 points in the round, which is a low total between two teams, but that's just the way it worked out.  The Sharks were led by Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe, who each finished with 7 points in the opening round against the Kings.

Key injuries: The Red Wings have not seen Henrik Zetterberg in their line-up yet in these playoffs and they were without Johan Franzen for the last game against the Coyotes, but it sounds like both players will be good to go for when they open the series on Friday night.  For San Jose, all 12 players on the selection sheet are good to open up the series on Friday and should expect to do so.

A Southeast Division series will also get started in the early game on Friday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning will match their offensive wits against the newly-formed defensive prowess of the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals won four of the six games in the regular season series against the Lightning and they will have home-ice advantage as well, so it could be an uphill climb for Tampa.

The Capitals have a decided advantage in the hockey pool as well, as they have 83% of their possible selections this year, while the Lightning only mustered 54%.  An upset in this series would probably turn the tides in the standings quite significantly.  Alex Ovechkin is not surprisingly the most popular player in this series, taking 48 selections out of 76, while Simon Gagne has 19 selections as the most popular Lightning player.

In terms of points, Michal Neuvirth and Dwayne Roloson each posted 4 wins and a shutout for 10 points in the first round of the playoffs, leading their respective teams in that department.  Neither goaltender was too popular in the pool, but Neuvirth did edge this match-up, 9-2.

Key injuries: The Lightning are going into this series with all 12 players on their side healthy, while the Capitals  finished the series with Dennis Wideman and Mike Knuble on the shelf, while losing Mike Green again in the last game.  Wideman is not expected to return in this series, as he hasn't skated as much as he may have liked, Knuble should come back in this series, but his return is still undetermined offiically, while Green should be good to go for Game One on Friday.

Saturday afternoon will see the start of the roughest series of the four, in my estimation, as the Bruins will head into Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.  Lots of pride on the line in this series, I'm sure.

The Bruins were the better team in the regular season, winning three times against the Flyers, but the Flyers have all the bragging rights, still holding onto the 3-0 comeback in last year's playoffs.

This series looks awfully close on the selection sheet, as the Bruins hold a 88% to 79% advantage in picks in the pool over the Flyers.  Tim Thomas is the most popular player in this series, taken 47 times in Box 24, while Daniel Briere is the most popular player for the Flyers, taken 37 times in Box 16.

The highest scoring player between the two teams through the first round was Claude Giroux, who led Box 15 with 9 points in seven games over the Sabres, while Thomas was the highest scoring Bruin with 8 points in the seven game series with the Canadiens, making him the only popular player on his team, also leading his team in points.  At least the pool got it right once out of these eight teams.

Key injuries: The Flyers are now only missing Jeff Carter from their line-up, who is currently out with a minor knee knock and the word for him is that he's still day-to-day with the injury.  I would imagine that he will be returning at some point in this series.  The Bruins appear to be completely healthy going into this series, so that's good news for them.

First Round Recap

I'll open with an apology, as time hasn't exactly been on my side over the past couple days, especially with the Canucks winning on Tuesday night and beer taking up a good portion of my time. I won't lie, I was pretty hungover on Wednesday morning. So, in light of these events, I'm going to run a quick recap of the eliminated teams and then hopefully get to a post where I can preview the second round series, which gets started right away on Thursday night.  I'm really hoping for the best here, so bear with me if it isn't great.

Oh yeah, I will have prizes posted this weekend, I'm looking to pay out four teams this year, which should make the finish far more exciting than previous years.

I have to give the Sabres a lot of credit, they really stuck in there and gave the Flyers a good run for their money.  Forcing the series to seven games was a huge credit to that team and Ryan Miller, yet again, for making it as far as they did.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, they were not the favourites in the pool going into this series, only picking up 20% of their possible 228 picks, which was pretty low overall.  I think for a number of teams that did bet on the upset here, they should be glad that the series went seven games, if it wasn't going to be much quicker.

The Sabres finished up with a leading point-getter of Ryan Miller, who had 11 points (3 wins, 2 shutouts and 1 assist), while their leading point-getting skater was Tyler Myers, who had 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points.  Missing out on all the fun was Marc-Andre Gragnani, the defender finished with 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points, but didn't make the cut for the pool.

Just as a side note, I will highlight the teams that made it through in the second round preview.

Talk about giving a favourite a run for their money, the Chicago Blackhawks did just that and a little bit more.  The Blackhawks played their hearts out and forced an overtime period in the seventh game, but were foiled in the end, by a Canucks team that really wanted it more in the 60+ minutes it took to get the job done.

Surprisingly, the Blackhawks were one of the lower picked teams in the pool this year, thinking that they may be worthy of an upset nod a few more times than they were, but in the end, they only finished up with 18% of their possible picks, so it wasn't really in the cards, if the pool was prognosticating this one.

I think the pool points really says it all when it comes to who shone the brightest for the Blackhawks, as Corey Crawford led the lot with 10 points (3 wins, 1 shutout and 2 assists) in the first round and he really was the player keeping the Hawks in it at during Game Seven.  Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith each finished with 7 points to finish second on the team.  If Dave Bolland was closer to being healthy when the sheet was done up, he would have been a great add to the pool, but his 6 points in the first round go unnoticed and we now move on.

The Canucks did not get away unscathed out of the first round, as Sami Salo did not dress for Game Seven, as he ended up blocking a shot in Game Six, suffering a lower-body injury and forcing him out of the deciding game.  He is considered to be day-to-day, with an updated likely coming on Thursday, when the Canucks open up the second round against Nashville.

The limited number of Canadian teams has now been taken down another peg with the elimination of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.  The Habs were able to take the Boston Bruins to overtime of Game Seven, but the goaltender battle was won by the Vezina Trophy candidate in this series, Tim Thomas, and the Montreal Summer has gotten started a little earlier than usual.

The Canadiens were pretty hefty underdogs in the pool, only picking up 23% of their possible selections this year, but the long lasting series did wonders for those who picked up some Canadiens players, hoping for the upset.

Mike Cammalleri finished the first round as the Box 14 points leader, as he finished with 10 points (3 goals and 7 assists) in the opening seven games, but that lead is likely to evaporate before too long.  Carey Price was next on the team with 8 points (3 wins and 1 shutout), followed closely bv Brian Gionta, who had 7 points (3 goals, 2 assists and 2 GWGs).

Despite not having some real fire power in their line-up, the Pittsburgh Penguins did surprise a lot of people with how well their defensive game was working for them and how many games they were able to win because of their defense.  Unfortunately, the Penguins found themselves in front of a team that had a lot of fire power and they finally decided to use it after going down 3-1.  The Tampa Bay Lightning edged past the Penguins in seven games, with Game Seven finishing as a 1-0 final, in regulation.

This series was the closest series between all of them, in terms of selections in the pool, but the Penguins were not the favourite in this series, only picking up 36% of their possible picks, compared to Tampa Bay's 54%.  Still, it was a very close decision, but the favourites did come away with the series win.

The Penguins, according to their pool scoring, were not a very offensive bunch, as Marc-Andre Fleury was the only Penguins player to go over 5 points in the opening round, picking up 8 points (3 wins and a shutout), while Kristopher Letang was second on the sheet with 4 points.  Even if you had picked up a Penguins player, there was a good chance he wasn't doing too much for you.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonSo, a quick recap of the winning goals over the past couple of nights... on Tuesday night, Brian Gionta forced Game Seven for the Canadiens, James Van Riemsdyk won the series for the Flyers and Alex Burrows clinched the series for the Canucks.  That's two out of three for the pool, as Van Riemsdyk was not able to squeeze his way through a deep Flyers squad this year.

On Wednesday night, it was Nathan Horton of the Bruins and Sean Bergenheim of the Lightning, each scoring series clinching goals in Game Seven of their respective series and only Horton's goal counts in the pool this year.

Now that is all said and done, the pool leaders through the first round are Flyers Fanatic #1 and Jersey 20, each finishing the opening round with 10 GWGs a piece.  In the 2010 pool, the pool leaders in the bonus points column only had 9 through the first round, so there is hope for some better numbers thus far.

Well, the upsets kept on coming this year and it's another year where no team has finished with all 24 of their players going onto the second round of the playoffs. In 2010, 21 was tops, as it was in 2009, but lo and behold, we have two teams that finished with 23 players, only losing one player in the first round.  Jack_Bit_Gary and Tony the Tiger finished 3rd and 8th, respectively, in the pool standings and both teams have the same number of players going into the second round, so things are looking up.  Jack_Bit_Gary lost Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks, while Tony the Tiger lost P.K. Subban of the Habs, so there really could be some gamesmanship going on in the next round.

Our pool leader at 127 points, Stoopid Monkey, opened up a pretty good lead (4 points), but lost three Ducks, two Habs and a Penguin in the first round, so that will likely hurt him down the stretch.  2nd place, Superstar, sits at 123 points with 21 players left, has a better shot at a good finish at the moment, but will have to fight off a few more good teams below.

I think we'll be in for a decent second round now as well, which I will give a quick preview in the next blog post and the prizes post is still coming... I am expecting to have that done for everyone on Saturday morning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kings Couldn't Make It, Bolts Still Have Life

All the Los Angeles Kings could do was scratch and claw their way through Game Six, but the San Jose Sharks proved that they were just that extra bit too strong, especially when it was when the Sharks' big guns that posted the winning goal in the end.

Gotta give the Kings a lot of credit, they really wanted to stick around in Game Six, they went goal for goal in the game, but they could never muster up a lead, always scoring to tie the game up.  In the end, it was Joe Thornton finding a loose rebound on the blade of his stick and he shoveled one past Jonathan Quick and just like that, the Kings are knocked out of the playoffs, with a 4-3 overtime final.

Thornton was tops for the Sharks in Game Six, as he scored the winning goal and added an assist for a 3-point night, while Antti Niemi made 26 saves and earned the win for 2 points in the game.  Jarret Stoll was the top player from Los Angeles in the pool in Game Six, he finished with a pair of assists in the loss.

For the Kings, there wasn't a great deal of scoring to speak of, as the leading point-getters in the series were Jonathan Quick and Jack Johnson, who each finished with 6 points, while Ryan Smyth had 5 points and Justin Williams and Drew Doughty each had 4 points.

The Sharks were heavy favourites, as the Kings only had 16% of the possible 228 picks they could have had in the pool this year.  Ryan Smyth earned the most selections with seven in Box 5, while Wayne Simmonds had six picks in Box 7.  The pool was not on their side.

It's another first round exit for the Kings, but with some of their injury concerns going into the playoffs, there should be a sense of being fortunate that they were there and/or making it to six games against a very powerful Sharks team.

With the elimination of the Kings from the sheet, four teams remain, having the possibility of keeping all 24 players into the second round of the playoffs.  Everyone else is already SOL in that department.

On the backs of a confident bunch, the Tampa Bay Lightning managed to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six, 4-2, forcing a Game Seven scenario, which will be played on Wednesday night, back in Pittsburgh.

Even after an early 1st period goal by the Penguins, the Lightning were not deterred, keeping pace with their opponents through two periods and then salting it all away in the 3rd, thanks to a pair of goals before the midway point of the final frame and some stellar goalkeeping by Dwayne Roloson.

The big pool player of the night was Steve Downie of the Lightning, scoring the eventual winner and adding a couple of assists for a 4-point night.  Ryan Malone also had a goal and an assist, while Roloson made 27 saves for the win, each earning a couple of points each as well in the pool in the win.

This series has been a good one and it looks like it'll be matched up with the Bruins and Canadiens, if the Habs can force a Game Seven on Tuesday night.  No starting time has been announced yet, but the Pittsburgh/Tampa game will be featured on TSN.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonOnly two games went on Monday night and both game-winners did feature in the pool.  Joe Thornton of the Sharks and Steve Downie of the Lightning scored the goals.  Thornton was only picked five times in the pool, while Downie was only picked six times, so not many teams cashed in on this good fortune.

According to the standings, Flyers Fanatic #1 still leads the pool with 10 GWGs, while Jersey 20 still follows close behind with nine.  Looks like another team joined the party in the pack tied for 3rd on the list, as we now have nine teams with eight winners to their name.

Tonight's Games
With all of our graphics in order, Tuesday night will start with the Canadiens trying to save their season with a win at home versus the Bruins, as Montreal now finds themselves behind the 8-ball after losing on Saturday night and falling down 3-2 in the series.  A win at home means that they can force a Game Seven, which would have to be played in Boston, but all they want is the chance to make it through, but it'll now take the long way around.

For the Bruins, the motto should be, "just get pucks on net, because all the pressure is on Carey Price tongiht."  Price is on one wicked playoff losing streak at the Bell Centre and the Bruins will have to get down in front of the net, go looking for some rebounds and keep the opposing goalie busy all night.  Of course, Tim Thomas will have to come up pretty big, but if the offense is there, the Bruins should be in pretty good shape by the end of the night.

For the Canadiens, they really have to move that puck all night.  Whether it is using their speed when carrying the puck or their crisp passing to get the puck out of their own zone and around the perimeter on the power play, the key for Montreal is speed.  This is what won them their two games thus far and as much as the Bruins try to stifle them through the neutral zone, the Canadiens do seem to find a way.  Of course, solving Thomas will also be key, but if the team speed can generate some odd-man rushes, they could make it out of Montreal alive and fly into Boston.

The first Game Seven of these playoffs will drop the puck only a half hour after the Bruins and Canadiens get going and we should be in for a great game in Philadelphia, as the Sabres are going to try and knock off the Flyers, making for a pretty solid upset in the East.

How'd the Sabres get here?  Good team speed, extra work ethic in the offensive zone and of course, Ryan Miller.  The Sabres are not filled with stars in 2011 and now anyone who may be considered a star forward in Buffalo is injured, so it will be the blue collar kids that get the job done tonight in Philadelphia.  They've worked hard on getting pucks on net, where there has been some suspect goaltending and made their way to capitalize on some rebounds.  The game plan doesn't change for the Sabres, maybe only the faces change.  Team leader in points: Ryan Miller, 11 points.  Team leader in picks: Steve Montador, 7.

How'd the Flyers get here?  I'm thinking that it may be more of what they were unable to do that got them in this position, rather than earning their way to this predicament.  The Flyers goaltending has not been good, without Chris Pronger, their defense has not been able to make up for that and their offensive zone play has been very inconsistent as well, although still somewhat timely.  The Flyers have used all three goaltenders that they have up with the team thus far, which suggests neither of them are getting the job done, Pronger's absence has limited the confidence from the blueline, even in Game Six, when he only played the power play and the offense should have been a bit more dominating from game-to-game, but they have managed to keep some games close, if not getting away by the skin of their teeth.  Team leader in points: Claude Giroux, 7 points.  Team leader in picks: Daniel Briere, 37.

Injuries to the Sabres versus a weak back end of the Flyers... I don't know who to pick, personally.  I have Flyers on my hockey pool team, but an upset wouldn't be too bad either.

In the late game tonight, it's the epic battle between the fallen favourite and the underdog with all the momentum.  A game where the inner-demons are the main focus and succumbing or overcoming will be the main story line when the final horn sounds, as the Blackhawks try to do the improbable, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit, to knock off the Canucks for a third straight playoff year.

How'd the Blackhawks get here?  A revitalized Duncan Keith, speed through the neutral zone and playoff history on their side.  I think it is safe to say that if it wasn't for Keith taking exception to his blueline mate, Brent Seabrook, getting creamed by Raffi Torres in Game Three, this series might already be over.  When Keith played Game Four, he was a man on a mission and began a massive surge, which has now gone three games.  The Blackhawks have been able to skate their way through the Canucks in the neutral zone for all of their wins, creating chances off the rush and getting some awkward shots on net that have been difficult for the Canucks to stop.  Finally, the playoff demons that the Canucks have yet to conquer are on Chicago's side going into tonight, as they have been mocking the Canucks for the last three games.  Team leader in points: Corey Crawford, 10 points.  Team leader in selections: Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell, 9 picks.

How'd the Canucks get here?  Well, they won their three games with excellent man-on-man coverage in all three zones, a forecheck that gave the defense some fits, but they let the Blackhawks back in it, by not playing in Games Four and Five.  When the Canucks were winning games, they were like a team possessed by the desire to win, taking all sorts of time and space away from any Blackhawks player that picked up the puck, frustrating the best players on the team for the opening three games.  The Canucks' forecheck was relentless, causing many-a-turnover in the offensive zone and opening up some space for some clear shots from the point or in the slot, which were able to beat Crawford and pick up leads.  Unfortunately, the Canucks rolled over after the Torres hit on Seabrook and allowed the Blackhawks to pick up some steam with a Game Four win, which led to a huge upset at home in Game Five.  The Canucks upped their game in Game Six, but the hockey gods did not smile upon them with a late injury to Cory Schneider and the loss of footing for Roberto Luongo on the winning goal.  Team leader in points, Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo, 8 points.  Team leader in selections: Daniel Sedin, 54 selections.

I'm not sure what to think of how this one will finish.  I'm not even going to say.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ducks Are Dead, Flyers & Hawks Still Alive

It was a pretty big loss for the hockey pool, as the Ducks were not able to move on in this season's playoff run. The Nashville Predators stuck to their game plan, keeping the shots on goal against rather low and mustering up just enough offense on a Ducks goalie that hasn't seen a great deal of action this year. The plan worked perfectly and the Predators came away witha 4-2 win and their first ever appearance in the second round of the playoffs.

The the pool players for the Predators that led the way in Game Six were Jordin Tootoo, who had a couple of assists, and Pekka Rinne, who stopped 25 shots to earn the win.  The whole team was in on this effort and they definitely earned their way into the next round, but now they wait to see who they will be up against in the second round.

As for the Ducks, it was definitely a big loss for the poolies this year, as they did have 68% of their possible selections.  That throws out 154 total picks from the pool and it likely would have been more, if Jonas Hiller was anywhere near healthy this time around.  It might even be reasonable to say, if Hiller was in the line-up, we may be looking at Game Seven in this series.  The most popular player for the Ducks this year was Bobby Ryan, who is situated in Box 4, he had 26 picks to his name.  Cam Fowler was the next most popular player, he had 21 picks to his name.  As for points, Corey Perry led the way for Anaheim, picking up 9 points in six games, followed by Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, who all had 7 points in the series as well.

After eliminating the Ducks from the pool, that only leaves the possibility of four teams going into the second round of the playoffs with all 24 of their players this year.  Only one of those teams are in the top 10, Tony the Tiger.

On the Predators side, Rinne led the pool players with 9 points in the series, with Mike Fisher following with  points and Jordin Tootoo and Shea Weber with 5 points.

The Philadelphia Flyers resisted elimination on Sunday afternoon, as they managed to sneak past the Buffalo Sabres with a 5-4 overtime win, earning themselves their own shot at this series, sending it to Game Seven.

The advantage for most of the game was very much on the Sabres side for the better part of regulation, but the Flyers proved that they could scratch and claw their way back, yet again this year.

Goaltending was again an issue for the Flyers, but Brian Boucher stepped on in relief of Michael Leighton, making 24 saves and earning the win for Philadelphia.  Ville Leino scored the winner and had an assist for a 3-point afternoon, while Daniel Briere scored a pair, Scott Hartnell had one of each and Claude Giroux and Mike Richards each had a pair of helpers.

After being hit from behind, Sabres forward Tim Connolly did not return to the game with an upper-body injury on Sunday afternoon.  The initial feeling from the Sabres camp is that Connolly is not in good shape, so that would likely leave him doubtful for Game Seven, which will go on Tuesday night.  It does seem rather doubtful that Mike Richards, the Flyers player that hit Connolly, will be suspended for the play.

Game Seven, as mentioned, goes on Tuesday night, puck drop at 5:30pm MT on TSN.

In the late game, it was attempt number three for the Canucks to try and eliminate the Blackhawks and Vancouver through everything they had at Chicago, but home-ice advantage seemed to work on Sunday night.

The Canucks opened the game with Cory Schneider in net, giving a different look to the Blackhawks to deal with, but that in itself had its perils, as Schneider made a couple of mistakes when the team was up a goal, handling the puck a little too much and then getting caught out of position for tying goals to get passed him.  Schneider was forced to leave after a Michael Frolik penalty shot, which sent the game into overtime in the end and Roberto Luongo came to fill in.  The Blackhawks only had to be Luongo once, which came in overtime and they forced this series into Game Seven, after being down 3-0.

Leading the way for the Blackhawks in the pool was Corey Crawford, who made 32 saves for the win and added an assist for a 3-point night, while none of his pool mates picked up more than a single point on Sunday.

Alex Burrows had a pretty good night for the Canucks, scoring a goal and adding a pair of assists in the loss.

Game Seven will go on Tuesday night as well, being the late game, dropping the puck at 8pm on CBC.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonThe game-winners for Sunday night all came from Ville Leino of the Flyers, Nick Spaling of the Predators and Ben Smith of the Blackhawks, meaning only 1 of 3 made it into the pool for bonus points.

We have an outright leader again in this race, as Flyers Fanatic #1 picked up his 10th GWG on Sunday night, which moves him past Jersey 20 and is now 2 bonus points ahead of eight teams, who are tied for 3rd in the race.

Tonight's Games

The Tampa Bay Lightning are still behind the 8-ball going into Game Six against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they have a lot of momentum from a good 8-2 win on Saturday, which should give them the left they need to force a Game Seven for Wednesday night.

For the Penguins to end the series tonight, they will need to get back to their shutdown roles, giving all sorts of help to their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.  The defense has done a very good job for the Penguins in this series and they will need to learn what they can from Saturday's debacle and turn that into some positives for Monday night.

As for the Lightning, they will need to make sure they don't get caught taking Saturday's game for granted.  Sure they laid a licking on Pittsburgh, but it would be foolish to think that they would be the same team two games in a row.  A little bit more preparation and video will be needed to pick out the weak spots and being at home for Game Six should ensure the match-ups they want at the faceoff dot.  This could be a good game.

Puck drop here is 5pm on CBC.

The Kings were able to force a Game Six on the weekend, so now they will open up the Staples Center for one last stand against the Sharks, trying to force a Game Seven on Monday night.

For the Sharks, they are going to have to find a way through the defense and make those cross-ice, cross-crease passes that really open up Jonathan Quick from side-to-side.  The Sharks are not likely going to beat Quick with a lot of those straight-on shots or even the deflections on point shots, since he takes the bottom of the net away so well.  Offense will be key on Monday night, especially with question marks in their own end.

The Kings bottom six will again have to figure in huge, as they have been the glue keeping this team together through five games in this series and were practically responsible for all the offense in Game Five, forcing tonight's Game Six.  The Kings' X-factor player, Wayne Simmonds, will likely be playing a big role again tonight, look for him in front of the Sharks net, trying to rustle up some more garbage goals.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Three Elimination Games, Only One Boot!

Going to start with the only elimination of the day on Saturday, as the New York Rangers were no match for a Washington Capitals team that was well on their way to finding their stride, with a great crowd at the Verizon Center and that's just the way it was going to be.

The Capitals did a great job of taking the game to the Rangers end early and often through Game Six, making it very difficult for New York to establish many rushes or much consistency through the neutral zone.  When it was all said and done, the Capitals held the Rangers to only 27 shots on goal, which by anyone else's count, should be rather low, considering that the Rangers should have been a desperate team, trying to stay alive in these playoffs.

Instead, the Capitals held them at bay, scored a timely goal in each period of the game and really stuck to their guns about their defense first mentality, taking a 3-1 win and the series away from Saturday night.  In the game, the Capitals were led by Alex Ovechkin, who had the eventual game-winning goal and an assist for a 3-point afternoon, while Brooks Laich had a pair of assists and Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves for the win.

Now that the Rangers are out, we'll have a quick look at what they did in this pool in only five games.  Brandon Dubinsky led all pool players with 2 goals, 1 assist and a game-winner for 4 points.  Not much scoring came out of the Big Apple.  Marian Gaborik, Bryan McCabe and Henrik Lundqvist all had 2 points each as well.  The Rangers had the lowest number of picks in the Eastern Conference, taking only 17% of their potential picks in the pool, with Marc Staal taking nearly a third of those picks with 11 selections.  It didn't look good for the Rangers, according to the pool, to begin with.

Leading the way for the Capitals in the first round was Neuvirth, who finished with all 4 wins and a shutout, finishing up with 10 points.  Alex Ovechkin finished second with 7 points, with Mike Green and Alex Semin ending up with 5 points.

An injury scare for the Capitals, as Mike Green took a Matt Gilroy slapshot to the head, while blocking the shot, to which his helmet took the brunt of the impact, but Green still left the ice and never returned to action.  Green's history of concussions this season is the biggest concern for the Capitals going forward.  Green did return to the bench, but didn't see any more action in the win.

In the early game of the day, the Tampa Bay Lightning were sitting behind the 8-ball against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and their potent offense finally came out and did what it was advertised to do and score a boat load of goals on Saturday afternoon.  The Lightning forced Marc-Andre Fleury out of the net and lit the red light up a total of eight times in the afternoon, taking Game Five by a score of 8-2.

The Lightning were led offensively by Steven Stamkos, who had 2 goals and an assist, Teddy Purcell, who had 3 assists, and Vincent Lecavalier, who scored the winner and added an assist, all having a 3-point effort on the day.  Pavel Kubina and Simon Gagne each had a pair of goals, while Steve Downie and Martin St. Louis had a pair of assists and Dwayne Roloson made 31 saves for the win.

Let's talk Game Six then... the two teams will head back to Tampa Bay for Monday night, which will be the early game of the night.  The game will be a 5pm show on TSN, as the Lightning try and fight back from being behind the 8-ball as well.  With the offense on the go, it wouldn't surprise me if they did it now.

It was the swing game for the Bruins and Canadiens on Saturday evening, as the two teams went into Game Five tied at two wins a piece, and you could tell neither team wanted to give up the loss to the other.  The goaltending battle was excellent, the play was quick and physical, the mistakes were limited, the overtimes were doubled and all it took was one of those lucky bounces and a garbage goal to end it.  That's just a great playoff game from start to finish.

In double overtime, it was Nathan Horton who had great positioning on his defender and had a lucky bounce land on the tape of his stick, with Carey Price on the other side of the crease and it was a tap in for a 2-1 win for the Bruins.  The Bruins will go back on the road, back to Montreal with a 3-2 series lead.

In a low scoring affair like this, there wasn't going to be much for multiple-point getters in the pool, except for Horton, who scored the winner and Tim Thomas, who made 44 saves to get the win and his 2 points.

There will be a couple of days worth of rest before the Canadiens play host to the Bruins on Tuesday for Game Six and if there is a Game Seven forced, it will be played on the Wednesday night, which should make things rather interesting.

In the late game, the Kings were going to need Jonathan Quick to be his best, if they were going to live past Game Five of this series, or this series as a whole.  Thanks to three 1st period goals in the first nine minutes of the game, the Kings were able to spot their best player on the ice a big enough lead that they could defend the rest of the game with, holding on for their playoff lives.  Fortunately for Los Angeles, their best player played like their best player, making 51 saves, giving up a 2nd period marker and the Kings took Game Five with a 3-1 scoreline.

Remarkably for the Kings, it was the bottom six for the Kings that was able to get some of the key points in the 1st period, as Wayne Simmonds led all pool skaters with goal and an assist.  I have Simmonds in Box 7 as the Kings' X-factor player in this playoff year and his 2 points were very key to getting this win.  Quick was the only other pool player to pick up a couple points as well and he now has 6 points in this playoff year.

Game Six is now set for the late game on Monday night, going at 8pm MT on TSN, a TSN double-header for your viewing pleasure.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonYour game-winning goal scorers for Saturday were Vincent Lecavalier for the Lightning, Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals, Nathan Horton for the Bruins and Kyle Clifford for the Kings, having only the late game goal as the only one that didn't count in the pool on Saturday night.

We now have a new joint leader in the race for the most bonus points, as Jersey 20 collected on two of the four winners on Saturday, bringing their total to 9 winners, now tied with Flyers Fanatic #1 for the overall lead.  Neither team sits in the top 10 in the standings, but if they keep picking up GWGs, they might just able to work their way into the promised land of the pool.

Tonight's Games
It's an elimination Easter Sunday, as there are three key games to the playoffs going... beginning with an afternoon game in Buffalo. The Sabres have been able to take advantage of some shotty Philadelphia goaltending and put up some excellent goaltending of their own.

The Sabres have been able to make good use of their speed and hands against a Pronger-less Flyers defense and some very questionable goaltening, which has led them to this 3-2 series lead going into Game Six today.  If everything is to remain the same, line-up wise on both sides, I definitely like the Sabres chances to have the same effort level to win.  They know who they are up against and there will be no sitting back for Buffalo.

As for the Flyers, I would not be surprised to see them push their injured players into the line-up to help stop the bleeding.  Chris Pronger has been the most notable absence and I could see him going at well less than 100%, while Jeff Carter, who sat out Game Five with a knee injury, would likely be encouraged to suck it up for their elimination game, unless the injury is much greater.  The Flyers offense will have to dominate, if they are going to force a Game Seven this week.

Puck drop is at 1pm MT on TSN and NBC.

The Ducks were the wow team going into the playoffs, as their offensive juggernaut rolled them right into a home-ice advantage situation going into these games, but they have literally been stonewalled for the better part of their series against the Predators and they now sit behind the 8-ball going into Game Six in the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

If the Predators are going to eliminate the Ducks on Sunday evening, they will just have to keep the game plan the same.  Stifle the top guns of the Ducks, have Pekka Rinne stand on his head when they don't and then find some timely scoring from anyone who wants to stand up and be counted.  Just your standard Predators-type game.

Much like the Flyers in the earlier game today, the Ducks are really struggling with some quality goaltending and have had the scoring in a couple games to overcome that fact.  If the Ducks are going to make it out of Nashville alive, force a Game Seven in Anaheim, they will need to see their best players play like their best players.  The Ducks may have to open the game up, create some more speed up and down the ice, take the Predators out of their comfort zone.

Puck drop is at 4pm MT, also on TSN tonight.

This is the third elimination game for the Chicago Blackhawks, as they have stared directly into the face of a long Summer and said, "not yet."  Tonight the Blackhawks will look to force their own Game Seven with another solid game at the Madhouse on Madison, trying to prey on the Vancouver Canucks shaky play over the past two games.

The Canucks still have a good grasp of this series, by the numbers, but momentum is a very tricky thing.  Vancouver has been outscored badly in their last two games, so the trick to them getting through this series tonight will be getting back to their defense-first through the neutral zone ways, taking away the time, space and speed of the Blackhawks and then letting their potent offense do what they do best.  Without a doubt, the Canucks will have to exercise some real discipline through the neutral zone, before they can think about any sort of offense.  If they get into a skating match with the Hawks, it could be dangerous.

For Chicago, they will see the return of Brent Seabrook to their line-up tonight and that should make their offense a little stronger, with some more puck moving from the rear end.  The Blackhawks will have to force the issue again at home, really make the Canucks blueline work for everything they've got and then put a lot of pucks on Roberto Luongo, get rebounds and crash the net.  I don't think there is much more to it, since the Blackhawks receive some of their best defense, when they are on the offense.