Thursday, April 12, 2012

Welcome to the 2012 Playoff Pool

It was one hell of a billing to start off the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, a triple-bill of teams with a lot to prove and even more to fight for.

This year's edition of the playoffs looks to be just about anyone's game and even a couple of the heavy favourites took a pretty good tumble on Wednesday night, only proving that statement's worth.

First of all, I would like to welcome the participants of the Playoff Pool, which is nowhere near the amount of teams that we had last year, but I don't think that should make it any less fun.  Sure, the prize money will be a lot less, but that's just the nature of the game, I guess.  It should be more about the bragging rights any way.

Only 37 teams have submitted entries and I am really going to try my best to cut that off today, but there are some regulars who haven't submitted, which I might let slide, but I really don't want to.  I know one night of action isn't going to determine much, but I'm really beginning to dislike these guys who are sending in their entries late.

Nevertheless, onwards with the recaps!

Kicking off the Spring Dance this year is the most anticipated series in the Conference Quarter-Finals, as the Pittsburgh Penguins took on the Philadelphia Flyers in the CONSOL Energy Center and what a start it was.  The Penguins, who are odds-on favourites for the Cup, according to some of the sports book outlets, got off to a rocking start in the 1st period and it looked like they were going to give real substance to those odds.  Sidney Crosby and Kristopher Letang started it all off for the pool players in the opening frame, as they each recorded a pair of points in a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead after one.

Unfortunately for those Penguins, they did exactly what they didn't want to do and that was take their foot off the pedal with a lead and the Flyers crept back into the game in the 2nd period with a Daniel Briere goal, making it 3-1 after two.  In the 3rd period, Briere potted another goal and then moments later, the Flyers tied it up and the game was forced into overtime.

In the first extra frame of the playoffs, it was Jakub Voracek, who pounced on a loose puck with a gaping net, only a couple minutes into overtime and the Flyers completed the miracle comeback win.  Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves for the win and the Flyers came away like bandits, stealing home-ice away from Pittsburgh.

Of course, the game wasn't without its controversy, but I don't think there's enough time to go though all of that, so I'll just stick to the points in the pool and injuries and such.

It appears the Philadelphia Flyers are going to have Pavel Kubina start this series as a healthy scratch, which is going to be a pretty big disappointment to the three teams in the Playoff Pool that has taken him.  The Box 22 defenseman may not have done enough since being acquired by the Flyers to give the coaching staff enough reason to have him on the ice and with the Flyers win, it may be something like an injury that sees him back in the line-up.  Fortunately for Kubina, Marc-Andre Bourdon, who replaced Kubina in the line-up, was hurt, which means Kubina may draw into the line-up on Friday night.

Hosting Game One in the opening round of the playoffs doesn't appear lost on the Nashville Predators, who had the opportunity to host their division rivals from Detroit on Wednesday night to open up the playoffs and the Predators made good on that chance.  The Predators opened up the scoring midway through the 1st period, relinquished the lead in the 2nd period, but that was the closest the Red Wings would come to making a really tight game, as the Predators took the opening game, 3-2, in their own barn.

The Predators are going to be a real grinding team that will likely shoulder the load equally across all their skaters, which may make them into a poor pool team.  Out of the three goals that they had scored in Game One, there wasn't a point collected in the hockey pool, which is something else, really.  Thankfully for the pool, there is always going to be Pekka Rinne, who made 35 saves for the win, picking up a valuable 2 points for the six teams that picked him in the pool this year.

On the Detroit side, there were no multiple-point players to speak of, but they did keep themselves in the game on Wednesday night and it will be interesting to see how they bounce back from this early setback.

All eyes will be on Box 8 defenseman Shea Weber on Thursday, as his head smash on Henrik Zetterberg after the final buzzer may warrant a look by league officials.

With Nashville acquiring a little bit more grit, it may be that the Predators may not need the services of Box 7 forward Jordin Tootoo quite as much any more, which is an interesting turn for the playoff pool.  Tootoo has been the team's go-to guy when it came to digging in the tough areas and now with the acquisition of Paul Gaustad, who brings a little bit more to the table than just grit, Tootoo may have been made obsolete and his inclusion in the pool may have been made moot.  Only time will tell, but that does seem to be a reasonable thought.

In the late game, we saw the Vancouver Canucks open their quest to the Stanley Cup Finals in back-to-back years, but the Los Angeles Kings are the ones who stand in their way, not to be taken lightly.  The Canucks are highly favoured in the playoff pool, 95 total selections to 18 for the Kings, but it was Los Angeles in the opening game of the series, who stormed out and made the most of the excess pressure that the Canucks have on them.

Early on, the Canucks were able to take an early lead, but the Kings did well not to let the home team get away too quickly, grinding and slugging it out, finding a goal, not long after the midway point of the opening frame.  The 2nd period was an ugly one for the home side, getting into penalty trouble, which cost them the lead, but a late marker tied up the game before heading into the final frame.  In the 3rd, it was played tightly to the vest until Dustin Penner converted an amazing skate deflection from Jeff Carter to put the Kings up for good, 3-2, and an empty-netter salted it away.

The player of the game, points-wise, was Mike Richards, who finished with 3 points in the game, 1 goal and 2 assists, and was only taken once in the pool.  The early sleeper pick comes up huge.

There is an injury concern now for the Kings, as Kyle Clifford was smashed into the boards by the Canucks' Byron Bitz, who suffered an upper-body injury, which could be speculated to be a concussion.  Clifford left the game in the 2nd period and was unable to return.  There was no update early on Thursday morning, but I'm sure there will be something before Game Two.  I expect Bitz to have a hearing with the league on the play itself, as he did get a major and a game misconduct for boarding, which was the right call on the play.

New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonThere is nothing worse than opening up the playoff season and the pool with no recorded game-winners for players in the pool.  Jakub Voracek of the Flyers, Gabriel Bourque of the Predators and Dustin Penner of the Kings, were all over looked by the selection sheet committee (of one), opting for some more likely names for some points in this post-season.  Well, after three playoff games, we have no pool leader in GWG's, both in individual and teams.  It won't be long, I'm sure, before we see some points roll in for the bonus points.

Tonight's Games

It's a pretty full slate of games on Thursday night, as four series will open up in New York, Boston, St. Louis and Phoenix.  I don't think I'll go into much more detail, but if you want to see more about these series, according to the Sherpa, then check out the match-up posts for each Conference below.  They'll give you what you're looking for, in terms of these games going into Game One.

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