The Popsicle Bros. and Lord Stanley’s Cup
By Gary Norris Gray and Michael – Louis Ingram
OAKLAND CA & PHILADELPHIA (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM) This is the best playoffs in major league sports, The National Hockey League. Nobody slides into this championship; nobody gets lucky in this championship. Teams earn the Stanley Cup and that’s why it’s the best competition in major league sport. Once your team wins the Stanley Cup the town and their fans know they have been in a three month war.
The NHL instituted a new format, with two wild card teams. Not sold on it yet because we loved the 1 through 8 format; the fact so many number one seeds got knocked off likely led to the new format!
This year it was hard to follow which teams were in and who would be going fishing or golfing early. The 2nd and 3rd seed in each division will play each other; which could create new bitter rivalries.
This system worked with the Chicago Blackhawks playing the St. Louis Blues, The Boston Bruins taking on the Detroit Red Wings with the Wings in their 23rd straight appliance. It is also an Original Six match up and the cone heads at NBC Sports Network love it. Last it’s the battle of Broadway versus Broad Street along I-95 – the Philadelphia Flyers vs. The New York Rangers.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers – This should be a very interesting series as both teams are getting hot at the right time. The Rangers still miss Callahan’s work in the offensive zone; and may live to regret that trade for Martin St. Louis. King Henrik Lundqvist might have to stand on his head in net for the Rangers to get by Philadelphia. While Mark Staal and Brad Richards are players to watch aside from Lundqvist as being important, Rick Nash cannot disappear this year or the season could be over.
The Rangers have to stay off the boards and out of the corners to beat the Flyers.
The new Broad Street Bullies in South Philly could bounce the Blue Shirts out of the playoffs with their now consistent offense. Captain Claude Giroux and his six other twenty goal scorers will carry this team on his back. Early – season pickup Vincent Lecavalier has settled in as a center on a fourth line and could prove to be a real X- Factor now that he can flow from his natural spot instead of hesitating on the wing.
The Flyers have solved the goalie problems by letting the two goalies (Steve Mason and Ray Emery) compete for the job. They also changed the coaching philosophy and it’s paid off with better defensive discipline in their late season surge. Craig “Chief “ Berube is a legit candidate for Coach of the Year after bringing the Fly Guys back from a 1- 7 start – to the playoffs. Goal Brothers Wayne Simmonds and Ray Emery have helped this team the past two months (more on Emery and Simmonds later in this piece).
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning- The Canadiens might end the Lightning’s season early with speed and scoring. Montreal is the only team in the playoffs this year north of the boarder so Les Habs have to represent for all of Canada. Goal Brother Defensemen P.K. Subban will lead this team to at least the second round. The Canadiens have two solid goaltenders with Carey Price and Peter Budaj.
Tampa Bay still misses forward Martin St. Louis, the glue to the first line went to Madison Square Garden (but it gave Goal Brother J.T. Brown a chance to shine) and it will show up again in this playoffs. The Lightning’s scoring has dropped since the departure of St. Louis, and Center Steve Stamkos has to step up and lead this West Florida team; having Ben Bishop in net could be an exploitable weakness. Ex- New York Ranger Ryan Callahan is still trying to fit into the Tampa Bay system.
MONTREAL IN SIX
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a mission and should dismiss the Blue Jackets in six games. Evgeni Malkin will be back for the first game and this will help Sidney Crosby. Too much firepower for the Jackets as Crosby, Malkin and company want to return to the finals. Blue Jackets are just happy to be in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury cannot shrink in net this year if the Jackets score early the Penguins could be in trouble.
Blue Jacket goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could be nightmare for Pens in Blue Jack City as he has gotten hot late in the season. Jackets are very young team and this could be a learning curve test. Columbus will miss forward Nathan Horton, center B.J. Umberger, and winger Nick Foligno due to injury.
PITTSBURGH IN SIX
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings – This could be a war. The Bruins are the number one team in the East playing the new member of the division the Detroit Red Wings. Boston is the complete squad, coaches love this team. It makes life easy and winning constant. Goal Brother,Number One, Jarome Iginla could finally get his hands on Lord Stanley’s Cup (more on Iggy later). Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuck play lock down defense with the great Finn Tuukka Rusk in net.
Detroit might have hit the end of the road. The Wings are showing their age and the Bruins could send them packing early. Johnny Howard will have to play lights out in net in order for the Wings to move on; and Pavel “Duck Soup” Datsyuk is a great playoff performer. Daniel Alfredsson cannot overcome the Bruin defense. The Wings have to stay out of the corners and the boards. If Howard does get hot, Boston better be careful – the men from Hockeytown don’t back off from anyone!
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks- This is going to be the goal tending series, a very low scoring series. Anttii Niemi vs. Jonathan Quick are two of the best goalies in the west and both have their name on Lord Stanley’s Cup that’s all you need to know. The Thornton Line will be the difference with Pavelski, Marleau, and defensemen Vlasic have to perform in this series. Sharks are expected to go to the Western Conference title game – again will they finally break on through to the Other Side? Meanwhile the Kings want to get their third cup in 6 years.
The Ex-Philadelphia Flyers make the Kings motor run with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, along with center Anze Kopitar. The Kings are stumbling into the playoffs and that could be a problem. Playing too many games the last four years could wear on the Kings’ corps players.
SHARKS IN SEVEN
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues – This series could get ugly fast. This is the must – see in the West. Both of these teams are limping into the playoffs and both are very strong defensive teams that have not performed well recently. Hawks goalie Cory Crawford will have to show up. The Hawks still miss Ray Emery in net to give Crawford a blow. Blues ‘goalie Ryan Miller has to have help from his defense and while he’s not necessarily right back in the meat grinder he left in Buffalo, he has cooled off from the hot start he had after the Trading Day Deadline with the Sabres. Miller has let some easy goals in the St Louis net while the Blues have not scored for him, losing four one goal games the past three weeks; missing Chris Stewart could have a lot to do with that. The St. Louis net the past two weeks have also been peppered as the defense took a vacation. That’s not a good combination for the St. Louis Blues.
HAWKS IN SEVEN
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche – two no name teams, two teams that have been under the radar and over achievers. The Avalanche has been on the move with rookie head coach Patrick Roy. Roy set the standard the first day of the season with a brawl; Center Paul Stastny and left winger Alex Tanguay must lead this team to at least the second round.
The Avalanche went from last place to first place and Roy should also be getting strong consideration for Coach of the Year. Colorado is much more aggressive in the offensive zone this year and this might sweep the Wild out of the playoffs.
We love The Minnesota Wild with their Rainbow Coalition team. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov finally found a home and has helped the young Wild into the playoffs now the Minnesota defense has to step up.
The Saku Koivu line will have to light the lamp. Keep your eyes on the ex New Jersey Devil left winger Zach Parise.
COLORADO IN FIVE
Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks -Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau went with Jonas Hiller in net and Anaheim won the Pacific Division; but Boudreau went with the 6’4” rookie Frederik Andersen in net to start off the series! Those Damn Ducks are harder to get rid of than in – laws; they will not go away and the Stars will learn the hard way; but the Dallas Stars are the mystery team. This is the swan song for veteran Teemu Selanne who will retire at the end of the season. The team wants to win the Cup for him.
Meanwhile, Back at the Goal Brothas…
As a Post – Season Appetizer, we offered up a Baker’s Dozen of Goal Brothas we felt would have integral roles in their club’s success; we gauged them in terms of potential should they make the most of their opportunity at the beginning of the season – so let’s now see how we did:
10: (tie) Seth Jones, D Nashville Predators and Dustin Byfuglien, D/W, Winnipeg Jets
Acknowledged by those that would know as the most ‘pro – ready’ player in the Draft, three teams (including Colorado, where new man and former Avalanche great Joe Sakic had a connection), the 6’4” Jones falls into the waiting arms of the Predators, where he will understudy with the great Shea Weber.
For Jones, a respectable first year – 6G, 19A, 24 penalty minutes in 77 games.
As for Byfuglien, Winnipeg can be major beneficiaries – from the move to the Central Division as well as the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec in net, Big Buff’s presence as a back liner, on the power play or as a forward gives the Jets great versatility. Buff’s 6’5” 265 pound frame also reminds opponents to think twice before looking to mess with the other Jets skill players.
A coaching change reawakened Big Buff’s scoring touch as new Jets coach Paul Maurice, using Buff down low on wing as well as on defense. Byfgulien scored 56 points (20G, 36A) in 78 games and 86 minutes in the Bad Boy Box. If Winnipeg is smart enough to continue utilizing Byfuglien this way, there is no reason he can’t be a consistent 30 -35 goal scorer; along with an undeniable physical presence. I’ll tell you this – the U.S. Olympic could have used Jones and Byfuglien’s size on their back line…
9. Kyle Okposo, RW, New York Islanders
The Isles didn’t make the playoffs, but it wasn’t for Okposo’s not trying. After losing top scorer John Tavares, Okposo stepped up his game, averaging almost a point a game (27G 42A – 69 points in 71 games) before succumbing to their seasonal fate. Where there were might have been doubts about whether Okposo was part of the team’s corps players for the future, those doubts were certainly wiped away by Kyle’s level of play.
8. Nazem Kadri, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs came up short but Kadri didn’t – with a solid 50 point season (20G, 30A) in 78 games. I get the feeling that if Toronto is foolish enough to let Naz go in trade, he will punish them forever. With his offensive tools, Kadri can be a 40 – goal scorer.
7. Chris Stewart, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Collateral damage in the Ryan Miller trade to St. Louis, Stewart struggled (15 G, 11A) but if Buffalo keeps him will anchor their offense. Stewart is a decent play making center away from being a guaranteed 40 goal sniper.
6. Johnny Oduya, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Oduya has maintained his status as one of the steadiest defensemen on the ‘Hawks – maintaining a plus – 11 rating while adding 16 points (3G, 13A) in 77 appearances. Last year Oduya had the highest plus/minus ratio of all defensemen during their Stanley Cup run – and it looks like he’s remained in form.
5. P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens
In spite of the Canadian Olympic Team making him an Invisible Man during their Olympic gold medal run, Subban’s flair, drive and composite skills make him the most dangerous defenseman in the League; and if he plays the “White Way – on and off the ice” as resentful announcer Darren Pang suggests he should, Les Habs can forget about any shot at a Cup – unless coffee happens to be in it. Second on the team in scoring (10G 43A – 53 points) Subban’s shot on the power play from the point – is flat out murderous!
4. Bryce Salvador, D, New Jersey Devils
More than a few folks are glad to see the New Jersey Devils in Purgatory – rather than in the playoffs. The Captain put in half a season, and may hang on next season to be rented out as a useful component for a playoff contender needing a solid, stay – at – home defenseman.
3. Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
While teammate Claude Giroux made a great argument for League MVP, no Flyer skater was more consistent night after night than Simmonds, who put together his best regular season ever. The Wayne Train led the team in goals and was third overall in scoring (29G, 31A – 60 points) and third in the league in power play goals with 15. Without much fanfare, Simmonds has quietly become one of the best power forwards in the league; and how he does down low against Lundqvist could spell the difference between victory and defeat for the Fly Guys versus the Rangers.
2. Evander Kane, LW, Winnipeg Jets
An early season injury hampered Kane, but he eventually got his scoring touch back to put a respectable 41 points (19G, 22A) on the board in 63 games. After the success with Paul Maurice’s inclusion as head coach, it will be interesting to see if Kane can finally put together the season everyone in the organization thinks he is capable of.
1a. Ray Emery, G, Philadelphia Flyers
It may be fair to say we collected serious NegroDamus points on this one! As Philly went with Steve Mason in goal, the Mason/Emery tandem proved to be the missing element and the answer to the goaltending woes the Flyers have had for decades.
After a late season injury to Mason, the playoff fortunes now fall to the man they affectionately call “Razor” – and Emery will have to be sharp against a Rangers squad that has been poison in recent years for Philadelphia.
1. Jarome Iginla, RW, Boston Bruins
The most under the radar sub –plot (aside from Montreal having to represent all of Canada in the playoffs) is having Iggy get his name on Lord Stanley’s cup.
With a powerful offensive team backing him, Iginla once again became a 30 goal scorer (30 G, 31A – 61 points); and while we’re supposed to be objective, we are Iginla fans; Goal Brother Number One has a shot to sip from The Cup – and that’s all you can ask for.
To be continued…
Goal Ingram 12 (Gray) (sh) 2:17, third period;
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