Monday, April 13, 2015

Let The Real Hockey Begin!

Finally, yet another slog of a regular season is done. The LA Kings and Boston Bruins are out of the playoffs. What more can Canucks fans ask for?

OK, let's get started. We have another season the likes of which we haven't seen since six "new" teams made the playoffs back in 2010. Seven teams this season made it in after not being in the playoffs last year (or in the Calgary Flames' case for six years...or for fans in Winnipeg since 1996 their team has not been thrashed in the playoffs!).

Anyway, it might be sexy to jump on the Alfred E. Hamburglar bandwagon and pick the Sens. Or ride the "it never worked" White-Out in Winnipeg and think the Jets are going deep.

Well, you're fighting history. Sure playoff experience is useful, but who knew that since 2010 of 23 teams that made the playoffs that had missed at least the year previous, only three actually managed to make it past the first round.

The 2011 Tampa Bay Rolosons got all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals riding that Guy Boucher 1-3-1 defensive system. They lucked out in rd. 1 that season as their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, had a certain Sidney Crosby out with a concussion courtesy of Victor Hedman of the 'Ning with an assist to David Steckel in the Winter Classic. And, oh yeah, Evgeni Malkin tore his ACL and MCL that season.

Then in rd. 2 the 'Ning swept the perennial choker Washington Capitals and pushed the Bruins to seven in the Conference Finals which included that very bizarre Game 7 1-0 win by the B's with all of no penalties called in the game.

One other team to break this odd trend was the 2012 New Jersey Devils. In the first rd. they played the Florida Panthers (who were also newcomers to the playoffs so some "rookie" team was going to finally win a round anyway). The Devils then beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4 games to 1 in a series where the team that scored first lost every game. The Cloven Helmeted Ones then beat the New York Rangers and made it all the way to the Final where in Martin Brodeur's "Final" swansong lost to the LA KIngs in a battle of the two most boring teams in the NHL.

Oh, yeah, and the perennially mediocre St. Louis Blues managed to win their first rd. series vs. the Western Conference version of the Caps, the San Jose Sharks, and then got swept by the El Lay Sutters.

So, buyer beware of going with the Sens, Preds or Jets. For at least two 1st rd. series you can take your pick as the Flames vs. Canucks and Caps vs. Islanders series have all four teams returning to the playoffs after being on the outside last season.

Which brings us back to the good news for Canucks' fans. Just like the 2012 Devils rode that matchup against a Florida team that had not made the playoffs the previous ten seasons, the Canucks are facing a Flames' team that, as stated before, had missed the playoffs for six straight seasons. They're also playing a team without their best defenceman in injured Mark Giordano so are the Sedin stars aligned for a rebound from 2011 disappointment for a 2015 deep playoff run?

Or, if you're a cup half-empty person, the last time the Flames broke a long missing the playoffs drought (seven seasons of no Red Mile at the time) was back in 2004. Now what happened back then? I seemed to have erased that from my Martin Gelinas memory bank.

Ah, the Alex Auld years

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I'm Bored, I'm The Chairman Of The Bored

The Toews and Kane Show 
vs. The Mild

It's all well and good that the Minnesota Wild pulled out a thrilling Game 7 upset on the road of the Colorado Avalanche but with Darcy Kuemper out (as well as Nicklas Backstrom--the goalie! in the words of Bob Cole--and Josh Harding) and the Ilya Bruzgalov Experience in net to entertain us, this series is over. There's no drama. The Mild are not winning this series. Despite changing personnel and coaches over the past few years, the descendents in spirit of the "St. Paul" Fighting Saints are still one of the blandest and most boring teams to watch.

Sorry, I've tuned out, wake me when the Chicago Blackhawks are in round three.

Battle For Kardashianland

In what should be Tong War: The Sequel after the LA Kings disposed of the San Jose Sharks in a wild first round series looks promising but then I remember it's Darryl Sutter hockey once again.

Look, the Kings have tons of excellent offensive players and Anze Kopitar is a total stud as the Olympics proved and these playoffs are proving. The Kings also show good puck possession numbers if you're into the ex-Quebec Nordique backup goalie statmeister known as the Corsi Conundrum, so why are they so so dull to watch? I mean, if you enjoy Dustin Brown and his borderline hits, then this is the series for you.

Obviously, with the Anaheim Ducks now down 0-2 going across county to the Staples Center, it's an uphill climb given Jonathan Quick has found his 2010 playoff mojo.

Again, wake me when the Ducks make this a series as despite arguably carrying the play, Marian Gaborik seems to be a one-man game-winning goal machine. I just pray we see Gabby (the LA King version not the Duck version) does the following:

Come on, Jonas Hiller, channel your inner Hasek

Friday, May 2, 2014

Beasts Of The East

The first round is always a thrill ride and with one of the best first rounds ever (thank you, return to the divisional playoff cage match matchups), it's onto the round we all tend to fall asleep in.

Not sexy enough to be the "we're one round away" Conference Finals and  in that "we survived the first round" Conference Quarter-Finals. (And, yeah, NHL, could you just call them rounds? Enough with the mouthful Conference Whatever-Finals.)

Let's start with the Land Where Teams Never Change Time Zones

Big Bad Charas vs. 
PK Slapshots

Or to put it mildly--Men vs. Smurfs. The B's have only two roster players under 6' tall (Torey Krug and Brad Marchand) and Nose Face is Ken Linseman rat-like feisty. The Habs meanwhile have eight guys under 6' of which only Brendan Gallagher's smile can match Marchand's borderline insanity.

The Nose Knows

The only thing is any Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens series is never what it looks like on paper (or in the papers, if anyone actually still does this). At least ever since Cam Neely drifted this long one past Saint Patrick (and features some unique Tripp Tracy Caniac-like analysis), the series are not all tilted in the Habs favor.

Since that famous 1988 series win, the B's have actually got the better of the Habs seven series to four head-to-head. Now in 2014 there's no Nathan Horton to score three OT game-winners as he did in the 2011 series so...maybe Game 1 was an omen?

We'll see, but until Carey Price proves worthy of the Jaroslav Halak mantle and actually pulls an upset or two there will be no awarding of the Steve Penney Trophy until then...or he learns French.

Croskin Enigmas vs. 
King Henrik's Quest

All Fleurys aside, the amount of carping on how long Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, James Neal or Chris Kunitz go through goalless droughts seems to be an annual rite of handwringing in the media. Given these four are the top four in shots and in all the other fancy puck possession stats, it's only a matter of time as Malkin's hat trick vs. the Jackets in Game 6 showed.

It's more that pesky third and fourth line of Pittsburgh (and, yes, Son Of FreddieThe Fog must be kicking himself for tying so much money up in Marc-Andre Fleury such that they had to let Jordan Staal leave...apologies to Brandon Sutter but you're no Brent yet).

This is probably the best analysis of why the Penguins are continually underachievers come playoff time. Remember, Ray Shero, there's no third or fourth line better in the East than in Boston.

As far as the much happier under Alain Vigneault New York Rangers but are we as fans? Who didn't want another Philly vs. Pittsburgh thrillfest or crazy bad goaltending, Crosby fighting Giroux and that nutso fan base in the City of No-Crosby Love on display?

C'est la St. Louis!

These two teams at least were pretty even in their regular season matchups both winning twice with two games going to shootouts. The difference is the Pens are finally healthy and, as much as Henrik Lundqvist's good looks just plain scare down shooters, can a New York Rangers team that went from 12th in goals for under Torts to 18th in goals for under AV really have enough goals in them to outscore the Pens...OK, there is the Fleury factor.