Written by: Keith Ricci
St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks
Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues should have little to no trouble running over the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks were supposed to contend for the Conference title, as they are expected to every year, and instead needed to win their last four to get in to the playoffs. They did and congrats to them for getting it done when needed but they should have run away with the division. Their front six were expected to be top three in the west and they just haven’t produced. Goaltending for the Sharks has been okay and as I mentioned before Niemi has won a Stanley Cup, but the team as a whole will be no match for the Blues and Ken Hitchcock’s team first work ethic he brought to St. Louis when he was hired in November.
They are a monster. They have two goalies that just don’t give up goals. Their backup has 23 wins, 9 shutouts and a 1.56 GAA. Their starter’s stats aren’t quite as lofty and yet he still starts. They score in bunches from every line, they back-check, fore-check and finished second in team +/-. They have no superstars and perform like Ivan Drago in the montage scene leading up to the final bout in Rocky IV. They keep punching the machine and the numbers get higher and higher. I honestly see no way they can be beaten as long as they keep playing Hitchcock’s new style. He lead the Stars to the Stanley Cup in ‘99 and the finals in ’00 with a suffocating, defensive we may score but you definitely won’t style that seemed to be dead in the new, post lockout era. He has adapted that style to the new game and if they go deep in this year’s playoffs watch for a lot of teams to follow suit. They don’t turn it over, everyone is accountable and no one is out of position. It’s beautiful to watch and I make my 14 year old sit next to me while I wax poetic about its efficiency of motion and effort. The Blues are going to win the cup and they start by spearing the Sharks in 5.
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Two years ago the Blackhawks rolled through the playoffs and walked away with the Stanley Cup on the back of a goalie they promptly let go. Antti Niemi will be skating for the San Jose Sharks this postseason and is currently the only starting goalie in the Western Conference with a Stanley Cup Ring. Corey Crawford wrestled the starting job from veteran Marty Turco last season as a rookie and played fairly well winning 33 games and posting a 2.30 GAA. The Hawks qualified for the playoffs last year on the last day of the season only because the Stars lost to the Wild but still extended the Canucks to overtime in game 7 of the first round. This year they come in as the 6 seed and are poised for an upset, if you can call it an upset. Chicago finished with 101 points while Phoenix mustered up 97. Phoenix gets the higher seed because they won their division but that may be a practicality. Phoenix is a bit of a miracle. They haven’t had an owner in three years and haven’t had money to spend in probably ten. Coach Dave Tippett has his guys back in the playoffs for the second straight year and this year he has home ice for at least the first round. They have a long history of failure once they get this far and other than the odds I don’t see a reason they can beat Chicago.
They are relying on Mike Smith, a goaltender that has seen more miles than that guy that promotes Motel 6 and swears “we’ll leave the light on for ya!” At 30 years old he seems to have found a home and was spectacular down the stretch when the division was on the line. He posted a 54 save shutout of Columbus that was a microcosm of the season. “We play hard, hang on and eventually the system wins.” The Yotes’ played a lot of overtime hockey and got the extra point. That kind of system generally does not win in the playoffs as the next goal wins scenario is a crap shoot. Conn Smythe winner Jon Toews is scheduled to be back for the Hawks in game one and as good as Dave Tippett’s Coyotes teams are in the regular season they crater in the playoffs. I am really up in the air on this one but I am leaning towards the recent playoff success of the Blackhawks overwhelming the Coyotes and their fragile franchise psyche. Smith and Crawford seem like a wash but the Hawks scoring lines are far and away better than the Coyotes. Still, eventually a team has to win a playoff series, right? Especially after they win the first division title in the 33 year history of the franchise.
Coyotes in 7 and then maybe the cup ends up in Canada after all when the team moves to Québec City in the summer.
There it is kids. The west, all broken down nice and neat for you in 4 or 5 simple pages. Please don’t save this so you can tell me when I’m wrong, rather keep it near to your hearts so we can celebrate when it all comes true.
Written by: Matthew Blunk
The Philadelphia Flyers aren't the only NHL team keeping busy this summer.
One week after locking up left wing Taylor Hall with a seven-year contract, the Edmonton Oilers signed forward Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million extension. The newly "man-strong" Eberle posted 34 goals and 76 points in 78 during the 2011-12 season, in a breakout campaign for the 22-year-old right wing.
Written by: Matthew Blunk
Amidst the uncertainty of this NHL offseason, with murmurs of a potential lockout to come, the Philadelphia Flyers have signed two more players to long-term deals.
Philadelphia signed forward Wayne Simmonds to a 6-year, near $24 million extension on Aug. 16. On Monday, the Flyers agreed to extend forward Scott Hartnell with a 6-year, $28.5 million deal. …
Written by: Matthew Blunk
1) Evgeni Malkin, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
2) Sidney Crosby, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
3) Claude Giroux, C - Philadelphia Flyers
4) Steven Stamkos, F - Tampa Bay Lightning
5) Jonathan Quick, G - Los Angeles Kings
6) Alexander Ovechkin, F - Washington Capitals
7) Henrik Lundqvist, G - New York Rangers