Monday, May 24, 2010

This Is Gonna Be The Year!

...that the Chicago Black Hawks will break their record long drought and win the Stanley Cup! It's been 49 years, last time they won it was the 1960-61 season. Finally, after all these years of supporting the team through the good, the bad and awful years, I am proud to wear red, black and white.

My first memory of watching NHL hockey was during the 1970-71 playoff finals with Chicago playing the Montreal Canadians. The sheer excitement and speed of the game captivated me and despite being Canadian, I cheered for the Hawks. I'm not sure why, maybe it was Tony Esposito's mask or I liked their jersey's, but since that series I have been a dedicated and long-suffering fan. (The Canadians won the series 4-3) They have come close since, in 72-73 it was another Esposito/Dryden showdown again with the Habs winning the Cup 4-2 and more recently in 91-92 the Hawks made the finals and were swept by the Penguins 4-0 (Lemieux/Jagr era).

If you're a Hawks fan you have reason to be excited. I truly believe their chances are very good they have a realistically great shot at winning the Cup. Everything has come together at the right time and as the playoffs have progressed they have been stronger every game. Who would have predicted the Hawks would sweep the Sharks and that their biggest test in the playoffs so far was the first series against Nashville. If you go back to game 5 against the Preds when Nashville led 4-3 the game with less than a minute in the third, then Marian Hossa took a 5 minute major. If the Preds hung onto that lead they would have taken a 3-2 lead in the series, but instead Kane scores shorthanded with 14 seconds to tie it, then Hossa (fresh out of the penalty box) scores in OT to give Chicago a 3-2 series lead. That dramatic turn of events in my mind was the turning point of the playoffs for Chicago.

So, this week get out all your Blackhawks memorabilia and proudly cheer Winnipeg's newly adopted team...or at least my favourite team, but hey, Jonathan Toews is great reason to get behind the Hawks. JT from St.V has been amazing and has to be considered a front runner for the Conn Smythe and as long as the Hawks don't take the Flyers lightly I have a good feeling about how this will end. I've been waiting my whole lifetime and it would make my day (and year) if the Cup returns to the windy city and isn't it a coincidence that I finally went to a Hawks game in Chicago this April (last regular season game). I guess getting a ticket for one of the Cup final games is out of the question...or is it?
Chicago in 6

In case there's any confusion of when to NOT make plans (other than watching hockey), here are the dates of the Stanley Cup finals:

Saturday, May 29 at Chicago, 8 p.m.
Monday, May 31 at Chicago, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 2 at Philadelphia, 8 p.m.
Friday, June 4 at Philadelphia, 8 p.m.
*Sunday, June 6 at Chicago, 8 p.m.
*Wednesday, June 9 at Philadelphia, 8 p.m.
*Friday, June 11 at Chicago, 8 p.m.

- * denotes if necessary
- All Times Eastern

Friday, May 14, 2010

Greatest Comeback Ever?

Can you believe the playoffs so far? First, the Canadians knock off the heavily favoured Capitals in round one, then dispose of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two and tonight the Philadelphia Flyers complete their amazing comeback against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the series before the Flyers squeezed out a overtime win in game 4 and carried that momentum all the way through to game 7. Not since the 1942 Leafs and the '75 Islanders has a NHL team come back from a 3-0 deficit and to top it off, the Flyers were down 3-0 in the first period of game 7, then went on to to win the game 4-3.

So this brings the question, what is more surprising or amazing?...the Canadians eliminating Washington and Pittsburgh or Philadelphia's come from behind series win against Boston?

Round 3 Predictions
Philadelphia (7) vs Montreal (8)
So, your team battles through 84 regular season games so you can seed higher in your conference to gain home ice advantage and it eventually turns out it's the bottom two teams that end up in the conference final...who would have predicted this! So far, home ice has been bogus, all the game sevens this year saw the visitors win and I think the visiting teams have won the majority of games (don't quote me on that one) so far in the 2010 playoffs. What's with all the too-many men on the ice penalties, something like 33 or 34 so far with only 17 all of last year's playoffs. Of course, the decisive winning goal for the Flyers was scored on the power play because of a too many men penalty.

On paper and based on the regular season, both teams shouldn't be here, but they are because they deserve it and have played playoff hockey like it should be played. The Habs are still riding the heroics of Halak, but in round two the Canadians had some offensive help from the Gomez, Cammelleri and Gionta line. Montreal has blanketed the scorers from the Caps and Pens and they continue to play a solid-two way game that will be hard to beat. The Flyers finally got some valuable contributions from Richards, Briere and Gagner during the last 4 games of the series and are 7-1 with a healthy Gagner in the lineup. The key will be goaltending, Halak again needs to be solid, but shouldn't be as busy as the past two series, while the Flyers will have to rely on Michael Leighten to carry the load, as injured starter Brian Boucher will not be back this round. I'm expecting a long and exciting series with two underachieving teams from the regular season battling for a chance to play in the Stanley Cup...and there will be more riots in Montreal!
Montreal in 7

San Jose (1) vs Chicago (2)
What a contrast from the Eastern conference, the two top seeds actually making it to the Conference finals. The Sharks played to their potential against Detroit with only one game where they were outplayed and blown out. The Sharks are dangerous because they have a solid balance from their forwards back to their defence and netminder. Joe Thornton has apparently woken up and finally contributed in the playoffs, lessening the load off the other "Joe", Joe Pavelski that is leading the team in scoring. Chicago is led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp who were able to score at will against the Canucks and need to deliver big time against the Sharks if they hope to win the series. Both goalies have had their times of brilliance and disappointment, so this is a toss up, I also think this series could go the full seven games. Can the Hawks beat the Sharks and make it to the finals and win their first Cup since 1961 or will the drought (the longest in the NHL) continue??
Chicago in 7

My record is 8-4 (I knew I should have picked the Flyers!)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stanley Cup Playoff Round 2 Picks

This year's first round produced some of the most exciting series I have seen in a long time. Upsets galore dominated the storyline throughout the league, particularly in the Eastern Conference where the top 3 seeds were eliminated.

Biggest upset
There were a number, the first team to advance was Philadelphia who took the Devils in 5 games. The Devils came into the series as the #2 seed in the East, while the Flyers qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. I predicted the upset, but didn't think it would be over so quickly.

In many ways the Boston win over Buffalo wasn't much of a surprise, but again the Bruins barely made the playoffs and seemed to get scoring from everyone. Also the Buffalo defence didn't play up to their expectations.

The biggest upset of the playoffs (maybe ever?) was 8th seeded Montreal taking down the heavily favoured (to win the cup!) Washington Capitals! The highest scoring team of the regular season only scored 1 power play goal in the whole series and 40+ goal scorer, Alexander Semin had 0. Montreal was down in the series 3-1, then Jaroslav Halak shut the door and put on one of the greatest displays of netminding ever, for games 6 and 7. Amazing!!

First round summary
Phoenix came within one game of winning their first ever playoff series. Not since 1987 has the franchise (Winnipeg Jets) advanced to round two. They came so close, but with captain Doan out with injury and the Wings improving as the series went on, Detroit's experience won out in the end.

Colorado also gave a valiant effort winning two games against the talented Sharks who appeared after game 3 shaken and unsure. The Sharks eventually wore out the Avs, avoiding the upset I predicted.

My theory for these upsets and closer than expected series was the "good teams having a bad season" syndrome. Philadelphia, Montreal, Boston and Detroit all were legitimate contenders for the Cup when the season began, but for whatever reason, mainly through injuries to key players, they had lousy regular seasons who struggled to make the playoffs. All these teams have all their top players back (Marc Savard) and now they are playing to their potential.

Round 2 predictions
Pittsburgh (4) vs Montreal (8)

Can Halak duplicate his performance against the Pens? He'll have to if the Canadians have a chance. Game 1 and 2 have happened already as I write this and Halak was up to his tricks again in game 2. The Pen will completely dominate and out-shoot the Canadians in every game, guaranteed, but remember the Washington series. It should be Pittsburgh, but I want another upset...please!
Montreal in 7

Boston (6) vs Philadelphia (7)
Hard to call, both teams are playing their best hockey of the year and this has potential for being the nastiest series. I'll go on a hunch.
Boston in 7

San Jose (1) vs Detroit (5)
I'm cheating on this one, it's two games in right now and the Sharks are up 2-0. The Red Wings will be better and will make a series out of it still, but I still don't think they'll win it.
San Jose in 6

Chicago (2) vs Vancouver (3)
It would be nice to see two Canadian teams advance, but my heart is with the Hawks. The Hawks better show more heart and intensity than they did in game 1 or else it could be short series. The Hawks have been kind of Jeckle and Hyde recently so I'm sticking with them! Sorry Vancouver!
Chicago in 7

So far I'm 5-3...