Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...

No, it's not a springtime Christmas. Although given the crazy weather, that could have been a possibility. The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs start today, and for crazy hockey fans, they are better than any holiday. Playoff hockey is so intense: the pace is  faster, the shots are harder, the goals are bigger, and the competition produces a level of hockey that is inherently better. This year, it seems like any team has a chance to win the Cup, and the toss-up proves exciting for fans of any team (mostly Penguins fans: this is our year . . . again). Aside from that rivalries are sure to bring the drama (I'm looking at you, Rangers-Flyers), the underdogs are sure to bring the upsets (Detroit, anyone?), and the Bell Centre is sure to bring the Ol├ęs. So let's break down why I'm so excited:

The Western Conference: The Better, Less Dramatic Conference (compared to the East's exploits)


  • Colorado Avalanche (1) v. Minnesota Wild (4): How exactly did the Avalanche get to be the first seed? They went from the worst team that got the first draft pick to the little team that could. Maybe it's because of all the young guys they have . . . the average age on the team is literally eighteen. Nevertheless, they have incredibly good goal tending, and scoring, I guess. The big thing here is that Patrick Roy coaches the team, so it'll be fun to see if he blows up or not. Then there are the Wild. They carry the two most expensive players in the NHL, and  Matt Moulson, and crazy Mr Universe (Ilya Bryzgalov) as their goalie. They are eccentric ... to say to the least. The fun thing here will be to see Ryan Suter be a beast and play thirty minutes per night,  and to see if Bryzgalov pulls anything insane.

    • My prediction: Colorado wins in 7, but upset potential is very likely given the untested nature of the Avalanche
    • Players to Watch Out For: Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
    Swedish flow
    #BEAST
    • St Louis Blues (2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3): How the mighty have fallen. The Blackhawks'  fall from the top is mostly attributed to injuries, but I hypothesize that it was a complication from an over inflated ego. The Blues just started being really bad (and injured too) after looking really good for the first half of the year. That, combined with the return of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the Hawks, puts them at a disadvantage. But part of me wants them to win so that NBCSports can find something else to talk about. These teams have an intense historical rivalry, but what everyone wants to know is if American hero TJ Oshie will be back and work his magic in time to make a difference in this series. This is literally sports network fodder, so get ready for a lot of fun (and analysis).
        • My prediction: Chicago wins in 6, because they are the more battle-tested team and have their two best scorers.
        • Players to watch for: Jonathan Toews (Chicago), TJ Oshie (if he returns in time)
      America's Pride and Joy
      Captain Serious
      • Anaheim Ducks (1) v. Dallas Stars (4): I don't really have much to say here, but I'll say something anyway. The Ducks are very good, and they have Ben Lovejoy as a defenseman (I wish he never left the Penguins). The Stars have Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who are becoming stars (no pun intended) in their own right, but might not have the experience to take on a team of this caliber. This series will have plenty of good hockey though, and being a playoff series, will  be exciting to see unfold. Also, it's Teemu Selanne's last playoffs ever, and it will no doubt be sad to see this ageless wonder leave the NHL for good.
        • My prediction: Ducks win 4-0. They're just too good.
        • Players to watch: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (Anaheim), Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn (Dallas), and Teemu Selanne because it's his last playoffs ever (sob!)
      The Talented Duo along with the Finnish Flash
      The Stars' stars
      • San Jose Sharks (2) v. Los Angeles Kings (3): The Battle of California commences. These two teams met last year in the playoffs, and the Sharks are looking for redemption after going home empty handed (again). The Sharks have got some smart, veteran forwards that are also scoring machines (ie. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau), and also have a great goalie in Antti Niemi. Furthermore, they have the added bonus of rookie sensation Tomas Hertl, who was on the brink of an amazing rookie year when the injury bug hit him. The Kings are not to be discounted though. They have probably one of the most underrated stars in the league in Anze Kopitar, who can do everything from score to defend in his own zone. They also have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for scoring, and a "clutch" performer in defenseman Drew Doughty (seriously, did you watch him in the Olympics?). The best part is in the net, as my goalie-loving heart knows that Jonathan Quick is one of the best goaltenders today (American hockey churns out good goalies). The stage has been set, there have been nasty blows and words exchanged, and these two teams are ready to go at it again.
        • My prediction: The Kings in 7. They won last year, and they kind of revel in letting San Jose miss out on a chance to win the Cup again (You know what they say about San Jose, always the bridesmaid but never the bride), probably because they want to win it too.
        • Players to Watch: "Jumbo" Joe Thornton (San Jose), Anze Kopitar (LA)
      Joe Thornton
      Anze Kopitar


      The Eastern Conference: The Star-Studded Drama Queens that Make Exciting Hockey Happen

      • Tampa Bay Lightning (2) v. Montreal Canadiens (3): It's always fun when the Habs make the playoffs. The Bell Centre is always jumping alive and full of energy during home games, and shows how passionate we Canadians are about our playoff hockey. Tampa Bay is an interesting opponent for the Canadiens, as they have goal-scoring machine/superstar forward Steven Stamkos (remember when he couldn't play for Team Canada and everyone was really, really sad?). Stamkos, along with Ryan Callahan (traded from the Rangers) and rookie sensation Ondrej Palat, will make life tough for the Habs' defense for sure. Carey Price will have to prove his mettle again like he did in the Olympics, and the Bolts have to learn to play without stellar goalie Ben Bishop backing them in net (another good American goalie). All in all, this series involves two very competitive teams and is sure to be full of goals and lots of lively energy (courtesy Le Centre Bell).
        • My prediction: Habs in 6. Montreals looks like a dark horse this year, and there is no doubt they have the support to win.
        • Players to Watch: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), Carey Price (Montreal), The Bell Centre crowd
      "Stammer" doing what he does best
      And Carey Price doing what he does best
      Pure magic
      • New York Rangers (2) v. Philadelphia Flyers (3): Wednesday Night Rivalry, am I right? Living near Philadelphia and being a Penguins fan is not easy, so I'll be very blunt: I don't like the Flyers. No one can make me like them because I just don't. Putting my prejudice aside, they do make for some very entertaining hockey. However, in New York the King (Henrik Lundqvist) reigns supreme, and it's his time to shine. He's basically one of the coolest hockey players to currently play in the league (check out his Instagram and Twitter and prepare to be jealous of his amazing adventures and adorable daughter!), and it's high time he started winning. These two teams have a nasty rivalry (when are the Flyers not nasty to anyone?) that has resulted in a couple of controversial incidents over the years. They both want to win and are gritty and passionate, making this series one heck of a ride to be on.
        • My prediction: Rangers in 7. Philly will put up a feisty fight, but ultimately Henrik Lundqvist will reel this in for the Blueshirts.
        • Players to watch: Claude Giroux (Philadelphia), Henrik Lundqvist (New York)
      Orange is not the new black . . .
      The King
      • Boston Bruins (1) v. Detroit Red Wings (4): 23 years. That's how long the Red Wings have been making the playoffs. That's longer than both me and the Columbus Blue Jackets have been alive. Detroit faced a tough road to the playoffs this year, with injuries and general team struggles. However, they managed to worm their way into the playoffs and into my heart once more. Overseeing Operation: Playoffs was one of the wisest coaches in the NHL and an individual that I thoroughly respect -- Mike Babcock. Detroit has been through everything: dealing with star injuries (Henrik Zetterberg is still injured), living with a team that was almost made up of minor-leaguers, and the pressure of keeping the streak alive. But they did it. And now I'm practically elated. But standing in their way are the big, bad Bruins (Zdeno Chara is 6'9" people, 6'9"). They are the best team in the NHL, with solid scoring (Krejci, Lucic, Bergeron, Iginla, and even Marchand). Their defense is  talented and has Torey Krug, who's really blossomed in his rookie season. Then there's the beast in net: Tuukka Rask. He's probably been the best goalie in the NHL this season, and is prone to having temper tantrums if he doesn't win. Tuukka really wants to win. The Red Wings have no small task ahead of them, and this Original Six showdown promises to be something that you don't want to miss.
        • My prediction: Red Wings in 7. Yes, I'm feeling an upset. If any team has the heart and passion to win, it's them. Even if they don't win, they won't go quietly.
        • Players to watch: Tuukka Rask (Boston), Gustav Nyquist (Detroit)
      It's Tuukka time!
      Nyquist has been the real MVP of the Wings' season
      • Pittsburgh Penguins (1) v. Columbus Blue Jackets (4): This had to be last. It may not sound like the most exciting series, but it is definitely the one I care most about.. One word. Crosby. Two words. The Flower. Three words. Two-Headed-Monster. Those word practically define the Penguins' assets. Crosby is the best player in the league and the word, and he makes the smart plays that lead to goals and assists. The two-headed monster (Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) will make a triumphant return tonight and destroy the other team (hopefully) Finally, I know Marc-Andre Fleury has been the subject of a lot of criticism for his playoff performance last year. It's too bad I love him to pieces; I'm confident that he can make a rip-roaring return to the playoff scene. Even though faith in him is shaky, and this year determines his future, the Flower I've seen is more confident and will do his best to show up for his team, night in night out. The Penguins' real problem lies in the lack of secondary scoring, but they have a confident defense that has shown up all season despite losing so many man-games to injury. The Blue Jackets are feisty, though, and always seem to get good at the right time. Many people view their young core and talented goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky as a recipe for an upset, and they could very well be right. But here's to the Penguins and Flower; I hope this year is really our year and that we can weather the storm to make it all the way!
        • My prediction: Penguins in 6. The Pens shut out the regular season series and are at the top of the division. Even though the Jackets will fight, the star power will get the Pens through to the second round.Very nervous to see how this turns out, though.
        • Players to watch: Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus), The Two-Headed Monster and Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh).
        • "Bob"
          The Two-Headed Monster talks things through
          Une Belle Fleur
          So that's all there is to it! I hope I didn't sound too much like a hockey nerd and my fondness for goalies didn't send you running for the door. I'm just really excited for the playoffs. I hope I've inspired you to watch them and tag along for the crazy ride!!
          -- Isra

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