Get the Rallies Goin'

NHL fans: How much do they affect the game?

The art of waving rally towels and the overall buzz and hype in big games gets me. The relationship between the in-game experience and the play on the ice intrigues me. Fans unquestionably have an impact on the game. But, how much truth goes into that idea?

Management, coaching staff and the players themselves are always the number one reason for a team’s success. But, “without fans, there would be no game” said Hall of Famer Brett Hull. The crowd, atmosphere and electricity is always the most memorable part of a big game. A player’s duty is always to thank the fans after a win for their support. The fans are the fuel and the team is the race car.

Organizations across the league have gone through countless changes to their in-game experiences. And team success has immediately followed. The last 10 years have seen Washington, Chicago and now Nashville take on makeovers on and around the ice.

Capital one arena (capitals)

Alexander Ovechkin has reshaped the culture in the nation’s capital. But, the most overlooked piece to their return to prominence is how they “rock the red” on a nightly basis.

It’s not a common trend to change team colors. But, the Caps did so prior to the 2007-2008 season. They have made red stanchions around the arena to reflect the team’s colors. And they chant “rock the red” before every home game.

NHL fans

They Rock the Red in the District of Columbia. Photo Courtesy of Flickr

The Washington Capitals have qualified for the postseason each year since the changes. They have also had one of the better average attendances in the NHL.

Most notably in 2015, the Caps on average drew 19,500 fans per night, which is 110.5 percent capacity at the Capital One Arena. Business has been good for the organization. But, there is definitely room for improvement.

Caps fans have yet to see a conference final in the Ovechkin era. According to espn.com, the Capital One Arena has 100 percent of vendors inside the arena that are in violation of health requirements. The venue was recently renamed (formerly Verizon Center) and could also be revamped.

Change is difficult to execute because arenas are often not owned by the teams themselves. But, more change to the in game experience may be what the Caps need to take the next step.

united center (Blackhawks)

The Chicago Blackhawks are the modern day NHL dynasty. Their success began with the consecutive drafts involving Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But it’s the deafening crowd at the United Center that makes it one of the toughest environments for the opposition.

NHL fans

Blackhawks celebrate their 1st Stanley Cup win on home ice. Photo Courtesy of Journal Star

Jim Cornelison (Blackhawks anthem singer) started working full-time at the United Center in 2007. It is one of the most authentic and unifying acts in the sport. Silence is golden typically when the anthem is being sung.

But at the United Center, the fans have stood and cheered during the singing since Cornelison took the reigns. Tickets are very expensive in Chicago, but a seat in section 300 has said to feel the same as any other.

An even more iconic song sung at the United center is that of Chelsea Dagger. It is sung in unison by the Chicago faithful after every Blackhawk goal scored. Rarely is a goal song widely known across the league. But, since 2008, Chelsea Dagger is one of the most recognizable facets of hockey in Chicago.

The significance of these facts is simple. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2007. Season ticket base has increased over 300 percent, and they have sold out 414 consecutive games as of April 5, 2017. The degree of difficulty there is high with United being the third largest arena (in terms of seating capacity) in the NHL. You cannot ignore the correlation between the crowd at the “Madhouse on Madison” and the team itself.

Bridgestone Arena (predators)

The Nashville Predators entered the NHL in 1998. Nineteen years later we witnessed their run to the Stanley Cup Final. And according to Pierre McGuire, “if you haven’t been here, you got to see a game in Nashville”.

The Music City heroes of this past year are still a young franchise that has not yet seen an enormous deal of success. But, this past spring the Preds went toe-to-toe with the champions of Pittsburgh. And all people could talk about was the roaring crowd of the Nashville faithful.

NHL fans

“You can’t stop Preds fans, you can only hope to contain them” – Bob Hille Photo Courtesy of The Sporting News

Small market teams do not usually get this kind of recognition, but this season was different than all others for this organization. They had their highest average attendance in team history, and almost broke the world record for loudest crowd roar during the postseason. The decibels inside the arena during the conference finals came in at 129.4, which nearly reached the Guinness book’s 130.4.

The team’s invigoration from the Nashville crowd helped them achieve the unthinkable. They swept the No. 1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks as an eight seed and carried that momentum all the way to the finals. The Preds even outplayed Pittsburgh for the majority of the series and fell just short.

Every fan wants to know that their crazed emotional investment is impactful. These teams undeniably prove that fact. The troubling times during rebuilds and being a new team in the league is rough. But, I guarantee the fan bases in these markets will tell you the wait was worth every second.

 

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Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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Jonathan Toews’ playoff struggles doom Chicago Blackhawks

At Game 4 between the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, a man dressed up as Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?” was found in the stands at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

You could make the case it was Johnathan Toews wearing the Waldo clothes, since he was missing the entire 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.  But by the time he was found at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks were well on their way to a 4-1 loss and a first round exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators.

It was a quiet conclusion to a historically bad series for the Blackhawks, who entered as the top seed in the Western Conference.  It was the first time they had been swept in a playoff series since 1993, and the first time the 1st seed was swept in the first round in the NHL’s current playoff format.  Perhaps more concerning, it’s the 2nd straight season that Chicago exits in the 1st round.  Expectations are constantly high for the 6-time champion Blackhawks, but after they collected 109 points, their second-highest season total, their elimination was shocking and disappointing.

(Photo courtesy: chicagotribune.com)

So how did this happen?  It was the offense that was stagnant, with Toews at the forefront of the issues.  The Blackhawks didn’t score in the first two games of the series and look listless doing so.  A Predators defense that was physical the entire series pressured Toews any chance he got.  When he touched the puck, he was swarmed multiple times and had to make a quick decision on what to do with it.  Even more concerning was his inability to put shots on net.  Ten shots on net in four games is unspectacular for a player who’s scored 20 goals in each of his nine seasons in the league.  Granted, Pekka Rinne was stellar the entire series, but Toews and the rest of the offense couldn’t get much going against Nashville’s blue line anyway.

Just how concerning was it that Toews and Patrick Kane struggled this series?  I think Blackhawks fans have to tip their cap to Rinne and the Preds, who fell to Chicago in the 1st round two years ago and lost four of five in the regular season series.  They had scoring from multiple lines and were relentless in front of the net.  However, the scoring variety that Nashville had was nonexistent with Chicago.  Toews, Kane, and Dennis Rasmussen were the only goal scorers in the series.  Artemi Panarin, the young winger coming off a 74-point campaign, was -4 on the ice.  When the leading producers on offense can’t get going, then the entire unit looks disjointed, as it did in the first two games.  When they built a 2-goal in Game 3, it was the defense and exhaustion that ultimately doomed then.  However, this Blackhawks team built its small dynasty on high-production from Kane and Toews.  They haven’t gotten it in the playoffs the last two years, and it’s hurt them as a result.

(Photo courtesy: cnbcchicago.com)

Now that the Chicago offseason arrives early for the second straight season, questions about whether the Blackhawks can reach those glory days again dominate the headlines.  It starts with Toews, who is owed $10.5 million every year until 2023.  While he is still a solid scorer, he is coming off a career-low 21 goals.  And for someone who’s only scored one postseason goal the past two years, it’s a lot of money for someone who is fading in crunch time.  Kane has the same contract as Toews, and Panarin is improving to the point where he may demand a big payday soon.  That doesn’t even factor in the salary they need to address issues on defense.  The Blackhawks currently have less than $3 million in cap space for next season.  This means the players making the big bucks need to produce when it matters the most.

The thing about Waldo is you always managed to find him at the end of the book.  Jonathan Toews is much easier to find on the ice than Waldo is at a crowded amusement park.  But if Toews wants to keep the Blackhawks in the upper echelon of hockey, he can’t disappear in the playoffs while wearing the red and white.

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Gustav Nyquist, Brian McGratten, Edmonton Oilers, Zach Kassian, Vancouver Canucks, Charlie Coyle, Minnesota Wild, Duncan Keith, Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Sam Gagner, NHL, Department of Player Safety, Suspension, Hockey, High-Stick

Is Six Games Enough For Nyquist’s High Stick?

On Wednesday the NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed Gustav Nyquist, of the Detroit Red Wings, a six game suspension for high-sticking Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon. He will be suspended without pay and forfeit $158,333.34 to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

The six game ruling came after the Swedish winger waived the right to an in-person hearing. Given that he was offered an in-person hearing the League’s Department of Player Safety had the ability to hand out a lengthier sentence but chose not to.

Which has many wondering if they should they have?

THE HIGH-STICK

The suspension came in the wake of a blatant high-sticking incident which took place during a game between the Wings and the Wild in Minnesota on Sunday, February 12. Nyquist was penalized for the play, assessed a double-minor for high-sticking at 14:13 of the first period.

In defense of his actions Nyquist stated that his intention was not to spear Spurgeon in the face, but rather deliver a cross-check in retaliation for the one he had just received from the Wild defenseman. He attested that he had attempted to bring his stick across his body but the blade was accidentally caught by Spurgeon instead.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE

Regardless of his intention, Nyquist did in fact spear Spurgeon square in face. He delivered a high-stick the Department of Player Safety called “potentially career-threatening.” Had Nyquist been able to bring his stick across his body without spearing Spurgeon, he still admitted to attempting to deliver a blow to player with his stick.

This intention on this play was to injure and the results could have been much worse.

Handing out only a six game sentence has many dumbfounded of the League’s decision, including the former NHL enforcer Brian McGrattan.

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SIX IS FAIR

Let’s give the guy a little credit here. If he said he didn’t mean to do it then we ought to take his word for it. At least a little bit.

Consider the fact that Nyquist has no prior suspensions and has never been involved in an incident like this. He is not known as an overly physical player and has no history of aggression or behavioral problems. All things considered, Gustav Nyquist has behaved himself while in the NHL and this is really the first time his name has ever come across the desk of the Department of Player Safety.

It is worth noting, as TSN insider Bob McKenzie has, that similar high-sticking incident have in the past been given similar suspensions.

Duncan Keith was suspended for six games for his high-stick against the Minnesotta Wild’s Charlie Coyle back in March of 2016. One of those games being a playoff game.

Similarly, Zach Kassian was handed an eight game suspension for his high-stick on Edmonton’s Sam Gagner back in September of 2013.

The Department of Player Safety defended their ruling by highlighting the fact that, in the end, there was no injury on the play and Nyquist has no history of erratic, aggressive, or dangerous behavior.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

If you think that six games was too much then you’re just plain wrong. So wrong that there’s simply no point in arguing with you.

Nyquist needs to be held accountable for his actions. Regardless of his intentions, he is responsible for his play on the ice. He made an irresponsible play with his stick and will have six games to think about it.

The Department of Player Safety needs to be careful with their rulings on plays like these, though. A play which has clear intent to injure might be something which ought to warrant more than six games.

Food for thought.

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NHL Playoffs: 1st Round wrap up

As the first round nears its end, the playoffs have really heated up. With only one series over the others are coming down to the wire. The Red Wings came up short again against the Lightning, and the Ducks are right back in it.

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3-1)

Washington failed to end the series in just four games but, is in a good position to finish off the series at home in game 5. Braden Holtby is only averaging one goal allowed per game, with the power play working so well for the Capitals I think the series ends tonight.

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders (2-2)

Each teams with one win at home and one away a tight series goes back to Florida for game 5. At this point leader for the Panthers Jaromir Jagr has started out slow only has one assists in the first four games. Jonathon Tavares for the Islanders is back to his great offensive plays with seven points in the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (3-1)

Evgeni Malkin (zimbio.com)

The Penguins look to end the series on Saturday at home. With a commanding 5-0 win in New York the Rangers find themselves in a tough spot. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled from the net for the Rangers, will he be ready to go on Saturday? Center, Evgeni Malkin, scored two goals and two assists for the Penguins who just recently came back from an injury. I initially had the Penguins winning in 6 games but I think it will end a game short of that mark.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings (4-1)

This is the only series that is finished with Tampa Bay Lightning winning in five games. When back up goaltender Petr Mrazek came in and won the third game of the series taking Jimmy Howard’s spot. Mrazek was not enough to control this Lightning offense though. Tampa Bay’s right winger Nikita Kucherov  has five goals in as many games and has really found his playoff groove.

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild (3-1)

A series that I predicted to end in four games has extended to at least five games. On Wednesday the Stars got back to their winning ways. The Wild are in a do or die situation going back to Dallas for game 5. I’m trying to not count the Wild out but they’re just not up to the Stars level of play.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3-2)

Patrick Kane (windycitizensports)

One of the most intense sporting event scenarios is 5 on 5 overtime playoff  hockey. We have already seen two overtime games in this series and I feel another one coming. The Hawks star Patrick Kane, won the game in double OT last night after the Blackhawks blew a 3-1 3rd period lead. The next game is back in Chicago, one can only hope to see the Blackhawks force a game 7.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (1-3)

The Kings are coming back home for game 5 looking to bring this series a little closer in reach. The Sharks have looked great, forcing the L.A. defense into turnovers and taking plenty of shots. Every game has been decided by one goal so these games can really go either way. Keep in the back of your mind the 13-14 playoffs when the Kings came back down (3-0) to the Sharks, anything can happen in the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (2-2)

Heading into Nashville the Anaheim Ducks had lost the opening two home games and were entering an almost most win. Now the Ducks have tied the series and have outscored the Predators 7-1 in the past two games. In the first two games, Nashville looked like a true contender winning on the road. I can not wait to see how this series turns out.

 

 

 

NHL Review After Two Days

After two days of action away teams started out the playoffs 2-5, about what we’d expect from the first round. Ducks and Predators yet to play first game.

Red Wings vs. Lightning (2-3)

Justin Abdelkader (8) and Nikita Kucherov (86) (octupusthrower.com)

Ben Bishop was sharp in net for Tampa Bay. The Wings looked great in the beginning winning the races to the puck but once Tampa got on the board they started to heat up. The Lightning were like a well oiled machine towards the end of the game.

Blackhawks vs. Blues (0-1)

Through three periods both teams found themselves still scoreless. Like usual the Chicago Blackhawks are playing overtime hockey in the playoffs but to some surprise they do not come out on top. Yet, no one is surprised that the loan goal scorer in the game was Blues center David Backes. Backes always finds a way to hurt the Hawks and finds ways to win games. More close games to come.

Rangers vs. Penguins (2-5)

One of the big story lines of the playoffs at this point is the injury to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Henrik was accidentally poked in the eye by a stick and was taking out of the game. The Penguins were just to much to handle for the Rangers. Patric Hornqvist finished with a hat trick and an assist, alongside Sidney Crosby who scored a goal with two assists. Third string goalie Jeff Zatkoff  played great for the Penguins as well only allowing 2 goals on 37 shots.

Flyers vs. Capitals (0-2)

The Capitals, a heavy favorite took care of business in the first game. Braden Holtby only had to make 19 saves in this shutout win. The Capitals never let the Flyers offense get going, even after an abundance bad penalties, the Flyers still could not capitalize. The Flyers goaltender Steve Mason held up his end of the bargain only allowing two goals to a great offensive team like the Capitals. Flyers are going to need to score at least three goals if they want to win against the Caps.

Islanders vs. Panthers (5-4)

The biggest winners of the first two days are the New York Islanders who went down to Florida and took a game from the Panthers. In a back in forth game with numerous lead changes the Islanders outlasted the Panthers. All of the Islanders five goals were scored by different players. If the Panthers want to take command of the series goalie Roberto Luongo needs to play much better.

Wild vs. Stars (0-4)

In a commanding win the Stars took a 1-0 series lead with ease. Radek Faska scored the first goal in his first career playoff game. I predicted this series ending in four games and after this game nothing leads me to believe anything else.

two goals for Joe Pavelski (new.rapgenius.com)

Sharks vs. Kings (4-3)

In what I believed to be the best game of the first two days the underdog sharks won a game on the road in L.A. U.S. born Joe Pavelski scored two goals in the win for the Sharks. Johnathan Quick, known for being an elite goaltender needs to have a good bounce back game to tie up the series 1-1.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan

(1) Washington Capitals (56-18-6-2, 120 pts) vs. (wild card) Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-6-8, 96 pts)

Pick: Washington Capitals in 5

Key Players: WSH- G Braden Holtby, LW Alexander Ovechkin; PHI- RW Wayne Simmonds, D Shayne Gostisbehere

The Flyers story is awesome. From looking like they were not going to make the playoffs, the Flyers have been hot and now find themselves up against the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals. The story is great but the road ends here. Look for this to be a bruising series with the Philadelphia Flyers being one of the teams that hits the most. Braden Holtby will shut down the Flyers forwards who lack multiple goal scorers. Alexander Ovechkin is known for being one of the best regular season scorers, but usually starts out slow in the playoffs. If the Ovechkin heats up, watch out, this game will be over in four if he is ripping one timers for the slot.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) New York Rangers (46-27-7-2, 101 pts)

Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6

Key Players: PIT- D Kris Letang, C Sidney Crosby; NYR- G Henrik Lundqvist, LW Kris Kreider

Two similar teams facing off with plenty of veteran players on the ice. Kris Kreider shocked a lot of people last year in the playoffs showing off his speed blowing past defenders with ease. If you are going into a game with King Henrik in net you always know you have a chance to win so don’t be surprised if this game goes to game seven. Kris Letang is a great goal scoring defenseman that will come up big for the Penguins power play. Coming off an injury, Evgeni Malkin looks to get back to his usual ways with fresh legs he can be a big contributor for Pittsburgh.

Atlantic

(1) Florida Panthers (47-26-6-3, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) New York Islanders (45-27-5-5, 100 pts)

Pick: Florida Panthers in 7

Key Players: FLA- G Roberto Luongo, RW Jaromir Jagr; NYI- CnJohn Tavares, LW Brock Nelson

44 year-old Jaromir Jagr (miami.cbslocal.com)

One of the harder series to predict, the Islanders can surprise people with some really talented forwards. With probably the best fourth line in the league the Islanders are a serious threat. Roberto Luongo gets to face off against the team that drafted him and has the daunting task of stopping Jonathon Tavares. JT was near the top of the league in scoring last year and is heating up. What is there to say about Jaromir Jagr? At 44 years-old the Czechoslovakian is leading his team in points and is the leader they need to make a playoff run.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-2-3 97 pts) vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings (41-30-6-5 93 pts)

Pick: Detroit Red Wings in 7

Key Players: DET- C Pavel Datsyuk, C Dylan Larkin; TB- C Steven Stamkos, G Ben Bishop

It’s Pavel Datsyuk’s final call as he goes for his third Cup, he will return to his home country Russia after the playoffs. Most likely stepping into his 1st line center position next year is rookie Dylan Larkin, who looks to use his speed to launch a successful playoff series. 6′ 7” Ben Bishop is hoping to have another great playoff performance after last year making great saves look easy on a daily basis.

Western Conference

Central

(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (wild card) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)

Pick: Dallas Stars in 4

Key Players: DAL- LW- Jaime Benn, D- John Klingberg MIN-LW- Zach Parise, LW- Thomas Vanek

The state of hockey won’t be happy about this one but they are just not quite there yet. The Dallas Stars are an all-around good team, I see the Stars taking care of the Wild quickly. Jaime Benn is an elite offensive player. When Zach Parise gets in the action the Wild can beat good teams and will catch some people’s attention. Thomas Vanek is not the most well-known players but he is a lethal sniper that can score goals with the best of them.

(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)

Pick: Chicago Blackhawks in 7

Key Players: CHI- RW- Patrick Kane, LW- Artemi Panarin, STL- C- David Backes, RW- Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (zimbio.com)

Growing up in the Chicago area, it is hard for me to root against my Blackhawks. They are going up against a Blues team that was a win away from the lead in points in the Western Conference. The Blues though have struggled in the first round in the past two years. With the best one-two punch of Panarin and Kane the second line of the Blackhawks is deadly and will be the reason why the Hawks advance or lose. A long series is to come for these rivals only separated by 300 miles.

 

Pacific

(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)

Pick: Anaheim Ducks in 5

Key Players: ANA-RW Corey Perry, C  Ryan Getzlaf; NSH- G Pekka Rinne, D Roman Josi

The best power play, penalty kill, and goals against per game in the league resides in Anaheim. The team I have picked to win it all is the most all-around team. Grinder Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler will be spending most of their playoff time in front of the goalie always in the way making Pekka Rinne’s job as hard as possible. The Predators are lacking an edge, if they go down two goals in a game I would not have the confidence they could come back.

Offensive Defenseman Brent Burns (milehighsticking.com)

(2) Los Angeles Kings (48-28-3-3, 102 pts) vs. (3) San Jose Sharks (46-30-3-3, 98 pts)

Pick: Los Angeles Kings in 6

Key Players: LA- G Johnathon Quick, LW Milan Lucic; SJS- C Joe Pavelski, D Brent Burns

San Jose has some great players that turned it around this year from a disappointing year in 2014. The caveman look-a-like Brent Burns is a talented left winger turned defenseman. Quick is known for being one of the better goalies in the league and has proved it in prior playoffs. Milan Lucic was acquired by the Kings in the off-season and the locomotive is ready to be roll deep into the playoffs. The Kings have stars in their lineup up and down their roster, and have too much for talent for the Sharks in this California brawl.