big brother little brother

Best NHL rivalries: Big brothers and little brothers

The NHL is full of great historic rivalries that are usually between two cities in close proximity. Bad blood runs deep on and off the ice. You see it during the games in the players and in the stands with the fans. These brutal hatreds are a part of what drives the emotional investments in what many call just a game.

Many of these mutual uneasy feelings involve one team playing the big brother role, with the other playing little brother. One usually has championship pedigree while the other has been in dire search for that particular respect for years. There is appeal to both sides. You either root for sustained excellence or the fighting underdog.

History deals with evolutionary concepts. This is what makes these rivalry stories so intriguing. Two teams have been hating each other ever since their existence. The hatred is passed down through generations of fans that must never fade away. You either pick a side or are born into a side that you must never switch.

Canadiens/Maple Leafs

One of the most historic rivalries in the sport is between two Canadian teams. Two franchises that are the oldest in the league.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs joined the NHL in 1917 (league’s inaugural season). There has been no love lost between the two cities since.

A combined 24 Stanley Cups were won between the two from 1917 to 1967. The two teams were in a class of their own and a competitive rivalry ensued. However, Montreal would claim the big brother role of the feud as Toronto has yet to win a championship since 1967.

Thirty-seven cups have been won in total between the two organizations which is the most by any rivalry and any pair of teams. Twenty-four have been won by Montreal and 10 since the last time Toronto did so in ’67.

It is something the Leafs are reminded by every time they visit Montreal as they look up at each banner. Oct. 14 was the first Maple Leaf victory in Montreal in the last 14 tries thanks to an OT-winner from none other than Auston Matthews.

Now that these two hockey clubs are both playoff caliber teams, we may see the first postseason meeting between the two in 38 years.

Blackhawks/Blues

Fighting in the stands is never appropriate, but it seems to be when St. Louis and Chicago play each other. These two hockey communities are one of today’s biggest big brother/little brother rivalries.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These arch rivals are separated by under 300 miles and both fan bases find their way into enemy territory every time they link up. The dispute spreads further than the ice. It goes into the stands and onto the baseball diamond.

Both cities are crazy about their teams and it is a true war zone when they play. However, in terms of the teams on the ice, one of these teams has had all the fun recently when it comes to winning.

It used to be a true battle between the Hawks and Blues as both teams had two of the three longest cup droughts. Chicago had not won since 1961 and St. Louis had not since 1967. That changed in 2010 as the Hawks won their first of three championships within the last seven-year time frame.

Today, the two clubs have met 12 times in the postseason with Chicago winning eight of the 12 series. The Blues are still in search for their first Stanley Cup as the Hawks continue their reputation of being the league’s modern-day dynasty. This is truly a big brother/little brother rivalry with one team uncomfortably admiring the other and one team giving the other little respect. Nevertheless, the hate is very much mutual.

The Hawks and Blues meet for the first time this year on Oct. 18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Penguins/Capitals

A rivalry with undeniable similarities to Chicago/St. Louis is between Pittsburgh and Washington. One team has reached the top of the NHL mountain multiple times while the other has yet to capture such glory.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

This could be the most lop-sided of the rivalries discussed. The two teams have met in the playoffs 10 times. Pittsburgh has won nine of those meetings and has captured five Stanley Cups since the berth of the rivalry.

This would usually make a similar matchup unwatchable. However, the 2004 and 2005 drafts have made this matchup unquestionably entertaining.

The No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Capitals in 2004 was Alex Ovechkin. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins was Sidney Crosby.

These two have been the faces of the league since the 2005-06 season putting their teams near the top of the standings each year since. Ovechkin and the Caps have won three Presidents Trophies as the No. 1 team in the regular season. Crosby and the Penguins have eliminated the Capitals three times en route to three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Ovechkin era.

The Penguins lead the all-time regular season series against the Caps with 145 wins including a win in their first meeting of the year on Oct. 11. Washington has yet to reach a conference final since Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital. However, as long as they have the talent they possess to compete with Pittsburgh with the potential to win, this rivalry will never be unwatchable.

Today’s most heated Rivals

Historic rivalries will never die, but today, California is host to three teams who may hate each other more than any two teams do in the NHL.

This is unlike the big brother/little brother rivalries in that all three of these teams have had success. Three Stanley Cup championships are combined by each organization since 1993. This is like three big business rivals fighting each other to be the dominant force. Each of these teams are in the same division and meet regularly. The battle of California is heated and is home to extremely passionate fans from Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Rivalries are important. Professional sports and all forms of competition need motives to put those involved in the right frame of mind. Mental toughness and a teams’ psyche is one of the biggest components in winning a hockey game. The teams that win it all are the ones that are mentally tough. Therefore, there is no room to like the opposition.

 

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puck ready drop

The Puck Is Ready To Drop

It has been a dreadfully long offseason. I have not seen a puck dropped at center ice or one hit the back of the net in months. Teams have begun submitting their opening night rosters, which officially declares hockey is back.

There are storylines across the board to start. Players 21 and younger that have made their teams out of training camp are hungry to prove their worth. Some have accomplished this feat coming into the year and looking to build on last season and others are ready to get their feet wet for the first time.

All fans must be alert as opening night is just one day away.

Jake Guentzel

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have found a diamond in the rough midway through last year. Jake Guentzel tallied 16 goals and 17 assists in just 40 games last season. The rookie was the team’s leading goal scorer in the playoffs on their way to capturing their fifth Stanley Cup.

puck ready drop

Photo: Omaha World-Herald

Guentzel will be heading into his first full season with the team. The 23-year-old is setup to have a monstrous season being in what most would agree a very comfortable situation.

The Pens have a top-two forward in Sidney Crosby. They have one of the most dynamic goal scorers in Evgeni Malkin and a pure sniper in Phil Kessel.

The beauty in all of this is that head coach Mike Sullivan spreads the wealth around. Pittsburgh’s power play is the only time you will see these three together.

The reality is that Jake Guentzel is playing with one of the best in Crosby and some of the best players in the National Hockey League in many different circumstances.

I expect to see a huge breakout season for the young up and coming star. Reality may sink in and tell us otherwise. However, the excitement is definitely there as Guentzel prepares for opening night against St. Louis.

Tage Thompson

A 19-year-old American-born hockey player was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He stands at 6-foot-5 and notched 64 points in 70 career collegiate games awaiting his first NHL game this week.

puck ready drop

Photo: Twitter

After totaling one goal and three assists this preseason, the rookie is ready to go according to his head coach Mike Yeo. His name: Tage Thompson.

The rookie has made the Blues roster out of training camp and is set to play against Guentzel on Wednesday. There is hope for this potential star as he has been given this opportunity right away due to St. Louis’ early injuries.

He will start play on the third line with not exactly household names of Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist (former Penguin). However, you may see him at the point on the Blues’ power play with his cannon of a shot. Nevertheless, he must be relentless in creating offense himself this season.

Pressure often fuels rookies, but you never how they will respond. Thompson is being asked to not only contribute in this position, but hopefully be a focal point in the team’s success.

Production needs to come from the bottom six within St. Louis’ lineup for them to be successful. They are a team still looking for their first championship and are relying heavily on their youth. The Blues head to Pittsburgh for opening night on Wednesday, October 4th.

There is no more waiting

Hockey is back, which is the greatest line anyone could say right now. Many believe that baseball is the longest season because of its 162 games. However, hockey goes nine-plus months vs. baseball’s six-plus months.

puck ready drop

Photo: CBC

We need a break from the grind, but the break is excruciating for those who do not play in the final. That is now 29 of the 31 teams in this league.

If you do not play beyond the first and second rounds of the postseason or don’t even the playoffs at all, you are beyond ready. April 9 (last day of ’16-17 season) was almost 200 days ago, which was the last time close to half of NHL cities witnessed their teams playing competitive hockey. It is time.

Let’s drop the puck.

 

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The Ultimate Battle

The ultimate battle in hockey is overcoming injuries. A study shows $218 million in salaries is lost each season due to injuries. The research was done three years ago. That number is now greater due to the league’s higher market value.

Franchise players dash their team’s ability to make the postseason or winning it all every year. Sidney Crosby gets hit in the head in consecutive games midway through the season in 2011 turns into a first round exit. Connor McDavid breaks his collar bone last year, which puts the Oilers back in the cellar for one more season. Steven Stamkos’s absence from the ice the last two years has not allowed Tampa to take the next step. Lightning lost in the finals three seasons ago, one game away form the finals two seasons ago and missed the postseason altogether last year.

Hockey is a sport of matchups. Four trios of forwards and 3 pairs of defenseman, which makes chemistry paramount in a team’s success. One injury to a forward or defenseman puts a team’s alignment into a puzzle. However, the reality is that lineups are drastically shaken up throughout the course of the season.

The St. Louis Blues

The faithful in the Gateway to West will be without four top 9 forwards (Steen, Berglund, Sanford, Fabbri) and one defenseman (Bouwmeester) to start the year. However, one of which (Robby Fabbri) has been ruled out for the entire regular and postseason.

ultimate battle

Robby Fabbri had surgery, rehabbed all offseason and was medically cleared in July. A big hit for the 21 year old that was entering a contract year. Photo courtesy by NHL.com

Two rookies (Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin) now have every opportunity to show and prove they belong on the Blues’ roster. Depth was an issue during the playoffs last season as the Blues were ousted in the 2nd round by Nashville. Pressure and responsibility may or may not be what these hungry rookies need, but that is what they are getting. This could shapeup as a very exciting or struggle-filled start to St. Louis’s season.

These injuries have General Manager Doug Armstrong looking at not just the rookies, but potential replacement players to fill the current voids. Jaromir Jagr, a 45 year-old future hall of famer has been discussed as a potential signing. It would most likely come after the olympics if it does happen because of Jagr’s desire to play in the tournament. The #2 all-time scorer has shown he still has enough in the tank to compete as he recorded 16 goals and 30 assists last season.

The Importance of depth

The saying “we gotta roll four lines and bang bodies” is crucial to the success of any hockey club. Contributions must be made by each top 12 forward and top 6 defenseman in a push for the playoffs and run to the Cup. Goons and enforcers are few and far between in today’s NHL. Every line has to have offensive output for a team to win with great regularity.

ultimate battle

Mark Letestu of the Oilers is a 4th liner, but tallied 16 goals last season (11 on the powerplay). Edmonton later made their 1st playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Photo Courtesy of Canoe Sports

Injury occurrence forces reshaping of lines, which reforms game plans. Coaches have to be on their toes and be prepared to battle just like his players. The man in charge on the bench is the most underrated person of value in a hockey game. He is the one who executively decides who goes onto to the ice at every point in time.

Some matchup their lines differently. The home coach gets to decide. Some go with their first line against the opposing team’s 4th line or the opposite. The point is that a coach’s decisions are constantly altered due to the injuries. Mike Yeo (Blues head coach) is facing these challenges all at once before the season even starts, but countless more will follow.

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NHL Awards predictions for the 2016-2017 season

It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.

Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.

The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.

Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.

Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player

Connor McDavid is nominated for two NHL Awards.

Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.

The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.

In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Sharks D Brent Burns

This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.

As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.

In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman

Nominees:

Lightning D Victor Hedman

Senators D Erik Karlsson

Sharks D Brent Burns

Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.

Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.

From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.

If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.

Prediction: Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender

Nominees:

Canadiens G Carey Price

Captials G Braden Holtby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.

First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.

As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?

The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.

Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky

Calder Trophy – Best Rookie

Auston Matthews can win the first of what could be many NHL Awards

Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Jets RW Patrik Laine

Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews

Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski

While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.

Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.

Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.

Prediction: Auston Matthews

Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward

Nominees:

Wild C Mikko Koivu

Bruins C Patrice Bergeron

Ducks C Ryan Kesler

There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.

Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.

The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.

Prediction: Patrice Bergeron

Other NHL Awards Predictions

Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.

Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.

Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.

NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.

 

Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News

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Stanley Cup Final: Defending champs meet the newcomers

Two hundred twenty-seven days ago, history started its run through the NHL season. Since the opening day of the 2016-17 season, there were stellar rookie campaigns from Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine as well as record-setting milestones from Jaromir Jagr.

The Columbus Blue Jackets enjoyed their best season ever, while the Colorado Avalanche submitted their worst season in franchise history. All the eventful storylines lead to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the title newcomers, the Nashville Predators.

For the Predators, it’s their first-ever trip to the Final in the franchise’s 18-year history. They shocked the hockey world when they swept the Western Conference juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

They followed that up with a five-game series win over the Saint Louis Blues. In their debut in the conference finals, they dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in six games and won in front of their home fans.

The Penguins are used to this spotlight, though their path to this destination was paved different to what they expected. After losing their best defenseman and number one goalie before the opening round, they ended up taking down two division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals.

Then, the surprising Ottawa Senators pushed them to double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final. Chris Kunitz made sure that the Pens faithful left PPG Paints Arena with reason to celebrate with the series-clinching tally.

Nashville and Pittsburgh meet for the third time this season. Each team won a contest in the regular season. Here’s how both teams stack up heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville’s Strengths

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Ryan Ellis (left) with Mattias Ekholm (right). (Photo: Nashville Predators Twitter)

David Poile brought P.K. Subban to the Music City to emphasize the strengths on defense and moving the puck from zone to zone. Both units have been fantastic this postseason.

Subban and Roman Josi have found ways to block shots, create scoring chances and cause havoc in the neutral zone. They have been great, but so have their partners.

Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have combined for 19 points and a +17 rating on the ice. All four logged the most ice time in the playoffs so far. They will continue to do so because of their effectiveness.

While his blue line has been sharp, Pekka Rinne is helping his own cause with his play. While he wasn’t as solid as the first two rounds, he did enough to thwart an impressive Ducks’ offense, allowing 14 goals for a .925 save percentage. He continues to play above his previous playoff production.

Nashville as a unit did well on the penalty kill last series and allowed just five powerplay goals all postseason. From Colton Sissons’ hat trick in Game 6 to clutch goals from unlikely sources, the Preds have surprising depth up front.

This is the most complete team they’ve had in months. Despite entering the playoffs as the eighth seed, Nashville is built like a Stanley Cup-caliber team.

Nashville’s Weaknesses

There aren’t many weaknesses for this team, but it starts with their health. Ryan Johansen, their best skill forward, is out after emergency thigh surgery last series. Captain Mike Fisher sustained an injury last series, but he returned to practice a couple days ago and the team is hopeful he’s ready for Game 1. Viktor Arvidsson’s status is unknown after he missed yesterday’s practice for an undisclosed reason.

Their health should improve closer to the start of the Final, but for now, it’s a question mark.

Rinne, for his performance in net this year, historically struggles against the Penguins. In eight games against Pittsburgh, he’s 1-5-2 with a 3.57 GAA and a .880 save percentage. He did not play in Nashville’s win against them in the regular season and gave up four goals in the other matchup. He has his hands full with a stacked Pittsburgh lineup, so he needs to continue to defy his past numbers.

As a whole, Nashville is not a strong powerplay team. They’ve scored just 15 percent of the time on the man advantage. As discussed further, Pittsburgh doesn’t give up many opportunities on the penalty kill. Nashville doesn’t have the edge on special teams.

Pittsburgh’s Strengths

The Penguins not only have the depth and speed on offense, but their systems and the way they score boost their efficiency.

On the game-winning goal on Thursday night, Justin Schultz cut in front of the net with Jean-Gabriel Pageau trailing him. Schultz saw another defender in front, so he skated by him to keep Pageau on the far side. Because of this, Pageau screened goalie Craig Anderson, who did not see Kunitz’s shot.

That creativity, combined with Pittsburgh’s skill and aggressiveness, is dangerous for any team.

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Evgeni Malkin. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports. PHoto by USATSI.

Their formations work even better considering Sidney Crosby’s teammates are too. Evgeni Malkin continues to lead all scorers with 24 postseason points. Phil Kessel isn’t far behind with 19 points. While he didn’t play in Game 7 due to an upper-body injury, Patric Hornqvist played well in both games against the Predators this season.

Matt Murray made 123 saves between the pipes since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4. Nashville produces with under-the-radar players. Pittsburgh has the star firepower.

The key factor for the Penguins is special teams. Their penalty kill is a respectable 85.5 percent, giving up just eight goals in the playoffs. However, their 14 power play tallies are tops in the postseason and they had the second-most such goals in the regular season at 60. The Predators’ penalty kill is average, but Pittsburgh can expose it if they play to their expectations.

Pittsburgh’s Weaknesses

As is the case with Nashville, Pittsburgh has its own share of bruises. As mentioned before, Hornqvist didn’t play last game. Schultz returned to the lineup after missing four games. Kunitz had to miss time earlier in the postseason.

They didn’t do themselves any favors going to seven games for two consecutive series. They’re healthier than they were a few weeks ago, but health is still a nagging issue.

On top of health issues, some forwards are in a lull, too. Conor Sheary was a healthy scratch in Game 6 and hasn’t scored in 16 games this postseason. After an electrifying start, Jake Guentzel has just two goals since May 1. He was a non-factor after regulation on Thursday.

While Bryan Rust was never expected to excel up front, he hasn’t lit the lamp as much compared to his four goals against Columbus. Pittsburgh is stacked on all four lines, but the role players have had more value on the intangibles than on the score sheet lately.

Finally, how well can the Penguins adjust to the vaunted Preds blue line? They struggled to adjust to Ottawa’s neutral zone trap, and while Nashville doesn’t use a trap as often, it’s a little different than Guy Boucher’s scheme. The Predators could use a similar system as they did against Chicago, who is also a fast team.

Stanley Cup Prediction

A powerful offense meets an imposing defense. Nashville is seeking their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pittsburgh can be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

The Predators will not disappoint in their Cup debut, forcing the Penguins off their game. However, Pittsburgh knows how to adjust and win on this stage. They have the best skill player and their offense runs a bit deeper than the Preds’ defense.

Get ready for a fun Stanley Cup Final- Penguins in 7.

 

Feature image from of the Tennessean. Photo by Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

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Unpacking the NHL’s Concussion Controversy

Time stopped for Sidney Crosby on Monday night in Pittsburgh for the fourth time in his career.

Crosby, known as one of the best skill forwards in the NHL, sustained a concussion after a hit from the Capitals’ defenseman Matt Niskanen in the first period of Game 3 of the Penguins-Capitals playoff series. Crosby did not return for the rest of the game and missed the next one.

There is mounting concern for Crosby, who has four reported concussion-related injuries in his 12-year NHL career. There also could be more unreported injuries that went unnoticed. Crosby’s career length and well-being after hockey are up for debate.

Many former players with concussion histories have struggled with health issues in retirement. However, both the players and the NHL haven’t helped each other enough to combat the issues. From players’ hesitancy to report concussions in the past, to Gary Bettman’s denial of a link between concussions and CTE, the NHL has a concussion controversy.

This season, at least 13 players across all 30 teams were listed on injury reports with a concussion or a head injury. Concussions aren’t a recent issue in the league either. In 2011, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study that found 559 concussions amongst NHL players from 1997-2004. Pat LaFontaine, a talented forward in the 1980s and 1990s, suffered six in his career and ultimately retired at 33.  Eric Lindros had seven across 15 years.

Exported.;

Courtesy of NY Daily News/Photo by Chris Gardner, AP

The difference for Crosby, LaFontaine and Lindros though, is their overall ability. While they missed considerable time with concussions, their place on rosters was never in doubt. That wasn’t always the case for Bryan Muir.

Muir played with seven different NHL teams and constantly rode the shuttle to and from the minor leagues. He also suffered from multiple concussions, even reporting instances of vomiting on the bench after a hard hit. During his playing days, concussion tests weren’t as expansive. If x-rays couldn’t find his injury, he wouldn’t report it to the team for fear of being sent down.

This is the concussion culture in the NHL. Fringe players don’t want to admit they’re hurt because of their tenuous grip on an NHL roster. Many of these players sacrifice their health because of it. This leads to long-term health effects after their careers are over. While it’s understandable for players to feel this way, they’ve harmed themselves from doing it. Muir has mentioned he misses his playing days, but he also notices changes in his mood. He has a short temper and mood swings, and he’s unsure if it’s due to the concussions.

For others, like Dale Purinton and Dan LaCouture, substance abuse, depression, and memory loss riddled their post-career days and led to strains in their personal lives. Both were arrested at one point, and LaCouture lost his wife and custody of his kids. Athletes these days have to be aware of what their bodies tell them when sustaining heavy injuries.

Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador each suffered concussions during their playing days in the 2000s. Boogaard officially had three, and it led to impaired memory and depression later in his life. He accidentally overdosed on painkillers and died in 2011.

Montador retired shortly after a hit to the head in 2012. He died in his home in 2015 without a clear cause of death. Both had CTE, a brain injury that is only detectable after death. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression and issues with impulse control.

These symptoms line up with injuries from concussions. Despite this, the NHL isn’t certain of a link between concussions and CTE, leading to dissent between the league and former players.

Last October, Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that the speculation of a link between head trauma and neurodegenerative diseases is unproven. He mentioned the gaps in the research of CTE as additional proof.

The Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences found recently in early testing that there isn’t a strong correlation between concussions and cognitive functions. Retired players, including a participating Muir, actually do well with it. Despite the early conclusions in that study, it doesn’t match what the players feel. Bettman’s stance is alienating the former players who have noticeably changed since their days in the league.

Previous athletes began to take action against the league for it. Over 126 former players who’ve had concussions are filed a lawsuit against the NHL. The suit claims the league did not do enough to protect them from head injuries and resulting health issues. It’s reached as far as the federal courts as the NHL maintains the absence of a causal relationship.

The former players and the league are taking the same path as the NFL.  The league denied the relationship too, and former players sued. Eventually, the two sides reached a settlement in 2015.

Courtesy of The Sarnia Observer/Photo by Shaun Best, Reuters

The NHL is fulfilling its duty now to prevent concussions.  Hybrid icing, concussion spotters and fines for violating protocol are important for preventing future head injuries. At the same time, they have an obligation to aid the former players that are suffering through the aftereffects of hockey. Likewise, the players have to be honest with doctors and coaches if they are suffering through injuries. Even if it’s a player fighting for his roster spot or a postseason game, the ramifications of the game have to take a backseat.

Sidney Crosby is skating with his teammates in practice. He is still questionable for Game 5 tonight, but if he’s healthy, he’ll likely play. If there’s even the slightest issue with his health, he must sit. As history has proved, the NHL and its players have to address the issue head on. Delicately, of course.

 

Featured Image by Drop Your Gloves

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Rivalry or Not, Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin is NHL’s Best Battle

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled for the MLB’s home run title in the 90s. Basketball pitted Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the “Golden Age” of the NBA back in the 80s. These rivalries combined talented athletes with powerful teams looking to one-up the other for the ultimate goal.

The NHL has experienced its share of all-time greats facing each other. However, none have come close to the fanfare of Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

They’re arguably the two best forwards since entering the league in 2005. Ovechkin is an 11-time All-Star and collected three Hart trophies. Crosby has two Hart wins, six All-Star nominations, 1,027 career points and two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Ovechkin’s 558 goals since 2005 are the best in the league, with Crosby right behind him at 382. Their superstardom sets the scene for their intense battles, but they don’t see it that way.

(Photo courtesy of Washington Post, taken by Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

Rivalries occasionally have the connotation that bad blood between the players is crucial. Even though there was a mild spat in 2009, the two have expressed respect for one another.  Ovechkin was more vocal of their relationship, saying at the 2017 All-Star Game that they aren’t “best friends.”

There is no strife between them. Instead, there’s an appropriate balance of respect and understanding that they are fierce competitors who are vying for the same goal. Some may argue Ovechkin and Crosby’s blasé attitude towards each other eliminates the notion of a rivalry.  However, that’s not the reason why fans and the media hype it up.

The Capitals and Penguins have combined for 21 winning seasons since Crosby and Ovechkin joined the NHL. Both teams were under .500 in 2005-06, while Washington’s last losing season was the following year. The Capitals and Penguins are amongst the best in the NHL and play in the same division. It’s one of the top rivalries in all of hockey, and the two superstars make it that much more enticing.

It’s safe to say Crosby and the Penguins have the edge in the rivalry. Pittsburgh has won two Stanley Cups with Crosby, while Ovechkin has never seen his team reach the Conference Finals. In 2009 and 2016, the Penguins dispatched the Caps in the playoffs en route to those championships.

The Penguins have won 106 games against Washington compared to 95 for the Capitals against the Penguins.  This can make the rivalry more one-sided towards the Penguins, but it’s not exactly a landslide either.

In the 217 games in the rivalry, the Penguins have scored just 15 more goals. For years, these games have been close, and that was apparent on Thursday when Ovechkin and Crosby squared off for the 14th time in the playoffs.

Since it’s appropriate there’s history being made, this year’s playoff meeting is the first time in the shootout era that the top two regular season teams are meeting in the postseason. Crosby did not disappoint in the second when he notched two goals in 52 seconds in the second period. Just as Pittsburgh started to gain ground with a 2-0 lead, Ovechkin answered with a wrist shot to make it 2-1. The Capitals came back to tie it before Nick Bonino tallied the game-winner in the third and the Penguins took Game 1.

No matter the result, Crosby and Ovechkin were sharp once more against each other. Ovechkin has 22 points against the Penguins in the playoffs, while Crosby has 17. The two are tremendous in the postseason, but they always step it up against each other under the brightest lights.

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports Radio, taken by Harry How, Getty Images)

We’ve witnessed plenty of exciting individual matchups in the NHL throughout the years. Like Crosby and Ovechkin, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux contended for the pinnacle of hockey’s top player in the late 80s and early 90s. However, Gretzky was on the West Coast while Lemieux was with Pittsburgh. Despite entertaining games between the two, their matchups were too infrequent to establish a long-standing individual rivalry.

The Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry has what Gretzky/Lemieux missed and blends traits of the classic rivalries of other sports. It’s the race for dominance that McGwire and Sosa had, and the magnitude of the matchups like Bird and Johnson in the NBA Finals.

Thursday’s game was a microcosm of the Penguins and Capitals rivalry since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL.  Both players shine, but the Penguins end up ahead. Nonetheless, that game showed that these two have created a rivalry that has made their battles must-see hockey.  It may not be a heated rivalry based on their indifferent thoughts of one another, but their play on the ice and their teams capture the essence of a legendary clash.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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All-Star Coaches: A Jack Adams Short-List

It will be all the big names, and only the big names, at this year’s NHL All-Star game.

Last year’s game was a public relations nightmare for the NHL.

Journeyman John Scott found himself at the center of a massive push by fans to see an enforcer in the All-Star game. A non-elite player playing with the best of the best. A regular Joe.

And it worked.

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports.

Scott was voted captain of the Pacific Division but the NHL tough guy was subsequently traded out of conference and demoted to the AHL. And that’s when conspiracy theories started coming out of the wood works.

It was alleged that the trade was an elaborate plot by NHL execs to strip Scott of his All-Star captaincy and thereby “restore” the good name of the NHL All-Star game.

The game having been openly mocked, re-tooled and tweaked for the better part of a decade due to little to no interest by both fans and players alike.

Many argued that the internet was trolling the NHL by voting Scott the Pacific Division captain. Others argued that the All-Star game is meant to represent what the fans want to see, a for the fans by the fans game.

In the end, Scott was allowed to participate. He captained the Pacific Division, scored two goals, and won the All-Star tournament. Despite not being on the ballot, Scott won the All-Star game MVP by an overwhelming amount of write in votes.

But it’s a new year and a new All-Star format has emerged. Along with new voting rules.

According to the new ‘John Scott Rule’ players sent down to the minors, or injured, are now barred from participating in the All-Star game.

So no more John Scott’s

This might lead one to believe that the NHL doesn’t really care about what the fans want.

Rather predictably, this year’s All-Star game will be filled with all the regulars.

The NHL announced the game’s four captains on January 3rd and the full rosters on the 10th.

But forget about the players for a moment. We all know Crosby is an All-Star. We all know Ovechkin is a stud. Of course Carey Price will be there, he is the best goalie in the world.

Let’s talk, instead, about the coaches.

All-Star Coaches

The NHL All-Star game’s coaches reads like a short list for this season’s Jack Adams Award.

Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic Division), Bruce Boudreau of the Minessota Wild (Central Division), John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Metropolitan), and Peter DeBoer of the San Jose Sharks (Pacific) will be behind the benches at the 2017 All-Star 3-on-3 tournament in Los Angeles this coming January 29th.

Each of these men merit consideration when it comes to the coach of the year award, the Jack Adams, and here’s why.

Michel Therrien

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images.

Therrien’s coaching career has been a bit rocky. Full of peaks and valleys. Right now, though, he is definitely riding high.

Therrien got his first big league coaching gig in the 2000/01 season with none other than the Montreal Canadiens. After two and half mediocre years he was let go. Only to be picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2005/06 campaign.

He achieved moderate success in Pittsburgh. Coaching them to the Conference Quarter Finals in 2006/07 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007/08. Though he would be let go during the 2008/09 season the Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley cup under their new head coach Dan Bylsma.

To Montreal’s surprise, Therrien was re-hired as the Habs bench boss in 2012. General Manager Marc Bergevin citing his ability to work with and mold young talent. A skill highlighted by his work in building the Pittsburgh franchise into what we all know today as one of the league’s top teams; year in, year out.

Even with an injury riddled roster, Therrien has been able to maintain a consistent level of play out of his squad. The Canadien’s are first in the Atlantic Division and will also be sending goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Webber to All-Star festivities.

Since being brought back in 2012 Therrien’s Canadiens have missed the playoffs only once.

Bruce Boudreau

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Norm Hall, NHLI via Getty Images

Bruce Boudreau’s record behind the bench this year has been nothing short of impressive, which seems to be par for the course for the talkative French Canadien coach. Nicknamed “Gabby” by his players, Boudreau boasts the second highest winning percentage in NHL history.

Throughout his career Boudreau has won eight division titles, four with the Washington Capitals and four with Anaheim Ducks, in only nine seasons. Though he has never won a Stanley Cup championship, he has only failed to make the playoffs once. Boudreau has won the Jack Adams Award once before, with the Washington Capitals back in 2008.

He now finds himself steering the ship in St. Paul as the Minnesota Wild’s new head coach.

The Wild boast the second best record in the Central Division, behind the Chicago Blackhawks, and have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance this year after firing longtime bench boss Mike Yeo and interim coach John Torchetti last season.

Boudreau has not only awoken the Minnesota franchise from its slumber. He appears to have revived the career of NHL veteran, Stanley Cup champion, and Olympic gold medalist Eric Staal.

Staal leads the team with 13 goals, 22 assists, and 35 points. Halfway through the season, Staal is only four points away from passing last year’s total.

Not only have the Wild been winning but they have been winning in spectacular fashion.

In a season full of incredible winning streaks the Wild managed to cobble together an impressive 12 game win streak. A streak which only came to an end when they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were in the midst of maintaining a historic streak of their own.

Peter DeBoer

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images.

It should come as no surprise that Peter DeBoer ought to be considered for the Jack Adams Award. DeBoer coached 13 seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, winning the Matt Leyden Trophy (OHL coach of the year award) twice in that span.

In the NHL he has manned the helm for the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and – since the 2015/16 season – the San Jose Sharks.

In his first season with the Sharks DeBoer took the team all the way to the Stanley Cup championship. This year the San Jose Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division and look poised to take another run at the cup.

Under his tutelage, DeBoer has managed to raise the play of his team into a truly elite squad.

Brent Burns leads the league in shots on goal and points by defenseman.

Martin Jones has turned into a legitimate Vezina contender.

Veteran NHLers like big Joe Thorton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau continue to post quality numbers while also acting as character guys in the dressing.

And after an injury riddled season Logan Couture looks as though he has not missed a beat.

DeBoer is well on his way to a successful tenure as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps it’s the California sun?

John Tortorella

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

What can you say about John Tortorella? The fiery head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is a man who needs no introduction. His antics have been broadcast far and wide. The success he and his team have enjoyed so far this season is turning haters into believers en masse.

Prior to the season starting, Tortorella had the honour of being NHL analysts’ head coach who was “most likely to be fired first.”

But you don’t fix what isn’t broken.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on fire this season. The 16 game win streak Columbus managed to put together in the first half of the season is the second longest in NHL history.

Having previously coached the Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Tortorella seems to be fitting in just fine with the Blue Jackets.

Since Torts took over as bench boss, Sergie Bobrovski appears to back in Vezina form. His stats so far this season are comparable his 2012/13 Vezina Trophy winning year.

Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, two of Columbus’s most important character players, are leading the team in points; a lead by example style of play Tortorella likes to emphasize.

Zach Werenski has found great success under Tortorella as well. The rookie defenseman is seeing top line minutes, both in 5-on-5 play and on the power play. Werenski’s name has been brought up often when talking about Calder considerations.

The 2004 Jack Adams Award winner needs no argument made on his behalf. John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ record thus far speaks for itself.

 

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And Then There Were Four

We are nearing the end of this intense 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with only four teams left competing in the Western and Eastern Conference finals. Here’s a look at the first couple games and what to watch for in games to come.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (1-1)

To start out game one, starting goaltender for the Lightning, Ben Bishop, tweaked his leg and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Bishop was later quoted “I fell back and felt something I’ve never felt before, and just pain right away” (via NHL-Transcripts). Although it seemed very serious, Bishop will most likely be ready for game 3.

After losing Bishop, the Lightning went to work by not missing a beat with back-up goalie 21 year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy in the net. Although being out shot 20-35 the lightning held on to win 3-1 with goals from Johnathon Drouin, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat.

Sidney Crosby and Matt Cullen celebrate after winning game 2 in OT (chicagotribune.com)

Game two started out with both teams scoring two goals in the first period. It then went scoreless until Sidney Crosby scored on a one-timer 40 seconds into the first overtime period. Crosby hadn’t scored a goal since the first round against the New York Rangers. Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen scored the other two goals for the Penguins on Monday.

Game three is going back to Tampa Bay, where Ben Bishop and even Steven Stamkos may return.

San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues (0-1)

Joe Thornton and David Backes checking on each other’s beards. (ddexpress.info)

Game after game the Blues goalie, Brian Elliot, proves any doubters wrong. Only allowing one goal off 32 San Jose Shots, Elliot is nearing if not already at the “Elite” status. Blues captain David Backes said, “When your goalie is your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case” (ESPN). Although it is a pretty obvious statement, it is the truth, the Sharks are going to have a tough time scoring throughout the series.

I see the rest of the series looking pretty similar to game one. Hard-hitting, low scoring, and coming down to the wire. Also something to watch for is the way the Blues handle the red hot Logan Couture, who is leading the NHL in points in the playoffs. In the first game Logan was held in check by the great St. Louis defense. Holding Couture to just two SOG (shots on goal).

San Jose Sharks @ St. Louis Blues/ May 17th/ 7:00 CT/ Game two

Pittsburgh Penguins @ Tampa Bay Lightning / May 18th/ 7:00 CT/ Game three

What to Watch for in Round Two

With only one more series to wrap up the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Nashville Predators in game seven. We will take a look at the round two match-ups.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin takes on Sidney Crosby. Two of the greatest players in the NHL face off in this second round match-up. All hockey fans cannot wait to see these two go at it. Alexander Ovechkin, the hard hitting, hard shooting Russian, verses the quiet playmaker from Canada. Both captains of their respected teams are backed by hot goalies. Matthew Murray is normally the backup goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins, but Fleury is currently out with a concussion. Murray has not missed a beat only allowing two goals a game in the Rangers series. Braden Holtby, the goaltender for the Capitals, had two shutouts in the Flyers series and never gave up more than two goals in a game. Although these are two of the hottest goalies in the league, these are two high powered offenses that can score at any moment.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

John Tavares (Extratime.uol.com)

Captain Clutch takes on the best playoff line in hockey. Are Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn for the Tampa Bay Lightning the best line in hockey right now? I think so. All three are +6 while on the ice, as they had three of the four game winning goals, and they are first, second, and third in points for their team. The Islanders upset the Florida Panthers in the first round on the back of John Tavares. In game six of the first round, JT scored a late goal to tie the game and then scored the game winning goal in OT. Anyone that follows the Islanders was not surprised by this, JT is as clutch as it comes.

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

Brian Elliot (Bleedinblue.com)

The St. Louis Blues took care of the former Cup champions in the first round, and goaltender Brian Elliot can take some credit for this. Elliot posted a .929 save percentage, not letting the Blackhawks get into a rhythm. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko had the most goals for the Blues in the first round with four, and he always does great against the Hawks. Let’s see if he can do the same against the Stars. With the loss of Tyler Seguin, the Stars needed other players to step up, step up they did. Left winger, Jaime Benn, has scored 10 points for the Stars which tops the NHL. The Stars used two goalies in the first round, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen. I hope they use Kari Lehtonen for the rest of the way, as I like the way he has looked.

San Jose Sharks vs. (Anaheim Ducks or Nashville Predators)

The Sharks played really well against the Kings in the first round. I was waiting for the Sharks to fall apart towards the end of the series but it never happened. Whoever wins between Anaheim and Nashville has a tough series to come. Joe Pavelski scored five goals in as many games while shooting an astounding 35.70%. In net Martin Jones out played his former teammate Johnathon Quick. Since Frederik Anderson has taking over in net for the ducks they are 3-1 with his .955%. This is something to watch for in tonight’s game.

4/27 Games

New York Islanders @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7:00 ET

Nashville Predators @ Anaheim Ducks 10:00 ET