looking for answers

Heading home, the Philadelphia Flyers appeared to have the upper hand. They had just regained home ice advantage by upending the New York Rangers in game two, 4-2. But, everything reverted back to the way it was previously with their 4-1 loss to New York on Tuesday. If Philadelphia is going to once again tie the series, they’ll need to improve in a variety of ways. The good news is that they’ll have until Friday night to do so. The bad news is that they now need to win 3 of the next 4 games to keep their season alive.

The Good

- The home crowd was electric as usual. Philadelphia has made this routine come playoff time. It’s unfortunate that the Flyers fell behind so early, as that took a little bit of the charge out of the sold out crowd. Including standing room only, the Wells Fargo Center was 103.1% full. Expect a similar scenario on Friday, when the Rangers visit Philly for game 4.

- The blue line continues to put the pedal to the metal offensively. Mark Streit scored the Flyers’ only goal of the game on a redirection of a beautiful one-time feed from Jakub Voracek. The Flyers’ defensemen have now scored 3 of the team’s 6 goals this postseason.

The Bad

- The Flyers’ power play was just atrocious. They finally got a majority of the calls from the referees, and Philadelphia’s man-advantage went a pathetic 0-5. To make matters worse, the team only managed 4 shots combined in 5 PP opportunities.

- Compounding the Flyers’ issues was the Rangers’ shot blocking prowess. But, Philadelphia made little effort to alter the game plan from what they’ve been doing all season. That is, pass the puck from point to point and fire away from the blue line. That may have worked in February and March. But, it’s not going to work against a Rangers team that is familiar with this strategy and has always been dominant in the realm of blocking shots.

- Scott Hartnell might be the most overpaid player on the team. The formerly gifted power forward is now little more than a bad penalty waiting to happen. Hartnell was called for boarding in the first, and missed on numerous chances on the power play over the course of the game. It’s time Craig Berube finally made an adjustment and took Hartnell off of Giroux’s line. He does nothing but devalue the unit when Voracek and Giroux are playing 110% and Hartnell is out there falling down and turning the puck over. Move Raffl or Akeson up and banish Sideshow Scott to the bottom-six.

- While Luke Schenn has been a pleasant surprise this postseason, there’s no reason why the defensively oriented d-man should lead your team in shots. Schenn recorded 5 shots on Tuesday. No one else had more than 3.

The Ugly

- Or, maybe Vincent Lecavalier is the most overpaid player on the Flyers. Last year’s big acquisition has become nothing but a major liability this postseason. Another -2 day for Lecavalier came on the heels of his promotion back to the team’s second line. Along with Brayden Schenn (another liability) and Wayne Simmonds, this formerly potent unit has been thoroughly neutered by the Rangers’ blue line.

- It may be time to say goodbye to Kimmo Timonen following this season. The 39-year old defenseman, who has been a rock for years on the Flyers’ blue line, has looked slow and weak this postseason. I get that he’s probably playing with an injury. But, it’s unlikely that Timonen becomes any less injury prone once he hits his 40th birthday. The Flyers cannot afford to waste another $6 million on a 40-year old defenseman who can’t score or play defense. It’s also time for Berube to grow a spine and remove Timonen from the first powerplay unit. Moving Streit to the first unit would give them a bonafide offensive threat at the point.

- Well, Ray, it was fun while it lasted. Ray Emery looked solid in game two. But, this Cinderella story turned back into a pumpkin on Tuesday. It’s unfortunate that Berube went with Emery instead of a seemingly healthy Steve Mason. Now, Mason returns for game 4, knowing that he needs to win 3 out of the next 4 to keep this team’s season alive.

- What’s up with Craig Berube’s atrocious handling of the time on ice? Jakub Voracek has probably been Philadelphia’s best forward. Yet, he played only 13:51 on Tuesday. Claude Giroux similarly played just 17 minutes. Meanwhile, both Sean Couturier and Matt Read played 20 minutes or more. I understand that Couturier’s line is the best defensive unit and plays significant shorthanded minutes. But, you’re at home. Now’s the time to take advantage of last change and get your best playmakers out there. It’s a shame that Berube hasn’t adjusted at all.

- Finally, Daniel Carcillo was once again the center of attention on Tuesday. The former Flyers’ grinder/scumbag proved that, regardless of the jersey that he wears, he’s just as much a piece of garbage whenever and wherever he plays. Philadelphia (and the leaky five-hole of Emery) allowed “Carbomb” to score the Rangers’ fourth goal of the game, moments after the ECHL talent left the penalty box. One can only hope that Zac Rinaldo grows a pair and sends Carcillo back to New York with a few sore muscles and a jersey redder than the rose.

The comeback kids have done it again. After setting a franchise record for most third period deficits overcome during the regular season, the Philadelphia 'Flyers evened up their best-of-seven series with the New York Rangers at one apiece after 4-2 victory on Sunday. Down 2-0 in the first period, the Flyers used a dominant second frame to overcome New York’s home ice advantage. The two teams will travel down I-95 to Philadelphia in anticipation for game three on Tuesday evening. Having regained home ice advantage in their favor, the Flyers will look to take the reigns of the series at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers were 2-0 against the Rangers at home this season, and have experienced much greater success against their division rivals at the Wells Fargo Center in recent years. Now, that doesn’t guarantee anything, as the Rangers had the best road record of any team in the league this season. One thing is for sure, this series is only beginning. Anyone who thought that the Rangers would cruise to victory is sorely mistaken. This one is likely going seven.

The Good

- Ray Emery was even better than his game one performance. The veteran netminder earned the first star of the game by stopping 31 of 33 shots, many of which were high quality chances late in the game. Today, the team named Emery as their starter for game three on Tuesday. It’s obvious that Steve Mason is not yet 100%. But, even more obvious is the fact that Emery has earned a start in front of the hometown faithful.

- The elder Schenn has emerged as a primetime playoff performer. While Brayden Schenn still remains relatively anonymous (though he did get credit with an assist), older brother Luke scored the game winning goal after pinching on a delayed penalty during the second period. Luke has always been known as a phenomenal hitter. But, his offensive game is relatively unrefined. The Flyers have now scored two of their five goals from the blue liners.

- Jason Akeson with retribution for his brutal game one penalty. The young winger scored the game-tying goal on the power play to give Philadelphia hope yet again. Not only is he solidifying his spot on the roster for the remainder of the playoffs. But, the former Kitchener Rangers star is quickly cementing a roster spot for next year, as well.

- Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek were again the best players on the ice. The latter scored the Flyers’ first goal on a beautiful backhand-fake to forehand snipe. The Captain, meanwhile, tallied an assist and a +2 rating despite still not recording a shot on goal. All in a days work for the two best offensive players in orange-and-black.

The Bad

- Still too many bad penalties taken early in the game that contributed to their 2-0 deficit. Granted, the Wayne Simmonds hooking call was probably the most egregious penalty in hockey history. But, the Flyers cannot afford to take stupid penalties early in games that lead to Rangers power plays.

- Sean Couturier continues to struggle in the faceoff circle. Granted, Couts had a phenomenal game and has been a plus player during the course of this series. But, his 36.8% face off winning percentage was near the bottom of the list. The only center worse was Brayden Schenn.

- Speaking of Brayden Schenn, the young center is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to head into restricted free agency with any sort of bargaining chips. The former top prospect looked better in game two, recording an assist as well as three hits. But, he disappears for long stretches, and it’s clear that Craig Berube doesn’t trust his line enough to put him out there in their own defensive zone.

The Ugly

- Zac Rinaldo is considered one of the Flyers’ energy players. Well, they didn’t get much use out of him on Sunday. Rinaldo played just 4:27 of ice time, fewest of any player on either team. He was also the Flyers’ only minus player, as he finished the afternoon -1.

- The Rangers’ penchant for embellishment is growing. I know that this series is coined “Broad Street vs. Broadway.” But, is New York trying for a Tony Award nomination with all the acting and diving they’re committing? New York was penalized for two dives, and it could have been much more. This is the NHL, not the Ice Capades. Clean it up, New York.

- Finally, the refereeing continues to be shaky at best. The Rangers once again doubled up the Flyers on power plays in game two. We’ll see whether or not those numbers even out when Philadelphia returns home on Tuesday.

jasonakesonIn order to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole, the Philadelphia Flyers will have to do what they haven’t been able to do since 2011, and what they were unable to accomplish on Thursday; win in Manhattan.

Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers looked like a carbon copy of the Flyers’ previous performances at Madison Square Garden this season. The team came out flat, and was never able to duplicate the pace of the Rangers. The Flyers were ultimately outshot 36-15, and looked baffled when it came to executing the forecheck and getting the puck into the Rangers’ zone for prolonged periods of time.

Despite this, the game was still tied 1-1 in the third before a tough break for Jason Akeson (pictured) and the Flyers put them shorthanded for 4 minutes. The resulting power play saw two goals scored, and the rest was history. Below is a look at the good things the Flyers did, as well as the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

- Ray Emery looked on his game. The Flyers’ backup netminder, forced into duty due to Steve Mason’s upper-body injury, was a bit shaky early on. But, he picked it up as the Rangers dominated play. “Razor” made 32 saves on 36 shots, and those that he didn’t stop would not have been saved by anything short of a brick wall. Mason rejoined the team Thursday night. Though, there’s no news on who will start game two.

- Jason Akeson was perhaps the team’s best energy player. Despite his unlucky double-minor penalty in the third period, Akeson truly did have a strong first playoff game. The young forward, who led the Phantoms in points this season, looked solid as part of the team’s third line with Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl. We’ll see if Craig Berube sticks with that young line in game two.

- That third line was by far the Flyers’ best. Raffl and Akeson combined for 6 shots, while Couturier was solid with the exception of New York’s first goal.

- Andrew MacDonald continued to prove that he is a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Fresh off signing a 6 year, $30 million contract earlier this week, the Flyers’ blue liner led the team with 22:15 TOI and recorded their only goal, a snipe from the point in the first period. If Kimmo Timonen is going to be hobbled for the majority of this series, Philadelphia’s success is going to hinge on MacDonald’s ability.

- The team was rather aggressive physically, especially against the Rangers’ defensemen. With Ryan McDonagh still nursing a sore shoulder, that type of physicality will prove crucial later in the series.

- Jakub Voracek, despite a scoreless day, was impressively aggressive. He looked as good as he has all season, and should be a force for the remainder of the series.

The Bad

- Claude Giroux now has zero shots against the Rangers in his last three games in MSG. That’s unacceptable for a player who is considered by most as one of the top-5 in the world. Philadelphia will need more out of him if they’re going anywhere this series.

- The refereeing was rather atrocious. I get that you want to let them play in the playoffs. But, not calling the blatant interference on Wayne Simmonds in the first, or the rather obvious slash on Scott Hartnell in the second, was ridiculous. The refs had no problem whipping out the whistle in the third, when they called Philadelphia for four penalties. In all, the Flyers only got two calls their way. Meanwhile, the Rangers got six. The Flyers cannot win this series unless their power play gets time on the ice.

- The Flyers’ netmouth coverage was once again abysmal. This has been happening all season. So, expecting anything to change now would be insane. On the first Rangers’ goal, Mats Zuccarello out-muscled Sean Couturier (a player twice his size) for the puck on the rebound. Philadelphia has had trouble clearing the puck out of their zone for awhile. It will probably come back to haunt them again.

- Kimmo Timonen is clearly injured. The Flyers’ veteran blue liner was a -2, and looked uncomfortable all night. Philadelphia will have to decide whether to stick with a hobbled Timonen, or go with Hal Gill or Erik Gustafsson.

The Ugly

- Brayden Schenn was an absolute albatross in game one. The only times you even heard the kid’s name is when he was going offsides or committing an atrocious penalty when the Flyers were set to go on the power play in the second period. Schenn is a restricted free agent this offseason, so his play the rest of the way could go a long way in deciding whether or not the Flyers deal him at some point.

- Meanwhile, the team’s big acquisition last year, Vincent Lecavalier, might have been even worse. It’s one thing to not be the scoring machine that he once was. It’s an entirely different disaster to be as bad with the puck on his stick as Vinny is. There’s a reason Lecavalier was demoted to the fourth line, and he showed it on Thursday. Just a ridiculous performance by him. The stat line? Goose eggs. Lecavalier, in 7:42 of ice time (lowest of any player on Philadelphia) didn’t record a single statistic. The Invisible Man.

- Craig Berube’s ice-time distribution was odd to say the least. Giroux only played 17:08. Voracek got 14:22. Meanwhile, Couturier and Matt Read each got over 20 minutes of ice time. The Flyers want to keep Giroux and the top line away from the Rangers’ best defenders. But, at some point, you need to have them out there if they’re going to contribute to your team.

- While I respect what Nick Grossman has brought to the team this season, it’s pretty clear that his foot is so banged up that even skating with the puck is a hardship. Philadelphia has a solid, young blue liner in Gustafsson just sitting on the bench. He should probably be active instead of Nick. But, he won’t be. For some reason, Berube really likes this veteran defenseman.

- Finally, the ice at MSG was as slushy as it has ever been. I understand southern teams having a hard time keeping their ice in pristine shape. But, New York should be able to figure it out eventually, right? This has been going on for years, and keeping the puck from going on its edge has become a lesson in infamy. I’m not saying that the ice is responsible for the Flyers’ losing streak in New York. But, it certainly hasn’t helped.

Stanley Cup Playoff Picks

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

The best time of the year is finally here. On Wednesday night, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs will commence. 16 teams enter with dreams of hoisting the Cup two months from now. But, only one well oiled machine will capture the 16 victories necessary to hoist Lord Stanley’s epic trophy. Below is Skood Sports’ postseason prediction blog. All selections are guaranteed to be unbiased, and equally guaranteed to be dead wrong.

First Round

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(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (1-WC) Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche enjoyed a banner year following a lockout shortened season in which they finished among the worst teams in hockey. New coach Patrick Roy has instilled a fantastic system, and presses his players to play hard for 60 minutes every night. Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, meanwhile, has emerged as a Vezina candidate, and he could prove the difference maker in a series against a very sound defensive team in Minnesota.

The Wild, meanwhile, are going to be dragged down a bit by their goaltending situation. Ilya Bryzgalov has emerged as their starter, and every Philadelphia Flyers (and Phoenix Coyotes) fan knows that can spell certain doom come playoff time. Minnesota has high end talent in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. So, I doubt they end up swept in this series. But, the considerable offensive depth that Colorado enjoys will prove too much for “the universe” to handle. Avalanche in 6

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

It was only a week or two ago that St. Louis was considered the frontrunner to win the West. However, a string of 6 consecutive losses by the Blues to end the season cost them the division and forced them into a brutal first round matchup against the defending Cup champions.

St. Louis still boasts impressive defensive depth and a strong goaltending situation with Ryan Miller. But, the injuries that the Blues suffered late in the season are the type that typically spell doom to Cup contending teams.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks return to the playoffs looking to win their third championship in five years. Chicago is getting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back for this series, so their offense should be as potent as ever. Corey Crawford, who won the Cup with the team a year ago, now has more experience and should be a force in this series. Either of these teams could win the Cup. But, only one will even get out of the first round. Something tells me that St. Louis, who has won the second most World Series in history, will continue to wait for their first Stanley Cup. Blackhawks in 7.

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(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2-WC) Dallas Stars

The Ducks are primed to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, if head coach Bruce Boudreau is finally able to get over the playoff hump that he failed to hurdle with Washington. Anaheim boasts high end offensive talent in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well as impressive defensive depth, most of whom are younger than 25. Meanwhile, 24-year old goalie Frederik Andersen looks like the choice between the pipes. The rookie went 20-5 this season with a sparkling .923 save percentage.

Opposing them will be the Dallas Stars, who return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. Dallas is led by their premier offseason acquisition, Tyler Seguin. The former #2 overall draft choice notched a career high 84 points this season. He’ll join Jamie Benn to lead a high powered Dallas offensive attack.

While the Stars do have the offense to knock off the Ducks, I just don’t see their defense holding up over the course of a seven game series. Give this team a few years, though. Ducks in 5.

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

Foolish or not, many believe that this is finally the year for San Jose to get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. San Jose is still led by Joe Thornton (76 points) and Logan Couture (54 points). But, it’s their further reliance on defense that gives their fanbase added hope. Antti Niemi (who won the Cup with Chicago in ’10) won 39 games this season, and appears primed for the playoffs after stopping 30 of 32 shots in their season finale on Saturday.

The Kings, of course, are never an easy out. Los Angeles possesses a well-rounded roster with two-way players throughout. Back are Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick from their 2012 championship team. Joining that group is Marian Gaborik, who was acquired from Columbus at the deadline. His added offensive skills could be enough to propel the Kings to another Western Conference title. Kings in 7.

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(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (1-WC) Columbus Blue Jackets

The Penguins are back at the top of the playoff bracket, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if they flame out entirely too early. While Pittsburgh does possess high-end offensive talent in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal; their deficiencies on the defensive end are still far too evident to have confidence in them. Marc-Andre Fleury showed late in the season that he could be in for another postseason flame out, as well.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are headed to the postseason for just the second time in their history. Their first appearance came five-years ago, when the Jackets were swept by Detroit. Columbus saw Ryan Johansen (63 points) break out in 2014, as the former #3 overall pick led the offense of one of the league’s surprise teams. The Blue Jackets also have one of the best young goalies in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky and an above-average defense in front of him.

The problem, however, is that Columbus hasn’t shown an ability to defeat the much faster Penguins, having lost all five of their games to Pittsburgh this season. I don’t see the Jackets having enough momentum to win four out of seven, though I also don’t see them getting swept for the second time in their short history. Penguins in 6.

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(2-M) New York Rangers vs. (3-M) Philadelphia Flyers

Having already discussed this series in a previous blog, I’ll leave this excerpt short-and-sweet. If Philadelphia can get better goaltending from Steve Mason than they have gotten from goalies in the past during the postseason, they’ll have a fighting chance against a Rangers team that has owned the Flyers in recent years. Philadelphia hasn’t won in New York since 2011, so finding a way to take one of the first two at MSG would go a long way to deciding the series.

In the end, I’m not sure that Claude Giroux and the offensive catalysts on Philadelphia are enough to overcome the Rangers’ exceptional defense and the man between the pipes, Henrik Lundqvist. Rangers in 7.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (2-WC) Detroit Red Wings

This is probably the team that Boston least wanted to face in the first round, as they’re the only playoff team that the Bruins didn’t have winning record against this season. Still, the B’s have much greater depth than Detroit, and they also have shown a propensity to rise to the occasion come playoff time.

Detroit is expected to have Pavel Datsyuk back for the series. He instantly becomes the best offensive force on either team. Datsyuk can change a game all by himself, so Boston needs to be wise when he’s on the ice. If Jimmy Howard plays with a chip on his shoulder, Detroit could find themselves pulling off the upset of the year. But, that seems unlikely, as Boston is healthy and ready for a long playoff run. Bruins in 6.

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(2-A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Tampa Bay earned home-ice advantage in this series with their shootout win on Sunday. But, it’s the Canadiens who may have dodged a bullet. Playing at the Bell Centre, in front of their pressure packed and fickle hometown crowd, can be enough to turn most Canadian Cinderellas into pumpkins. For the Habs, it’s their superiority in net that should prove the difference. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was phenomenal all season. He was then injured in the year’s final week and will miss at least game one. Without him, Tampa has to rely on Anders Lindback, who is far inferior to Montreal’s Carey Price, who won the Gold medal with Team Canada in Sochi.

When discussing the skaters in this series, it’s very much even between these two clubs. Tampa boasts top end talents like Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, as well as young phenoms in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. They’re led defensively by Victor Hedman, who has emerged as Norris candidate. Montreal possesses phenomenal talent as well, with midseason acquisition Thomas Vanek combining with American Olympian Max Paccioretty to form one of the top scoring lines in hockey. Former Norris winner P.K. Subban promises to have yet another strong playoff for a Montreal team that believes this is their year. Canadiens in 6.

Second Round

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(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3-C) Chicago Blackhawks

The ‘Hawks have the experience and the coaching to overcome Colorado’s tremendous offensive talent and Varlamov’s skills between the pipes. I wouldn’t count the Avalanche out of this series because I believe that they have the best goalie. But, I also think that Chicago’s defense is miles better, which always makes a difference come the Spring. Blackhawks in 6.

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(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

The Duck stops here. While I love Anaheim’s offense and their young depth on the blue line, I think that their youth between the pipes and lack of a playoff proven coach will be the death of them. The Kings have all the ingredients necessary to push them back to the Conference Finals for the third consecutive season, and their names are Doughty, Kopitar, and Quick. Kings in 6.

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(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

The Penguins have made it a trend of falling apart way too early come playoff time. Will that come prior to the Conference Finals this year, after they were unceremoniously swept by Boston a year ago? Probably. Pittsburgh struggles against physical teams, and while the Rangers haven’t played well against the Penguins in recent years, they have the defense to shut down Crosby and Co. when it matters the most. Rangers in 5.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Everyone and their mother are picking the Bruins to win the East. If you know Skood Sports, we don’t like to conform to society’s demands. I also know that Boston fans hate it when I pick their teams to win, as it almost always results in a loss via the “SkoodSports Curse.”

I expect the Habs, who got under Boston’s skin in a win against the Bruins the last time they played, to continue that trend. If the Bruins can’t keep their cool and end up shorthanded too often, Montreal will pick them apart. This will be Carey Price’s coming out party, as he leads the Canadiens to their biggest series victory in years by shutting out the Bruins at the TD Garden in game seven. Canadiens in 7.

Conference Finals

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(3-C) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

I said it before and I’ll say it again: The Kings have the ingredients to win another Stanley Cup. Despite Chicago’s offensive talent, it’s Los Angeles’ advantage in net that will prove the difference in their advancement to the Final. Kings in 5.

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(3-A) Montreal Canadiens vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

Ladies and gents, the Montreal Canadiens are headed to the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 20-years. While New York does have King Henrik, the Canadiens have Prime Minister Price. He may well be on his way to becoming the league’s best goalie with his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in tow. Canadiens in 6.

Stanley Cup Final

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Montreal Canadiens vs. Los Angeles Kings

Both of these teams had identical records during the regular season (46-28-8), though, Montreal’s 40 ROW would earn them home-ice over Los Angeles’ 38. The series would not only be a rematch of the 1993 Final, which saw Wayne Gretzky’s Kings lose to Patrick Roy’s Habs. But, it would also present us with another matchup of the two goalies who took on each other in Sochi, as America’s Jonathan Quick gets another chance at revenge with Canada’s Carey Price.

In the end, it’s the Kings’ experience and defensive stability that will prove the difference, as Los Angeles wins their second Cup in three seasons. Kings in 6.

Flyers-Rangers Series Preview

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

flyers-rangers1For the first time since 1997, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will meet in the postseason. The I-95 Showdown begins on Thursday, with both teams holding aspirations of Stanley Cup glory. For Philadelphia, a series victory would mean ending a string of futility at Madison Square Garden, where the Flyers haven’t won since early-2011. The Rangers, meanwhile, were among the worst playoff teams at home this season, going just three games above .500 at the Garden.

The two teams split their four game season series, 2-2, with both teams winning their home games. For New York, success will be reliant on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and his defensive corps. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi make up the top line of that group. New York’s success this season is based in large part on theirs, and the duo will likely see a steady dose of Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia first line for much of the series. That would require the Flyers to find scoring from their bottom-three lines. As the only team in the NHL with seven 20+ goal scorers, it’s certainly likely that someone else will step up for the Flyers.

Steve Mason was enjoying a bounce back campaign before he was injured in last weekend’s game against Pittsburgh. The goalie is rumored to have a concussion. Though, none of that has been substantiated by the team or the league. Craig Berube claims that Mason will start game one. If he does, the 25-year old will be searching for his first playoff win. If it is instead Ray Emery, the Flyers will have more experience. The former Senators and Blackhawks netminder has made two Stanley Cups during the course of his career (three if you count his non-roster appearance on the 2010 Flyers).

New Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault developed a reputation for playoff failure in Vancouver, so he will have those criticisms to overcome over the next month. His success in quickly turning the Rangers into an offensive force cannot be ignored. Despite lackluster campaigns from expensive veterans like Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis, the Rangers still ranked near the top in goals scored in the Eastern Conference this season. New York’s bottom-six isn’t deep. But, they do their job soundly and might be the most consistent forward unit on the roster. Guys like Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Dan Carcillo make for a solid group of checking line forwards who can get under the skin of opposing teams.

Players to Watch:

Ryan McDonagh, Rangers – One of the finest young defensemen in the league, McDonagh was poached from Montreal years ago for Scott Gomez. It will likely go down in infamy in Canada. But, the Big Apple will always relish their chance to acquire the talented two-way blue liner. McDonagh is tops on the team amongst d-men in goals, points, power-play points, and plus/minus. He will be counted on, along with Dan Girardi, to stop Claude Giroux and the Flyers.

Claude Giroux, Flyers – After not scoring a goal in his first 15 games, Giroux exploded for the remainder of the season. The 26-year old went on a 1.5 point per game pace from December on, and finished his stunning renaissance with 86 points. Giroux has long been a playoff performer. In 50 lifetime postseason games, Giroux has 55 points.

Henrik Lundqvist – “King Henrik” may have the Vezina accolades. But, his 2014 season hasn’t exactly been his finest. The 32-year old Swedish netminder’s .920 save percentage, while good, is his lowest since 2008-09. Same with his 2.36 goals-against-average. Now, a lot of that has to do with Vigneault’s more aggressive offensive strategy. But, it also cannot be ignored that Lundqvist, for all his talent, has never made a Stanley Cup Final. The veteran has also lost in the first round more than any other since his career began.

Kimmo Timonen – Flyers fans know how important this Finnish defenseman is to their success. No one knows how much longer Timonen will be playing. But, everyone knows that the team couldn’t do without him right now. With a defensive unit that lacks a real high-end talent, Philadelphia relies heavily on the 39-year old. He plays every facet of the game, and will be required to hold the Rangers’ stars in check.

Prediction

It would be easy to go with my heart, and not my head, in this one. Philadelphia’s offensive depth is impressive on the surface. But, the Flyers have gone into deep offensive droughts at times. They’re also dealing with uncertainty between the pipes. Meanwhile, New York boasts one of the most deep defensive units in the league, and offense that is clicking at the right time, and one of the best goalies in the world to act as a last-line-of-defense.

The Flyers are going to win at least one game in New York, something they haven’t done in over three years. It’s certainly feasible, though unlikely. The Rangers are positioned just a little bit better to win the series. Still, the Flyers could move on assuming that Giroux puts together another spectacular postseason series, like he did two years ago against Pittsburgh. In the end, however, it’s the Rangers who will be moving on to face the Penguins, as they’ll overcome a slow start to advance past the first round.

New York in 7

One of the NHL’s most storied rivalries is about to re-energize itself.

For the first time in 17 years, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will battle in the postseason. With Philadelphia’s 4-3 overtime victory flyers-rangers1over Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, that matchup was cemented in stone. The two teams will begin their seven-game battle either Wednesday or Thursday. With New York earning the #2 spot in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll have home-ice advantage.

Philadelphia triumphed over Pittsburgh thanks in large part due to the play of their first line. Claude Giroux (28 goals, 57 assists) continued his assault on Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, scoring once and recording two assists. Jake Voracek (23 goals, 38 assists) also tallied twice before Mark Streit (10 goals, 32 assists) ended the game with a goal in overtime. The Flyers will need their top scorers to continue their solid play if they have any hope of overcoming their arch-rivals from up I-95. The Flyers will wrap up their regular season play tomorrow against Carolina, in a game that has been rendered moot by this afternoon’s triumph.

New York, meanwhile, concludes their season tonight in Montreal. The Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, having won 9 of 12. They’ve gone 3-2 against Philadelphia this season and haven’t lost to the Flyers at Madison Square Garden since January 16th, 2011 (8 games). They also boast one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist. Still, the Rangers haven’t exactly been world beaters at home, finishing their slate at MSG a mediocre 20-17-4 (worse than non-playoff teams like New Jersey, Washington, and even Toronto).

The last time Philadelphia and New York met up during the postseason was the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals, when Eric Lindros and the Flyers dumped the Rangers in five games en route to a Stanley Cup sweep at the hands of Detroit. The Broad Street Bullies have won three consecutive series against New York (1997, 1995, and 1987), though none have been recently. The most recently significant matchup between the two teams came in 2010, when Philadelphia slayed New York in the 82nd game of the season to earn their berth in the postseason. The Flyers would go on to win the Eastern Conference, much like they did in ’97 and ’87 after dousing the Rangers’ dreams.

Who will come out on top? That’s a question for another time, as Skood Sports will provide an entire playoff prediction next week.

nhl awards

Hart Memorial Trophy

The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player judged to be most valuable to his team over the course of the regular season.

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1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
4. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim

Yes, Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. He’s also enjoying the best statistical season of anyone in the NHL. However, the Hart Trophy is not an award given to the player with the most points. Instead, it’s bestowed to the man judged to be the player most invaluable to his team. Without Claude Giroux, it’s not only unlikely that Philadelphia is a playoff team. But, the Flyers are probably one of the five worst teams in the Eastern Conference without their captain.

After a dismal start to his season (4 goals in his first 26 games), Giroux erupted right around the same time that he predicted that Philadelphia would still make the playoffs despite their 1-7 start. “Captain Clutch” scored 7 game winning goals this season. Crosby notched only 5. Keep in mind that the latter also missed major time due to injury in 2011 and 2012, and Pittsburgh still managed to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference in both seasons. Any of the four players listed would be deserving of this honor. But, Giroux is the player that his team could least afford to lose.

Vezina Trophy

The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the best goalkeeper during the regular season.

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1. Tuukka Rask, Boston
2. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
3. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado
4. Carey Price, Montreal

Rask, Bishop, and Varlamov all have serious claims to the Vezina Trophy this season. The Bruins’ netminder is the man between the pipes on the best team in hockey. He leads the league in shutouts, ranks fifth in goals against, and places third in save percentage. Some would argue that he benefits from Claude Julien’s defensive system. But, none of the goalies in consideration for this award suffer from porous defensive systems or corps.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

The Norris Trophy is awarded to the best defenseman during the regular season.

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1. Shea Weber, Nashville
2. Duncan Keith, Chicago
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
4. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay

Weber seems to be considered an also-ran by most prognosticators, and might not even be a nominee once they’re announced next week. But, the fact of the matter is that Weber is the only legitimate star in Nashville. His 21 goals leads the league amongst defenseman, and his defensive skills are as refined as ever. Keith may lead the league in points among blue liners. But, he benefits from playing on a team with numerous prolific scoring forwards. Keith, after all, has just 6 goals to go along with a staggering 55 assists. Either player would be a solid selection. But, Weber’s role in Nashville is much more crucial than Keith’s in Chicago.

Jack Adams Award

The Jack Adams Award is awarded to the best coach during the regular season.

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1. Patrick Roy, Colorado
2. Claude Julien, Boston
3. Craig Berube, Philadelphia
4. Mike Babcock, Detroit

When Patrick Roy was traded to the Avalanche from Montreal in 1995, he immediately turned a franchise formerly known as the Quebec Nordiques into a Rocky Mountain sensation. The Avs’ would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, eventually winning another in 2001 with Roy between the pipes. Now, in his first season at the helm back in Denver, Roy has led the Avalanche from one of the worst records in the NHL to the postseason. That fact alone is enough to earn him this honor, despite spirited competition from the other candidates on this list.

Calder Memorial Trophy

The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player enjoying the best regular season during his first NHL campaign (Rookie of the Year).

mackinnon

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay
3. Torey Krug, Boston
4. Olli Maata, Pittsburgh

This is probably the least arguable award at this point. Nathan MacKinnon has emerged as a force during his first NHL campaign. Selected by the Avalanche just 10 months ago in the NHL Draft, MacKinnon has proven his worth to one of the most impressive teams in the league. His 24 goals leads the league amongst rookies, as does his spectacular +24 rating. Palat has put up the points in Tampa. But, he comes nowhere near touching MacKinnon for this honor.

Frank J. Selke Trophy

The Selke Trophy is awarded to the forward who excels best in the defensive aspects of the game.

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1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado

This is another no-brainer. Yes, Kopitar and Toews are phenomenal players. But, Patrice Bergeron represents a defenseman in a forwards body. His staggering +37 rating is all the more impressive when one considers how often Boston plays him against the opponent’s top line and on the penalty kill. Without Bergeron, the Bruins would still be a playoff team. But, they’d be nowhere near as dominant a force as they’ve become. In a league where defense is becoming more of an afterthought amongst forwards, Bergeron represents a flash back to the old days, where stars were counted on to be the best player on the ice in every facet and every situation of each game.