Archive for May 2011

Not many surprises from round one

After round one, there were a few surprises but by and large the teams that were supposed to get through to the second round did so.

The defending cup champions, the Calgary Flames, were knocked off by the Deroit Red Wings while the Anaheim Ducks bested the third seed San Jose Sharks in six games. Neither can be described as a major upset however, and the Wings actually held home ice advantage in their series with Calgary.

As such, it's doubtful there will be anything considered as an upset this round either, but a few teams with longstanding cup droughts are certainly hoping so.

The following is predictions for round two of the WCHL playoffs:

Western Conference

(1) Dallas Stars vs (6) Anaheim Ducks

The Stars and Ducks series features a match up of two teams with recent WCHL Cup titles to their credit, and the core of both teams is based on veterans from those seasons.

Dallas has built their team around two scoring threats in Alexandre Ovechkin and Brian Gionta, and arguably the best goaltender in the game today in Roberto Luongo. After that it's a ragtag collection of supporting players who do enough to not mess things up for what might be best trio of players in the WCHL this past season.

Anaheim meanwhile is a dynasty in the making and are eager to reestablish that after a shocking upset in the playoffs last year by the Vancouver Canucks. Anaheim struggled for much of the season, explaining the sixth place seeding, but were one of the hottest teams down the stretch and pushed the Sharks aside in six games in round one.

This series will be a high tempo and likely high scoring one, but with the Ducks struggling in net, it could be a bit much to overcome Luongo's ability. On the flip side, if the Ducks can shutdown Ovechkin and Gionta, they might not need to.

Prediction: A close series, but Luongo should be able to steal a game, and that will be enough. Stars in seven.

(2) Colorado Avalanche vs (4) Detroit Red Wings

The Wings are about as close to a cinderella team as there is in the WCHL playoffs still playing. The Wings one season ago were a mess, finishing dead last in the Western Conference with 55 points and looking for direction. ne year later and the Wings doubled their point total and bested the defending champions in just five games in round one. Detroit can already label their season a success and have no pressure on them. Anything from this point on is pure gravy for a frnachise long suffering from failure.

Colorado meanwhile has failed to make much noise at all in the playoffs despite several strong regular seasons and the pressure is on them to not have the same fate face them yet again. Colorado is looking to reach at least the third round, a land which has alluded them almost every year in the WCHL despite some impressive line ups over the years.

If Colorado can get some offensive support from a deep line up and get to Evgeni Nabokov, they should be able to topple the upstart Red Wings, but it won't be an easy task.

Prediction: Nabokov will get some saves, but it will be hard to shutdown a very determined Avalanche line up. Colorado in six.

Eastern Conference

(1) Atlanta Thrashers vs (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

There just isn't a team hotter than the Thrashers. The New Jersey Devils did win game four of their first round series, but that was the first loss for Atlanta in 20 games. How did they respond? By winning game five, eliminating the Devils and moving on to round two.

It's not likely the Thrashers will be running up another 19 game winning streak any time soon, as the Pittsburgh Penguins stand in their way. The Penguins are a team which, much like Colorado, has been a long time WCHL playoff disappointment and just last year were ousted in the first round after finishing with the best record in all of the WCHL. Needless to say, motivation is not a factor.

Plenty of firepower can be found in this series and it will be interesting to see who outscores who; the Sedin brothers or the veteran duo of Teemu Selanne and Patrick Marleau.

Prediction: Pittsburgh's going to make it tough but the Trashers are just to hot right now. Atlanta in six.

(2) New York Rangers vs (3) Philadelphia Flyers

One year after making it to the WCHL finals the Rangers are trying to earn their third straight trip to the third round, a task never acheived before in the Eastern Conference. To do so they'll need to get past the Flyers, whose line up boasts the regular season scoring leader Jeff Carter.

Much like Pittsburgh and Colorado, the Flyers are trying to push past some playoff demons, and looking for a rare appearance in the third round. A change in net from past seasons see Chris Mason between the pipes for Philadelphia, who are hoping that change will lift them to the promised land for the first time in franchise history.

Prediction: Staying motivated this playoffs seems to be a difficult thing for last eyars top clubs and it will likely be the same this time around for the Rangers. Philadelphia in seven.

Next: Round three predictions

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Round one is here!

It's time for the WCHL Playoffs to begin, and for a few teams it's more than just a long time coming.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning are in the post-season after several years looking in from the outside. While they are facing an uphill climb to make much of an impact this year, upsets are a near guarantee for the WCHL playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference.

That was the case last year, as the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins were knocked off by eighth seeded New Jersey in the first round, while another perennial powerhouse, the Philadelphia Flyers, stumbled in round two.

Will that be the case this year, or will the top seeds take advantage of what should be weaker opposition and roll into the second round?

Below is a first round prediction for both the Western and Eastern Conferences:

Western Conference

(1) Dallas Stars vs. (8) Columbus Blue Jackets

The Stars are a past winner of the WCHL Championship and finished the regular season second overall in the WCHL. Columbus meanwhile may just be happy to get to the playoffs.

Whatever the case, the Stars will be eager to not overlook the Blue Jackets, who have some potent offense coming from centre Jason Spezza and blueliner Brent Seabrook. With the Stars though, they rely on three things; Alexandre Ovechkin's scoring, Roberto Luongo's goaltending and their collective experience, and all three top the Blue Jackets in those areas.

Prediction: Dallas in four.

(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. (7) Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver began a rebuild midway through the season and it's likely this will be the last playoff action the Canucks see for a few seasons. With that in mind, it's likely the Canucks will be an inspired group, eager to win in their last hurrah.

And who better to do it against than the Avalanche, who are as hard luck of a playoff team as there is in the Western Conference. The Avalanche, despite some great teams, have had little luck in the playoffs, and were once again sent home in the second round last season.

That said, expect the Avalanche to get back to at least round two before they face a serious threat to their playoff lives, though Vancouver will make it interesting.

Prediction: Colorado in six.

(3) San Jose Sharks vs. (6) Anaheim Ducks

In an all California battle there may not be a greater expectation of an upset as to be found here.

The Ducks might have finished 16 points behind the Sharks in the standings, but no team was hotter down the stretch in the west than the Ducks. After sitting outside the playoffs well into the season, the Ducks rattled off a series of winning streaks to finish 17 points up on the ninth place St. Louis Blues.

Both the Sharks and Ducks are previous WCHL Cup winners, and both teams could go far once again this year. Anaheim may have the league's best team on paper while the Sharks are the most storied franchise in WCHL history. Recent history however dictates things won't be so good for the Sharks, and the Ducks will likely make that continue in a tough series.

Prediction: Anaheim in seven.

(4) Detroit Red Wings vs. (5) Calgary Flames

The changing of the guard may be found in this series. Last year the Red Wings finished with the worst record in the Western Conference while the Flames captured their first WCHL title.

Fast forward one year and the Red Wings finished ahead of the frustratingly inconsistent Flames and served notice they intend to stake their claim to elite status in the WCHL. Add in the constant rumours that Flames General Manager Trent Allen may be leaving his post with the Flames after the playoffs, and there truly is change blowing in the wind.

That change will come a little slower than the Red Wings would like as any team with the firepower that Calgary possesses likely can't be completely tamed for an entire post-season.

Prediction: Calgary in five.

Eastern Conference

(1) Atlanta Thrashers vs. (8) New Jersey Devils

Can the Devils do it again? That'll be the question for New Jersey who, just one year after knocking off top seeded Pittsburgh in the opening round are left trying to duplicate the feat against the Thrashers.

It won't be easy, as the Thrashers are riding a 16 game winning streak into the playoffs and finished with a whopping 129 points, good for best in the entire WCHL.

New Jersey will put up a good fight, but the Thrashers aren't WCHL pushovers and it's doubtful lightning will hit twice in the same spot.

Prediction: Atlanta in six.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning

After making the conference finals two seasons ago and then pushing that one step further last year with their first ever WCHL finals appearance, the Rangers are seeking to take that final step and capture their first WCHL title. Opposing their run in the first round are the Lightning, who are making a somewhat surprising playoff appearance.

For Tampa Bay, it will require some top end goaltending, some unexpected playoff heroes and likely a small collapse on the part of the Rangers for the Lightning to advance, but in the wacky Eastern Conference, stranger things have happened. That said, expect the Lightning to just soak up the experience and build on it for next year.

Prediction: New York Rangers in five.

(3) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) Buffalo Sabres

In a rematch of the second round from last years playoffs, the Flyers will seek to best the Sabres, who won last year in a hard fought seven games.

The Flyers are long overdue for some playoff success, and looked like one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference all year long. The Sabres meanwhile couldn't decide if they were rebuilding or contending, and swung several trades along the way. Regardless of the paths to the playoffs, one things for sure; the Flyers have all the pressure on them.

It may not be enough to halt the Flyers this year however, though the Sabres will go down swinging.

Prediction: Philadelphia in seven.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Boston Bruins

For teams with 112 and 111 points respectively, the Penguins and Bruins flew well under the radar all season. Funny status for two teams with a lot to prove.

If there were ever two examples of WCHL teams with a mountain of regular season success and little to show for in the playoffs, it'd be Pittsburgh and Boston. Pittsburgh is looking to avenge one of the biggest heartbreaks last year, when they were the top team in the WCHL, only to be defeated in the opening round by the New Jersey Devils.

Whichever team fails to advance far is likely to see significant changes in the off-season. This one could go either way, but Pittsburgh has a lot more to rectify after last year, and that should be the extra edge to get them to round two.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven.

Next: Round Two predictions

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Saturday Night Updates

New York Rangers (2) vs Montreal (4)..........
 The Rangers looked to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings as they visited the Habs in Le Province. Montreal had other plans as they scored two powerplay goals in the second and led 3-2, but it was P.J. Axelsson's third period tally early on that was the insurance marker and temporarily de-railed the Rangers climb. Alex Pietrangelo scored once and had an assist to led the Canadiens. It was a selfish unsportsmanlike penalty by Rangers Fedor Tyutin that gave Montreal the led the needed and never reliquished. Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots for his 29th win.
Buffalo (2) vs Pittsburgh (4).............
 The Penguins stretched their home unbeaten streak to 9-0-0-1 in their last ten games at the Igloo as the doubled up on the Sabres. Teemu Selanne's 35th of the season (and second of the game) was the insurance marker scored on the powerplay with just 1:15 remaining in regulation. Along with Selanne's two goals, Bobby Ryan had (1-1-2) to help led the Pens. Tomas Plekanec's first period goal was his 37th of the season and his team leading 100th point for Buffalo. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26 shots for his 45th win.
St. Louis (3) vs Nashville (4).................
 Thomas Vanek's second goal of the game (his 40th) tied the game for St.louis and sent it into overtime. Nashville scored three goals in just 19 shots in regulation and OT, and Steve Downie scored the winning goal in the shoot-out to improve the Preds to 5-5 in their last ten games. St.Louis missed out on a chance to catch Columbus for the 8th seed in the West with the loss. Kevin Bieksa led the Preds with a goal and an assist in regulation.
Washington (1) vs Anaheim (4)...........
 Three goals in 10 minutes of the opening frame was more than enough for the Ducks as they beat the Caps. Duncan Keith scored twice and added an assist, Sidney Crosby scored his 39th of the season and had on helper to led the offense for Anaheim. Todd Bertuzzi was the only Cap to beat Tuukka Rask who stopped 20 shots for his 46th win. The win assured the Ducks 7th place in the West as they cannot be caught by Columbus.
Edmonton (5) vs Columbus (8)........
 The Blue Jackets scored four goals in the first and three in the second to cruise to a 8-5 win. Kris Versteeg scored a hat-trick and had one assist to power Columbus. While rookie Yannick Riendeau had two goals for Edmonton. Columbus is in the eigth and final playoff spot in the West but the Blues can still catch them as they have a game in hand. Edmonton lost defenseman Paul Mara in the first period with a broken finger on his left hand and will not play in the Oilers final regular season game versus the Penguins.
LA (1) vs San Jose (4)..........
 Evgeni Malkin staked the Kings to a 1-0 first period lead but the Sharks scored four goals in the second on nine shots to top LA. Zach Parise scored his 44th of the season along with an assist, Eric Staal and Lee Stempniak duplicated Zach's output to power the Sharks. Cam Ward won his 54th of the season stopping 26 shots. The Sharks have one more game remaining but cannot catch Dallas for top spot in the West and will have to settle for third in the Conference. Malkin was injured off the second period face-off as he took an undetected two hander across his right arm and will most likely miss LA's final two games.
Reporting for WCHL Network......
 Peter Pucker

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