Archive for May 2013

Finals predictions

Familiar faces

WCHL Cup victories taste good to everyone.
As the dust settles from a heated and hotly contested conference finals, the teams that emerged were not shocking.
The Colorado Avalanche and the New York Rangers may not have been the top seeded teams in their conference, but these two teams own the last three WCHL crowns. The only question left to decide is if Colorado can win their third in four years, a feat done only by the legendary San Jose Sharks in WCHL lore, or if the New York Rangers can repeat with their second straight WCHL title.
This also marks a rematch of Season 13, which Colorado won to claim their first of two straight WCHL titles. It as well marks the fourth straight season in which a team from New York has made the WCHL final.
So repetition is the name of the game in this final.

But who will prevail? Will Colorado repeat their Season 13 victory, or will the Rangers defend their crown?
For Colorado to regain their crown, they need to continue to get solid netminding from Ilya Bryzgalov. The egnimatic Russian posted a .903 save percentage thus far, shocking after a so-so regular season.
Joining Bryzgalov in leading the charge is Lubomir Visnovsky. The elder European has found the fountain of youth, compiling 22 points in 19 games to lead the Avalanche in scoring. Patrick Sharp meanwhile leads the club with 10 goals and is the only other player with a point per game pace.
In New York, the Rangers are led by Henrik Lundqvist. The Hart and Vezina candidate had his numbers drop slightly in the seven game matchup with the highflying Pittsburgh Penguins, but he still has a .908 save percentage and just a 2.22 goals against average.
Up front, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen have been on fire, combining for 18 goals and 53 points so far this post-season. The Rangers defense has also been far more offensive minded than the Avalanche blueliners, outscoring them 18 to 11. If they want to out gun the Rangers, Colorado is likely outgunned.

Team defense is going to take the day for Colorado, and on paper they don't look like they would have a great chance. The same could have been said last round against a well balanced Calgary Flames team, and yet Colorado was the only team at the WCHL or ACHL level to seal their series in less than seven games. Even when they don't look good on paper, Colorado continues to find a way to get the best of their opponent. Only one series loss in the last 13 series is impressive enough of a reason to not rule out the Avalanche.
For the Rangers however, they have also won seven straight series and they'd like to make that eight in a repeat performance over the Avalanche. Both teams are on a roll of historic perportions in the WCHL, and it'll be interesting to see who emerges victorious in a battle of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.
New York Rangers in six.
(1) Norfolk Admirals vs. (3) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five.

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Round Three Predictions

Midnight Chimed a Long Time Ago for Cinderella



The ball is over and all gthat is left is the legitimate contenders for the WCHL Cup. The top three teams overall are still alive, as is the Colorado Avalanche, who won two straight titles prior to last season.


To put it in perspective of how little of a surprise it is to see the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames and New York Rangers, check out their combined record this season. Those four teams went a collective 230-74-24 in the regular season, translating to a winning percentage of .738. A better example is this quartet has won the past five WCHL Cup's, each winning one and Colorado taking two. Calgary and New York Rangers have also reached the WCHL finals at least once more and lost.


So yeah, not a big shock.


But that also means we are in for some great series with a great plotline.


Here are my predictions for the WCHL conference finals.


Western Conference


(1)   Calgary Flames vs. (4) Colorado Avalanche- For the third straight season, the Flames and Avalanche will battle in the playoffs. Colorado bested the Flames two years ago in the conference finals, rallying from a two game to none deficit to advance on and win their second straight WCHL Cup. The following year the Flames raced out to a two games to none lead again, only this time they went on to finish the job, eliminating the Avalanche in four games. The Flames went on to the WCHL finals, losing to the New York Rangers. So for the third straight year as well, the winner of this series will go on to represent the Western Conference in the WCHL finals.


For Colorado, the key is going to be getting some level of consistency. Colorado once again had an erratic regular season, starting slowly before coming on strong down the stretch. In the playoffs, Colorado has lost the opening game to San Jose and Edmonton before rallying to win, including a historic comeback from a three to nothing deficit against Edmonton in round two. Getting a consistent flow to their results will be mandatory in this series.


Three straight years meeting in the playoffs will guarantee some tension in this series.


And that's because the Flames are unlike any other Western Conference team. No team is deeper than the Flames, and that depth has bred results in spades. Cruising to their second straight Western Conference title, the Flames have shown model consistency in their game, and that carried over to the playoffs, where they have gone 8-2 so far in two fairly easy wins over typically tough playoff opponents.


Calgary and Colorado should be an epic series, but Calgary might just be a bit to deep, a bit better in net between Ilya Bryzgalov and Cam Ward, and have a little better top end talent in guys like Steven Stamkos. Calgary in six.


Eastern Conference


(1)   Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) New York Rangers- No offense to the Flames and Avalanche, but this series arguably should be the WCHL Cup battle.


The Penguins finished tops in the WCHL with 130 points, and New York finished third with 123 points. Their combined records, plus the fact the Rangers are trying to defend their title, really make this the series to watch.


Pittsburgh will continue to rely on their immense offensive talents to grab wins.  From Sidney Crosby and Patrick Marleau to Patrick Kane and Teemu Selanne, the Penguins have arguably the best sheer level of talent in the game today. An incredible 10 different players scored 20 goals this season for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins 4.28 goals per game average dwarfed all other teams, even the Rangers, who were second with a 3.68 goals per game average.


It could just come down to who is better, Lundqvist or Crosby.


New York though can counter with the league's best goals against average, with their 2.28 average slightly better than Pittsburgh, who was second with a 2.37 goals against per game. The Rangers win games by wearing teams out, and allowing Henrik Lundqvist, who is arguably the games best netminder, to steal the odd big save when needed. There's nothing magical about what the Rangers do, they just win, and win a lot.


This series could come down to whether 80's style run and gun is better than the modern day grind it out style. Pittsburgh's got the guns, but the Rangers have the muscle. After waiting for this match up for  long time, it's going to come down to the final game to decide, and considering two Hart Trophy finalists in Crosby and Lundqvist are in this series, whichever one plays better could be the deciding factor. Pittsburgh in seven.




Western Conference


(1)   Norfolk Admirals vs. (2) Peoria Rivermen – Norfolk in six.


Eastern Conference


(1) St. John's Icecaps vs. (3) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in six.

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Round Two Playoff Predictions

Not Much New this Year

Do the Kings have what it takes to regain their WCHL Cup?
After a first round that failed to produce even one game seven matchup, the second round is set to begin, and many familiar faces remain in the hunt for a WCHL crown.
Of the eight teams still playing, five have already won at least one WCHL title. The three who haven't, the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, figure to be underdogs in their series.
Odds are, we will see another repeat winner in the WCHL, which happens when you're in your 16th playoff. But then again, it wouldn't be the first time a team went on a Cinderella run.
Here are my predictions for round two of the WCHL playoffs. ACHL predictions are at the bottom:
Western Conference
(1) Calgary Flames vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings - The Kings face an uphill battle, as the Calgary Flames look to be rolling in high gear.
Usually victims of poor first round performances, the Flames rolled over the Blue Jackets in five games, and are likely to be the favorite to make the finals out of the Western Conference, even more than before thanks to the Kings defeating the second ranked Ducks in the first round.

The Flames will be all over the Kings. Can Los Angeles stave off the pressure?
The Kings will be gearing up to prove that was no fluke. Paul Stastny was near unstoppable in the first round, scoring 10 points in six games. Tim Thomas however made plenty of pucks look unstoppable as well, as the rogue netminder posted just a .853 save percentage. Only even worse netminding by Anaheim enabled the Kings to get through to round two.
If Thomas shows up, the Kings have a chance. If not, the Flames are just to talented and to deep to be stopped. Flames in six.
(3) Edmonton Oilers vs. (4) Colorado Avalanche - The Oilers took a big step forward for the franchise, as the long-term rebuilding plan enacted by GM Keith Foster finally begins to take shape. The reward was a high seed and a first round victory over the Minnesota Wild, however a much larger test remains in round two, as the two-time WCHL Cup champion Colorado Avalanche bring their veteran skills to town.

They'll be fighting for every inch of ice in the Colorado-Edmonton series.
Once again the Avalanche rolled out slowly before gearing up down the stretch and used that momentum to push through the San Jose Sharks in six games in the opening round. Claiming he now has the right mix on his team to make a run for another cup title, GM Ryan McClanahan is expecting nothing less than a berth in the conference finals.
Edmonton has been a hardwork, plucky team all season and that was especially true in the opening round. They will likely be undermatched against the Avalanche, but a weak series by Ilya Bryzgalov could give the Oilers an in. Avalanche in seven.
Eastern Conference
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) New York Islanders - Two long-time top tier teams tangle in the second round of the playoffs once again.
Pittsburgh crushed the competition in the regular season and though they were slumping down the stretch, the Penguins rebounded to oust the Washington Capitals in just five games in round one. The Islanders will provide a more stiff challenge, but it remains to be seen whether the Penguins will be stopped by their only true nemesis; themselves.

Islanders fans already have a message for the Penguins' Sidney Crosby
For the Islanders, they are one of the few teams that has the horses to run with Pittsburgh. While Pittsburgh has more depth, the Islanders has the top flight talent to push the Penguins to the brink and beyond. But only if they show up; no team has been more egnimatic in recent years than the Islanders. Penguins in six.
(3) New York Rangers vs. (5) Ottawa Senators - The Rangers may have been the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but only because the divisional leaders get the top two seeds. The Rangers were the third best team in the entire league in the regular season, and are huge favorites in any series, simply because they are the defending WCHL Cup champions. Though the Philadelphia Flyers gave them a little push, the Rangers pushed them out of the playoffs in round one in six games.

Expect this to be a physical series.
For Ottawa, getting the first win is huge. Falling behind the Rangers doesn't bode well for any team, and the Senators are no exception. Ottawa is playing the Rangers for the second straight playoffs after meeting up with them in the third round last year. One round earlier and a little more playoff experience should help the Senators in this one.
The Senators should make this series closer than they did last year, but the Rangers should be able to hold them off again. Rangers in six.
Western Conference
(1) Norfolk Admirals vs. (6) Lake Erie Monsters - Norfolk in five.
(2) Peoria Rivermen vs. (5) Abbotsford Heat - Abbotsford in six.
 Eastern Conference
(1) St. John's Ice Caps vs. (4) Binghamton Senators - St. John's in six.
(2) Conneticut Whale vs. (3) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in seven.

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Playoff Predictions

It's Go Time!


Will Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins capture another WCHL Cup? 


It's finally time for the reason season to begin, Season 16 has drawn to a close for some, but for the elite, the playoffs are here.

For some teams, like the New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins, nothing really matters until now. Having dominated the WCHL for years now, those teams, along with the likes of the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks, have long ago viewed the regular season as just another formality.


But how will they fair now that it is time to actually try?


Last season, it went as planned for the New York Rangers, who ended the Colorado Avalanche's two year run as league champions, defeating the Calgary Flames in the finals to finally capture a WCHL Cup title. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Penguins capped a tremendous regular season by getting ousted by the Montreal Canadians in the first round.


While Pittsburgh won't have to worry about Montreal –they missed out on the playoffs in their final game of the regular season- it's virtually a guarantee that one of these teams won't escape the first round. There is at least one good upset every year.

Below are my predictions for the opening round of the Season 16 playoffs:


Western Conference


(1) Calgary Flames vs. (8) Columbus Blue Jackets-The Flames are trying to defend their Western Conference crown and are once again coming off an incredible regular season, finishing with 59 wins and 128 points. Last season the concern was that the Flames wouldn't be ready for the playoffs after breezing through the regular season in similarly easy fashion. In response Calgary almost did get knocked off in the first round, surviving a seven game scare at the hands of the eighth seed.


Expect this to be a physical series.


And who was that eighth seed? The Columbus Blue Jackets of course, and for the fourth straight season, the Blue Jackets have eeked their way into the playoffs. In the past three seasons Columbus has proven to be a tough out, even knocking off the San Jose Sharks one year. Once again, Columbus will not be an easy out.


Calgary should win this series hands down, but Columbus is playing well and has always shown up in the playoffs. This series has the makings of a huge upset if Calgary falls behind early. If not, Calgary should prevail. Flames in 6.


(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings- The all California affair already has a first before the puck even drops, as the Ducks become the first team in WCHL history to prevent the San Jose Sharks from winning the Smythe Division, thanks to a 9-1 run down the stretch. Their prize is facing the Los Angeles Kings, the very team that defeated the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs last year.


Los Angeles is riding a wave of disappointment though, faltering down the stretch and entering the post-season with a goals for/against ledger barely in the black. Once again, Los Angeles will try to rid its trio of Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny and Tim Thomas to victory.


Nothing like hockey and the beach all in one.


Anaheim looks to be fairly balanced, but they have had some issues in net this year, while the Kings have received adequate support from the egnimatic Thomas, so he could be the key to the Kings moving on past round one. If he's just average though, Anaheim should take this one. Ducks in seven.


(3) Edmonton Oilers vs. Minnesota Wild- The Oilers are back with avengence after a season which was plagued with difficulties and failure. Edmonton not only returned to the playoffs, they were the only other team besides Calgary in the Western Conference to reach the 50-win plateau and finished with the second most points in the Western Conference. Tomas Vokoun, one year after being on waivers and assigned to the minors, rebounded with possible Vezina-cailber numbers, which Jason Pominville continued his great play, topping 50 goals and 100 points.


The Wild will try to trip up Edmonton's strong season.


Minnesota meanwhile is back in the playoff race again and are looking to capitalize on the experienced gained last year, a five game defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. The Wild will be using their until-now secret weapon, Ian White. The undersized blueliner has moved twice this season but really found a home in Minnesota, posting possible Norris Trophy numbers.


The Wild should be better this season, but the Oilers seem to be on a mission and should be able to push through to the second round on the strength of Pominville and Vokoun. If either should falter though, this is a whole other series. Oilers in five.


(4) Colorado Avalanche vs. (5) San Jose Sharks- Five of the leagues 15 WCHL Cups are represented in this matchup, but only two are from recent memory, both belonging to the Avalanche. The Sharks last won a cup in Season 7, while Colorado won back-to-back titles in Season 13 and 14. The Sharks and Avalanche are the only teams in league history to win back-to-back titles as well, so it should be interesting to see how the playoff experience matches up in this tilt.


The Sharks continue to ride their core of young leaders, the most recent addition being Tyler Seguin, drafted first overall in last years'draft. Seguin led the Sharks in goals this season with 35, while San Jose also showcases early season addition Pekka Rinne, who found is way to San Jose via free agency, then the waiver draft and finally a trade. Both should play key roles for San Jose.


Hockey imitating art (assuming you can call that art)?


Colorado meanwhile will counter with its core which also hasn't been changed much in recent seasons. While Colorado has had success, winning nine straight series before losing to the Flames last year, San Jose has not, and another defeat could signal a need for change. Colorado is already likely to commit to change in the off-season, as rumours have it long-time netminder Ilya Bryzgalov will be moving on after the season, and a new number one could be stepping into the fold, with one possible name being Winnipeg Jets'Craig Anderson. So the incentive is on Bryzgalov to have a great post-season.


Whoever wins this series has the path to do some series damage, whoever loses has a long list of questions to ask. Sharks in six.


Eastern Conference


(1)    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) Washington Capitals – Talk about David and Goliath. Pittsburgh, who lead the league with 64 wins and 130 points, tangles with the Washington Capitals, who barely got into the playoffs, winning a tie-breaker with the Montreal Canadians to sneak into eighth spot. On paper this should be a cakewalk for the Penguins, but games aren't played on paper.


It's either going to be a sweep by Pittsburgh or a tough series, and which way it goes is all up to Pittsburgh.


Of concern for Pittsburgh is the fact they went 4-5-1 in their final 10 games after going 60-11-1 in the 72 games before that. As far as slumps go into not a huge one, but it couldn't come at a worse time for the suddenly human Penguins. Washington meanwhile is likely riding a wave of enthusiasm after getting back into the playoffs for the first time in several seasons, and will be able to dent the Penguins armor if the players they have, like the Magic Mike connection of Mike Smith, Mike Green and Mike Ribiero, can have strong playoffs.


If Washington can take game one, they should have a shot. If they let Pittsburgh get on a roll though, this could get ugly. Penguins in six.


(2)    Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (7) New York Islanders- While it's almost a sign of the apocalypse that Toronto is even in the playoffs to begin with, seeing them sitting with home ice advantage is truly world-ending news. After starting the season with a loss to the Washington Capitals, Toronto went 16-0-3 in the next 19 games to give them a huge edge on the Adams Division crown and they survived a late charge from the Ottawa Senators to maintain that title. No team loaded up more at the trade deadline either, as elite players like Derek Roy and Mikko Koivu joined the club during a flurry of activity.


Two teams with zero expectations usually equals out to a very good series.


The Islanders meanwhile stayed to their traditional selves, making few moves, instead relying on the same core they've largely had for years. Carey Price, Phil Kessel, Erik Karlsson, and the list goes on, as the Islanders continue to turn high draft picks into elite players. And if not for being in the same division as the Penguins and the New York Rangers, the Islanders record would likely look a lot better. If the Islanders stars come to play, this could be over quickly.


Expect this series to be arguably the closest one in the playoffs. The Islanders have the elite players to win big, but Toronto has been playing well as a team. It could be a case of to much tinkering with what was working though for Toronto. New York Islanders in six.


(3)    New York Rangers vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers- The two seeds no one wants in the Eastern Conference is the eighth and sixth seeds, because it's a virtual guarantee you'll be facing off against the Penguins or Rangers. For the Flyers, they drew the Rangers this time around.


It's hardly an ideal return to the playoffs for the Flyers, who strangely missed the post-season entirely last year. An improved defense, which features deadline pickup Jay Bouwmeester, is the key to Philadelphia moving on to round two.


As always, Philadelphia will need to be physical to win.


For the Rangers, the key to not have a cup hangover. The defending champions are trying to not look to far ahead of them, and will be relying once again on superstar Henrik Lundqvist to backbone their cup run. Complete with 60 wins and 10 shutouts, Lundqvist will be the biggest obstacle for the Flyers to shutdown.


This series would be closer if the Rangers had a weakness, but they really don't. A solid defense, elite netminding and well balanced scoring is a tough triple play to contend with. New York Rangers in five.


(4)    Buffalo Sabres vs. (5) Ottawa Senators- In what should be a good series, the Sabres and Senators tangle for the second straight year in the first round. Last year the Senators pulled off a seven game victory, winning two games in overtime including the final game.


What's different though is this time around Buffalo has home ice advantage, meaning game seven won't be in the comfy confines of Canada's capital if it should go that far. With this being possibly Miikka Kiprusoff's final season, expect Buffalo to play like they want to end it earlier than that. The long-time netminder is contemplating retirement, and Buffalo would like to see him go out on a high note.


It'll be an all out scrap to see who wins the second round of this now annual tilt.


Ottawa wouldn't, and will be hoping up and coming Cory Schneider is as good as advertised when it matters most. So far so good for the young netminder, but the playoffs are the biggest stage and last year the Senators rode Mike Smith to the conference finals.


Two solidly built but unspectacular teams face off against one another in this matchup. Like last year when Ottawa went on to advance to the conference finals, the winner has a legitimate chance to go far. It'll be interesting to see who does. Sabres in seven.




Western Conference


(1) Norfolk vs. (8) Worchester: Norfolk in four

(2) Peoria vs. (7) Portland: Peoria in six

(3) Houston vs. (6) Lake Erie: Lake Erie in seven

(4) Manchester vs. (5) Abbotsford: Abbotsford in five


Eastern Conference


(1)    St. John's vs. (8) Syracuse: St. John's in five

(2)    Conneticut vs. (7) Hamilton: Hamilton in six

(3)    Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. Rochester: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five

(4)    Binghampton vs. (5) Hershey: Hershey in five

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