Archive for April 2015

Two down, two to go

Halfway through the post-season and there isn't a favorite


Here we are with two rounds in the books and looking at the final four. But who is in round three is definitely the most eye-opening part of the playoffs.

In the West, Arizona and Minnesota do battle. Neither team came in looking like cup contenders but at least one of them will be cup finals in a few weeks.

The East is no different, where Columbus and Detroit tangle. Detroit was the worst team in the league last year, but now they stand a 25 per chance of being the best this year.

Who is the most Cinderella team of all might be the answer to who will win it all. Either way, there a good chance there will be a first time WCHL Cup champion this year.

Here's my predictions for round three:

Western Conference

Arizona Coyotes vs Minnesota Wild- The two worst playoff teams in the conference during the regular season, the Coyotes and Wild have knocked off better teams twice already to get to this point. This will be the first series the Wild won't be the underdog, having bested Arizona by five points in the regular season.


The Wild will be led by Tomas Vanek and Tyler Bozak, who have each contributed 13 points thus far, pacing the Wild attack. Twelve different players have scored goals so far, as the team has thus far paced out the offense. Antti Niemi meanwhile has been solid in net, posting a .924 save percentage.

Arizona meanwhile is riding on the coattails of stars Radim Vrbata and Marian Gaborik, who have combined for 14 goals and 32 points in 11 games so far. Perhaps even more startling, after struggling through a seven game win in round one, the Coyotes steamrolled the Calgary Flames in four straight in round two.

It's hard to see who will be the ultimate Cinderella but if it's all about upsets then go with the upset. Arizona in seven games.

Eastern Conference

Columbus Blue Jackets vs Detroit Red Wings- Things are a little bit better in the East, where the 3rd and 7th seeded teams are left. One of these clubs actually can say they should be here at this stage, though even in the case of Columbus they had to knock off the powerhouse New York Rangers in round two to do it.

Columbus did just that though, winning in six games over the Rangers. Jason Spezza, Chris Kunitz and Brent Seabrook have been nearly unstoppable, posting over one-third of the teams offense. Detroit has scored 35 goals so far this post-season, nearly three goals per game.


Detroit meanwhile has been paced by rookie Rikard Rakell, who has seven tallies already these playoffs. They are likely the first team in years to have a goaltending controversy in the third round of the playoffs. Karri Ramo has had the most games and posted a fine .915 save percentage, by Michael Neuvirth has appeared in six games with a staggering .940 save percentage. Best part though? Detroit was the league's worst club last year. Now they are eight wins from being the best.

Expect the worst to first charge to continue. Detroit in five games.

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Who's left?

Plenty of upsets in round one


After a season which seen long time playoff regulars miss the post-season, the first round ensured the upsets continued. Anaheim, the Presidents Trophy winner, failed to reach round two but what may be more shocking is the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators -the two teams to reach the WCHL Cup final last year- were both knocked off.

There are a few elite squads left, namely the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames, but for the most part it looks like it will be a new king of the hill if things keep progressing this way.

Here's a look at round two:

Western Conference

Los Angeles Kings vs. Minnesota Wild - Los Angeles shocked many by pushing past the Predators in six games, but will now be up against a playoff regular in Minnesota. The Kings continue to bank on Sergei Bobrovsky in net, but Mikko Koivu upfront rattled off eight points to lead the first round charge.


For the Wild, Thomas Vanek proved why he was so heavily sought in the off-season, posting five goals and nine points in six games in the opening round. He wasn't the only one however as three players posted at least a point per game and the Wild nearly completed a first round sweep, only dropping two games in overtime to the Blackhawks.

Expect Los Angeles to put up a strong fight, but you can expect the Wild to be moving on up. Minnesota in six games.

Calgary Flames vs. Arizona Coyotes- The Flames for once look to be shaking off the post-season rust that has plagued them for most seasons since winning the WCHL Cup way back in Season 11. Often the upset team, the Flames pulled off a mini-upset of their own, knocking off the defending Western Conference champion and cross-provincial rival Edmonton Oilers in six games. Jamie Benn led the charge again, posting five goals in six games, but it might be a goaltending controversy that is the talk of the time in Calgary, with backup Tomas Vokoun going 2-0 with a .977 save percentage to swing the series in Calgary's favor.


Arizona meanwhile comes in as the underdog but that's perfectly fine for them. Ask Anaheim, who they knocked off in seven games in the first round despite the fact Anaheim earned 29 more points in the regular season. Thank Marian Gaborik, who amassed 11 points in the opening round, including a whopping 10 assists. Radim Vrbata and Chris Higgins meanwhile picked up four goals each for the Yotes.

While Arizona won't go down easy, they will go down eventually. Expect it to be this round. Calgary in five games.

Eastern Conference

New York Islanders vs. Detroit Red Wings- In a battle of teams with three word names, the Islanders come in thumping their chests, having bested the defending cup champs in the opening round, ensuring for the first time in six seasons that there is no chance of a team posting back-to-back cup titles. A tip of the cap to Carey Price in accomplishing that, as a .930 save percentage was a big factor in that victory.


Detroit meanwhile continues their Cinderella run, going from dead last in the standings last year to a playoff berth and a first round win over the Boston Bruins. Karri Ramo and his .937 save percentage was a big factor in that victory, and he'll need to continue posting numbers at least that good to overcome an Islanders team that has long been full of talent but rarely posted the results to back it up.

Detroit could win if they win the goaltending battle but all Carey Price needs to do is keep it close and the Islanders offense should do the rest. He will and they will. New York Islanders in six games.

New York Rangers vs. Columbus Blue Jackets- The Rangers appear to be in playoff form once again, and were the only team to win their first round series in under six games. That extra few days of rest will only benefit a Rangers squad which has played a lot of playoff hockey over the past several years.


Columbus is still riding the high of defeating the Washington Capitals in a seven game shocker in round one and that momentum will likely carry over a bit into round two. The club has been rolling along for a while now, they won't be an easy defeat for anyone. Seymon Varlamnov and his .925 save percentage attests to that.

Columbus will likely get ahead early, but the Rangers will eventually prove to be to much for the Blue Jackets. New York Rangers in five games.

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Round one of Season 20

Let the battles begin


For the 20th time, we are ready to do battle for the WCHL Cup.

A benchmark few leagues ever reach, the WCHL is still going strong into season 20 and for the first time in nine seasons, it is a Canadian club trying to defend their title.


Defending the title has been easy it would appear in recent seasons, as the past three teams prior to Ottawa to win the cup would go on and defend their title the following season. Can Ottawa extend the streak?


Possibly, the club had another strong season and is as good of a contestant as any, but there is always a strong field of teams eyeing an opportunity to knock off the champs.


Here's a look at round one of the WCHL playoffs.


Western Conference


(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (8) Arizona Coyotes – The Ducks roll in having earned two cups in the last three years and are the President's Trophy winner in the regular season. The club is dead from top to bottom and still has several youngsters coming up through the system. They could be unstoppable until the third round at a minimum.



Arizona meanwhile has the worst winning percentage of any team in the playoffs and are the lone club with a losing record in games decided in regulation. Unless they have an unbelieveable run from netminder Anton Khudobin, expect this one to be over soon.


Arizona could make it interesting if they get ahead early but they likely won't. Anaheim in four games.


(2) Nashville Predators vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings – After a year out of the playoffs, Nashville reemerged with a vengeance, nearly claiming the league's regular season crown in the process with a 55 win season. The club is backed by the always great Jonathan Quick and many of their mid-season aquistions have paid off, adding depth to a skilled team.



Los Angeles won't be a push over though. While seeded seventh, the Kings still managed the sixth highest point total in the Western Conference and topped the 100-point plateau. Sergei Bobrovsky posted a 45 win season and James Neal will give Nashville all they can handle.


This series will be closer than the seeding indicates, but Nashville should still prevail. Nashville in six games.


(3) Calgary Flames vs. (4) Edmonton Oilers – A classic first round battle of Alberta adds an extra layer of spice to a first round sure to have a few surprises. The Oilers made it all the way to the WCHL Cup finals last year and after a strong season once again, they are eyeing a return trip to the ultimate dance.


The Flames however actually hold home ice advantage and after not even making the playoffs last season are determined to show they still have legitimate cup aspirations. Since winning the cup in Season 11 the Flames have faced more playoff flops than successes, and a long playoff run this year would do the fanbase and General Manager Lawson Cham wonders.


It'll be a tight series, the battle of Alberta always is, but it'll be more of the same for both teams. Edmonton in seven games.


(5) Chicago vs. (6) Minnesota Wild – Any other season this series wouldn't happen until the second round at the earliest and both clubs would be starting on the road, but due to the new playoff format a pair of lower seeds match up in round one.


Chicago reached 100 points on the final day of the season and are led by the inspirational story of Mike Santorelli, the one time scrap heap reclamation project that bammed off a 45 goal, 108 point season. Having Jaroslav Halak in net doesn't hurt either.



Minnesota meanwhile is the more balanced club, and mid-season pickups Jussi Jokinen and Milan Michalek helped boost the teams chances. The real question is whether or not playoff flop Antti Niemi will rise to the challenge this year.


This should be another seven game series and could come down to a fluke goal. Flip a coin on the winner. Chicago in seven games.


Eastern Conference


(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Philadelphia Flyers – The Rangers continue to rule the roost in the East, winning yet again another conference title. The club also has had numerous lengthy playoff runs and the stars are certainly aligning for that to happen again this post-season.



The Flyers, once a mini-powerhouse themselves in the East, have lately been reduced to being a bubble team, making the playoffs one year, missing the next. This is a season where they got in, doing so on the final day of the season after Pittsburgh and New Jersey lost. Their reward isn't a good one, facing the Rangers in round one.


The Flyers have a balanced team and could surprise, but the Rangers rarely get surprised in the playoffs. New York Rangers in five games.


(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (7) New York Islanders – At first glance this seems like an easy one to decifer; the defending cup champs battle an Islanders squad which hasn't even mad ethe playoffs the last two seasons.



But looking at it like that would be to easy. The Islanders, a perennial under-achiever the past several seasons, finished only 10 points behind the Senators in the regular season and have the likes of Carey Price, Niklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel in their arsenal. It won't be a cakewalk, that's for sure.


If you are looking for an upset, this could be it. New York Islanders in six games.


(3) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. (4) Washington Capitals – The Blue Jackets have been without a General Manager all season and that's been just fine for them. Not only are they in the playoffs, they are holding down home ice advantage as well. Thank you, Semyon Varlamnov.



Washington however is ready to finally get on a roll, something that's been hard to do in the playoffs for this talented team. Lacking a true star –though Vladmir Tarasenko is rapidly erasing that issue- the Capitals get it done by committee, something that will have to continue for them to advance.


The Capitals should move on, but it won't be easy. Washington in six games.


(5) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Detroit Red Wings – Another series featuring two teams that wouldn't have home ice advantage in previous years, this round also features two teams that didn't make the playoffs last year.


For Detroit, they finished with the league's worst record last year, but a 28 point improvement let them just edge into the playoffs. Some surprising performances, including a 30 goal season from Zack Boychuk and a 71 point season from the ageless Jaromir Jagr, has the Wings searching for the glory years they had a decade ago.



Boston meanwhile is trying to rely on Ryan Miller in net to get them through the post-season. The netminder started all 82 games for the club, which lacks a supporting cast behind forwards like Vincent Lecavalier, Nazem Kadri, Alexander Semin and Maxim Afinogenov, who is in his final season in Boston.


Another close one, but the Wings season to soar isn't over yet. Detroit in six games.



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