Habs Sweep Lightning: Another Bruins-Habs Stick-Swinger Next?

Didn’t see that coming.

Sure, the Montreal Canadiens were certainly good enough to take out the Tampa Bay Lightning. Heck, they finished a mere point behind Tampa Bay after 82 hockey games this season.

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Lars Eller and Brian Gionta celebrate a Habs goal.

However, with a 4-3 victory on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens took out the Lightning in four straight in the opening round of the playoffs and I’ll be the first to admit that was a shocker. It was the Canadiens first playoff series victory since 2010 and their first sweep since taking out Buffalo in the Division final in 1993. That year, the Habs won their last Stanley Cup.

With the exception of Game 2, the Lightning played well. They lost the opener in overtime and were beaten 3-2 in Montreal on Sunday night. On Tuesday, they fell behind 3-1, changed goalies, scored two late goals and made a game of it before Max Pacioretty scored with less than a minute to play to give the Habs a 4-3 win.

The biggest story of Game 4? Tampa head coach Jon Cooper benched starting goalie Anders Lindback and replaced him with Kristers Gudlevskis. Remember Gudlevskis? He was the Latvian goalie who nearly stole an Olympic round-robin game from Canada all by himself back in February.

Tuesday night he was looking down the ice at Carey Price again. This time Gudlevskis made 16 of 17 saves, but once again gave up the winner to Price’s team. Talk about having your number.

In this series, the Lightning proved that without the injured Ben Bishop, they were not the same hockey team. When Jon Cooper said in late March that Bishop was the reason “the Lightning were in the playoffs and fighting for home ice advantage,” he was right. With Lindback as the starter, the Lightning wasn’t even close to being the same team.

The Habs took advantage of Tampa’s misfortune and fired all sorts of pucks at the Lightning goaltenders. On Tuesday night, Montreal outshot Tampa 37-23. In the opener, the Habs outshot Tampa 44-25. In Game 2, Tampa outshot the Canadiens 27-26, but Montreal built a nice early lead and sat back. In Game 3, the Habs outshot Tampa 31-29. Through the series, Montreal outshot the Lightning 138-103.

Montreal wanted to “get pucks deep and at the net” and after four games, it was Mission Accomplished.

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It’s been a big year for Carey Price.

Now, the Habs get the winner of the Detroit-Boston series and after Boston’s 3-0 shut out of the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, it’s starting to look like another magnificent Habs-Bruins series.

“We’ll be well prepared, I can tell you that,” head coach Michel Therrien told reporters after the game. “As far as I’m concerned, we won this series but we haven’t accomplished what we set out to accomplish. For me this was a step, and we have another step to take.”

I now find myself cheering for the Bruins in their opening round series against Detroit. In a spring that’s already full of fights and stick swinging and cheap shots, can you imagine what a Habs-Bruins series will be like?

If it happens, be sure to bring the stitches, the gauze bandage and the beer. It’s going to be a nasty ride.

Game On Magazine is Here!

The first edition of Game On Magazine has hit the news stands.

Featuring a brilliant cover shot of Dallas Stars forward Cody Eakin of Winnipeg by the great Jeff Miller, the magazine is 64 pages of hockey, hockey, hockey.

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Edition 1 of Game On Magazine.

It’s Manitoba’s Hockey Magazine and I must say, it’s pretty great with stories on Warren Callis and Byron Spriggs of the Winnipeg Blues, Jared Morris of the Dauphin Kings, Ty Edmonds of the Prince George Cougars, Adam Brooks of the Regina Pats, Tanner Kaspick of the Triple A Midget Brandon Wheat Kings and Ryleigh Houston of the Balmoral Hall Blazers, it’s Manitoba hockey from cover to cover.

And, don’t forget the River City Sports ad on the back cover. There are still great deals at the Henderson store — at least 40 per cent off.

So pick one up. It’s the best hockey magazine around.

Granlund’s Goal Ends Perfect Mike Yeo Game

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo has not come up in a single discussion about the Jack Adams Trophy. Despite the fact he’s done a very nice job with the Wild this season there has been no talk about, “Mike Yeo, coach of the year.”

However, on Monday night at the Xcel Energy Centre, a coach who knows what his team has to do to win, got an almost perfect performance from his team.

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Granlund scores the winner in OT.

In fact, in a game that certainly drove many Wild fans to the point of apoplexy, Minnesota got a goal from Mikael Granlund at 5:08 of overtime and beat the Colorado Avalanche 1-0.

Yep, 1-0 in 65-plus minutes of action: Now that was Mike Yeo hockey.

With the win, the Wild stayed alive in the best-of-seven opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Minnesota cut Colorado’s series lead to 2-1 and many observers will say it’s because the Wild, indeed, played a style of hockey only Mike Yeo (and maybe Barry Trotz, Ken Hitchcock or Lindy Ruff) could love.

Mike Yeo hockey? It’s simple: (1) Think defense first, (2) don’t give the opposition too many shots, let alone any scoring chances, (3) do not, under any circumstances get into a shootout with the opposition – especially a young, fast opponent like Colorado – and (4) grind it out for as long as humanly possible. Chip it in, chip it out and don’t turn it over in your own zone.

That’s exactly what the Wild did on Monday night. They started quickly, outshooting the Avalanche 22-8 in the first period. They outskated the Avalanche for 60 minutes and seldom let them get a legitimate scoring chance. In the end, the Wild controlled the neutral zone and the attacking zone, outshot Colorado 46-22 and completely dominated the Avs.

And Kyle Brodziak was a healthy scratch so there was nobody around to turn it over at the most important moment of the game (boy, that was snarky)

Through it all, the defensive group – Ryan Suter, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin – probably played their best game in a month and certainly their best game of the playoffs.

All that meant that it was a 0-0 hockey game heading to overtime – for Yeo, that’s perfect.

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Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov stops Day Heatley. Varlamov made 45 saves and was the best player on the ice.

In OT, Granlund made a brilliant move to score the winner and suddenly the 2-0 series deficit was a more manageable 2-1 and considering the Wild probably should have won Game 1 (they blew a 4-2 lead in the third period), there is no reason to believe they are not a confident hockey club right now.

Make no mistake, there was no way the Wild could play the way they did in Denver in Games 1 and 2 and expect to stay in this series for very long. They lost Game 1, 5-4 in OT. They lost Game 2, 4-2 (there was an empty netter involved in that one). However, although the Wild were close in both games, in Mike Yeo’s world, you can’t give up two goals, let alone three, four or five.

So on Monday night, the Wild played the way their coach always wanted them to play – think defense and defensive responsibility first and goal scoring second.

They did exactly that on Monday night and won a game they absolutely, positively had to win.

Controversial Call Helps Habs Take 3-0 Series Lead

Aside from a couple of officials’ calls that probably should be investigated by the league, the Montreal Canadiens have given the Tampa Bay Lightning a lesson in grit and goaltending this past week.

As a result, the Habs are up 3-0 and are about to punch their ticket into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Lars Eller scores for the Habs.

On Sunday night at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens continued were they left off in Tampa, beating the Lightning 3-2 to put a stranglehold on an opening round series that was expected to be close.

Canada’s Olympic goaltending hero Carey Price made 27 saves, Rene Bourque scored the fastest goal from the opening faceoff in playoff history at Bell Centre and Tomas Plekanec’s second-period goal turned out to be the winner as the Habs held off he Lightning in front of 21,273 in downtown Montreal.

From the first period of Game 1, the Canadiens have been better. The Habs dominated Game 1, but Anders Lindback was terrific in the Tampa goal and the Habs had to win 5-4 in overtime (thanks Dale Weise). Montreal was simply the better team in Game 2 in Tampa, spanking the Lightning 4-1 as Rene Bourque scored twice.

Sunday night, the Habs were just as lucky as they were good. In the second period, with the score tied 1-1, the Canadiens gave up a goal to Ryan Callahan that was waived off because Alex Killorn evidently interfered with Price. I say evidently, because Killorn did everything humanly possible to vacate the Habs goal.

It was an interesting call considering two things. For one, PK Subban effectively blocked Killorn from getting out of the crease. For another, referee Francis Charron (from Gatineau, Que., by the way) waives off the contact, before he waived off the goal. Charron did not believe, until the goal was scored, that Price had his positioning impeded until the goal was scored. All but one of the TV hairspray heads thought it should have been a goal. The one who didn’t was part-time amateur referee Ron MacLean, who always takes the officials’ side in these discussions.

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PK Subban holds Alex Killorn inside the Habs goal,

Here’s how the rule reads: “69.3 Contact Inside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

“I know what I would have judged, but I’m one person and I’m extremely biased,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said on his televised news conference after the game. “But I thought it was a good goal.”

Cooper said Charron explained his decision at the time of the call and also after the second intermission after seeing a replay, and that the explanation of the call did not change with the benefit of hindsight.

“So it’s hard to argue,” Cooper said. “In my opinion, I saw it differently. But he’s the one making the call, he’s a human being, he sees it one way, I see it another.”

When the original contact was made, Price was out of his crease. When the last minor contact took place, the contact was initiated by Price. It was a bad call and changed the game and might have cost Tampa the series. Montreal when down and scored a few minutes later, took a 3-1 lead before the period ended and held on to win.

You have to give Price credit. He’s a master flopper and his contortions had a lot to do with Charron’s call, but it’s to bad the play couldn’t have been reviewed.

“I thought we played hard,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters after the game. “I thought we were determined, I thought we played with passion, I thought we responded unreal.

“It’s hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they’ve played — clearly, that was our best game we’ve played in the series — and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.”

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Andres Lindback saved the LIghtning in the first period.

To be fair, the Habs could have put the game away in the first period. Montreal outshot Tampa 13-8 and had 10 legitimate scoring chances. Although it hasn’t helped the Lightning that No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop was hurt before the series, Lindback did give Tampa a chance in the first period on Sunday night.

“If I look at the first period as a whole, if it weren’t for Lindback the Lightning would have been in trouble,” Therrien told reporters. “You often have scoring chances and then you have what we call A-plus chances. We had a few, so he allowed them to stay in the game. He deserves a lot of credit.”

The Canadiens and Lightning play Game 4 on Tuesday night at Bell Centre (6 p.m. CST on CBC).

Brandon Star Leads Jackets to First Playoff Win

Matt Calvert doesn’t mind if you called him a “hero.” He just finds it a little surprising, that’s all.

The former high scoring leftwinger of his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings scored his second goal of the game 1:10 into double overtime on Saturday night to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a 4-3 win over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins – in Pittsburgh, no less. It was the first playoff win in Blue Jackets franchise history and it made the former Western Hockey League a household name. At least, for one night.

Calvert scores shorthanded Brandon Star Leads Jackets to First Playoff Win

Calvert scores shorthanded

“You always dream about being the hero in overtime,” Calvert told a group of reporters who actually found out where his locker was located. “We battled for it and it didn’t come easy. We were down a couple goals at different times. The penalty kill was great when it had to be and it’s just a great feeling right now.”

It’s been quite a playoff week for the Manitobans in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Winnipeg’s Dale Weise scored an overtime game-winner for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, Winnipeg’s Alexander Steen did it on Thursday and then Brandon’s Calvert banged home the winner on Saturday.

Columbus, which rallied from a two-goal deficit, will host Game 3 at Nationwide Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, FS-O, CBC, RDS2).

“This is my third season and I know the struggles that we went through to get to this point, but I don’t know the history of the team,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards told hi s post-game news conference. “For me, it’s always about moving forward and what’s going to happen next? What’s next on our agenda? What’s going to happen tomorrow?

“For me, it’s a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it’s big.”

Calvert cuts to the net Brandon Star Leads Jackets to First Playoff Win

Matt Calvert leans in.

Calvert scored Columbus’ second shorthanded goal of the series, just 6:25 into the second period. Heled a three-on-one break into the Pittsburgh zone and snapped snapped a wicked shot past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-2. He scored the winner on a rebound in the middle of the night.

Of course, scoring shorthanded goals is nothing new for Calvert. Back in 2009, while killing penalties for the Wheat Kings, became the first and only player ever to score three short-handed goals – in a row – in one period. It came in the second period of a third-round playoff game against the Calgary Hitmen — on three different penalty kills. In a span of 6:45, Calvert scored a natural hat-trick and set a WHL record that will never be broken.

The fact he set that record while playing for his hometown team is a bonus for a guy who still calls himself “a Brandon guy.”

He still goes back to Brandon every summer. He owns a home there and his best friends live there. He plays summer hockey with The Wagons and his fiancé, Courtney, is a Brandon girl. Granted, he’s famous in Brandon, but not so famous that it’s gone to his head.

“I’m just attached to Brandon,” he said. “It’s my hometown and I still love it. Sure, I’m kind of famous there, but I was famous in Brandon when I played for the Wheat Kings.

“The coach who was most influential to me in my career was my Triple A midget coach with the Wheat Kings, Craig Anderson. We’re still tight to this day. He runs a hockey school in Brandon and I’m still involved with it. Brandon is an awesome place. I just love the lifestyle.

Calvert about to mobbed after scoring the winner Brandon Star Leads Jackets to First Playoff Win

Calvert about to mobbed after scoring the winner.

“There is nothing better in the world than summer at the lake with all my old friends. I love being an NHL player, but when the season ends, I’m just a Brandon guy.”

Saturday night, he became Brandon’s most famous guy. And pretty big in Columbus, Ohio, too.

(Check out the cover story on Matt Calvert in the February/March issue of Manitoba Hockey News)

Winnipegger Scores Montreal’s Game Winner

TAMPA – Former Winnipeg Thrashers star, Dale Weise said he scored “a couple of overtime goals” in junior, but added, “nothing compares to this.”

Weise, standing all alone in front of Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andres Lindback, took a pass from Daniel Briere and blasted a point-blank shot into the corner of the net with 1:52 left in the first overtime period to give the Montreal Canadiens a 5-4 victory over the Lightning in Game 1 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Oh what a feeling Winnipegger Scores Montreal’s Game Winner

Dale Weise: Oh, what a feeling.

It was, indeed, the biggest goal of Weise’s NHL career.

“I had a couple of big goals in overtime in junior, but nothing like this,” Weise told a gaggle of reporters in the small visitors dressing room at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “When that pass came out to me the only thing on my mind was shoot it as hard as I can. I had the corner spotted, but even if I’d shot it right at him, I was going to shoot it through him.

“We had about two or three similar chances just before and the last shift I kind of backed off on a play. I didn’t want to get caught. I came to the bench and Gerard (assistant coach Gerard Gallant) said, ‘Don’t be afraid to jump in on that one,’ and that’s what I did. (Michael Bournival) and Danny make a great play there, and even I won’t miss too many from there.

Weise is not a big scorer. He had six goals and 10 assists in 61 games with Vancouver and Montreal this season. Fact is, he doesn’t even play that much (13 minutes and 21 second in a game that lasted 78 minutes and eight seconds last night), but he is much happier in Montreal than he was in Vancouver.

Traded by the Canucks to the Canadiens at the deadline back in March, he’d become a forgotten man in Vancouver. And while he wouldn’t use John Tortortella’s name, he didn’t have much good to say about the Canucks coach.

“It’s great to be in a place where the coach has faith in you,” Weise said with a smile. “The last time I was in Winnipeg, I played about two minutes. I was benched in the second period and sat out the third. The guy didn’t have any faith in me. He didn’t have any faith in his fourth line. But when I got traded to Montreal, it kind of saved my career. Michel (head coach Therrien) has had faith in me ever since I arrived and I appreciate the ice time and the opportunities I’m given.”

Weises teammates mob him in overtime Winnipegger Scores Montreal’s Game Winner

Weise’s teammates mob him in overtime.

Weise calls himself a guy who “works his butt off on every shift.” But he also compares himself to a load of Winnipeggers who had clawed, worked, scratched and ground their way to the NHL, many of whom are participating in this year’s playoffs – Ryan Garbutt, Cody Eakin, Matt Calvert, Cody McLeod and Ryan Reaves.

“That’s one thing about Winnipeg guys,” he said. “We work our asses off. We never quit. We sure have a lot of guys like Jonny (Toews) who you knew were going to be NHL stars when they were like 16.”

You certainly didn’t know Dale Weise was going to score an overtime winner in the playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens.

Weise, 25, started playing the game at four and learned the game on the outdoor rinks his dad used to make. He grew up at Gateway Arena, played with the River East Marauders, Winnipeg Sharks and the Thrashers. He was chosen in the WHL bantam draft by the Medicine Hat Tigers, but was cut twice and traded to Swift Current. He was eventually drafted by the New York Rangers (fourth round, 111th overall) in 2008, but things did not, necessarily, go well.

“The Rangers cut me four times and the fourth time I wound up in Vancouver,” he said. “But I never quit. You just never quit.”

Weise celebrates the winner Winnipegger Scores Montreal’s Game Winner

Weise celebrates the winner

Because he never quit, he was in the right place at the right time on Wednesday night.

“I’m really happy to be in Montreal,” he said. “Ever since I arrived here, the coaches have shown a lot of faith in me. In Vancouver, I don’t think they believed in the fourth line and what it can do. Here in Montreal, I know my role and sometimes, you get a great pass and good things happen.”

Looking Like Pens-Bruins Eastern Final

TAMPA — We looked at the West on Tuesday. It’s time to take a close look at the first round of Lord Stanley’s Eastern Conference playoffs:

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston Bruins (54-19-9) vs. (4) Detroit Red Wings (39-28-15)

The President’s Cup champions and Las Vegas favorites to win the Cup, the Boston Bruins should not have any problem in this first round.

The Bruins are bigger, stronger, faster and younger with better goaltending and better special teams. Geez, that sounds like rout.

Penguins Bruins Preview Looking Like Pens Bruins Eastern Final

Zdeno Chara, the only man who looks down on Sid the Kid.

Well, it should be. The Red Wings worked hard to make the playoffs and you know they’ll always be tough in the post-season, but they had 15 fewer wins than Boston (17 fewer wins in regulation and overtime) and they just don’t stack up.

However, here’s the kicker: Detroit won three out of four meetings with the Bruins this season, the only team in the NHL to beat Boston three times this year. In fact, the Red Wings beat Boston on April 2 and pretty much punched their ticket to the post-season dance.

This will be the first playoff series between these two Original Six clubs in 57 years. It will be better than people think.

Bruins win 4-2.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-27-9) vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8)

This should be a very tight series. Especially when you consider that Tampa Bay won its final two games of the year to sneak past Montreal by a single point in the Atlantic Division.

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Lightning goalie Anders Lindback.

The Lightning are much better than the sum of their parts. After all, Martin St. Louis was traded to New York at the deadline and with 29 goals and 61 points, he’s still Tampa’s leading scorer. Their best player missed 45 games with a broken leg and still tied Valtteri Filppula for the team lead in goals with 25, and the Lightning special teams aren’t very special — the power play was ranked 13th (18.5 per cent success rate), while the penalty kill was tied for 23rd (80.7 per cent).

Still, they finished ahead of the Canadiens and their tiny forwards. That might have had a lot to do with the fact that Montreal’s power play is not very powerful. The Habs power play was ranked 19th this season and went the final eight games of the season without a goal. Montreal has scored just twice on its last 38 power play attempts.

Still, the key to this one will be Carey Price. If he’s the Team Canada 2014 Olympics goalie, Montreal win this series in a walk. If he’s not, Tampa will move forward.

Tampa did win three of the four games between the two teams this season, but they were all close. Three of the games ended 2-1 via overtime or the shootout, while the fourth game was a 3-1 Tampa win with an empty-net goal.

Oh, and in case you didn’t already realize it, the Canadiens are the only Canadian team to reach the playoffs this season. The last time that happened was in 1973. Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Lightning win 4-3.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7) vs. (4) Columbus Blue Jackets (43-32-7)

Let’s not pull any punches; Pittsburgh is just better than Columbus.  Period.

The Penguins finished with 51 wins this season; they have Sidney Crosby, the best player in the game who won another Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in points with 104 this season and should win the Hart Trophy as MVP; they won all five games against Columbus this season, out-scoring the Blue Jackets 16-7; and let’s face it, the Blue Jackets haven’t won a playoff game since they became an actual NHL team in 2000.

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The Penguins

The Penguins are dangerous on the power play and it looks like everyone is healthy. Poor Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky could get killed. After all, the last time he started a playoff game, as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins scored five goals against him on just 18 shots. In his only action against the Penguins this season he gave up three goals on 13 shots.

My goodness, this won’t be close.

Penguins win 4-0.

(2) New York Rangers (45-31-6) vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers (42-30-10)

This might be the best series of the opening round. Both teams got off to horrible starts and yet both teams finished in a blaze of playoff glory. They’ll meet for the 11th time in the post-season and it should be a solid series.

Early in the season, the Flyers were terrible and Peter Laviolette was fired. Craig Berube took over and the Flyers got the shop turned around.

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Henrik Lundqvist

It took awhile to get rolling, but Claude Giroux still leads the attack with help from Jakub Vorachek, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell while the blueline features aging defensemen Kimmo Timmonen and Mark Streit. Perhaps the most surprising development in Philly was that Steve Mason did a solid job as the No. 1 goaltender, posting a .917 save percentage with four shutouts. But these are the playoffs. Philly goalies always collapse in the playoffds.

In New York, head coach Alain Vignault started slowly but got his team into second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers even had the nerve to deal team captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa for former league MVP and two-time scoring champ Marty St. Louis, who was terrific in New York. Of course, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the straw that stirs the drink at Madison Square Garden. If Lundqvist is good – which is likely – the Rangers win.

These two teams split their four meetings during the regular season, so this will be feisty and close.

Rangers win 4-3.

The Western Conference: Wild Poised for Upset. Is a Hawks Win an Upset?

TAMPA — The playoffs are here. Let’s look at the West.

(1) Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8) vs. (4) Minnesota Wild (43-27-12)

The Avalanche are all the rage. They arrive back in the playoffs as the best team in the revamped Central Division and it looks like Patrick Roy has impressed enough people to be a contender for the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year. Last year, the Avs were 29th in the league. This year, they’re favored to take out the Wild in the first round.

Charlie Coyle Minnesota Wild. Photo by Shawn Coates The Western Conference: Wild Poised for Upset. Is a Hawks Win an Upset?

Charlie Coyle, Minnesota Wild (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

However, while rookie of the year candidate, Nathan McKinnon, will play, the Avs best player will not. Matt Duchene is out of the first round and that’s going to take a toll. Unless goalie Semyon Varlamov can win this one on his own, the Avs will be in tough.

The Wild have a pile of scorers – Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikko Koivu and Dani Heatley. Trouble is, they win because head coach Mike Yeo plays boring, trap all over, chip-it-in, chip-it-out hockey. They could put the fans, media and the Avalanche to sleep by Game 3 of the series.

Meanwhile, Ilya Bryzgalov was acquired at the trade deadline and in 11 games with the Wild, went 7-0-3 with a 1.78 goals-against average.

Sure, the Avs had five 20-plus goal scorers this season, but with Duchene out of the lineup, it just messes things up. Yes, the Avs won the season series easily 4-0-1 – but this is the playoffs and defense wins in the playoffs.

Wild win 4-2.

(2) St. Louis Blues (52-23-7) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (46-21-15)

If the Blues haven’t awakened from a late-season sleep and if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are as healthy as we’re told they are, the Blackhawks will win this series quickly.

Jonathan Toews Photo by James Carey Lauder 737x1024 The Western Conference: Wild Poised for Upset. Is a Hawks Win an Upset?

Jonathan Toews (Photo by James Carey Lauder).

This could be the best series of the playoffs or it could be over in a blink. If the Blues are on their defensive game, they could win this one in six or seven. However, if the Hawks are healthy and ready to play, they could win it in four.

The Hawks are, after all, the same team that won the Cup last spring and there is no reason to think they won’t be excited about winning it again.

The Blues won the season series 3-2, but they won the first three games and lost the last two. Despite the Blues brilliance in their own end and their big, forechecking style, I have trouble writing off a Hawks team that won last year and played very in their last two games against St. Louis.

Sure, I’d rather have Ryan Miller than Corey Crawford, but not by much.

Hawks win 4-2.

(1) Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8) vs. (4) Dallas Stars (40-31-11)

I love the Dallas Stars. In fact, I love the Stars right down to their uniforms. However, I don’t love them to beat the Ducks.

It could be safely argued that the Ducks are the second best team in the NHL. They narrowly lost out to the Boston Bruins in the race for the President’s Trophy and they were probably the best team in the West from start to finish this season. In fact, they were dead even with the Stanley Cup-favored Bruins with most regulation and overtime wins with 51.

Ryan Garbutt Dallas Stars Photo by Shawn Coates The Western Conference: Wild Poised for Upset. Is a Hawks Win an Upset?

Ryan Garbutt, Dallas Stars (Photo by Shawn Coates)

The Stars are led by Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt. The Ducks are led by Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf.

The Ducks won 54 games this year, 25 on the road and only the Blackhawks scored more goals than the Ducks – 267-266.

This won’t be close.

Ducks win 4-1.

(2) San Jose Sharks (51-22-9) vs. (3) Los Angeles Kings (46-28-8)

Only one question to answer here: Can the Sharks win in the playoffs? They certainly have all the talent to win. However, for some reason, they just find a way to lose.

Still, what a great series this could be. The Sharks finished with 111 points and won 51 games. They had three players with 70 points or more. The Kings, meanwhile, were oddly identical at home and on the road — 23-14-4. They also allowed the fewest goals of any NHL team this season — 174. Jonathan Quick, arguably the best goalie in the West, won 27 games and had a superb 2.07 goals-against average.

Logan Couture San Jose Sharks Photo by James Carey Lauder The Western Conference: Wild Poised for Upset. Is a Hawks Win an Upset?

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Granted, the Kings don’t score much, just 206 goals all season, the lowest output of all 16 playoff teams, but they are sensational in their own end, on special teams and on the forecheck.

Every game these two teams played against each other this season was close. One goal was the difference in four of the games, two went into overtime and one to the shootout. Los Angeles took the season series by earning seven out of a possible 10 points (3-1-1). The Sharks went 2-2-1 to earn five points.

Kings win 4-3

Trotz Fired, Poile Finally Has to Throw Friend Under the Bus

Nashville Predators general manager David Poile has always been the biggest cheerleader Barry Trotz ever had. But on Monday, Trotz learned that even friends will throw friends under the bus in pro sports if you don’t win now.

And you’d better win with the GMs lousy players because until the owner has seen enough (see Vancouver), the coach will always get the axe before the GM.

barry trotz 2 Trotz Fired, Poile Finally Has to Throw Friend Under the Bus

Barry Trotz (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Monday, Poile told Trotz, the Dauphin product who has made chicken salad out of chicken-droppings in Nashville for 15 years, that he was finished as head coach of the Predators. The local Nashville news cheerleaders wrote it this way: “General manager David Poile hopes he sent the strongest message possible by making the first coaching change in Nashville’s history: missing the playoffs is not acceptable for the Predators.”

Yeah, well if it’s not acceptable, the GM should get the coach better players.

Despite a really marginal load of talent (it has always been a marginal load of talent in Nashville), the NHL’s longest serving head coach — at least, with the same team, had been fired after 15 seasons at the helm. This year, a team that is 23rd on the salary cap list (the only team below them on the list that made the playoffs was Colorado) and included the likes of  low-scoring Paul Gaustad (10 goals at $3.25 million), Viktor Stalberg (eight goals at $3 million) and Matt Cullen (10 goals at $3.5 million).

The Predators missed the post-season for a second straight year. Do you think? After goalie Pekka Rinne got sick (eColi) the Preds went 2-9 and the only big-time NHLer left on the roster was defenseman Shea Weber. Oh yeah, and it’s correct if you happened to notice, Weber was the Preds leading scorer this year with 56 points. That’s frightening.

“This is a wakeup call for everybody in our organization,” Poile said. “It’s a wakeup call for me. ‘Get out of your comfort zone.’ It’s going to be different here. There’s going to be a new coach in charge. … It’s going to be a difference voice and it’s going to be a different direction. And hopefully … the foundation Barry’s presented here for the next coach will take us to a higher level.”

Barry+Trotz+Nashville+Predators+v+Vancouver+pWQHDZQ1UP4l Trotz Fired, Poile Finally Has to Throw Friend Under the Bus

Barry Trotz – no telling what he could do with a team of good players.

Trotz’s contract expires June 30, and the Predators offered him a job in their hockey operations department. The two-time Jack Adams finalist made it clear in a very emotional news conference before Poile spoke that he appreciated the offer but wants to keep coaching.

According to the The Tennessean, “… missing the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02 and 2002-03 was too much for a franchise that needs to reach the post-season to sell tickets and generate crucial revenue.” Better get some players.

“We didn’t win this year, we didn’t win last year,” Trotz told reporters at his news conference. “There’s no excuse. I expect us to be in the playoffs, the Nashville Predators expect us to be in the playoffs. We didn’t make it this year, so I’m good with it.”

Trotz, who started his coaching career as an assistant to Wayne Fleming at the University of Manitoba, coached 1,196 games with Nashville. He is the only NHL coach to take his team to the playoffs in seven of eight seasons between 2003-04 and 2011-12, which included two conference semifinals. He was 19-31 in the post-season.

Barry Trotz has been the best coach in the NHL for much of the past 15 years. He’s turned terrible rosters into competitive teams. He will be a great coach for somebody next season. In fact, one wonders how he’d do if her ever got to coach a dozen good NHL-calibre players.

Captain Winnipeg Hoists NCAA Men’s Hockey Trophy

Mat Bodie, the senior captain of the Union College Dutchmen, has taken his “Winnipeg, Manitoba pride” and turned into a national championship.

Saturday night in Philadelphia, Union beat the University Minnesota Golden Gophers, 7-4, to win their first NCAA men’s hockey championship.

 Captain Winnipeg Hoists NCAA Men’s Hockey Trophy

Union captain Mat Bodie, from Winnipeg, centre.

The Dutchmen were led by their captain, Mat Bodie who grew up in East St. Paul, attended River East Collegiate and played briefly in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before heading off to B.C. and then Union, N.Y.

He is a young man who has done nothing but impress his head coach, Rick Bennett.

“I think he has that pride factor, he’s got that Winnipeg, Manitoba pride going,” Bennett told reporters after Union beat Boston College 5-4 on Thursday night to reach the first NCAA hockey final in school history.

“I just love the pride he has. Just the way he carries himself. He has a tremendous amount of pride. Ever since his first year, just working with him when I was back with the defensemen, you could really sense that from the first practice on.”

He was definitely the leader on Saturday night. He scored the final goal of the night, into an empty net, and set up two others, as Union scored three times in a 1:54 span in the first period and then scored twice in the final two minutes to put the game away.

“Both teams are better defensively than a 7-4 score shows,” Bodie told ESPN2 after the game. “It’s just one of those games where crazy bounces happen. We just wanted to stick with our process. We thought we were playing pretty well and great things happened.

“We approached just one shift at a time. This is the biggest game of our lives, hands down, but you’ve got to treat it like any other game. It was tough, I had people texting me, people calling me and stuff, and, you know, it was real tough to keep that mindset, but with our sport psychologist we were able to get that done.”

Mat Bodie action 033113 Captain Winnipeg Hoists NCAA Men’s Hockey Trophy

Mat Bodie

Goaltender Colin Stevens made 36 saves to get the win for Union (32-6-4), the 2,200-student liberal arts college in Schenectady, N.Y., that competes in Division III in all other sports but hockey.

“I’m just little bit speechless right now,” said coach Bennett. “Just happy for our school, for this program and the past players. It’s an unbelievable experience.”

Union won its final 12 games and went 16-0-1 in its last 17. Bodie had two goals and three assists in the final two Frozen Four games.

Minnesota, meanwhile, lost for the seventh time in the title game. The Gophers were making their first appearance in the championship game since winning its second straight title in 2003. Minnesota has won five NCAA men’s hockey championships.