Saturday, May 31, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Wrapping Up Game 4 Of The Finals

This sucks. I don't even feel like writing about this game, but on the off chance someone is expecting me to... This loss hurts. A lot. Games 1 and 2 didn't sting too bad because I knew there was a really good chance that the Pens could respond with a pair of wins on home ice. Now that the Pens lost the pivotal Game 4 it feels like someone walked into my house and slapped all three of my kids. I couldn't feel worse right now. I'm not giving up on my Pens, but I'm also smart enough to realize that the odds of beating this Detroit Red Wings team three games in a row, including twice at home, are pretty slim. I guess I'll just have to channel my inner Lloyd Christmas on this one because a least there's still a chance...

My observations on Game 4:

  • Nothing is going right for Evgeni Malkin right now. You really have to feel for the big guy. Hopefully he comes out of this a better player somehow. In the meantime, he really needs to be taken off the point of the power play. His bad decisions at the blue line are killing the Penguins right now.
  • Tonight's broadcast by NBC was almost VS. quality. And no, that is not a compliment in any way. The intermission with Ron Francis in particular was a joke. Here you have one of the best players in NHL history on set and the idiot host asks him if he "remembers" winning the Stanley Cup. How's that for insightful? Why not ask him if he remembered to put socks on this morning too?
  • Marian Hossa was excellent tonight, but he needs to get in to support the puck faster on the power play. That said, if the Pens had won tonight his first period goal would have become a part of Penguins lore.
  • Mike Babcock has a very Al Bundy quality about him if you ask me.
  • The refs really let Detroit get away with a lot in this game. I wouldn't go so far as to label the Red Wings a dirty team, but they sure hit from behind a lot. It's hard to blame them though if the refs are going to continue to let them get away with it. Not to mention the whole Dan Cleary shooting a broken stick at Sid thing...
  • That 5-on-3 gone bad will be giving people nightmares for years.
The Conn Five
  1. Henrik Zetterberg
  2. Sidney Crosby
  3. Chris Osgood
  4. Johan Franzen
  5. Marc-Andre Fleury

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Wrapping Up Game 3 Of The Finals

Well, it took three games, but we finally have ourselves a series. The Pens stepped up as they returned to the friendly confines of The Igloo and responded with a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings. Maybe this will be enough to shut up some of the NHL media about how Detroit is the best team ever and the Pens' dynasty is over before it even got started. Pittsburgh came out tonight playing the way they should have from the drop of the first puck. Granted home ice played into their success, but they were simply better. All the little things I said they were doing wrong after Game 2, well they were doing them all right tonight, and it paid off.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on Game 3:

  • Sid was simply a beast tonight. He had played well in Detroit, but he was on another level tonight. He showed why he is hands down the best hockey player on the planet.
  • Darryl Sydor looked really rusty tonight, but that is pretty understandable. He got better as the game went along and as much as I love Kris Letang, he will probably be a steadying presence on the blue line for the remainder of the Finals.
  • Where would Detroit be without Johan Franzen? He has been their most effective offensive player since getting back into the Red Wings lineup.
  • Brooks Orpik was out of his mind tonight. He brought a level of physicality that Detroit just can't match. Especially in the third when he was hitting everything in a white jersey.

  • Gary Roberts was back to being Gary Roberts.
  • I could go on for hours about how much I love the way Tyler Kennedy plays hockey. If you're lucky, someday I will.
  • Chris Osgood may have a pair of victories in the Finals, but tonight Marc-Andre Fleury became the first goalie in the Finals to win a game.
The Conn Five
  1. Henrik Zetterberg
  2. Sidney Crosby
  3. Marc-Andre Fleury
  4. Chris Osgood
  5. Johan Franzen

Monday, May 26, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Wrapping Up Game 2 Of The Finals

Well, it seems like we've been down this road before. Once again the Penguins rolled into Joe Louis and walked out with a bagel for their efforts. As with Game 1, I wasn't terribly impressed with Detroit in Game 2, but they still deserved to win. They took advantage of a handful of Penguin mistakes, and that was the difference in the game. Also like Game 1, the Penguins played horribly. I don't know if it is nerves or what, but they are really sucking it up right now. I'm talking about the little things like making clean passes, pulling the puck off the boards, and getting the puck in deep at the blue line.

Here are my other observations from Game 2:

  • I said it before and I'll probably be saying it again Wednesday night, but Niklas Kronwall is a dirty hitter. He had two big hits tonight. One was a blatant charge, and the other was his more traditional elbow. Sooner or later one of these has to get called.
  • Chris Osgood is a joke. It is comedic to see him flop around like he was shot at the slightest hint of contact. Let alone the fact that the refs let him initiate contact and then hit players on the other team with a goalie interference call (see Ryan Malone). Someone needs to take a real good run at him and show him what it is like to really get hit. That brings us to...
  • Johan Franzen. What an embarrassment. I would never wish for a player to get injured, especially when we're talking about head injuries, but if that guy is going to collapse in a heap and play dead five seconds after getting nudged at the blue line then he deserves what is coming to him. Someone on the Pens really is going to go upside his head if he continues to pull that crap. At least (for once) the refs weren't buying what he was selling.

  • Tyler Kennedy is everything you could want in a hockey player. If every Penguin forward had played as well as TK in the first two games we would be heading home with a split at the very least.
  • I'm assuming Evgeni Malkin left his game in Pittsburgh. Which should be a good omen for the next two games right?
  • Hal Gill and Pascal Dupuis were both awful tonight. There's no other way to put it. They both really need to pick up their games in a big way.
  • No more VS. broadcasts!!! (Just thought I'd end on an up note.)
The Conn Five
  1. Chris Osgood
  2. Henrik Zetterberg
  3. Marc-Andre Fleury
  4. Pavel Datsyuk
  5. Sidney Crosby

Saturday, May 24, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Wrapping Up Game 1 Of The Finals

Well that sure sucked. The Pens really looked flat tonight, but full credit to Detroit. They outplayed the Pens and did a pretty good job of limiting the Penguins offensive chances, especially in the first period. Hopefully this game will be a good wakeup call for Pittsburgh, because tonight they looked a lot more like the team that got battered around by Ottawa last year than the team that cruised through the East this season.

Here are the rest of my notes and observations on Game 1:

  • The Pens defense looked shaky at times, but in all honesty the Wings didn't have that many good scoring chances. The Wings did take advantage of a couple bad mistakes by the Pens' D though, and in a series this close that will be the difference.
  • MAF looked a bit shaky for the first time in this post-season, but I think he did a good job of surviving the first period and then settling in.
  • Granted Henrik Zetterberg scored a garbage time goal, but he and Pavel Datsyuk were not much of a factor tonight.
  • Evgeni Malkin looked absolutely lost tonight. Geno can be the most dominant player in the NHL when he is on, but he also has nights like tonight when he is really off. Pittsburgh will need more from him if they are going to have a shot in this series.
  • Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa both looked good tonight. They weren't at their best, but they were probably the Penguins' two best players aside from MAF. I would even go as far to say that Sid was the best forward for either team.
  • I hated Mikael Samuelsson going into this game. I still hate him. Move along.
  • Niklas Kronwall is a nice hitter, but he really leads with his elbows a lot. Some ref needs to step in and call that when applicable. That said, his big hit on Jordan Staal was as clean as they come.
  • That Detroit crowd is a joke. Can't someone step in and officially strip them of the Hockeytown title already?
  • I couldn't be more excited about the fact that there is only one more VS. broadcast left in the season. Their broadcasts could not be worse.
One last piece of business to attend to. As I said in a previous post, I will be keeping a running list of Conn Smythe Trophy candidates for the duration of the Finals. So without further delay, here is the first edition of...
The Conn Five
  1. Chris Osgood
  2. Marc-Andre Fleury
  3. Sidney Crosby
  4. Henrik Zetterberg
  5. Sergei Gonchar

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Handicapping The Conn Smythe Contenders

As we get ready for the Stanley Cup Finals to get underway on Saturday night, I thought this would be the perfect time to look at who are the front runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy on both teams. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have been led by their biggest stars in the post-season, but there have also been some unsung heroes on both teams that I feel should get some recognition for their tremendous play thus far.

I am going to list my top four Conn Smythe candidates for each team below. Once the Finals begin I will include a Conn Smythe Top 5 when I recap each game. This will be a dynamic list that will obviously reflect the ebb and flow of the series as it plays out.

Detroit Red Wings
  1. Chris Osgood
  2. Henrik Zetterberg
  3. Pavel Datsyuk
  4. Johan Franzen
Notes: I give Osgood top billing here because he really turned things around for the Wings in their first round series against Nashville. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are pretty much a coin flip at this point. The bottom line is that the Wings would be lost without them both. Franzen would be much higher on the list if it were not for his injury. It will be interesting to see if the Wings get him back for the Finals or not.

Pittsburgh Penguins
  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Marc-Andre Fleury
  3. Evgeni Malkin
  4. Sergei Gonchar
Notes: It was a tough call for me here between Sid and MAF. I still don't think MAF has gotten his fair share of the credit for the Penguins' performance thus far. People seem all to eager to declare him the weak link in the Penguin chain, but not give him his due as he continues to outperform every other netminder in the NHL. Geno could be leading the pack here if he hadn't gone quiet in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals. Gonchar has been unreal all post-season and does not get near the amount of credit that he deserves. He has been an anchor for the Penguins at both ends of the rink.

Monday, May 19, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

The Stanley Cup Finals are set as the Detroit Red Wings get set to open the Finals at home against the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This looks to be one of the most entertaining Finals in recent memory as two of the most talented teams in the NHL go head to head for hockey's ultimate prize.

Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

Breakdown: This should be one heck of a series to watch. Both teams can really skate. Both teams can shut it down on defense. Both teams have goalies who are on top of their game right now. At the end of the day I give the edge to the Pens. I think they are a little bit deeper, a little bit more talented, a little bit hungrier, a little bit better on defense, and a little bit better in goal. All in all that adds up to a Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh in my book. The Penguins are clicking on all cylinders and have been more impressive against better competition this post-season than Detroit. The Pens are battle tested and ready to finish the job. That is not to say it is going to be easy for Pittsburgh This should be the toughest series yet for the Penguins and Detroit could easily walk away victorious when all is said and done.
Player to Watch: Marian Hossa (PIT) - Make no mistake, Hossa has had a tremendous post-season thus far, but this is why Ray Shero went out and got him at the trade deadline. Hossa is going to have to continue to perform and both ends of the rink and finish off some of Sidney Crosby's passes if the Penguins are going to complete their amazing post-season with a victory over the Red Wings. Hossa could be that one extra weapon that gives Pittsburgh the edge in the Finals. And it could mean a huge pay day for Hossa come July 1st.
Prediction: Pens in 6

2008 Playoffs: Recapping The Conference Finals

After a pair of series that at one point both looked to be heading towards sweeps, we now have our Stanley Cup finalists. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be taking on the Detroit Red Wings for the right to lift hockey's holy grail. Before we get into breaking down the Finals, let's take one last look at how both teams got there.

Pittsburgh v Philadelphia

I said: Pens in 5
What happened: Pens in 5
Comments: This series was never close, as I expected going in. The Flyers were banged up on their blue line, but I really don't think that mattered too much in the end. The Penguins are getting near-flawless performances from every player on a nightly basis right now. Philly are a much improved team and they can be proud of what they did this season, but they simply had no answer for the Penguins defense or offense in this series. Oh, and having MAF in net helped a little too.

Detroit v Dallas

I said: Stars in 6
What happened: Wings in 6
Comments: I probably should have listened to my head more than my heart when predicting this series, but I really thought the Stars would have enough gas left in the tank to force out Detroit. They did make things interesting before all was said and done, but it was too little too late. Now Detroit has to get ready to face by far the toughest opponent they have come up against this post-season.

All Is Right In The Eastern Conference

The universe has finally righted itself and after a brisk 14 games the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken back their rightful spot atop the Eastern Conference. I have to say that the path the Pens took to the top of the East could not have been sweeter either. Let's reflect for just a second...

  • Round 1 - Annihilating the Ottawa Senators in 4 games and getting revenge on the team that took them out behind the proverbial woodshed in last season's playoffs.
  • Round 2 - Dispatching Jaromir Jagr and the rest of the Penguins alumni squad that not calls themselves the New York Rangers.
  • Round 3 - Eliminating the rival Flyers in near perfect fashion, culminating in the 6-0 series clincher on home ice.
Back on top, where they belong!

Not looking past the fact that there is still one more round to go, I can't resist the opportunity to look back on what was a dominating romp through the East for the Penguins. Here are a few of my observations on the first 3 rounds:
  • The Flyers and their fans can make all the injury excuses they want, but except for the 3 goals the refs gift-wrapped for them in the first period of game 4, they were never in their series against the Pens. It was not nearly as close as the 4-1 result would lead you to believe.
  • Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin get most of the press, but Marc-Andre Fleury and Sergei Gonchar have been the Penguins two most consistent and arguably best performers this post-season.
  • Jordan Staal has gotten better and better as the Pens have gotten deeper into the playoffs. Anyone who would complain about his drop in scoring during the regular season just does not get what hockey is about.
  • Where have all the people bashing the Pascal Dupuis Marian Hossa trade gone?
  • Ryan Malone and Marc-Andre Fleury have both made themselves a fortune in the last six weeks.
  • Every single player on the Penguins has performed their role perfectly. Knowledgeable hockey people realize how valuable guys like Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot have been in Pittsburgh's run to the Finals.
Well, the Red Wings just (finally) finished off the Stars. So now we know who our new enemy is. Nothing in the world could make me happier than to see the Pens beat the Wings in the Finals. Nothing. This is going to be unreal. The ghosts of '96 have been exorcised! Strap in Pens fans, there's four more miles to go to the promised land!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

The chase for Lord Stanley's Cup is down to four teams as the NHL Conference Finals get underway tomorrow night in Detroit. Both series should be very entertaining and hard fought. Much is being made of the physical aspect of the Flyers/Pens series in particular, but I think the Western Conference Final has the potential to get a bit nasty as well. In any case, on to the predictions!

Western Conference Final

(1) Detroit vs. (5) Dallas
Breakdown: Dallas has had arguably the toughest road to the third round of any of the four remaining teams, and I think that will help them against Detroit. By comparison, the Wings had a cakewalk series against Colorado and haven't really been tested since games 3 & 4 against Nashville. I think the Stars can walk away from this series victorious, but I really think they need to at least split the first two games in Detroit. I think Dallas is the better team here, but not so much better that they can afford to go down 2-0 in the series and expect to win 4 out of 5 games against the Red Wings.
Player to Watch: Marty Turco (DAL) - Playing in Detroit has never been kind to Turco, as his 0-7-2 record at "The Joe" will attest. Turco is going to have to forget about that and focus on the now if the Stars are going to return to the Stanley Cup Finals. If Turco can continue to play at the level he has in the first two rounds, then I really like the Stars' chances to move on.
Prediction: Stars in 6

Eastern Conference Final

(2) Pittsburgh vs. (6) Philadelphia
Breakdown: They invented the phrase "no love lost" just for a series like this one. These teams really don't like each other and this could turn out to be the most physical series of the entire post-season. That in turn could lead to a lot of odd-man situations, which favors Pittsburgh. The Pens' power play has been great in the playoffs, but their penalty kill has quietly been their strongest asset thus far. If the Pens can continue to dominate special teams play, get scoring from the third and fourth lines, and keep getting clutch goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury they will make short work of the Flyers.
Player to Watch: Jarkko Ruutu (PIT) - Ruutu is one of those guys who is always trying to stir up trouble. If he can get under the Flyers' skin without crossing the line (to much) and ending up in the box then he could really help tilt the special teams battle in Pens' favor. Plus he is one of those guys for Pittsburgh who has the ability to chip in with a very timely goal.
Prediction: Pens in 5

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Second Round Recap

Well that didn't take long! The second round of the NHL playoffs went by pretty fast as only one series failed to see a team go up 3-0. Ultimately there was only one series sweep, but the second round flew by nonetheless. Let's take a final look back at how I fared with my predictions (quite well if I may say).

Pittsburgh v Rangers

I said:
Pens in 6
What happened:
Pens in 5
I expected this series to be longer as I thought these the best two teams in the East. Every game in the series was close, but at the end of the day the Pens prevailed thanks to their special teams and goaltending. The Penguins' power play and penalty kill were both amazing throughout the series and that was the difference. Marc-Andre Fleury continued to be outstanding in net as well. In the end the Rangers just couldn't keep up with the youthful Penguins. It was nice to see Jaromir Jagr still has some gas left in the tank though.

Philadelphia v Montreal

I said:
Flyers in 6
What happened:
Flyers in 5
This was the Montreal team I had been waiting to see. I am going to give the Flyers credit for overcoming their game 1 collapse and still wrapping up the series in five games, but Montreal was never really in this series. Carey Price was a disaster for the Habs and he left them with almost no chance to prevail. Easy work for the Flyers in round 2.

Detroit v Colorado

I said:
Wings in 7
What happened:
Wings in 4
What a disappointing end to the season for Jose Theodore. He almost singlehandedly got Colorado past the Wild in round 1, and then singlehandedly lost round 2 for them against Detroit. I'm not trying to short change Detroit here, but the Avalanche had no chance in this series with the way Theodore played. Detroit could not have had an easier second round.

Dallas v San Jose

I said:
Stars in 6
What happened:
Stars in 6
The Sharks were lucky to get by Calgary, while the Stars took out the defending champs. Seemed like a no-brainer to me. Plus I just think Dallas is a flat out better team than the Sharks. Plus with Marty Turco and Brenden Morrow playing at the level they are right now things are looking really good for the Stars. The Sharks were lucky to push this series to a sixth game.