The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs began last night with two series getting underway and continues tonight with the other two starting tonight. The first round saw some exciting games but no tremendous upsets as the only real underdog to advance was the Calgary Flames when they vanquished Vancouver. And while this is slightly late there’s no time like right now to jump back into this blog with some predictions. Let’s get started.
Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers ( Washington leads series 1-0)
Well round two certainly wasted no time getting exciting! This is the fifth time these two division rivals have met in the postseason in the past seven years, leading some fans to wonder if this was still a matchup worth getting excited for? Then Joel Ward scored with one second left on the clock to steal game one.
For starters, yes you can probably say that should have been a penalty on Backstrom for hitting Boyle in the head from behind, a hit the NHL has tried to eliminate from the game. However, every coach in every sport constantly instills in their players the mantra of playing until the whistle sounds. The Rangers all stopped and looked at the refs and the Caps kept going, game over. The fact is the Rangers were thoroughly out played and out coached in the game and were lucky to be tied going into those final ten seconds. Players were continually making drop passes all night that weren’t being picked up and committing ghastly turnovers. If there is a silver lining to last night it’s that the Rangers had many chances and it took a very good performance by golatender Braden Holtby to stop all but one shot. The Rangers also can take solace in that they were the league’s best team this year and have arguably the best goalie in the world on their side in Henrik Lundqvist. However, there are holes in this team. I don’t know if there is an injury or something the Rangers are keeping quiet about but Martin St. Louis has not looked good for long stretches of this season. Dan Boyle was brought in fix the Rangers power play that has struggled mightily. Instead the power play continues to underwhelm and Boyle has looked like a 38 year old player near the end of his career, which he is. Throw in a rumored concussion to Mats Zuccarello that has him likely out for the rest of the playoffs and it’s not hard to see how this matchup can be tough. Across the ice the Capitals have comeback with a vengeance from last year’s disappointing team that missed the playoffs. This team has solid goaltending, big hitters, and a defensive unit that’s no slouch. They appear to have finally found the balance of offense and defense that has been missing for about the last decade. speaking of offense, while he had a quiet first round, Alex Ovechkin had an absolute snipe for Washington’s first goal and had an overall amazing game. While I don’t won’t to be suckered in by one game, I think this Caps team may be the one that finally succeeds in the playoffs. Caps in 7.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens
I called Lundqvist arguably the best goalie in the world and here is the argument: Canadiens goaltender and Hart Trophy finalist Carey Price. Price is up against one of the best and well-balanced offenses in the league including superstar Steven Stamkos. Price won a gold medal in last year’s Olympics and carried the Candiens to the conference finals before an injury ended his year, so he does have plenty of experience on big stages. Additionally while Price may win the MVP this year, the team in front of him isn’t terrible at all. The Habs roll four well-balanced lines that are all capable of chipping in offensively. They also ice on of the best blueliners in the game in P.K. Subban. Across the ice is the Tampa Bay Lightning who were my pick to win the Cup this year (full disclosure: I also picked the Blues to make it so…). The lightning also roll four competent lines they can chip in goals and play gritty hockey. While Stamkos had a disappointing first round the rest of the team was able to pick him up enough to advance, including the criminally underrated Brian Boyle. Goaltender Ben Bishop is not in the same class as Carey Price and nobody is asking him to be. He was having a great season for the Bolts last year before an injury caused him to miss the playoffs. If Bishop can be just solid in net and Stamkos is able to ge t going the Lightning can absolutely get through this round. I’m taking Tampa in 6.
Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks
It’s not secret that having a great goaltender is almost a given if you want to win the Cup and that should be scary to Chicago. The Blackhawks are one of my favorite teams to watch because of the way they play offense when both Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane are clicking. Owning the best jerseys in the league and one of the loudest buildings doesn’t hurt either. However, much like the Blues is the first round, goaltending could be a real Achilles heel for them. Regular starter Corey Crawford had a rough first round and had to be pulled in favor of backup of Scott Darling. Darling was solid for three games until he let in three soft goals in game 6 before Crawford came back on in relief and ended up winning the game and series. All indications suggest that Crawford, who has won a cup for the Hawks before, is getting the game one start. But if the Wild can light him up all bets are off. Minnesota spent the year languishing around toward the bottom of the standings before landing Devan Dubnyk in a January trade. He almost single-handedly turned their season around as he started the Wild’s remaining games and lead them on a furious charge up the standings and into the post season. He took down the Blues in round one and if he can frustrate the Hawks in this series it’ll be just another chapter in his storybook season. The Wild spent big two seasons ago for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Now is their chance to reward the organization with some playoff success. Wild in 7
Calgary Flames vs Anaheim Ducks ( Ducks lead serious 1-0)
The Calgary Flames should not be in the playoffs. The advanced stats have them as the worst of the playoffs. They don’t have a superstar player and came into this season expected to begin a rebuilding process of bottoming out and getting a high draft pick. Instead made the playoffs and dispatched of a favored Vancouver team in the first round. The Flames style of hockey is one that calls for unselfish and tough play. The displayed this by refusing to be intimidated by the physical play of the Canucks. Unfortunately for the Little Engine That Could the Ducks don’t mind being physical either and are coming off a 107 point regular season. The Ducks backed this up by going into a hostile and emotionally charged Winnipeg Jets arena and sweeping them. Corey Perry, to the annoyance of pretty much anyone not a Ducks fan, is having a tremendous postseason. I think Cinderella’s ball might be over here. Ducks in 5
The New York Rangers made the biggest splash of the NHL trade deadline when they acquired Keith Yandle from the Phoenix Coyotes last Sunday. The Rangers have been looking for an offensively gifted defensemen for sometime as well as someone who help run their powerplay. Yandle is an exceptional skater who can make quick crisp passes and is a major improvement over the more defensive oriented Dan Girardi. Yandle is just one of two defensemen who has put up 40 or more points in six of the last seven seasons with the exception being when he had 30 points in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. The veteran defensemen did not come cheap as Arizona picked up a second round draft pick in the 2015 draft, a 2016 first round pick, Anthony Duclair, and John Moore. In addition to Yandle the Rangers also received a fourth round draft pick in 2015, and Chris Summers who will provide some AHL depth. Arizona also agreed to pay 50% of Yandle’s salary for the next two years. Anthony Duclair is a steep price to give up as he showed promising skill during his call up with the Rangers this season when chipped in seven points in 18 games. John Moore has had a lackluster season points wise but has tremendous skating ability and is young enough that he could develop into a good player still.
For Arizona they shed some salary and gained back young and cheap talent that could benefit them for years to come and they should feel happy at that. For the Rangers, they gained what could be the missing piece in their puzzle as they look to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Rangers also obtained Sharks fourth liner James Sheppard to help stabilize their fourth line. A big part of the Rangers success last year was having the ability to roll out four cohesive and effective lines. By taking Tanner Glass off the ice in favor of Sheppard they can now do so again. While the cost of these moves can come back to bite them tomorrow as the Rangers are pushing close to the salary cap it does signals that the management believes that this group can deliver them the Stanley Cup.
If you’re reading this now you’re probably wondering why after almost two full years why I suddenly started writing here again? Well I stopped writing here because of an exiting new blog I had with a friend. Between school and writing for that blog I didn’t have enough time to keep writing for two sites. However in the time that has gone by I have graduated from college and that blog is no longer a reality. I took some time off and got a job in my hometown to make some money and figure out what I want to do from here. After spending some time Ive found that my passion and dream is still writing about sports. I look forward to writing here while I try to make this a reality writing for other outlets. Check back often as I’ll update the site as quick as I can.
The New York Ranger and their fans were are heading to DEFCON One Friday afternoon since the New York Post is reporting that the Blueshirts star net minder is going to be on the shelf for at least a month. The injury is believed to be related to a shot that hit Lundqust under his helmet and squarely in the neck. The goaltender was down on the ice and being attended to by trainers for several minutes before getting up and staying in the game. Lundqvist played again two nights later and appeared to have no lasting effects. However on Wednesday it was announced that backup Cam Talbot would be starting that night’s game as Lundqvist was experiencing headaches. While Lundqvist was originally listed as day-to-day, on Friday head coach Alain Vingeault confirmed that Lundqvist would not be making the weekend trip to Nashville. He stopped short of saying Lundqvist would be out a month but said he didn’t believe it was concussion related. The Rangers said more updates were to come when more tests had been run.
Assuming Lundvist is out for a month, that means he’s in line to miss about 10-14 games. Currently the Rangers sit in third place in the Metropolitan division but are only holding on to a playoff spot by three points. A month with no Lundqvist could be deadly to their playoff hopes. Besides Rick Nash, the Rangers have struggled with consist secondary scoring and the coaching staff continues the bizarre choice of benching talented youngster JT Miller for brawler Tanner Glass. The ripple effect of losing the backbone of the team will be felt all through the lineup. The forwards are going to be pressing more to score, the defencemen will be more conservative to compensate for not having Lundqvist there to bail them out. The two silver linings in the situation are that Cam Talbot is a very capable backup who can be good enough to keep the Rangers in contention. The item working in the Rangers favor is that they only play two games in their division during this month meaning it’ll be slightly easier for them to tread water until Lundqvist can return. Another facet to keep an eye on is that with 20-year-old MacKenzie Skapski now the backup goalie, the Rangers are going to be in the market for a cheap veteran to provide some insurance on the back end.
For once in your life you can believe the hype. After last years snoozer of a game the Patriots and Seahwaks delivered a beautiful football game. New England jumped out early to a seven nothing lead in the second quarter on a touchdown to Brandon LaFell. Seattle countered with a Marshawn Lynch run to tie it at seven with just over two minutes to go in the game. With 30 seconds to go Brady hooked up with Gronkowski on a perfectly placed ball that looped in a perfect arc and Gronkowski was able to snare it for a score. Seattle was able to march right back down the field and in an extremely gutsy call elected to forgo the field goal and throw the ball with only six seconds left. They were rewarded when Chris Matthews caught a touchdown with only two seconds left to tie the game at 14.
After Katy Perry did her thing and reminded America that Missy Elliot was still alive the Seahwaks were able to add a field goal to take the lead 17 – 14. Following a Brady interception Russel Wilson was able to find Doug Baldwin to extend the lead 24-14. His touchdown celebration was a metaphor for what would come next. With nearly eight minutes to go Brady pegged Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone to cut Seattle’s lead down to only three points. After Seattle completely botched the next series in which they managed to run not even minute off the clock, Brady got the ball back and set to work doing what he does best. He spread the ball around and incrementally and efficiently marched his team into the redzone. Once there he connected with Julian Edelman on a plan they tried and failed on earlier in the game to take a 28-21 lead. However the game was not over. With two minutes left on the clock Wilson delivered a perfect strike to Lynch out of the backfield for a 30 yard gain. A few plays later and there was the jaw dropping luck of the bomb to Kearse where the ball miraculously bobbled around and didn’t hit the ground. When they showed Brady on the sidelines after that you could see the ghosts of David Tyree and Mario Manningham in his eyes. After Lynch rumbled down to the one on the next play it appeared for a minute that yet again a fluke catch would keep the patriots from another championship. And then the unthinkable. Instead of handing the ball off to the horse they’ve been riding all season the Seahawks decide to pass and Patriots corner Malcolm Butler read the play the whole way and sealed the game with his interception. Game set and match. After the Seahwaks proved how classy they are fighting after they lost the game the Patriots were able to celebrate their elusive fourth super bowl victory.
The larger ramifications of this game concern legacies. Both Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady have cemented themselves as the best coach and quarterback to ever play the game. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks lost their chance to join the vaunted halls of teams that won back to back super bowls. Getting to the super bowl is hard enough and Seattle has to be haunted by the chance that they will never be as close as that one yard away again from being world champions. Besides the Patriots the big winners yesterday were the fans as corny as that sounds. The game was close and competitive from start to finish and featured a goal line stand to end. It’s no exaggeration to say that may have been the most exciting super bowl of all time.
OMG I’m back again. It’s been over two years since I’ve written in this space but due to some new life circumstances I’ve decided to bring it back for the foreseeable future. I’ll have a future post about what to expect in this space from now on, but for now let’s focus on the event at hand. Super Bowl 49 pits The New England Patriots against the reigning champions the Seattle Seahawks. It seems like a no brainer to say that these teams are the cream of the crop given that ever championship is going to feature the two best teams; however this year the two teams appear to be more closely matched than usual. Both teams overcame early season struggles before putting it together. Seaatle is a team has a punishing running attack and aggressive defense that helps keep the other team off-balance. On the other side the Pats have a wide open passing attack that can spread the ball around, is ruthlessly efficient in chewing up the clock, and they put up points as well as anybody in the league. Add in an aggressive and talented secondary and you’ve got another complete football team. One team has been as the premiere franchise of the league for over a decade while the other already has a title and has the young promising core to be the premiere franchise of the next decade. For Seattle, the game plan is simple: Let Marshawn Lynch do his talking on the field by running him relentlessly and mixing in Russel Wilson’s play action passes. Wilson may not put up the eye-popping numbers Brady does through the air but if Seattle can call some bootlegs and rollouts to get him outside the pocket he is capable of doing damage with his legs that is hard for defenses to account for. On defense the plan has to be to control Rob Gronkowski. This is easier said than done as the NFL’s comeback player of the year will want to erase memories of his last Super Bowl appearance when a leg injury could have prevented him from making the game winning catch on a hail mary as time expired. Also complicating the matter is the muddled state of Seattle’s health in their secondary. Gronkowski’s importance cannot be overstated. He leads the Patriots in all major receiving categories which is quite the feat for a tight end. If Seattle can handle Gronkowski they can rely on a similar game plan as the one they used last year against Payton Manning. Brady was 21st in the league for passing yards per play, averaging just 7.06 yards per play. If they can contain Gronk, Seattle can just sit on the short quick throws and not have to worry about the deep ball which has plagued New England all season. For New England the plan on offense is obviously to get Gronkowski involved in the game. This should include putting him in motion, splitting him out wide either alone or in a bunch formation, or possibly putting him in the backfield like an H-back. Short quick passes to Edelman and Amendola should be utilized to lull seattle to sleep. Occasional shots down field to LaFell can keep Seattle honest and create more space underneath. On defense the play of the front seven will be huge in deciding the fate of this game. Marshawn Lynch is as powerful a runner as there is in the league and this is no small task. In the secondary Darelle Revis must be on top of his game against Kearse. Wilson’s ability to scramble makes sticking to your man that much harder but Revis is an astonishing athlete and should be up to the task. It wasn’t that long ago people were calling him the best corner in the league before injuries and Richard Sherman stole his thunder. New England must be cautious when blitzing however lest the let Wilson escape outside and burn them with a scramble. To compensate they should think about employing someone as a spy to keep him in the pocket and let the defensive line try to get pressure on their own. The Pick I deliberately saved talking about New England’s running game until now. In my mind that’s their secret weapon and one that can help swing the game. Between LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray the Pats have some big bruisers of their own that can help decide the game. They provide New England with another dimension and headache to worry about when you’re playing them. The don’t need to utilize them at all, which they did against Baltimore when they didn’t have a rushing attempt in the second half, or they can shove them down your throat like they did the next week when Blount had three rushing scores of his own. That versatility is what makes me think the Patriots will win 28-24. Now briefly let’s talk about the deflated footballs: NO.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
This game is the reverse of the Ravens – Broncos game of yesterday. Everyone is picking the Seahawks and ignoring the home team. While it’s true that Atlanta played an easy schedule this year, I just think that in the dome they’re going to be all the Seahakws can handle. The way for Seattle to win is to repeatedly hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch to attack the weak Falcon rush defense. The key match up is going to be the Falcons dynamic receivers against the Seahwaks talented and physical corners. I’m picking the Falcons in a close 32-28 victory.
Houston Texans Vs. New England Patriots
The last time the Patriots blew out an opponent and met them again in the post season Mark Sanchez and the Jets shocked the world by beating them. While I don’t think the Texans will pull off that feat, I think it will be a hell of a lot closer than 42-14. To have a chance the Texans need to hand the ball to Arian Foster and set up the play action to take advantage of a weak Patriots secondary. The real effort is going to be on defense. New England has the highest scoring offense this year and for the first time in a long time they can run the ball effectively. Even if the score is close at halftime, the Patriots are a good second half team and I see them winning 32-27