Monday, May 28, 2007

NHL Stanley Cup Final

It's taken a month and a half, but the Eastern and Western Conferences have dwindled themselves down to one representative for this years NHL Stanley Cup Final.

From the East, the Ottawa Senators. Lead by the deadly line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Danny Heatley, the Senators took down the best of the competition in the East and barely broke a sweat. None of the three series (Penguins, Devils, Sabres) went more than 5 games. They have played solid and smart in front of goaltender Ray Emery, who in turn has made the big save when needed.

Coming out of the West, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks fought through the West, downing the Wild, Canucks, and Red Wings. Offensively, they have seen a consistent contribution from the all the members of the top 3 lines. In between the pipes, Giguere has played strong since returning late in the first round, posting a .930 Save Percentage.

The series should be a hard fought matchup. Both teams are play very smart hockey on both sides of the ice and have faired well on special teams. Of the two, the Ducks are by-far the more physical, which could become a factor. The Senators haven't run into a team as physical as the Ducks in the playoffs. Also working against the Senators is their reliance on the first line for scoring. If the Ducks could shut down Ottawa's top line, they could tilt the ice in their favor.

This should be a great Stanley Cup series and I'm picking the boys from Anaheim in 6.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Preakness Trumps Senators OT winner

The NHL is currently experiencing it's most exciting post season of recent, showcasing it's elite teams and players in highly contested match ups. Attendance is up. Profits are up. And all this in only the second year after returning from an embarrassing lockout that shut down the league for an entire season. So why, after Saturday's Eastern Conference Finals game was the NHL's face 14 different shades of purple? It's humbling US Nationwide television contract.

With the Senators leading the series 3-1 and the score deadlocked at 2 a piece, Buffalo and Ottawa were preparing for sudden death overtime. The Sabres knew keeping their season alive meant scoring next. A Senators goal would elevate the team to it's franchise first Stanley Cup Final appearance. And hockey fans tuning in across America were fumbling with their remotes in search of the Versus Network, after NBC announced they'd be dropping the coverage due to time constraints, and heading to the live pre-race coverage of the Preakness. An NHL overtime game trumped by the hour and a half long coverage of a 2 minute horse race.

Although the hockey viewing public may be up in arms over the snub, it's hard to blame NBC. Between the NHL and the Preakness, the latter wins by several lengths. NBC pays nothing for the NHL broadcast rights. Instead the league and network split the profit from advertising revenue. And since overtime periods do not have TV timeouts, extended hockey coverage does not mean increased profits. On the other hand, NBC pays for the rights to broadcast the Preakness. And as part of Thoroughbred Racings Triple Crown, it promises higher ratings and more advertising dollars.

While it's hard to hold the ordeal against the Network, it is at least guilty of poor scheduling. It was, after all, NBC, weary of conceding prime time slots, who pushed the NHL to schedule Saturday games for the afternoons.

The black eye is instead on the NHL, and is just a sign, even as individual team markets thrive, of the poor state of the US nationwide television appeal of the NHL since leaving ESPN. Which is why, as the providence of Ontario celebrated the Daniel Alfredsson goal that sent the Senators to the Stanley Cup series, it was buried on Versus, deep in American cable packages. That is, for those that even had it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (2)

The complaint around the sports world in March was the lack of upsets in the early rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Of course the upside of which was the meeting of the giants in the later rounds of the tournament. Likewise, the Western Conference didn't see any huge upsets in the first few round. However we are rewarded with what has the potential to be the most exciting series of the entire post season.

The Red Wings came into the post season with the number one seed in the West, but after last years disappointment, facing questions about whether or not they were for real this year. Answering these questions, they overcame Kiprusoff and the Flames in the first round, and the San Jose Sharks in the second. While they haven't been able to open up games on the offensive side, they have played solidly in front of goaltender Dominik Hasek, who has allowed only 19 goals in 12 games.

With the pair of Ilya Bryzgalov and J.S. Giguere between the pipes, the second seed Anaheim Ducks have made quick work of defeating the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks. Much like the Red Wings, the Ducks offensive talent has not created a scoring frenzy this post season. However, with their defensive play, the Ducks have dominated low scoring games.

I can see this being a long low scoring series, with multiple overtime games. I picked the Ducks for the Cup to start the season, and I'm sticking by them. Anaheim in 7.

Buffal Sabres (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (4)

The Senators have been the most exciting team in the Eastern Conference, handling both the offensive powerhouse of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the topnotch defense of the New Jersey Devils. And all with only dropping 2 games. Perhaps it's a few weeks early to be mentioning the Conn Smythe, but Daniel Alfredsson is certainly making a case. Spezza and Heatley are also playing well, and combined they have been the most potent line in the post season.

Buffalo came into the playoffs with the first spot, and heavily favored to represent the East in the Stanley Cup. And while they have advanced to the Conference finals, it has not been the post season the Sabres wished for. They've only played as well as they've had to, and instead of making quick work of the Islanders and Rangers, they dropped games and played far below potential. The Sabres need Chris Drury, Maxim Afinogenov, and Daniel Briere to step up and put goals on the board.

The bright side in Buffalo has been the consistent play of young starting goaltender Ryan Miller. He's played strong and kept them in games that he should not have had to. Ray Emery has also played well, but thanks to the Senators play he hasn't been tested, and if the Sabres can take the puck to the net hard, they may be able to crack him.

This is a great series, but I don't see it going past a game 5. Buffalo has underachieved, and as a result have had to play more games then Ottawa. Ottawa is playing great, and has been resting. The Sabres have the talented to beat the Senators, but I haven't seen it thus far this season. This may be Buffalo's best shot at a Cup, as in the off season they will face losing players to free agency, but I don't believe it's in the cards. Ottawa in five games.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2 Recap

In case you haven't been paying attention to the NHL playoffs, it's shaping up to be one of the best post seasons in years. But before I look forward to two amazing conference finals, I'll look back and see how my second round predictions turned out.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Rangers (6) - The Sabres jumped into the driver's seat by winning the opening two home games. But the Rangers took back the momentum with a game three double overtime victory. Holding the dynamic Sabres offense to only one goal again in game four, the Ranger's tied up the series 2-2. Back in Buffalo, game five became a goaltenders duel, as the teams battled again in overtime deadlocked at 1-1. Afingenov scored the game winner on the powerplay, and gave the Sabres the 3-2 series lead. Unlike the first five games, game six was an offensive slugfest, with the Sabres finishing off the series with a 5-4 win.

If New York was to look at one thing that lost them this series, it would be their complete inability to beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. Although they amounted high shot totals, they scored more than 2 goals only once in the series.

I picked up 2 pts for predicting the Sabres win, and an additional 1 pt. for correctly predicting 6 games.

New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Ottawa Senators (4) - Both teams came into this round two match-up after decisively defeating their first round opponents. The Senators took the series lead, edging out the Devils with a 5-4 game one victory. Both Emery and Brodeur rebounded in game two in what turned out to be a goaltenders duel.
With less than 2 minutes left in the second overtime Jamie Langenbrunner beat Emery, evening the series at 1 game a piece. Game three proved to be the pivotal game of the series, with the Ottawa shutting out the Devils 2-0. The Senators took game four 3-2, and then back in Ottawa finished off the series with another 3-2 win in game five.

No points on this one, I had the Devils.

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. San Jose Sharks (5) -
After defeating the favored Predators in the first round, the Sharks went a game up on the Red Wings, shutting them out 2-0. The series went back and forth, as Detroit tied in at 1-1 with a game two victory, and the Sharks took the lead again with a game three 2-1 win. Game four proved to be the turning point, as San Jose squandered a 2 goal lead for the second time in the series. The Red Wings took advantage and won the game 3-2 in overtime. Detroit took game five decisively 4-1, and completed the series comeback with a 2-0 victory in game six.

Detroit had me worried for a minute, but they got the 2 pts., plus the extra pt. for ending it in 6 games.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3) - The Ducks offense took control of game 1, opening up the series with a 5-1 victory. But Vancouver settled in game two, playing Anaheim to a 1-1 tie, and eventually stealing the game on a Jeff Cowan goal in the second overtime. The Ducks took game three 3-2, and game four by the same 3-2 score in overtime. Game five saw a 1-1 tie go into a second overtime, with Scott Niedermayer beating Luongo on a goal, guaranteed, he will never forget. After what Roberto Luongo believed was an elbow penalty by the Ducks, and thinking the puck was clearing the zone, he turned to the ref arm raised to complain about the missed call. However Niedermayer kept the puck in at the blue line, and lofted a shot Luongo didn't see until it was too late.

The Canucks played the Ducks hard, and were in this series far more than the 4-1 series loss may imply. 4 games were 1 goal games, with 3 going into overtime.

I called the Ducks, but in 6 games. Only 2 pts. here.

Round 2: 3-1 with 8 pts.

Total: 8-4 with 16 pts.

I bounced back after a subpar first round. But 8-4 still isn't great. Let's see if I can't get both Conference finals and save some face.