Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail,
Upsets, when they occur, happen most frequently coming right out of the gate when teams are energized by the possibilities - either because it’s all so new to them (four of the eight Western Conference qualifiers were playoff newcomers this year); or because it’s been a long but necessary preamble (for perennial contenders Detroit, San Jose and more recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins).
Since the lockout, No. 3 seeds have had their share of issues (losing four of six series in the opening round to sixth-seeded teams). Since the current conference-based playoff format was introduced, No. 7s have always given No. 2s a hard time as well. Moreover, the odds of winning it all coming out of that different four-five bracket have been negligible over time.
Accordingly, if something extraordinary is going to happen, it’ll generally happen in the next fortnight. Here is how 2009’s opening round shapes up:
No. 1 San Jose Sharks v. No. 8 Anaheim Ducks
The first Battle of California since that memorable 1969 series between the Oakland Seals and Los Angeles Kings may be closer than the 26-point gap between the Pacific Division rivals suggests. The two played a home-and-home series two weekends ago; Anaheim spanked San Jose in the opener and lost the return engagement because of its parade to the penalty box. If the Ducks’ discipline falters, and it frequently does, then the Sharks will eat them up on the power play. If the referees swallow their whistles and it becomes a five-on-five engagement, however, the Ducks have a chance for a major upset.
SAN JOSE IN SEVEN
from Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch,
It sounds as if the Detroit Red Wings think the Blue Jackets are pretty much a one-man band.
They would deny that, of course, but there might be enough evidence to convict. Consider Henrik Zetterberg’s reaction when he was asked about facing the Blue Jackets and their rookie goaltender, Steve Mason, in the first round of the NHL playoffs:
“He’s basically taken them to the playoffs by himself,” Zetterberg said. “It’s easy to play well when you have a goalie like that that really stops the pucks. They have good confidence in him.”
The Jackets obviously have one or two other players who might have lent a hand in the playoff drive—hey, if Zetterberg tries real hard, he could even come up with three or four—but Mason leaps to the Red Wings’ minds because they had so much trouble with him this season.
from James Duthie of TSN,
Ideally, columnists and commentators (not to mention those disturbed creatures who attempt to do both) are supposed to provide answers. But this time of year, with 16 hockey teams about to start from scratch, there are none. Only questions. ...
I wonder if there is a lovable Cinderella in this bunch, like the 2006 Oilers, who were the 8th seed in the west, and came within two wins of a title. St. Louis would fit the bill. Better yet, Columbus. With a sensational rookie goalie (Steve Mason), and a superstar (Rick Nash) who has waited six seasons to taste the playoffs, anyone looking for a bandwagon to leap on might just have a spring fling with the Jackets. (Or they might be gone in four…this is why it’s called “wondering”.)
The East is trickier, because the teams in the Cinderella spots are underachievers with baggage. Could you really fall in love with the underdog…Rangers? Sean Avery doesn’t exactly make us feel all warm and fuzzy.
Speaking of which, I wonder if John Tortorella will keep up this calm, rational, media-friendly persona that he has adopted in New York. Or will he eventually snap, and stick a pen in some reporters’ neck after blowing a third period lead in Game 3.
from Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News,
The Stars will have to plug holes next season on a budget, co-general manager Brett Hull said as the team held exit interviews and physicals with players Monday at the Dr Pepper StarsCenter.
When asked when the team might know its budget or whether it could spend to the expected $56 million salary cap, Hull replied: “I can guarantee you it isn’t going to be to the cap.”
from Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail,
If the Montreal Canadiens are as ruthless maintaining their restraint and composure on the ice as they are at preserving their strict message discipline, the Boston Bruins are in for a stiff challenge.
Having already endured six months of crushing expectations in their centennial NHL season, the Habs are unmistakably lowering them for the postseason and focusing on more modest, incremental goals.
“We don’t have to beat [the Bruins], we need to win a game. We need to get into the series, and we need to get in with Game 1,” head coach Bob Gainey said in his customary measured tones. “I don’t have to think about how we beat them four times, how do we beat them once? We’re in eighth place, we may not like how our season unfolded. … We were in eighth place by the skin of our teeth, we’re going to have to play from that role, that’s what we are, that’s who we are.”
from the CP via the Globe and Mail,
Cherry, Milbury and Olczyk are picking the Sharks — who host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 Thursday (CBC, 10:30 p.m. ET) — to emerge from the Western Conference. McGuire expects the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings — who start play at home versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday — to play for the title again.
All were confident in their choice, although the Canucks are a team that makes Cherry worry.
“Vancouver with (goalie Roberto) Luongo, I wouldn’t bet against them, either,” he said. “I just like that Luongo, I think he’s going to come on strong. But I’m going to go with San Jose. I think this year they have a good coach behind the bench.”
via Vicki Hall of Flames Insider,
Not surprisingly, the Calgary Flames have placed Anders Eriksson on re-entry waivers in an attempt to bolster their injury-battered defence.
The question remains whether another team will put in a claim just to deny the Flames his services in the first round against Chicago.
Coach Mike Keenan said last week that such a move would violate the unwritten code among NHL executives, but anything is possible.
from Kevin Dupont at NBC Sports,
What, change now? Surely you jest. Back at the end of September, I picked Detroit to repeat as this season’s Stanley Cup winner, and I’m not going to jump off the Winged Wheel now.
OK, the Wheel’s a little wobbly. I get that. Chris Osgood’s goaltending isn’t anything to be feared, unless you happen to be one of the 12 forwards and half-dozen defensemen who dress in red-and-white and play in front of him every night, or the goal judge who keeps watch on his net, frantically icing down his wrist in order not to develop carpal tunnel from constantly hitting the plunger to trigger the red light.
But so what? I’m on the Wheel of Fortune, and I’m not coming off. No, sirree. Hunh-uh. Detroit, all the way.
The Blue Jackets could have forward Fredrik Modin in the lineup as early as Game 1. Modin practiced yesterday and said his injured knee felt strong enough to play. Coach Ken Hitchcock was not divulging his lineup, but kept hinting the lineup the Red Wings see on Thursday night could be different than the one they are expecting.
Jackets forward Kristian Huselius also said he’s a go for the series opener.
The wild card is rookie center Derick Brassard. Brassard visits his Cleveland Clinic doctor on Wednesday hoping to receive medical clearance on his injured right shoulder. Assuming Brassard gets the green light—and there’s no guaranteed he does—don’t be surprised if he’s in the lineup for Game 3 in Columbus.
from Pierre LeBrun of ESPN,
This is the time of year when stories are made, stories that will be recounted to generations and generations. Although it’s impossible to predict the unpredictable, let’s take a look at 10 possible storylines that could generate headlines in the first round of the playoffs:
1. Sean Avery, meet Alex Ovechkin
The game’s most controversial player meets the game’s best goal scorer. Each is a showman in his own way. We all remember what Avery did to Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in the first round last season. What will he have in store for Ovechkin? It remains to be seen how often they’ll be on the ice together, but when they are, will Avery target Ovechkin and try to get under his skin? And will Ovechkin let it get to him? Curious minds want to know.
continue for more storylines…
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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