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NHL Conference Finals Preview

nhl playoffs preview 2

The NHL Conference Finals are upon us and we have some very interesting match ups for a good number of reasons.

Starting with the Canadiens and Rangers battling for the Eastern Conference title after beating Boston and Pittsburgh respectively. The Canadiens won their last two versus the Bruins whereas the Rangers overcame what seemed to be an impossible 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins. This series will feature the Gold medal winning Carey Price and the Silver Medal winning Henrik Lundquist. The series starts Saturday at 1PM ET on NBC and CBC in Canada. The rest of the series will be on NBCSN in the US and CBC in Canada and have 8 PM ET start times.

And then there is Los Angeles vs Chicago which starts on Sunday at 3 PM on NBC and TSN is another series that will be interesting because it is a battle of the last two Stanley Cup Champions (LA in 2012 and Chicago in 2013), what’s more is that this will be the second straight season that these teams will meet in the Western Conference finals, Chicago won last season obviously as they were the Champions of the league.

Eastern Conference

Canadiens vs Rangers

This is one for the history books, an original six battle between the Canadiens and Rangers with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals hanging in the balance. The Canadiens road here went through the Lightning in a four game sweep, and then the Bruins in what was a hard fought seven game series. The Rangers path was a little different, they knocked off the Flyers in the first round and then they came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

These teams play opposite styles, the Canadiens are more of an offensive style team whereas the Rangers play more of defensive style even though this season they have been more offensive than they were under John Tortorella and his defense first system.

I personally think the series will be a high scoring, light checking series. The key to the series will be goaltending, which goaltender does the best work for his team? Well if previous series’ are any indication than the Canadiens have the edge in net. I think the Rangers need to really pressure the Canadiens into making mistakes which is what Boston didn’t do for some reason, the Canadiens are a fairly young team and the Rangers are more experienced especially guys like Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis on that club.

My prediction is Montreal in seven games, I think the Canadiens will be the better of the two offenses, and I think Carey Price is locked in and will win the goaltending battle (again) in this series.

Western Conference

Kings vs Blackhawks

For the second straight season the Los Angesles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks will do battle for a chance to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals, last season the Blackhawks needed only 5 games to win the series, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the series this year will go 6 or 7 games, I expect seven to be honest.

The road to this series for both teams were tough, Chicago had a vicious six game series against the St. Louis Blues in what might end up being the series of the playoffs in terms of pure hatred, the Blackhawks then played Minnesota and that series were much calmer (actually all the second round series were pretty calm) and it was a laugher of a series, though give the Wild credit they tried their best to overcome the slow start to the series that they had.

Los Angeles on the other hand had an incredible series with the San Jose Sharks coming back from a 3-0 series hole to win the series over the Sharks and then they had another seven game series against the Anaheim Ducks (and who said California doesn’t know hockey? They got to see some great series this year) edging them out in a 6-2 game in game 7.

These teams are both very similar, they both play solid D and both are very good checking teams. I think that LA has the edge in goaltending though, Jonathan Quick is a playoff performer, he doesn’t get playoff jitters, he is as cool as it gets in the playoffs which has spelled success for the Kings making three straight Western Conference Finals and winning the Stanley Cup in 2012, you can’t deny the success of the Kings. But at the same time the Kings do not stack up against the Blackhawks who have won two Stanley Cups in 4 years and are going for a third in five seasons, one of the consistent factors is Patrick Kane who is a clutch playoff performer, he is as good of a player as it gets in these type of games, which is good because God knows Buffalo is disappointed in the rest of their sports adventures so it is nice for that city to see a local kid in Kane do well.

My prediction this series, I predict the Kings win the series in seven games. I think Jonathan Quick comes through again in the clutch, and I also predict Patrick Kane scoring a goal in the series deciding game, whether the series ends in four games or goes seven like I think it will.

Re-Post: NHL Round Up: LA makes History; Tortorella Fired; Halak Traded; NHL Conference Semi-Finals Preview

Please head over to the new site to read this and to follow that blog because starting in a week or two I will not be using this site however I want to give people proper time to adjust to the transition.

http://www.enforcingthecode.com/nhl-round-up-la-makes-history-tortorella-fired-halak-traded-nhl-conference-semi-finals-preview/

NHL Games to Watch; March 25th

NHL games to watch

Sabres @ Canadiens 7:30 PM ET (MSG-BUF|TSN-HABS|RDS)

This should be a good game between two division rivals. Do not let Buffalo’s laughable record fool you, this is the time of the season where teams come in and try to play spoiler to other teams who are fighting for a playoff spot, I would be shocked if Buffalo layed down and let Montreal trample them. Therefore I am calling for a 3-1 Montreal win and not a 7-0 game. But I think the game has a good chance of being entertaining throughout.

Honorable Mentions

Blues @ Maple Leafs 7 PM ET (FS-MW|SNET-O)

Kings @ Capitals 7 PM ET (FS-W|CSN-MA)

NHL Games to Watch; March 24th

NHL games to watch

Canadiens @ Bruins 7:30 PM ET (NBCSN|TSN|RDS)

The Bruins and Canadiens meet again, this is the fifth and final match up of the season. The  Bruins host the Canadiens on a 12 game winning streak and they face their arch rival of 90 years, many memorable games played against each other, which is expected from two teams with such storied histories. The last couple of seasons have been sort of tame in terms of fireworks, and wildness, so don’t expect anything too crazy in terms of fights but I do expect an intense game because the Canadiens undoubtedly would love to snap the streak, whereas the Bruins would love to extend their streak to 13 in a row, which would be the longest winning streak since 1971 for the Bruins.

Honorable Mentions

Kings @ Flyers 7 PM ET (FS-W|CSN-PHI)

The Flyers West (or as the old saying was back a couple years ago) come to Philadelphia and play the Flyers and it should be a good hard hitting game since both teams love to play a physical style.

Sharks @ Flames 9 PM ET (CSN-CA|SNET-W)

The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Flames, but it won’t be easy as the Flames have been a more respectable team over the last couple of months, it is too bad their season started so rough.

NHL Games to Watch; March 12

NHL games to watch

Bruins @ Canadiens (NBCSN|TSN-HABS|RDS)

The best rivalry in hockey takes the ice tonight for a third time this season. The Canadiens are 2-0 this season over the Bruins and with the addition of Thomas Vanek there is little reason to believe that will slow things down because Thomas Vanek is a Bruins Killer. As it being a Bruins game I won’t put any predictions to it, but I will predict and say that it will be a wild game.

Honorable Mention(s)

Chicago @ Colorado 9:30 PM ET|6:30 PM ET (CSN-CHI|ALT)

 

Notable NHL Trade Deadline Deals and Grades

NHL Trade Deadline

Today was the last day for the NHL to make trades, and there were some pretty good trades today that will change the face of the league moving forward going into the playoffs.

The Trades (The Short List)

  • The New York Rangers acquired Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Callahan, a 2015 1st round pick, and a conditional 2014 2nd round pick.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Lee Stempniak from the Calgary Flames for a unspecified 3rd round pick.
  • The Montreal Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek and a conditional 2014 5th round pick from the New York Islanders for Sebastien Collberg and a conditional 2014 2nd round pick.
  • The Minnesota Wild acquire Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from the Buffalo Sabres for Torey Mitchell and an unspecified draft pick.
  • The Washington Capitals acquire Jaroslav Halak and a 2015 3rd Round pick from the Buffalo Sabres from Rostislav Klesla and Michal Neuvirth
  • The Boston Bruins acquire Andrej Meszaros from the Philadelphia Flyers for a 3rd round pick in an unspecified year.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets acquire Nick Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers for a 5th round pick in an unspecified year.
  • The Dallas Stars acquire Tim Thomas from the Florida Panthers for Dan Ellis
  • The Los Angeles Kings acquire Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Matt Frattin, a 2nd round pick and a conditional third round pick.

Last night also had the Vancouver Canucks trade Roberto Luongo and a minor league forward to the Florida Panthers for prospects, goalie Jakob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.

Winners/Losers

Winners

Montreal Canadiens: I love the addition of Thomas Vanek for the Canadiens, they needed a piece to add to that team and they certainly got it. As an added bonus, the Canadiens got a player with decent size and a noted Boston Bruins killer. Combine this with the lack of a huge deal for the Bruins, the Canadiens really made themselves a pretender to a possible contender.

Pittsburgh Penguins: They didn’t make any major moves, but they added Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak adding depth to an already deep line up.

Los Angeles Kings: They added a prime time player in Marion Gaborik, while Gaborik isn’t a defensive minded player, he can be a nice asset in the goal scoring department, which is what the Kings needed to a lesser extent. The Kings look poised for another deep run.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Boy did the Lightning get a steal today in the St. Louis trade. I won’t say that St. Louis isn’t worth Callahan, the real thing for me is the fact that they also picked up a 1st round pick and a conditional second round pick which could move to a first round pick if the Rangers make the Eastern Conference Finals this season.

St Louis Blues: The Blues got themselves on this list because of a move that was made last Friday when they added Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres. The Blues felt like they needed to upgrade their goaltending, and getting Ryan Miller is a good way to add a stronger structure to the backbone of the team. I think they went from contender to a favorite to win the Western Conference.

Losers

Boston Bruins: The Bruins needed to do more, and while I am not down on the Andrej Meszaros deal with a good portion of Bruins fans and Boston media because I think Meszaros is a good player that was tangled in the wrong system. But they failed to get that guy who will be a sure bet for them, and they lost ground on the Canadiens and Penguins today in my opinion.

New York Islanders: The Islanders somehow managed to get very little for their trades recently that will help the team now, sure they managed to scrap together 2 second round picks and a third round pick. But looking at what they traded I feel that they could have and should have gotten more for the pieces they dealt away.

Vancouver Canucks: Look I am not going to bash Shawn Matthias or Jakob Markstrom, those are legitimate returns for the Roberto Luongo trade. However I do have the right to wonder what they’re going to do if they make the playoffs and have two rookie goalies in the mix for starting job.

Best Deadline

I have to say in terms of the best NHL Trade Deadline Day team, it has to be the Montreal Canadiens, they added a scorer and size to their roster, a player who can make a big difference for them moving forward. I still do not think that the Canadiens are going to be front runners in the Eastern Conference, I think that the Canadiens are on their way. A defenseman and power forward from where they would ideally be in order to make a strong push for the Stanley Cup. But I can’t help but to like this move from a Canadiens perspective. As a Bruins fan it sucks seeing them add Vanek.

NHL Games to Watch; March 3rd

NHL games to watch

Canadiens @ Kings 10:30 PM ET|7:30 PM PT (TSN-HABS|PRIME TICKET|RDS)

This game will feature two teams that play different styles, the Canadiens are more offensive minded of the two teams which makes for an interesting contrast. They typically have to rely on Carey Price to help them out, while the Kings are a strong team on defense with an Olympic caliber goalie in Jonathan Quick to help them win games. So we in a sense have a game where we will see which style eventually wins out. This is also a great test for the Canadiens because they are going to be playing two teams in a row that could make a run at the Stanley Cup finals in LA and Anaheim, and while I don’t view the Canadiens as a team that will be in the Stanley Cup finals, I do think this is a great measuring stick for the Canadiens to see where they stand, I expect them to put up a good fight.

But in the end I think the Kings will beat the Canadiens 3-1, the Candiens still suffer from being a smaller team, and they are going to have battles with a team that can be physically punishing, and mix that with a team that can score on a couple quick strikes and we’ve got a team that can and usually will smoother the opponent into defeat.

Honorable Mention(s)

Blue Jackets @ Maple Leafs 7 PM ET|4 PM PT (FS-Ohio|SNET-Ontario)

Flames @ Wild 8 PM ET|5 PM PT (SNET-West|FS-North)

NHL News, and NHL Games to Watch; March 2nd

NHL games to watchTrade Roundup

  • This deal came on Friday night just before the Buffalo Sabres were set to take on the San Jose Sharks at First Niagra Center. The Sabres traded goalie Ryan Miller and center Steve Ott to St. Louis for goalie Jaroslav Halak, winger Chris Stewart, prospect winger William Carrier, a 2015 1st Round Pick, and a conditional draft pick.
  • Rumors out of Buffalo say that the Sabres might be looking to flip Chris Stewart in a trade before the deadline which is Wednesday.
  • Rumors out of Pittsburgh links them to Canucks center Ryan Kesler, one reported trade could be Brandon Sutter, a choice of either defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, and two draft picks which would likely be a first and a third according to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • TSN is reporting that Colorado center Paul Stastny is a potential player if the Avalanche and Stastny fail to reach an agreement by Wednesday, Stastny is a unrestricted free agent after this season, so it would make sense to move him for something before he leaves the team for nothing.

Outdoor Finales

  • Last night the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 at Soldier Field in Chicago. It was played in moderate to heavy snow for a good part of the event, with temps in the upper teens and the wind chills in the single digits. The game was one that was dominated by Blackhawks forwards Jonathan Toews who scored two goals and added an assist, and Patrick Sharp who scored his team leading 29th goal of the season and also added a helper. Corey Crawford was solid in the win, he had to make 31 saves.
  • Today features the last outdoor event of the season being played in Vancouver as part of Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic. The Ottawa Senators will take on the Vancouver Canucks at BC Place. The game will take place at 4 PM ET|1 PM PT, and the whether calls for light snow.

Games to Watch

Bruins @ Rangers 7 PM ET|4 PM PT (NBCSN|TSN2|RDS2)

This should be a good game, both teams are coming off of losses, the Bruins lost to Washington on Saturday and the Rangers endured a rare loss to Philadelphia on Saturday. The Bruins are 0-1-1 out of the gate from the Olympic break losing to the lowly Sabres in OT on Wednesday whereas the Rangers are 1-1 with their win coming against a tough Chicago Blackhawks team on Thursday.

Other Games of Interest

Flyers @ Capitals 12:30 PM ET|9:30 AM PT (NBC)

Senators @ Canucks 4 PM ET|1 PM PT (CBC|RDS|NBCSN)

Lightning @ Avalanche 8 PM ET|5 PM PT (SUN|ALT)

Tough Road Ahead

The team with the toughest schedule this week has to be Montreal, they hit the West Coast with match ups against Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose this week, and then coming home next week and facing the Boston Bruins their first game back in town.

NHL Games to Watch; February 6th

Games to Watch

Bruins @ Blues 8 PM ET (NESN|FS-MW)

This game features two very physical teams and my top two teams to watch this season, so it should be a dandy. I have to admit I think you are getting the top two teams in each conference coming into this game which made it a no brainer to feature this match up. The Bruins though will be shorthanded with Zdeno Chara leaving the team two games before the Olympic break to carry the flag for the Czech Republic during the opening ceremony on Friday. The game itself should still be a dandy. I’ll pick St. Louis to win over my favorite team but I think it will be very close, I’ll say 4-2 Blues with an empty netter at the end.

Honorable Mentions

Avalanche @ Flyers 7 PM ET (ALT|CSN-PHI)

Canucks @ Canadiens 7:30 PM ET (SNET-P|TSN-HABS|RDS)

Maple Leafs @ Lightning 7:30 PM ET (Leafs TV|SUN)

NHL Games to Watch; January 30th

Games to Watch

Canadiens @ Bruins 7 PM ET

TV: NESN|TSN-HABS|NHL Network-US|RDS

What a game to put on my birthday, the Bruins and Canadiens will be playing in Boston and it should be a fantastic game. And while I won’t be there in person as a fan because the ticket prices are too high for me to afford, it won’t ruin the enjoyment for me since the game is probably going to be a dandy, and it should be a game worth watching for any hockey fan. These two teams never seem to disappoint the masses who choose to watch.

Let’s put it like this, the Bruins and Canadiens are like a circus, you might not want to see the stunts but deep inside you just have to because you know it is very entertaining. Not to mention the teams have been in the league for a combined almost 200 seasons, so there is a lot of tradition in this game along with the yearly annual rivalry on display. I am not going to predict a game like the 8-6 game a three years ago, but I do think it will be a wildly entertaining game.

Honorable Mention(s)

Lightning @ Senators 7:30 PM ET (SUN|SNET-E)

Flyers @ Ducks 10:00 PM ET (CSN-PHI|PrimeTicket)

Penguins @ Kings 10:30 PM ET (ROOT-PIT|FS-W)

NHL Game to Watch; January 24th

Games to Watch

 

Canadiens @ Red Wings 7:30 PM ET

TV: TSN|FS-DET|RDS

It is always fun to watch an original six game, and this is even more meaningful now that the Canadiens and Red Wings are in the same division this season after Detroit has spent what seemed like my entire life in the Western Conference. The teams also play a very similar style so it should be a pretty skill filled game. I am not expecting any nastiness, but I could be wrong here, I mean it is Montreal and I am a Bruins fan so I don’t think I need to explain that any more in terms of how I view the Canadiens.

Honorable Mentions

Capitals @ Devils 7 PM ET (CSN-DC|MSG-Plus)

Intensity in NHL Picking Up

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Screen Capture from NHL Gamecenter Live of John Tortorella trying to get into the Flames locker room to address the Flames coaching staff.

It’s becoming apparent that the heat in the NHL action is picking up. The games over the last week or so have been fun hit filled games with a lot on the line as the season begins to make it to a near critical point of the season, which is usually reserved for February but with the Olympics being this season a lot of the ugly stuff is actually starting now rather than later in the season which to me is fine, the more the merrier, I thoroughly enjoy this type of thing.

But just because I enjoy doesn’t mean it is good for the league, especially when you have coaches trying to get in the other teams locker room, that is going too far and the NHL layed the boom down on John Tortorella with a 15 day suspension and fined Bob Hartley of the Flames $25,000 for starting his fourth line which was matched by John Tortorella’s fourth line and a line brawl broke out just two seconds into the hockey game. The rest of the game was pretty uneventful, but the opening was both surprising and really unnecessary from the get go.

A video of this incident can be seen below, video courtesy of http://www.hockeyfights.com

And then there was last night where the Penguins and Canadiens had a scuffle in Marc-Andre Fluery’s crease and Fluery left his crease to get away from the action, and the goalies started making gestures to each other and Fluery and Peter Budaj  who replaced Carey Price wanted to get into a fight as the other action was going on. However the goalies were not allowed to go because of the linemen intercepted them.

If they had gotten into a fight, this would have been the 4th goalie fight in hockey since September between the NHL and AHL which is an incredible number considering the number of goalie fights haven’t been adding up much over the last decade. The last season with more than two goalie fights in the NHL was 2010-2011 when Tim Thoms fought Carey Price and Brent Johnson beat up and injured Rick Dipietro in a one punch knock out.

Overall though, I like the intensity picking up so far, this is why hockey is my favorite sport. Because between the late season games and the playoffs the NHL definitely adds some real action to its game at this part of the season. I am a hockey fan all year long but admittedly the end of the season and into the playoffs are the best parts of the year. And we’re heading there now which should ultimately mean more craziness in the coming months, and more importantly better games on the schedule.

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