Posted on: May 1, 2010 8:30 pm
Edited on: May 1, 2010 8:32 pm
 

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Semifinals

So, we move on to the semifinals. Those high-flying Capitals, many people's pick to win the Cup? Gone. That team from Buffalo, with the likely Vezina Trophy winner and American idol, Ryan Miller? Gone. The Devils, with one of the best goalies of all time? Gone. Who would have thought? Let's get right into the East preview.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (8 ) Montreal

The defending Cup champs now have home ice advantage after watching each of the division winners in the East go down in the first round. Can they take advantage? Their quest to do so starts against Montreal, which just pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever by knocking off the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in seven games. But I'm not sure how much they have left after a long, physical grind of a series against the Caps, and with only two days off in between series. The Pens, on the other hand, are rested, rolling, and, seemingly unlike the Capitals, know what it takes to win and are willing to do whatever it takes. They crash the net and score dirty goals, as evidenced by their Game 6 win against Ottawa. Where the Capitals shot to score pretty goals against the Habs, the Pens shoot for rebounds that Malkin, Crosby, & Co. bury in the back of the net. Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar are really the only ones who shoot from the perimeter, and they don't stay there after their shots, they crash the net for rebounds. Habs G Jaroslav Halak might have to be even better in this one than he was against Washington, because while he might face slightly fewer shots, they will probably be higher percentage shots. The Pens are also better defensively than Washington and are playing better on the power play, maybe because they move people around on it more than Washington did. And, of course, Crosby is playing like a man on a mission. Halak will steal a game or two, though, as long as he keeps up his great play. Both teams must be careful to avoid taking unessential penalties, such as the one Mike Green took on Wednesday night that led to Montreal's first goal. Pittsburgh in 6.

(6) Boston vs. (7) Philly

Both these teams looked great in the first round. The question about Philly is whether they are really the team we saw in that round, or did they just get a favorable matchup against a team they dominated this year. I'm inclined to think the latter, though it's really hard to tell. The Flyers do have a very good defense corps and a strong offense when they play up to their potential, but the Bruins knocked off the team with the Vezina Trophy favorite, Ryan Miller, and G Tuukka Rask outplayed Miller in the series. Furthermore, the Bruins also have a great defense, led by D Zdeno Chara. Flyers G Brian Boucher was great against New Jersey, he will have to be even better facing off against Rask and an improved Bruins offense that will be getting a huge emotional boost with the return of Marc Savard. Expect a lengthy, physical series. Bruins in 6-7
Posted on: April 26, 2010 1:06 pm
 

Jordan Leopold, Tyler Kennedy Return to Ice

According to the Penguins website, D Jordan Leopold, who missed the last 4 games of the Pens first round series against the Ottawa Senators after suffering a likely concussion on a hard hit by Senators D Andy Sutton (who was suspended for 2 games earlier this season for a hard hit on F Pascal Dupuis), returned to the Mellon Arena ice today. F Tyler Kennedy, who missed the last two games of the series with a leg injury, also skated. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was noncomittal regarding their return for the beginning of the Penguins next series, against Boston, Buffalo, or Montreal, however, saying "'It's too early to say when and if they might be back.'" He did, however, say that "'They are progressing. They are getting better.'"
Posted on: April 11, 2010 6:27 pm
 

Red Sox, Beckett Win Duel with Greinke, Royals

It was one of the best pitching matchups of the young season: Boston's Josh Beckett against Kansas City's Zack Greinke. And it lived up to the hype.

Kansas City took the early lead on a first inning double by Alberto Callaspo, who scored on a single by Rick Ankiel following a four pitch walk by Billy Butler. From then on, both pitchers settled in, with no batter from either team reaching until J.D. Drew's single with two outs in the top of the fourth inning (and this did not result in any runs, as Mike Lowell then grounded out to Greinke to end the inning).

Beckett opened the bottom of the fourth by getting Butler to ground out to Lowell at third on a tricky hop, but Ankiel then doubled to right. However, Jose Guillen then flew out to Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Jason Kendall grounded out to third to end the inning.

Greinke began to run into some problems in the top of the fifth, hanging a curveball to Jeremy Hermida (making his Red Sox debut), who homered into the Royals bullpen in right and tied the game at one. Greinke then went right back to the same pitch to the next batter, Jason Varitek (making his first start of the season for Boston), hung it in exactly the same location, and Varitek hit it out to the same spot in the Royals bullpen as Hermida to make it 2-1 Boston. Marco Scutaro singled to center and stole second with Ellsbury batting. Ellsbury then grounded out to second, advancing Scutaro to third. Dustin Pedroia was then hit by a pitch on the back of his hamstring, putting runners at first and third with one out, but Victor Martinez grounded into a double play to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, Yuniesky Betancourt led off with a single against Beckett, but Beckett got the next batter, Chris Getz, to ground into a 6-3 double play, and David DeJesus to ground out to first to end the inning.

Greinke got the first batter of the top of the 6th, Kevin Youkilis, to ground out to Betancourt at short, and struck out Drew. Mike Lowell then singled, but Greinke came back to strike out Hermida.

Scott Podsednik doubled to lead off the bottom of the 6th, but Beckett got Callaspo to pop out to Lowell in foul territory, struck out Butler looking, and got the red-hot Rick Ankiel to pop out to end the threat.

That turned out to be big, as the Red Sox struck again in the 7th. Varitek flew out to start the inning. Greinke then hit Scutaro with a pitch, and Ellsbury doubled to center to score Scutaro and make it 3-1 Boston, advancing to third on the throw to the plate. Pedroia then flew out to center, and Ellsbury scored to make it 4-1 and end the night for Greinke. Dusty Hughes came on for the Royals and got Martinez to ground out.

The Royals would answer in the bottom of the 7th, however, as Guillen doubled to lead off the inning. Kendall singled to right, putting runners at first and third with no one out. Betancourt then grounded into a double play, scoring Guillen to make it 4-2 Boston. Chris Getz then singled to center after a very long at bat, and stole second several pitches later while DeJesus was batting. DeJesus singled up the middle on a hit that appeared to deflect off the back of Beckett's hat or head, and Getz scored to make it 4-3, but Beckett got Podsednik to ground out to second to get out of it.

That last out would again turn out to be big. Hughes returned to the mound for Kansas City to start the 8th, and Youkilis promptly hit one out to center on his second pitch of the inning to make it 5-3. Hughes then struck out Drew on a full count pitch that appeared to be a little outside, and Lowell grounded out to third. Mike Cameron then came on to hit for Hermida, and the Royals brought on Luis Mendoza to face him, and got him to pop out.

The Red Sox made several changes to start the bottom of the inning. Cameron remained in the game as the center fielder to start the 8th, with Ellsbury moving over to left. Adrian Beltre also came on to replace Lowell at 3rd. Finally, Hideki Okajima came on out of the bullpen to replace Beckett. Okajima got Callaspo to foul out to Youkilis at first, Butler to fly out to Ellsbury in left, and Ankiel to foul out to Youkilis for a perfect inning.

Mendoza remained on the mound for the Royals to start the 9th, and, for the second inning in a row, the Royals pitcher who started the inning was greeted by the batter by a home run on the second pitch of the inning. This time it was Jason Varitek with his second of the night, hitting another one out to right, this time into the stands over the Royals bullpen, making it 6-3. Scutaro then flew out to right, and Ellsbury singled to left, bringing up Pedroia with one out, and he hit one into the Red Sox bullpen to make it 8-3 and prompting the Royals to again change pitchers, as Roman Colon came in. Colon got Martinez to ground out sharply to first and Youkilis to ground out sharply to third.

Former Royals reliever Ramon Ramirez then entered for the Red Sox to try and close it out, and he did just that, getting Guillen, Kendall, and pinch-hitter Mike Aviles to fly out to center.
Posted on: March 10, 2010 10:15 pm
 

Cooke Not Suspended; Guerin Likely to Play @ CAR

According to the Penguins website, Matt Cooke spoke with NHL VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell following Penguins practice Wednesday morning, and informed him following their conversation that he will not be suspended for his hit on Boston's Marc Savard that left Savard with a second grade concussion.

While this is not the response many wanted, it is the correct call under current NHL rules (not to say that it should be legal). It was a cheap hit, an immoral hit, but under current rules a legal hit. Hopefully the GMs come up with a rule during their ongoing meeting in Boca Raton, FL, to legislate these hits so that this is no longer the case and we do not have people being carted off on stretchers as a result of them.

Also, Penguins F Bill Guerin, who has missed a couple games with back spasms, said recently that they are no longer bothering him and he expects to wrap up his rehab from them by Thursday night and to play in Thursday night's game at Carolina.
Posted on: March 5, 2010 12:37 am
 

Pens Throw Kitchen Sink at Rangers, Rally for Win

There was a lot of hype surrounding this game going in, and the Rangers and Penguins lived up to every last bit Thursday night at the Garden.  The Penguins were looking to pass New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead for the first time in months, while the Rangers looked to get their first regulation win against Pittsburgh this year in their final meeting. 

It was not to be for New York, as they were outshot 55-16 and could not hold leads of 1-0 and 4-2, despite a heroic performance in net by Henrik Lundqvist, who did everything he could - including just about every kind of save imaginable - to get this one in the "W" column for New York.

Everything just wasn't quite enough.

The Rangers came out good, with an emphasis on physical play (including Lundqvist jostling with Sidney Crosby at one point), taking a 1-0 lead on a shot by Artem Anisimov 2:17 into the game. 

Chris Kunitz answered for the Penguins on the PP at 6:03, firing in one from a sharp angle behind Lundqvist that may have deflected off his back on the way in. 

Then, at about 10:05, Jordan Staal came streaking down the right side and fired one toward the net, with Matt Cooke crashing the net and drawing the attraction of NY's Brian Boyle.  The puck appeared to deflect off the leg of Boyle and into the net at 9:58, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.  The goal withstood a video review, and play continued.

It did not last very long, however, as about 5 minutes later, with Brooks Orpik in the box for interference, Chris Drury ducked to avoid the initial shot from the point, then, from his knees, wrapped the puck around the leg of Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game at two.  Action continued at both ends for the remainder of the period, but no more goals were scored.  At the end of the first, the Pens held a slight edge in shots at 10-8.

The Pens came out strong to start the second, but fell behind by two as Michael Rozsival came down the right side and put one over the shoulder of Fleury at 2:03, and Brandon Dubinski shot one from near the blue line that found its way past a screened Fleury with Crosby in the box for highsticking at 12:49, prompting Pens coach Dan Bylsma to replace Fleury with Brent Johnson.

After Johnson's entrance, the Pens really came to life, whether because of the goalie change or something else, because the Rangers would only have 4 more shots on goal the rest of the game. 

At 14:34, the Pens caught the Rangers too deep in the Pens end (one of multiple occasions this occured on the night), and cashed in, with Chris Kunitz flipping the puck up and off the boards to a fresh Crosby from the bench.  Crosby did a bit of a split to stay onside on the play, then gave the puck off to Mike Rupp, who fired it over the shoulder of Lundqvist to snap his goal scoring drought and cut the deficit to one.  After the second, the Rangers led 4-3.

Finally, up by one in the final period, the Rangers could not mount any sustained offensive pressure, and created a very untenable situation for themselves, going more than 15 minutes combined between shots on goal in the second and third (though they did shoot a couple wide and hit one post).  In the meantime, the Penguins recorded 12 shots from just about every angle possible, including the tying goal, scored by Alex Goligoski on another bad-angle shot that appeared to go off the skate of another Rangers defenseman, this time Marc Staal, and past Lundqvist.  The Penguins ended up outshooting the Rangers 15-1 in the period. 

OT was slightly more balanced in terms of offense, but Wade Redden's hook on Evgeni Malkin near the Rangers blue line proved to be the Rangers downfall, as the Penguins scored on a hard shot by Jordan Staal that got under the arm of Henrik Lundqvist and in. 

Lundqvist truly did just about everything in his power to get this one for New York, but in the end, Pittsburgh's 55 shot onslaught - a new career high for shots against for the New York goalie - and 55-16 SOG-SA differential was just too much for the Rangers to overcome. 

With the win, Pittsburgh moves past New Jersey and into first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time since early December. It should be a great stretch run as those two battle it out for likely the second seed in the conference. 

Posted on: February 23, 2010 11:34 am
 

Ranking Top Olympic Hockey Teams After Prelims

Well, the men's side of the Olympic hockey tournament officially passed the preliminary round with Sweden's 3-0 win over Finland Sunday night. Here's how the top 8 teams shake out after the first round, in order of most to least likely to win gold based on talent and their play in the first round.

1. United States - I can't believe they actually are this high on this list, thought third or fourth would be more likely, but remember what everyone said about Ryan Miller needing to play out of his mind for the US to have a shot at the top spot? Well, he's done exactly that, including stopping more shots in the first period of Sunday's 5-3 upset of Canada than Jim Craig stopped against the Soviet Union in 1980. Brian Rafalski is playing great too, and the US defense isn't doing as bad as a lot of people thought they would. In fact, they've done pretty well (at least well enough that Miller doesn't have to play beyond his abilities in goal).

2. Sweden - The other undefeated team, but they land just below the US because of the fact that the US had to beat Canada to maintain their undefeated record. Lundqvist, like Miller, is also playing really well.

3. Canada - Tough call between Canada and Russia for the third spot; I'll go with Canada by virtue of their loss coming to the number one team on this list, as opposed to Russia's coming to Slovakia (still a good team, just not as good as the US). No idea what Marty Brodeur was doing batting that puck out of midair and into the slot area against the US on Sunday, and he paid with a goal against. The best goalie in the world should know better than to do that.

4. Russia - Good move by Coach Bykov putting Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin on the same line against the Czech Republic Sunday. That, combined with Alex Semin and Sergei Gonchar, who is absolutely ripping the puck right now, is an absolutely killer line. Wouldn't be surprised to see it remain intact for the rest of the tournament. Speaking of Ovechkin, that was an earth-shaking hit he laid on Jaromir Jagr on Sunday.

5. Finland - Despite the loss to Sweden, they have Mikka Kiprusoff and had been scoring at ease, it seemed, up until then.

6. Czech Republic - Hung with Russia for two periods on Sunday before being overwhelmed in the third. Tomas Vokoun is playing well, but they need more offensive support for him if they want to have a shot at a medal.

7. Slovakia - Close second to the Czech Republic by virtue of head-to-head result on this list. Like the Czechs, though, they need more consistent offensive scoring if they want to hang with the top 4/5 on this list for a medal. They also need to stop taking penalties, that cost them against the Czechs.

8. Switzerland - Yet another team with a goalie and defense playing great victimized by poor offensive support. Jonas Hiller almost stole the game against Canada, might well have if it wasn't for Sidney Crosby. Anyone else get the idea Mike Babcock might just have sent Crosby out again and again in that shootout until he scored?

Should be a great second week of the tournament, here's hoping that is indeed the case.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com