Posted on: April 11, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 5:40 pm
First, hearty congratulations are in order to the Chicago Blackhawks who, on Sunday, choked less than the Dallas Stars.
You know by now that, faced with a win-and-they're-in scenario, the Stars coughed up a hair ball, losing to Minny 5-3 on Sunday. That was after Chicago had all but handed them a playoff berth by losing at home to Detroit. Dallas not only lost but flamed out spectacularly. The Stars were up 2-1 after one period, tied 3-3 after two. The playoffs were 20 minutes away -- and the tame Wild won an utterly meaningless game, for them.
Minnesota was so giddy it immediately fired its coach. Good luck in the offseason, Stars. You need a) at least one top four defenseman; b) an owner and; c) some heart.
Only one of those is available through free agency. Now, on to the greatest tournament in sports. Over the next three months, brave-hearted warriors will play for the ultimate prize. (Hopefully, one of them is Sidney Crosby.) They will do it without getting paid a cent. That's right. Since assumptions can't be made about the playoffs before the playoffs, the checks come during the regular season.
While we're in the congratulatory mode, Canada gets a pat on the back -- or maybe an elbow to the cheekbone. America's Hat has fewer teams in the playoffs (two) than the state of California (three). Meanwhile, the last subject anyone is talking about in these playoffs is those Hawks defending their Stanley Cup title. There is Ringless Roberto, the Strangers, the Caps who spent the season putting a cap on their offense, all set against the backdrop of the league waiting for the next debilitating concussion. Speaking of EMTs, that reminds me of another subject no one is talking about: Montreal-Boston in the first round!
Let the gamesmanship begin. These are my first-round predictions only. I've ranked the entertainment value of each series with an (EV).
No. 1 seed Washington vs. No. 8 New York Rangers (No. 2 in EV)
So far, it has worked -- Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau's philosophical overhaul. Washington could always score goals. As the last couple of seasons have shown, it didn't have the defensive grit in the playoffs. Boudreau's job and Alex Ovechkin's legacy could be on the line. Rangers in six.
No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo (5 EV)
The best thing about the Sabres are the goals calls of play-by-play guy Rick Jeanneret ("Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies!"). When Buffalo scores it sounds like a cross between an Irish wolfhound being neutered and poachers killing an infant elephant in front of its mother. Flyers in five.
No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal (1 EV)
Expect lots of scrums, neck braces and inquiries by local authorities. And that's just getting Zdeno Chara from the team bus to the lockerroom. Seriously, this series could be better than the final. With apologies to Bon Jovi, Canadiens-Bruins give blood a bad name. Bruins in six.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay (3 EV)
In this year of the Bays -- the Green version won the Super Bowl. Tranformers director Michael is working on another sequel -- Tampa needs to show it is about more than Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos. The gutty, little Penguins should rule this series minus Crosby (maybe), Evgeny Malkin (definitely) and Matt Cookie (temporarily, suspended for the first round). Biggest difference in most series: Special teams. Pittsburgh in No. 1 in penalty kill. Flightless birds in five.
No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Chicago (4 EV)
These are not the Hawks who are defending champions. They are not the Hawks who have bothered the Canucks in the postseason the past few years. These also aren't the Canucks who are expected to win the Stanley Cup, until they do it. Vancouver has all the elements for a Cup run. It just has to prove it. Vancouver in six.
No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Los Angeles (7 EV)
Wait, what? Stanley Cup? For the Los Tiburones? Dude, whatever you’re smoking, it's good. In NorCal they know spring as the time when the Sharks annually beach themselves in the playoffs. There is no reason to think this team is any different. L.A. is missing leading scorer Anze Kopitar. The Penguins have proven they can thrive without Crosby. The Kings aren't as deep. San Jose in six.
No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Phoenix (6 EV)
The sooner the Coyotes lose, the better for Winnipeg which is jonesing for its old team so bad there is a methadone clinic set up in city hall. The Red Wings have slogged through the final few games. They hope to get Henrik Zetterberg back from a knee injury. Not that they need him to beat the 'Yotes. Hold on, Winnipeg. Your boys are coming, soon. Red Wings in five.
No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Nashville (8 EV)
The league's No. 1 goal scorer (Corey Perry) vs. what might be the league's best goalie (Nashville's Pekka Rinne). This series is the equivalent of your average suburban housing track. They all look the same. In this case, it's hard to find a difference in these two teams. Go with the Ducks in six because Nashville has never won a playoff series. That and Barry Trotz scares the hell out of me.
Posted on: March 21, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 3:32 pm
Stay strong, Jay Bilas . It's not the fact that Virginia Commonwealth is in the Sweet 16, people. The fact remains that VCU didn't deserve to be in the bracket in the first place. Colorado could have gone in place of the Rams and also gone to the Sweet 16. Tell me Missouri State wouldn't have had a shot with the right matchup.
It's a separate argument -- 1) Did VCU deserve to be in the bracket? No. 2) Does winning in the tournament justify that spot in the bracket? No. I can give you the name of five teams that could have gotten hot and won two games.
Big East flop. After the first round, the Big East was guaranteed at least two teams in the Sweet 16. That's all it got. For what is believed to be the first time in the seeding era, the selection committee knowingly made it possible for not one, but two games between conference foes in the second round.
The committee long ago had to abandon the principle of conference rivals not being able to meet until the regional final. A 16-team Big East made the committee get rid of that principle for obvious reasons. But it was lazy that the committee didn't try to eliminate the possibility of Connecticut-Cincinnati and Marquette-Syracuse in the second round. That looks more like Big Monday than the NCAA tournament.
It wasn't fair to the Big East to have to eat its own so early in the bracket. It showed the committee didn't do its diligence. That being said, the fact that the Mountain West has as many teams in the Sweet 16 as the Big East (two) is embarrassing -- for the Big East.
Most entertaining regional? It isn't the Southwest where Kansas is surrounded by three mutts (Richmond, VCU and Florida State). I'll give you the Southeast with Butler still alive, again, going against the immovable force in Wisconsin. The Southeast also has Jimmer (Fredette) and Billy (Donovan).
But I'll take the West where I dare you to pick the best player in Anaheim. Is it Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker or Kawhi Leonard? There are so many storylines at the Honda Center, my head is spinning.
--San Diego State is expected to take over the Honda Center. The school is less than two hours from Anaheim. "The Show" almost blew the roof off the McKale Center last week.
--Is it possible to have too many good players? Duke barely survived Michigan while trying to integrate Irving back in the lineup. That's a problem every other team would love to have. Also, if Coach K gets to the Final Four out of this regional, he will tie a certain Bobby Knight for the Division I record in career wins, 902. Go, Mike, go!
--San Diego State fans were chanting "We want Kemba!" after beating Temple in the second round. Be careful what you wish for, Aztecs. I'll kind of answer my previous question: Walker might be the best player in the regional and maybe the country.
--Arizona's Derrick Williams comes back home to his native L.A. As of this moment, Williams is the most important and charismatic player in the tournament. (That's different than "best".) His block in the first round against Memphis preserved the win. His and-one late against Texas on Sunday was the difference. Think Williams will be a little energized going back home playing for a spot in the Final Four?
Easiest road to the Final Four: You kidding? It has to be Kansas. If it wins, it won't face a single-digit seed until the Final Four. On the one-year anniversary of losing to Northern Iowa in 2010, the Jayhawks destroyed an Illinois team Sunday that brought to mind an obvious question: How did VCU and Illinois get in the bracket?
Posted on: February 21, 2010 11:40 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2010 10:49 am
Our guts over their great ones.
America's shakin'. Canadians, bakin'?
U.S. hockey showed these Winter Olympics are going to be more than sequins, soul patches and Shauns. (Halfpipe? Do you snowboard it or smoke it?) For one shining moment, all those American teeth weren't lost for nothing. In fact, the U.S. showed we can still play some exciting puck even if for the last three decades most of America hasn't cared. Our boys' 5-3 victory over Canada in a preliminary round game Sunday night is already being called the greatest Olympic hockey victory since the Miracle on Ice.
No argument from this side of the border. Like I said, a lot of the viewers Sunday on MSNBC (no network, thanks NBC) night haven't seen a hockey game since February 22, 1980.
Seventeen of the current U.S. players were born after that date so let's call it even.
It still seems like when it comes to the Olympics, Uncle Sam's skating army has a flair for the dramatic. It was almost like a U.S. team full of professionals was feeding off the energy from those plucky college kids in 1980. Let's not forget that it was the U.S. that pushed Canada to the brink of the rink eight years ago in Salt Lake City (losing the gold medal game). Let's also not forget that those Canadians finished seventh four years ago in Turin.
Upset? Maybe not. U.S./Detroit defenseman Brian Ralfalski is playing his best hockey of the season in the twilight of his career. Chris Drury, a fading talent as a goal scorer in the NHL, scored from a scrum around the Canadian net.
Perhaps most satisfying for the U.S. was that Sidney Crosby was muffled for most of the night. Not only was Crosby on the ice for three U.S. goals, he also deflected in Rafalski's first goal and took a third-period penalty. Sid the Kid was mostly on the skids, despite scoring a late goal to cut the lead to 4-3.
Oh Canada, which way now? A legend with three Stanley Cups (Martin Brodeur) got outplayed by a skinny kid from East Lansing, Mich. (Ryan Miller). OK, Miller might be the NHL's best goalie this season but he was definitely the underdog along with the rest of the American mutts coming into the Sunday.
The outcome assures nothing for either side but it puts our icy northern neighbor in a state of shock for the moment. It's clear Canada has the better hockey country and the better hockey team. Just not on Sunday. There is something to be said for good ol' American pride. We still can't build a decent car but we can somehow build momentum on an Olympic ice rink in British Columbia. Canada was thrown off stride by something we've lost sight of on the assembly line and the board room -- America's hustle. When we set our minds to it we can do some great things. Right now it's about putting a puck in the net but maybe the magic will -- who knows? -- bleed over to the economy.
"I hate them," Kesler told Yahoo Sports Canada before the game.
He spoke something wholly Ugly American. Kesler trash talked and then backed it up. Wasn't it great?
For now, all it means is that the U.S. won Group A. Meanwhile, Canada slinked off the ice and its fans into the streets a very depressed group, eh?
Posted on: April 28, 2009 10:40 pm
I got one of the conference semifinal series right. Don't take that as an indication of how accurate how I'll be in the next around (please).
Western Conference semis
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Anaheim: Prior to the playoffs, the Ducks had everything but the goaltending -- experience, size, scoring and speed. Now they've got the goaltending too as Jonas Hiller proved in the opening round against San Jose.
No. 4 Chicago vs. No. 3 Vancouver: You've got to love the kids. The Blackhawks are the youngest and hottest team in playoffs. This is how the old Canadiens used to hit and skate.
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 6 Carolina: Hey, I got one right. Boston smoked Montreal. Carolina pulled a shocker in Jersey. At least early on, you've got to like the Hurricanes' momentum. They will steal a game in Boston, but eventually the B's size and puck-moving ability will take over.
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh: Forget what I said about Boston-Carolina being the best series. When Sergei Federov scored late against the Rangers that made this a classic. The best hockey talent on the planet will be in one series -- Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Semin, Federov, Green and the new kid Varlamov. This would make a heck of a final. Unfortunately, it will only produce a conference finalist.
Posted on: April 12, 2009 8:41 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2009 8:45 pm
It's been a long four years. I have less hair and less money but the same love for my St. Louis Blues.
The Bluenotes are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The franchise that once owned the longest postseason streak of the four major sports (26 consecutive years) is back where it should be.
If the hockey gods continue being kind, Nashville missing the playoffs will lead to that franchise moving to Kansas City. The folks of Nashville know country music but they don't know hockey. Please, give us this franchise. We've got a new arena (Sprint Center) and plenty of open dates.
There, that's my way of easing into my annual playoff predictions:
No. 1 seed San Jose vs. No. 8 Anaheim: Don't know if the team with the league's best record can finish the deal but winning the Cup, but they take care of the Ducks here in five.
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 7 Columbus: Jackets just happy to be here in the franchise's first playoff appearance. Detroit in five.
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 St. Louis: Blues were one of the best teams in the league down the stretch. They got a huge break by finishing sixth on the last day of the season. A matchup against No. 1 San Jose or No. 2 Detroit would have been a killer. Blues carry over regular-season momentum. St. Louis in six.
Western Conference semis
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 6 St. Louis: Blues hit their emotional wall. San Jose has too much of everything. Sharks in six.
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 5 Calgary: Wings goaltending inconsistencies show up. Flames in seven.
Western Conference finals
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 5 Calgary: These teams have a colorful playoff history. This will be the fourth meeting since 1995. San Jose leads 2-1. Just a hunch but Mikka Kiprusoff steals this one for the Flames. Calgary in seven.
No. 1 seed Boston vs. No. 8 Montreal: A bitter rivalry is renewed. Habs slumped badly in the second half. Boston should have no problem winning in five.
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 7 New York Rangers: Caps are Eastern Conference's team of destiny with all that scoring. Caps in five.
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 Carolina: Devils can't turn on the switch after a late-season slump. The Canes have that Cup look about them again. Carolina in seven.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Philadelphia: Ever see "Gladiator"? This isn't a loser-leave-the-state series. This is a loser dies series. Slight edge to Flyers if they can corral the big two (Crosby and Malkin). Philly in six.
Eastern Conference semis
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 6 Carolina: In what might be the best series of the playoffs, the hits and goals just keep on coming. It's run-and-gun for six games with Boston winning a bitter battle.
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 5 Philadelphia: Philly stopped the No. 2 and No. 3 best players in the NHL in the first round. It can't stop No. 1 (Ovechkin). Washington's scoring balance is too much. Caps in seven.
Eastern Conference finals
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 2 Washington: I picked an upset in the West. Might as well stay consistent. Caps outscore the Bruins in a highly entertaining series to get to their second Cup final. Washington in seven.
Stanley Cup finals
Washington vs. Calgary: Not exactly a ratings winner for the networks, but who cares? Ovechkin vs. Iginla. Green vs. Phaneuf. The teams met only once during the season but the hate will build up quickly. On the 20th anniversary of last Cup, the Flames grind it out in six.