Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First Round Previews of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

With the playoffs set to begin later this evening, here are your first round previews:

In the Eastern Conference:

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
The New York Rangers come in heavy favorites in public opinion, but this series may be closer than most people think. Ottawa went 3-1 against the Rangers this year, outscoring them 13-8. Ottawa had a nice year from their goalie, Craig Anderson, and has several top tier players including Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson, Eric Karlsson, and Jason Spezza. The Rangers elite defense won a majority of their games this year while their offense was anemic at times. If the Senators can get to the Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, they have a good chance of taking the series. I think it will be hard-fought, back-and-forth series with the Senators pulling off the upset, winning in seven.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Boston's first stop on their journey to winning the Stanley Cup for two years straight is in Washington. The Bruins have the advantage in the series, 2-1, but it was a pretty close series and no team was truly dominant. Both teams began the year horrendously, but they each bounced back. Boston has one of the most potent offenses in league, while Washington's offense led by Alexander Ovechkin can become lethal at any time. I see Boston's netminder, Tim Thomas, shutting down the Caps offense, while the Bruins cruise to the next round, winning the series 4-2.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
For the first time since 2000, the Panthers are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last year, for the second time in sixteen years, the Devils were out of the playoffs. Both teams are looking to prove themselves in this first round matchup. The Panthers finished with less points than the Devils, however they won the season series 3-1 and found themselves the Southeast Division winner. At the same time, New Jersey comes in red hot, winning six straight and are 27-11 -7 since January. The Devils offense has been improving over the course of the season and that will be the key. The Devils goalie, Martin Brodeur, has been consistent all year and the Devils should expect him to yield 2-3 goals but their offense should make up for it. The Panthers have yet to name a starting goalie which highlights their inconsistency at that position. Lastly, for most of the players for Florida have limited to no playoff experience. All but four of the Devils have postseason experience. I see the Devils playoff experience carrying them into the second round after a seven game series with Florida

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
This might be the best series in the first round. It has all the components: A fierce instate rivalry, a close season series (where Philadelphia had the slight advantage), and pressure to win for each club. Both teams do not forget the brawl that erupted in the last meeting between them last week, which should only intensify the atmosphere. Both teams can score. But I believe the goalies will make or break their respective teams. I believe Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT) has a slight advantage over Ilya Burzgalov (PHI). Pittsburgh will come out victorious in this series after an entertaining seven games.

In the Western Conference:

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
The big headline in this series is goaltending - Roberto Luongo vs. Jonathan Quick. Both are elite. Quick has my vote for the Venza trophy, awarded to the league's best goalie. But there is a big difference between the two clubs - offense. The Kings ranked 29th in offense while the Canucks have a very solid offense and one of the league's best powerplays. Luongo had a disastrous end to the playoffs last yea, but I do not believe that will be a problem this year because of their goaltending depth as Cory Schneider plays well enough to start on most clubs. The Canucks will be breaking out the brooms after the four game sweep.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose
The St. Louis Blues have a problem most coaches would love to have. They don't know which goalie to start heading into the playoffs after both goalies (in about the same amount of starts) put up nearly identical numbers in goals against average (below 2.00) and save percentage (.926 compared to .940). The Blues also have a solid offense as they dominated the Sharks in the season series, outscoring them 11-3. While the Sharks have more experience, they are not brig treated as a real threat to go deep into the playoffs. They will get a lot of shots off on net (number two in the league), but it does not equate to an outstanding offense. Match that up with average goal tending and I agree with their critics - Blues in five games.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
If you would have asked who would have won this series back in November, I would have said Blackhawks in four or five. They have a more talented roster, greater depth at each position and they have a very supportive fan base. However, two things have happened since. Chicago's stellar, young center Jonathan Toews, after suffering a concussion in February, is expected to return at some point in the next few weeks, but there is no guarantee he will play in this series. Toews won the Playoffs MVP two years back and is vital to this hockey team for them to dominate. Secondly, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith is on fire right now and his stats this year were extremely impressive. If he continues to be a brick wall in front of the net this series could be really exciting. I believe Chicago's goaltending will hold them back as Mike Smith's Coyotes win in six games.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
There is something about these four vs. five seeds. There is always the mood that the series will be thrilling and will go to seven games. I believe this series will be no exception. It is a major point that Nashville is home four times and only plays in Detroit three times. Detroit had ten regulation and overtime losses combined at home this year compared to thirty-one wins. One might ask, how are they seeded fifth. That is due to their sub .500 record on the road. Despite being ranked 7th in Goals and Goals Against, this club just does not know how to win on the road. Nashville is a very solid team. The are eighth in the two categories mentioned above but have the best powerplay and a top ten penalty kill unit. They are very good in several ways which makes them difficult to beat. I see this thrilling series going in seven games to the Nashville Predators.

After each day, I will break down the action and give insight to the games coming up next. Enjoy the first few games which are:

-Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins - 7:30PM EST - Coverage on NBC Sports Network

-Detroit Red Wings at Nashville Predators - 8:00PM EST - Coverage on CNBC

-Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks - 10:30PM EST - Coverage on NBC Sports Network

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Dust Settles

After an exciting end to the NHL season, all of the playoff seeds are locked in as we get closer to The Stanley Cup Playoffs, slated to start April 11.

The dust has settled over the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs picture. Here are the final standings:

Eastern Conference:
1) New York Rangers - 109 Points, Clinched Atlantic Division, Best Record in the Conference
2) Boston Bruins - 102 Points, Clinched Northeast Division
3) Florida Panthers - 94 Points, Clinched Southeast Division
4) Pittsburgh Penguins - 108 Points (Atlantic Division)
5) Philadelphia Flyers - 103 Points (Atlantic Division)
6) New Jersey Devils - 102 Points (Atlantic Division)
7) Washington Capitals - 92 Points (Southeast Division)
8) Ottawa Senators - 92 Points (Northeast Division)

Western Conference:
1) Vancouver Canucks - 111 Points, Clinched Northwest, Best Record in Conference and NHL
2) St. Louis Blues - 109 Points, Clinched Central Division
3) Phoenix Coyotes - 97 Points, Clinched Pacific Division
4) Nashville Predators - 104 Points (Central Division)
5) Detroit Red Wings - 102 Points (Central Division)
6) Chicago Blackhawks - 101 Points (Central Division)
7) San Jose Sharks - 96 Points (Pacific Division)
8) Los Angeles Kings - 95 Points (Pacific Division)

I honestly believe a lot can be learned from these standings. Mainly, each conference has a dominant division. The Atlantic (East) and Central (West) are obviously the two premier divisions. Each had all but four teams above the 100 point plateau. Eight of the sixteen playoff teams come from these two divisions. I also believe there was at least one surprisingly sound teams in each of those premier divisions. From the Central Division, The St. Louis Blues were more or less projected to be in the hunt for one of the final playoff spot. Instead, they ended up fighting for the top seed in the NHL. From the Atlantic Division, the New Jersey Devils after looking horrendous during their 2010-2011 season and missing the playoffs for the second time in sixteen years, they were mainly written off. Top-tier analysts believed they would be fighting for the number one pick. The optimists believed they could possibly sneak into the playoffs with the eighth seed. Surprising nearly everybody, they placed sixth in the conference, ten points above seventh and eighth place, one point out of fifth place. Both of these teams are looking to make a deep playoff push starting this week.

Analysis of the first round match-ups will be published in the upcoming days

Friday, April 6, 2012

NHL Playoffs

We are four days and counting away from the start of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and The Point After will have continuing coverage.

As we near the start of the NHL Playoffs, April 11, I, and possibly other bloggers, will provide continuing coverage of the playoffs. Today, the playoff picture will be discussed. Later this week, when the seedings are finalized matchup previews will be provided. And lastly, once the playoffs begin, updates and analysis will be provided until Lord Stanley's Cup is raised.

As of today, all sixteen teams in the playoff picture have clinched. Even in a loss to their division rivals, the Washington Capitals, the Florida Predators were able to clinch a playoff berth, as did the Capitals. It had been ten years since the last time the Panthers had played in the playoffs. Only six franchises from the four major United States Sports (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) have gone longer. The list includes the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB), the Buffalo Bills (NFL), and the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, and Toronto Blue Jays (all from the MLB).

Even though the sixteen teams clinched playoff berths, only five teams have clinched a seed. From the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers have clinched the Atlantic Division and the number one seed in the conference with 109 points. However, they have not clinched home ice throughout the playoffs, since they are tied with the Vancouver Canucks (Western Conference) in points, and the St. Louis Blues (Western Conference) can still finish with 111 points. The Boston Bruins have clinched the Northeast Division and the number two seed in the East with 100 points. The four, five and six seeds all come from the Atlantic Division, one of the strongest divisions in hockey. At four is the Pittsburgh Penguins with 106 points. Five is the Philadelphia Flyers with 103 points. Lastly, New Jersey is sixth with 100 points.

So what does that leave from the Eastern Conference? The three, seven and eight seeds. As previously mentioned, Florida (92 points) failed to win against division foe, Washington, last night. They would have clinched the number three seed and the Southeast Division with a win. Washington sits in the eighth seed right now with 90 points. Florida can still clinch the three seed and division with a win/overtime loss against the Carolina Hurricanes or a Washington loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday. Washington can still clinch the division with a win against New York and a Florida regulation loss to Carolina. Ottawa is currently the seventh seed. If Washington wins in New York, Florida wins against Carolina or suffers an overtime loss, and Ottawa loses their game in New Jersey, they will be the eighth seed. If they get at least one point, they will automatically be the seventh seed, regardless of what else happens.

The West is much more undecided. Not one team has clinched a seed. Currently sitting in first place for the conference are the Vancouver Canucks with 109 Points. They can clinch the number one seed in the playoffs (East and West conferences) with a Win and a Rangers loss. The tiebreaker goes to the Rangers who have 47 regulation + overtime wins; The Canucks have 42. The Canucks can clinch first place in the West with a Win against the Oilers. They can also clinch if the St. Louis Blues (107 points) lose against the Dallas Stars. The Blues can clinch first seed in the West, second overall seed. with a win and a Vancouver loss, since they would have more regulation + overtime wins while being tied in points (109). The Blues cannot be seeded lower than number two in the West. Phoenix currently sits third with 95 points. They can clinch the Pacific division with a win/overtime loss against the Minnesota Wild or if the Los Angeles Kings (94 Points) lose in regulation to the San Jose Sharks. Phoenix will forfeit the division and the three seed to Los Angeles in any other scenario. Seeded 4th, 5th, and 6th are the Nashville Predators (102 Points), Detroit Red Wings, (101 Points), and the Chicago Blackhawks (99 points). Nashville clinches the fourth seed with a win against the Colorado Avalanche with a win/overtime loss and if the Red Wings lose in Regulation to the Blackhawks. If the Blackhawks win in regulation against the Red Wings, both teams will have 101 points, but Chicago will have the tiebreaker placing them fifth. If the Blackhawks lose, they will clinch the sixth seed. In seventh is the Kings. As previously discussed, they clinch the seventh seed with a win and a Phoenix loss. They can also clinch with an overtime loss and a Phoenix regulation loss. Lastly, in eighth place is the San Jose Sharks with 94 points as well. Due to the tie-breaker, they cannot win the division, so the highest seed they can get to is the seventh seed. If they lost as well as the Kings and Coyotes, the three, seven and eight seeds will remain unchanged. Los Angeles currently has the tie-breaker over San Jose. There are too many possibilities to run through due to the complexity of the situation, so I will only provide a vague backdrop of the situation. If the Sharks and Kings are tied in points, Kings have the tiebreaker. If the Kings take the division and the Coyotes and Sharks are tied in points, Coyotes have the tiebreaker. It is still possible for the Sharks to finish in 7th if they win, the Kings take the division and the Coyotes suffer an overtime loss.

This should all make for a great end to the regular season...