Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’
The matchup most expected for the Eastern Conference finals came to fruition as the time zone’s deepest squads, Pittsburgh and Boston, clash with a berth in the Stanley Cup finals on the line.
Much like the East, the Western Conference finals between Chicago and Los Angeles should be awesome to watch.
Here’s how they stack up, and who we think will reach the Finals:
In the first round, we predicted six of the eight series correctly. The two we were most unsure about were the two incorrect picks – no surprise at all that New York or Los Angeles won.
Now that the second round is here, the picture becomes a little more clear. Only one of the four series will go the full seven games. Which will it be, and who will move on?
The playoffs have been interesting so far. Some teams have surprised me. Others haven’t at all.
The biggest surprise was the play of the New York Islanders. I thought Pittsburgh would wipe the floor with the Isles and that they should feel lucky if they pick up one game in the series. New York ended up staying with the Penguins in almost every game, and lost two heartbreakers at home in overtime. I never thought I’d say this, but the Islanders look as if they are finally turning things around. (Just in time for their move to Brooklyn!)
Another surprise was the performance of the Minnesota Wild. I’m not surprised that they lost to Chicago, but because they got bounced in only five games. Losing their top goaltender didn’t help, but Minnesota’s offense was stagnant the whole series. The Wild also looked terrible in Game 4 as they got shut out at home and handed the Blackhawks all the momentum in the series. Nevertheless, Minnesota looks stable and if they can add another scorer and fix their inconsistency in the net, they should be a force next season.
Speaking of net consistency, here’s Vancouver. The Canucks’ first-round sweep didn’t surprise me at all. They looked flat-out awful against the Sharks. Roberto Luongo started the first two games in net and didn’t look that bad, but then he was pulled for Cory Schneider, who wasn’t an improvement. Vancouver needs to fix its goaltending problem next season, or else they can kiss their fading Stanley Cup hopes goodbye.
Anyway, we’ve said goodbye to eight teams and are now off to the Conference Semifinals. Here are my predictions for the second round.
Don’t be fooled by the playoff seedings after a 48-game regular season. There are no shoo-ins here.
Think the short season wasn’t long enough to shake things up? The Maple Leafs are playoff upstarts and the Red Wings are fading. Jarome Iginla is in Pittsburgh and Jaromir Jagr is in Boston. The defending champions brought nearly their entire Stanley Cup-winning roster back into the regular season, yet aren’t favored to get out of the first round.
And yet, amidst the craziness, the best hockey teams on the planet are seeded first in each conference, on a collision course to a memorable Stanley Cup Finals.
Since the lockout ended, I hoped for an intriguing storyline that would draw casual fans back into hockey. The Chicago Blackhawks were it.
Their 24-game regulation winning streak captured the attention of the nation and even got athletes in other sports, as well as ESPN and Sports Illustrated (above), to take notice. Miami Heat star LeBron James praised the Blackhawks and wished them luck. Even though the Worldwide Leader’s Stephen A. Smith came off like a complete imbecile when asked about Chicago’s streak — it wasn’t hard for him to do — this still gave even more exposure to the game.
The streak came to an end a few days ago but the NHL remains intriguing. Playoff races will begin soon. There’s still time for teams to turn things around, but some need to do so sooner than later. The defending Southeast champion Florida Panthers are in last place with only seven wins, the Flyers have fallen behind the hapless Islanders in the Atlantic, and teams with well-known stars like Washington and Tampa Bay can’t seem to get anything going. Most NHL teams still lie somewhere on the bubble of playoff contention.
If I were to predict at the start of the year which NHL team would be undefeated at this point, roughly one-third of the way through the season, I wouldn’t have picked the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks struggled mightily against Phoenix in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and their goaltending was just slightly above atrocious.
This year, however, things are clicking in the Madhouse on Madison and Chicago looks like the team to beat. The Blackhawks have been great offensively for quite a while with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. All three are over double digits in points. Kane leads the way with 21, which ties him for third in the league with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Now Chicago seems to have found some stability between the pipes as well. Goaltender Corey Crawford, who has firmly claimed the starting role from an aging Ray Emery, seems to have figured things out. Crawford has a stellar GAA of 1.65 (fourth in the NHL) and a strong save percentage of .935 (also fourth). His seven wins are one off the league lead and he has one shutout under his belt.
How much longer with the streak last? That’s hard to say. Everything has clicked so far for the Blackhawks, but they have games against Vancouver and San Jose later this month and both are more than capable of knocking off Chicago. There’s also that little two-week, Big Ten tournament-induced road trip in March. My prediction is that the Canucks — who invade United Center on Tuesday — will be the team to give the Blackhawks their first loss. Down the road, Chicago will bounce back and glide into the playoffs easily.
While Chicago is dominating, the team I figured would most likely start the season undefeated is tied for fourth in its conference and isn’t suffocating opponents with defense and goaltending like it did so successfully last season. the St. Louis Blues, who came within a whisker of winning the President’s Trophy in 2012, are struggling on both ends of the ice. Their three best players, T.J. Oshie, David Backes and David Perron, have scored just 12 goals among them after combining for three over the weekend. For a time the team’s points leader was defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk — and he still only has one goal. St. Louis had difficulties scoring last season and relied heavily on their talented goaltenders to bail them out. For now, the opposite seems to be the case.
The normally reliable Jaroslav Halak has two shutouts and a 2.10 GAA, but only has a .889 save percentage. Brian Elliot (3.57, .849) is faring even worse and is showing the inconsistency that plagued him both as a pro and in college. (He ended his senior year at Wisconsin a Hobey Baker finalist, but also gave up soft goals on a fairly regular basis.) There’s still time for both goalies to turn it around, but with the shortened season, it’d better be sooner than later.
The Blues still have managed to win three in a row, go 9-5-1 overall and are outscoring opponents this season (albeit slightly, 52-48). They will probably make the playoffs but without the fear factor that accompanied a trip to Scottrade Center last year.
To switch gears a little, let’s look at a team that is surprising the college hockey world — a team that most analysts still don’t know how to pronounce. The Quinnipiac Bobcats are currently ranked number one in the country for the first time and are 15-1-2 in the ECAC after losing 2-1 to St. Lawrence on Friday. They’re still undefeated on the road and, before Friday, had not lost since November. QU is well on its way to win its first-ever ECAC title as well as a potentially easy path to the Frozen Four.
The Bobcats have never had the success that they’ve achieved this season. However, they’ve notched five 20-win seasons and never won fewer than 16 games since moving to the ECAC. Much of their success comes from a strong senior class, two of which have more than 15 points with Jeremy Langlois at the top with 26 and 11 goals, and great goaltending from Eric Hartzell. Hartzell entered the weekend with a GAA of 1.45, a save percentage of .936 and four shutouts.
The rest of the country will finally be able to see what they can do when they take on Yale Feb. 22 on the NBC Sports network.
Another team that is doing better than expected is Minnesota State. Notorious around the WCHA for being that team that could give you fits sometimes, but will probably never contend for a conference title, the Mavericks seem to be putting it together this year. They are predicted to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and only the second time in school history, and upset top-seeded Minnesota on the road. They’ve also swept a ranked Wisconsin squad as well as 2012 tournament participant, Minnesota-Duluth.
Some of this is due to new head coach Mike Hastings, but MSU also has a balanced scoring attack. Six players have more than 20 points, with sophomore Matt Leitner leading the way with 36. Senior Eriah Hayes leads the team with 18 goals. Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams is also having an impressive season with a GAA of 1.77 and a save percentage of .932 as well as four shutouts.
The Mavericks close out their regular season at home against North Dakota. If they can pick up some points that weekend, they should be in good shape come tournament selection time and should also make their first appearance at the Final Five in a decade.
Roberto Luongo is the epitome of unpredictable.
Sometimes he’ll get stoked for overtime – then miss the opening minutes because nature is calling.
Sometimes he’ll say, “I always want to put the team ahead of me,” when, in actuality, he’s minutes away from requesting a trade, which happened in April when Los Angeles terminated his Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run.
So we might not know how Roberto Luongo’s future will unfold. We do know this: When “Luongo” and “request” are mentioned in the same sentence, silly things happen.
Every team in hockey has problems, but the weird thing is that two of the most successful organizations are the ones with the most glaring issues.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Stanley Cup champs just two years ago, are struggling, plain and simple. At one point earlier this season, the Blackhawks had the best record in the Western Conference, the Madhouse at Madison was rocking, and they were the trendy pick to be a Stanley Cup participant.
Now, Chicago has stumbled frequently and would be the sixth seed in the playoffs if the season ended today. The Blackhawks also have a below-.500 record on the road (the only top-eight team to have one) and have only a plus-6 goal differential.
We previously noted our stay in a mental institute, the devastating effects from missing doses of puckahol during the All-Star break. Four days without actual NHL games, nothing but boredom and gimmicks, and it all created a horrific relapse. No puckahol? A fan can lose his mind.
But now, this fan has been cured. He’s been treated and released after a 12-day stint. During the entire time he was cooped in solitary darkness one thing didn’t change: The Chicago Blackhawks.
They were on a losing skid when he entered.
They are still losing as he exits.