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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Penguins

2014 NHL Playoff Picks – First Round

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Something of an annual tradition around here: picks for each round of the NHL playoffs.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston over (WC) Detroit in six

I’m still not quite used to Detroit being in the Eastern conference, so it’s a little weird to see them playing Boston in the first round. It’s actually the first time since 1957 they’ve played at all; back then, Boston won in five before getting trounced by Montreal in the final. And yes, the Leafs weren’t in the playoffs that year either. Funny how things change. Anyway: this year, I expect Boston to hold off the Red Wings. With Tukka Rask, they’ve got arguably the best goalie in the conference and Jerome Iginla’s had his best season in years.

(3) Montreal over (2) Tampa Bay in seven

This could be a close one. In four meetings this season, Montreal’s won just one but lost in overtime once and in a shootout twice. They’ve been outscored eight to five, their last meeting was the only one decided in regulation. I’m pulling for Montreal this postseason and I think they’re coming into the playoffs on a nice streak, winning eight of their last 11 games – although I should note Tampa’s won their last four. I expect a close series regardless, so I’m going with who I’d like to see move on.

(1) Pittsburgh over (WC) Columbus in four

I haven’t caught too many Pens games this year, but the game they played against Philadelphia last weekend was one of the best I saw this season. Sure, they lost, but they looked great. Columbus? I haven’t caught them once, but I feel confident writing them off: they’ve lost all five games against the Pens this year and were outscored seven to 16. Nobody dismantled them as thoroughly this year.

(4) Philadelphia over (3) New York Rangers in six

Again, could be a close one. They’ve split their four meetings this year, including two in March. I’m going to give the edge to Philly based on my limited exposure to them: I enjoyed the way they came back against the Penguins last weekend in particular. Either way, this will be a fun series. I bet NBC gets the best ratings of any series with this, too.

Western Conference

(1) Colorado over (WC) Minnesota in five

Remember when the Avalanche were a doormat? It doesn’t feel like that long ago. But then again, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when they were winning Cups with Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Maybe I’m getting old.  Coming into game one, the Avalanche look a little banged up – they’ve got four people listed as questionable – which might tip the scales a little. But I don’t think too much of that either. They’ve beat Minnesota four times this year and their lone loss came in a shootout. And Semyon Varlamov’s been nothing short of fantastic this year, too: a .927 save percentage, 2.41 GAA and 41 wins, if you’re into that sort of thing. This one could be over in a hurry.

 (3) Chicago over (2) St. Louis in six

There’s a part of me that doesn’t trust the Blues. They collapsed in the playoffs last year, blowing a two-game lead to the Kings and the year before lost in four straight, also to LA. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t ever feel confident taking them in the postseason. But that’s just a gut feeling, so here’s some numbers: this season, the Blackhawks beat the Blues twice. Twice more, they took them to a shootout. They’ve outshot them four times, too. I’m sensing a trend here: usually the team who can regularly outshoot the other will win. That’s not a gut feeling, that’s called being a Leaf fan.

(1) Anaheim over (WC) Dallas in five

This is the first time since 2008 the Stars have been to the postseason, I believe, and with 91 points they’re also the worst. But somehow, they’ve managed a winning record against the Ducks: two wins, including a blowout 6-3 victory back in November. But they’re still the worst team in the playoffs and it’d be a big upset to upend the Ducks, who’ve won more than anyone in the West. I’ll hedge a little: the Stars will take a game, but probably not much more than that.

(3) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose in seven

There’s an ad on American TV where two people meet in a bar through some sports dating app and each is a fan of the above teams. In real life, I can’t imagine anyone resorting to online dating really gives a shit about who the other cheers for (I’d be happy they actually like hockey, myself) but maybe I’m a weirdo. After all, I didn’t know this was even a rivalry, really. And it’s a curious one: the Sharks have a better overall record, but the Kings have played them hard this season. In five meetings, the Sharks won just once in regulation, a 2-1 win in early April (they also won a shootout in November). And the one game where the Sharks outshot LA was a 1-0 Kings win. Confusing, eh? Last year, the series went seven games, the final two decided by a goal apiece. I’m willing to bet something similar happens this year and again, I like the Kings.

NHL Lockout Classics, Part One: The best series-deciding game nobody remembers

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The last time there was a lockout, the CBC aired movies on Saturday night and TSN aired a bunch of basketball. This was before TSN2’s launch and before ESPN’s 30 for 30 series gave them a bunch of worthwhile hour-long programs to fill the day. There wasn’t a lot they could have used that drew ratings: they also aired a lot of poker and re-broadcasted stuff from the 70s and 80s. While it was cool seeing old stuff (and I ended up taping a bunch of stuff, some of which helped me out in tape-trading circles), I can’t imagine most people were really into them. Especially with a slate of games everyone already knows about, anyway:

A selection of games TSN rebroadcasted during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout:

  • 1978 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, Toronto v. New York Islanders, Game Seven
  • 1990 Smythe Division Semifinals, Edmonton v. Winnipeg, Game Four
  • 1987 Rendez-Vous Series, NHL All-Stars vs Soviet National Team, Game One
  • 1985 Adams Final, Montreal v. Quebec, Game Seven
  • March 24, 1994, Vancouver @ Los Angeles, Wayne Gretzky scores goal 802
  • 1993 Campbell Conference Final, Los Angeles v. Toronto: Game Seven
  • December 31, 1975, Red Army @ Montreal
  • 1979 Conference Final: Boston v. Montreal, Game Seven
  • 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinal, Montreal v. Toronto, Game Four

Look at those: literally every hockey fan has seen Guy Lafleur score against Boston in 79, knows Gretzky scored more goals than anyone else and couldn’t care less about Toronto gagging like dogs at home against the Kings in 1993. And since the Jets returned to Winnipeg, the novelty of a Jets game has gone out the window.

I do not have an extensive tape library, but I know my vintage NHL broadcasts. I’m probably in a pretty good spot to recommend a few things TSN could air that aren’t especially familiar to most fans. And since TSN isn’t going to air much basketball, and one can only watch the 30 for 30 about the Baltimore Colts marching band so many times, I’m game to recommend some stuff I’d like to watch again. I’ll write up one game every week or so, offering links to it on YouTube whenever possible. Today, it’s a win-or-go-home game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues from the 1981 playoffs. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

October 5, 2012 at 9:00 am

Third annual NHL Playoff picks – Eastern Conference

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It’s time for the second season to begin, so here’s some playoff picks for the NHL.

Boston over Montreal

Bob Gainey got the Habs under control late this season, when it looked like they had peaked early. Still, they’re a team that was a sleeper pick by some (myself included) to win the Cup in October; now they barely made the playoffs. Goalie Carey Price will have to be strong in net and a few Habs – Kovalev and Kostitsyn in particular – will have to play a lot better then they have throughout the season.

Boston, on the other hand, just missed winning the Presidents trophy, albeit in a weak division – the only other team from it are the Habs – but have looked great. Tim Thomas has stood out as one of the best goalies in the NHL and looks able to carry his team. And these Bruins faced a much better-playing Habs last year in the playoffs and took them to seven games. I expect this year, they won’t even have to go that far. I like the Bruins in five.

Washington over New York

Yes, the Rangers look good. Even Avery. And Lundqvist looks good. But the Rangers haven’t endeared themselves to me, not yet. I don’t think they’re deep enough, I don’t know if they have enough experience and as a whole they look like a team in transition between leaders – in other words, they miss Jagr.

The Caps are great though. They can score in bunches and look to improve from last year, when they left the postseason early. Ovechkin will force Lundqvist to play great; nobody on the Rangers will push Theodore that hard. With him, they won’t go deep, but I think they can outscore the Rangers in seven games, which is what I think this series will go to.

Carolina over New Jersey

Martin Brodeur has had a great season, setting records and winning games. He’s bound to be feeling better then he has in any postseason in recent memory, as he’s played less games this year then he has in over a decade. And he’s part of a good Devils team, too, that can score.

But Carolina is peaking, as they say, at the right time. Cam Ward is hot, maybe the hottest goalie in the East, and I think that makes the Canes – excuse the cliche – a dark horse to go deep. It will be tough for them and I’m still not sold on their offense, but if Ward keeps playing at this clip, they have a good shot at beating the Devils, maybe in as little as five games.

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia

The Flyers are solid – not great, not bad – and they know the Penguins; one could say a rivalry has formed between the two teams, especially after last season’s meeting between the two. They’re about the same as the Penguins, in record and statistically – but they’re not as deep. After a handful of heavies, they drop off pretty quickly. But I like their tandem of goalies.

I do like the Penguins, though, who are about as good as last year, if a little more shallow. But Crosby and Malkin are still the best 1-2 punch any team in the East has and Fleury’s won 35 games; no easy feat in a tight division that sent three teams to the playoffs, with none seeded lower then fifth. They’ll have a tough time, I imagine, but this is a winnable series for the Pens. I like them in six.

Sidney Crosby is a player under pressure

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Second in an ongoing series at current athletes

There’s this ad in Canada right now for Tim Horton’s that stars Sidney Crosby. He’s riding a bus – presumably with the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins – out in some kind of countryside.

The bus breaks down, Crosby looks out the window and sees a group of kids playing hockey on a pond. And grabbing his stick, skates and gloves (nice to know he keeps those handy), he goes out and plays with them while a light snow begins to fall.

It’s a cute ad, though it’s one I like a bit for an entirely unrelated reason. And it’s one of many, many ads that prominently feature one Sidney Patrick Crosby, currently of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His likeness is attached to everything from clothing (including the stuff he wears in that Tims ad) to Gatorade.

The NHL is hitching its wagon to Crosby. He is the face of the league, hockey’s spokesperson and maybe the best talent to come out of Canada in a long, long time. Already the captain of the Penguins at the young age of 21, he’s already tearing into the league; he led the league in scoring in his second season by putting up the Gretzky-like 120 points – before he turned 20.

Fair or unfairly, that is a shadow he is gong to have to with. The shadow of Gretzky will always lie on hockey, but especially so on Crosby, as it has on every Canadian player in recent memory, from Eric Lindros to Alexandre Daigle. But for Crosby, it is perhaps the best comparison that could be made.

Like him he wears a high number. Like him he’s got a great scoring touch – but is just as likely to set somebody else up instead. Like him, he started his career on a young team brimming with talent. And like him, Crosby came into the league with a ton of hype.

Gretzky lived up to his, putting up unreal numbers in a time where scoring was at a peak. His 200 plus point seasons are unlikely to ever be repeated, let alone broken. Even now, close to a decade after his final game, his name is still shorthand for greatness in hockey.

This has to weigh down on Crosby. He a great talent, yes, but the entire league sometimes seems to pivot on his shoulders. Gretzky never had to save anything from oblivion.

He started immediately after the NHL cancelled an entire season. He is, through no fault of his own, the savior of hockey, the player who will rescue the sport from cable-TV obscurity.

The NHL he inherited was a league in it’s worst shape in decades, since the halcyon days of Gretzky, Lemieux and Messier. The league had moved from ESPN to OLN, a small network best known for broadcasts of fishing and the Tour de France and an occasional game on NBC. The NHL had just endured a lockout that cancelled a season – the first time an entire season had been cancelled in a major pro sport. Scoring was down.

Hockey was in danger of losing its position as the fourth sport in the US. Some would even argue it already had: to NASCAR.

So along came this baby-faced kid, not even old enough to vote, who was supposed to change all of this. He was supposed to be a tremendous talent, somebody that the NHL could latch itself to.

He thusly was prominently featured on NBC’s game of the week. He is in almost innumerable ads. He is the face of hockey in North America, to the North American fan. And this must certainly have put an incredible amount of pressure upon him.

Sidney Crosby is cranky. He has been called a whiner. He jawbones at referees, he argues for calls and it has been written that other players think he’s soft. This was most evident earlier this year, when he complained a hit from Alexander Ovechkin was dirty.

So, yes, he does complain. But no other player has the same circumstances he does; the expectations, the pressure, the hype and the weight.

Back to that ad I like so much. I don’t like it for it’s contrived scenario, or for it’s forced punch line. I like it for what I think it unconsciously shows about Crosby.

He gets away, but he’s still known. He escapes to a backwoods pond but everybody still recognizes him. He smiles because he loses himself in the game. He’s away from all the lights, from all the hype and the noise and the talk and the expectations…

Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman of BBDO North America, once wrote that advertising is not about ideas, but insights. What insight, then, is behind that ad? Was it an attachment of hockey being an escape for Crosby? Or was it an extension of earlier ads that showcased his history with minor hockey? Or was it even saying something at all?

I remember a couple years ago, Crosby was on the Tonight Show. He brought along the dryer he used to shoot pucks at in the basement of his parents house, back when he was growing up. That was how he used to practice his shot. Not against an older brother, not against a family friend, not against his dad. But by shooting pucks into an open dryer.

A solitary activity, turned by his talent, into him charged with saving a professional sport from obscurity.

It’s a heavy weight for a kid who’s barely old enough to order a beer.

Written by M.

March 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Some thoughts on Crosby

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Second in an occasional series

There’s this ad in Canada right now for Tim Horton’s that stars Sidney Crosby. He’s riding a bus – presumably with the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins – out in some kind of countryside. The bus breaks down, Crosby looks out the window and sees a group of kids playing hockey on a pond. And grabbing his stick, skates and gloves (nice to know he keeps those handy), he goes out and plays with them.

It’s a cute ad, and it’s one I like a bit for an entirely unrelated reason. And it’s one of many, many ads that prominently feature one Sidney Patrick Crosby, currently of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His likeness is attached to everything from clothing (including the stuff he wears in that Tims ad) to Gatorade.

The NHL is hitching its wagon to Crosby. He is the face of the league, hockey’s spokesperson and maybe the best talent to come out of Canada in a long, long time. Already the captain of the Penguins at the young age of 21, he’s already tearing into the league; he led the league in scoring in his second season by putting up the Gretzky-like 120 points – before he turned 20.

Fair or unfairly, that is the mark he is gong to have to with. The shadow of Gretzky will always lie on hockey, but especially so on Crosby, as it has on every Canadian player in recent memory, from Eric Lindros to Alexandre Daigle. But for Crosby, it is perhaps the best comparison that could be made.

Like him he wears a high number. Like him he’s got a great scoring touch – but is just as likely to set somebody else up instead. Like him, he started his career on a young team brimming with talent. And like him, Crosby came into the league with a ton of hype.

This has to weigh down on Crosby. He a great talent, yes, but the entire league sometimes seems to pivot on his shoulders. He started immediately after the NHL cancelled an entire season. He is, through no fault of his own, the savior of hockey, the player who will rescue the sport from cable-TV obscurity.

He thusly is prominently featured on NBC’s game of the week. He is in almost innumerable ads. He is the face of hockey. And he must certainly have an incredible amount of pressure put upon him.

Sidney Crosby is cranky. He has been called a whiner. He jawbones at referees, he argues for calls and it has been written that other players think he’s soft. This was most evident earlier this year, when he complained a hit from Alexander Ovechkin was dirty.

So, yes, he does complain. But no other player has the same circumstances he does; the expectations, the pressure, the hype and the weight.

Back to that ad I like so much. I don’t like it for it’s contrived scenario, or for it’s forced punch line. I like it for what it almost unconsciously shows about Crosby. He gets away, but he’s still known. He escapes to a backwoods pond but everybody still recognizes him. He smiles because he has to – but I can almost imagine that sometimes he wishes it could happen, that he could get away from all the lights, from all the hype and the noise and the talk and the expectations…
Get away and simply go back to the game, the one he enjoyed as a kid.

I remember a couple years ago, Crosby was on the tonight show. He brought along the dryer he used to shoot pucks at in the basement of his parents house, back when he was growing up. That was how he used to practice his shot. Not against an older brother, not against a family friend, not against his dad. But by shooting pucks into an open dryer.

A solitary activity, turned by his talent, into him charged with saving a professional sport from obscurity.

It’s a heavy weight for a kid who’s barely old enough to order a beer.

Written by M.

February 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm