Posted on: June 1, 2011 7:35 pm
The Stanley Cup Finals - edition 2011 - start tonight in Vancouver BC. As in prior years, these finals will bring us surprises, thrills and heartache. Regardless if you're a Bruins or Canucks fan, the SCF becomes the final battle of attrition for North America's oldest trophy.
The Bruins will need some effort from the much maligned power play which is clipping in at just over 8% efficiency. If the teams play hockey and stay out of the sin bin, Bostonians will like their chances as the Bruins have scored the most even strength goals in this year's Quest for the Cup. Key players for the Bruins will be: Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton. Horton has shown the ability to score some timely goals by coming up with the series winner against both the Canadiens and the Lightning.
The Canucks have shown some resiliency against the defending Cup champion Blackhawks by protecting a 3-0 series lead that went to a Game 7 Overtime. By chasing the Chicago demons, the 'nucks were able to dispose of both the Predators and the ever-disappointing Sharks. The Western Conference champions from Van-city have the most offensive depth throughout the playoffs and quietly Henrik Sedin is leading all playoff scorers with 2 goals and 19 assists. The Sedin twins aside, Boston will need to contend with both Ryan Kessler and Alex Burrows. Kevin Bieksa will continue to provide some peskiness at defense while Roberto Luongo will try to quiet his detractors who have consistently criticized Bobby-Lu for not being a "winner".
I see a tough series with the Canucks prevailing in 6 games.
June 1, 2011
Posted on: December 30, 2009 8:07 am
Although 2 teams flirted with perfection (Colts - Saints) the season has been somewhat of a bore this year as to date we have not seen many compelling stories (unless you count LJ being shipped out of KC) even that one is boring.
The defending champs have not played to their status (yep Troy is their real MVP) despite having most of the roster back from the SB XLIII team.
Seeing teams fight it out for 2 playoff spots with 8-7 records shows that there is some mediocrity (not parity) left in the game. No one wanted to "dominate" this year. Yep even the mighty Colts took a knee on the Jets in Week 16. The Saints who sprinted out to 13-0 are now 0-2 in the last 2 weeks. They were backed in to the NFC top seed with the Vikings going 1-3 in the last 4 weeks.
So are we to expect dominance or upsets in the upcoming Super Bowl tournament? Rightfully, the smart money may be on the Chargers who are perfect for December in the past 4 seasons. However, has anyone checked their January record in those past 4 years; pretty dismal!!!
New England has shown moments of brilliance but a depleted defense has shown that the armor isn't as solid as it once was despite Brady's continued high level performances.
Can the Bengals create a story book ending despite the tragedies that beset the team this year? Marvin Lewis is one of the good guys in this league and one could compare him to be quite Dungy-like with his approach to the game, even with the bunch of characters on this team.
The Colts will be the Colts and may find ways to lose again in the playoffs, whether a game saving tackle by an opposing QB or a missed crucial FG by a highly regarded precision kicker.
In the NFC, Dallas has shaken some of the December ghosts away from this team but still has to win it's first playoff game in a dozen or years to buy any credibility from the Cowboy fan.
Will the Saints find another gear after getting 2 weeks of rest? (yep expect most starters to rest for week 17).
The Vikings are stumbling in to the tournament at 1-3 and Brett's years will show once again as they did last season when he sputtered to finish off the year. We may read sometime in February that the good ole gunslinger had two broken fingers and a broken rib since week 12.
Arizona? Are you kidding, they got hot at the right time last year but who can really bet that lightning will hit twice on the same spot.
The Eagles may be the toughest team to beat as the defense remains solid and the return of Westbrook will ensure plenty of options for D-Mac.
The stories have yet to be told, simply the early prognostications and speculative wishfulness of team fans and supporters.
I'm looking for the compelling stories that came out of last year's tournament - Larry Fitzgerald rising to Superstar Status; A smash mouth Ravens - Steelers like match up that put up all the marbles in a Conference Championship; A mighty mite like Sproles who won the hearts of the "little" guys and a game ending catch for the ages that made the winning team 6 time champions.
Their will be a lot of keyboard punching from now to then and I'm looking forward to reading and writing along with the millions of NFL fans.
LJS - DEC 30-09
Posted on: April 15, 2009 9:29 pm
Literally, blood, sweat and tears. This is the 2009 version of the chase for the Holy Grail of hockey - The Stanley Cup. For all of today's players who grew up watching the likes of Gainey, Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman and Potvin lift the fabled Cup after two of the toughest months a hockey player will ever face, the moment is now theirs. For this spring's chase will Lidstrom repeat or will the cup be lifted by the likes of Thornton or even Chara. One thing is certain, only one team will end the playoff season on a winning streak. To the victor go the spoils.
Here's my insight on the first round:
Boston over Montreal (4-1)
What started as a dream 100th anniversary season for the Canadiens has quickly turned into a nightmare that meant making the playoffs by invoking the tie-breaker rule against the hard-luck Panthers. Montreal's first line of Koivu-Tanguay-Kovalev will provide some spark but it's Boston's well balanced attack that will prevail in what will be some tight scoring one goal games. The Difference Maker (DM)- Mark Recchi.
Washington over New York (4-2)
"Ovechkin shoots", a call heard over 500 times this year. He will clearly dominate both offensive sides in this fast moving matchup. Look for Sean Avery to create more havock for his team than for the Capitals. A few too many power play opportunities for Washington will kill any chances the Rangers have to stay in this series. Look for Torterella to come up with some solid game plans, but Bruce Boudreau simply has the better horses to win this race. DM - Mike Green.
New Jersey over Carolina (4-3)
The past vs the present. Watch the teacher in Martin Brodeur teach a lesson to future teacher Cam Ward. This one will go both ways and the team with the best game plan will win out in the end. Edge here on coaching easily goes to Brent Sutter. Eric Staal will make his presence known but ultimately, Zach Parise will show why he's the real deal. DM - Jamie Langenbrunner.
Pittsburgh over Philadelphia (4-2)
Too much offense will prevail over suspect goaltending. Although Martin Biron can be hot at times, consistency was never in his asset portfolio. Penguins are too well distributed offensively to be witheld by the Flyers. Expect a few blowouts in this one, perhaps even one by the Flyers. Mike Richards will showcase why he's the Flyers franchise player. DM - Sergei Gonchar.
San Jose over Anaheim (4-3)
The Sharks will be able to shake the proverbial monkey off their back and this should be the first step into a long playoff run. Nabokov will continue to be solid and having a few veterans like Lemieux and Roenick around will remove much of the self-imposed pressure put on Joe Thornton. Anaheim gets a shot at a game seven due to strong defensive hockey and the strong leadership og a Ryan Getzlaff. DM - Joe Thornton.
Detroit over Columbus (4-1)
This is the Jackets maiden voyage into playoff land. The last team to do so. Watch for Rick Nash to place a lot of pressure on himself and try to over do it. Some added punch could come from newly acquired Antoine Vermette but Detroit's high octane offense will defuse any opportunities the Jackets may think they have. Watch for Datsyuk to dominate and Osgood to be well shielded. DM - Nick Lidstrom.
Vancouver over St Louis (4-3)
Home advantage gives the edge here or else this is a pick'em. These are two of the hottest teams since January 1st. Coaching will keep the Blues closer than they may deserve to be. Andy Murray has finally convinced his crew to buy into what he's selling. It has worked. The veteran leadership of Sundin will help in the locker room but Captain Luongo should dominate in the crease, keeping the Canucks from losing games that they otherwise would. DM - H or D Sedin.
Chicago over Calgary (4-1)
Team on its way up meets team on its way down. The Hawks are the youngest team in the league and one of the fastest. A seven year absence from the playoffs and a jammed pack United Center will keep these kids pumped. Joel Quenneville's years of experience will be the stability factor long with Khabibulin finding his game after a 4 year search for it. Calgary might steal one in cow-town but being banged up as they are, keeping up with the young legs will be very difficult. DM- Jonathan Toewes
Enjoy the games.
Posted on: April 7, 2009 6:28 pm
Watch an NHL playoff game and you will realize that each game that is played seems to be the momentum turner for the winning team. How many times have we seen a team up 2-0 in a series only to lose game three. All of sudden, the calls of "they couldn't close the deal" or "they had their chance to put this series away" have we heard after all of a sudden the team is only up 2-1.
In the late eighties and nineties, teams that were down 1-3 came back to force or even win game seven on numerous occasions. The best example of a team learning about what it takes to win 4 rounds in the playoffs were the 1982-83 Edmonton Oilers. With a plethora of young superstars such as Messier, Lowe, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri and oh yes # 99 himself, Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers were pegged to be the team that could finally dethrone the reigning 3 time champion Islanders.
What the Oilers learned from that series was that grit and determination was what was needed to win the coveted Stanley Cup. After a gritty game four that saw the Islanders make it 3-1 in the Finals that year, some of the Oilers had passed by the Islander dressing room after the game and looked at these beaten up, tired old men - the likes of Trottier, Gillies, Nystrom and Bossy - icing down sore knees and shoulders. What they took from that was that these guys played to the maximum of their capacity and were able to simply overwhelm the young Edmontonians for 60 minutes of gruelling hockey.
When the puck dropped for Game 5, the Oilers were already beat. New York made the best of their chances and stuck to a game plan that ensured they would not make mistakes for Edmonton to capitalize on. The Islanders went on to win Cup # 4 and at the same time hand over the torch to Edmonton.
From that game Edmonton's young kids got a little older, a lot wiser and New York eventually got too old to withstand the pains of 4 rounds of hockey. That year, 1984, Edmonton won its first of 5 Stanley Cup titles. It took them 15 wins to do it.
Now a team winning a Championship needs 16 wins to make it happen. Who will withstand the pressure packed competition of the playoffs this year. There is no clear front runner and that is why these NHL playoffs make for the best sports entertainment in spring.
Next week - First Round Playoff predictions
Posted on: April 6, 2009 5:25 am
Did the Yankees make a statement by investing during a bad market? Well perhaps while the bad market was happening on Wall Street, the Bronx Bombers however did diversify their portfolio by adding some punch at first base in Mark Texeira. They didn't do too bad either by picking up CC Sabathia. The jury however is still out on A.J. Burnett. Let's look at the AL overall and see where this stimulus package will take the Yankees.
AL EAST: Although the Tampa Bay Rays rose from the perrenial ashes of 5th place last year, I don't foresee them being any better than a 3rd place team here. Unless Boston or New York self destruct, the Rays will be fighting but will not be able to maintain the pace set out by both the Red Sox and the Yankees. Boston, by using Brad Penny as the ace, will finally be able to close the Curt Schilling chapter. Jason Bay will come out as the wildcard in this whole thing. After a full training camp in Boston red, watch for Bay to fight for league MVP honors. With the Yankees providing battle throughout the summer, this one will be tight. Prediction here: Red Sox 98-64 (1st East)
AL CENTRAL: This always seems to be the division where a new team comes out from nowhere, Cleveland, the Tigers and heck even the White Sox won their first World Series in nearly 90 years. The constant however always seem to be the Twins. With Mauer and Morneau leading the offense, I can't see anyone else making a chase for Divisional supremacy. The one remaining team due to rise however is the Royals. Watch for some tough competition from KC this year with Soria perhaps being the league's best closer (K-Rod having moved to the NL). Prediction here: Twins 92-70 (1st Central)
AL WEST: There's the Angels and then the other guys. With such a runaway last year, the Angels were in cruise mode at the beginning of September. Even with a drop in performance this year (read the loss of Texeira and K-Rod), the Halos should prevail quite easily. A good year to transition over some young talent to give them experience. Prediction here: Angels 95-67 (1st West)
AL Wildcard: The AL East will be the battle for the Wild-Card spot. Money will buy you love to reach the playoffs this year and I see the Yankees making a return to the playoffs after a brief absence. Prediction here: Yankees 95-67 (AL Wild Card)
NLDS and NLCS: Boston should prevail over the feisty Twins. The Angels will battle hard vs the Yankees and should make it to the ALCS. Can the Angels get the proverbial "monkey" off their backs and beat the Red Sox for another World Series appearance? Unfortunately Mike Sciosia and crew will be outside looking in once more. Prediction - Boston moves on to the World Series once again.
Posted on: April 5, 2009 6:20 am
Once again the question in the NL will be: Is this the year for the Cubs? The Phillies notwithstanding, this year's NL race is as competitive as it has been in years with no clear cut front-runner. The breakdown:
NL EAST: The Mets should be able to withstand the Phillies. The problem with the Mets however is that they will need to create leads going into the late innings to give K-Rod a chance to preserve some wins. Prediction here 97-65 (1st East).
NL CENTRAL: With some weak competition, the Cubs should be able to gain some wins in the inter-division schedule, enough to give them 1st place. The starting rotation is as solid as any with Zambrano and Harnden most likely running up 17 win seasons. The wild card for the Cubs will be the dynamic that Milton Bradley will bring to the core group. Prediction here 93-69 (1st Central)
NL WEST: By far the weakest Division in the MLB. With a lack of competitive thunder from the Giants, Diamondbacks and Padres, the Dodgers should be able to edge out a Division pennant. Prediction here 86-76 (1st West)
NL WILDCARD: This one should be easy for the defending champion Phillies. While they will battle the Mets for 1st in the East, they will garner enough momentum to clinch the NL Wildcard. Too much offensive punch to be held back. Prediction here 95-67 (NL Wildcard)
NLDS and NLCS: The Cubs should dethrone the Phillies while the Mets will walk all over the Dodgers. Cubs pitching will beat the Mets offense in a tight NLCS. Prediction here - Cubs NL Champs.
Tomorrow - MLB - AL
Posted on: April 4, 2009 5:52 pm
You really have to wonder what motivates a professional athlete in a number of circumstances. The love of the game? The love of the money? The public adulation that brings perks and recognition? In most cases, its probably a combination of all three, however it is weighted. Perhaps the feeling is that if an athlete can get himself to where is by sheer passion of the game, he will get the perks that come with it (money and love). However some may get there and really hate the game they are playing. They, fortunately or not, may be blessed with some talent for their sport but are truly sickened by it. They continue to play because it brings them what they have in life.
My take today deal with the athlete that tries to remain motivated when the spirit of competition has died. The competetive nature of any sport is what keeps athletes, or players, motivated to stay in the game. The chance to win, whether by beating an opponent, or improving on their own successes.
What about the athlete who sees that the competition is over when a chance for the playoffs has been erased by playing through a long and hard season. For example, as a player for the New York Islanders, the competition ended a few months ago. What keeps this player from performing at a high level for the rest of the season when their is no chance to reach the ultimate peak. My thinking is that regardless of the money, the adulation or even the love of the game, players will continue to remain motivated by self pride. Nobody wnats to look bad on any given day whether it's performing at a high professional level or even having a quick game of pick up basketball with our friend who is killing us time after the time. We continue trying. Simply put; It's human nature.
Tomorrow: Baseball outlook 2009