Stanley Cup Final Preview and Predictions (Or Just a Preview)

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If you listen to certain always-reliable sources of journalistic integrity such as Twitter, Barstool Sports and Mike Milbury, you might be led to believe that the 2014 Stanley Cup Final features one of the most lopsided matchups in recent history. In the world of public opinion, the Western Conference was essentially awarded the Cup back even before the playoffs started, and by winning the Conference title on Sunday, the LA Kings all but clinched their second championship in three seasons. The West is too deep, the East is too soft and inexperienced outside of Boston and Pittsburgh are arguments people cite before adding that all the Kings need to do to come out on top is show up for four games.

The peculiar thing is that anyone already writing off the New York Rangers likely has not been a Kings fan for very long, or at least is not an attentive one. Everyone who has followed the Kings, the 2014 variety and beyond, knows that there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to this franchise. A second-period 4-0 lead in a playoff game can vanish (just like an 0-3 series deficit – sorry San Jose) just like an underachieving eighth-seed team can deliver the most dominant postseason performance in Stanley Cup Playoff history. Bottom line is when it comes to Kings’ hockey the only thing that you can predict is its unpredictability.

With this in mind, it is with great hesitation that I see so many pundits and patrons bestow the Kings with such a hefty advantage prior to Game 1 with the Rangers. While Los Angeles does look deeper, more experienced and more battle-tested on paper, it needs to be said that no team wins three consecutive playoff series by accident. Simply by virtue of making it to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers should not be underestimated. As I made clear before, the first lesson any Kings fan learns is that expecting anything is the first step toward getting burned, and it is best to just watch and hope for the best.

So unfortunately I do not feel comfortable making a concrete series prediction (my fear of jinxing the team has led me to be choose Kings in seven each round in my playoff pool –  a plan that has worked well so far), I can offer up a few aspects of the Final that will be interesting to watch moving forward.

Showdown of the Stoppers:

To nobody’s surprise, the most intriguing matchup of the Stanley Cup Final is that between the pipes, as a couple of the highest-echelon goaltenders meet at the biggest stage. Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist have cemented themselves as two of the most dominant puck-stoppers in the NHL over the last five years, and the stage is set for them to show who is superior.

But coming into this series, the two do not seem to be on equal footing as far as recent performance goes. Lundqvist is coming off of a series-clinching shutout against Montreal, sits atop playoff goalies with a .928 save percentage, is second with a 2.03 GAA and has given up three or more goals in only four of his 20 postseason starts. Quick on the other hand has taken his lumps in the playoffs, posting a .906 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA, putting him in eighth and ninth respectively. He has given up 13 goals his last three outing, and had surrendered 16 in a three-game stretch to begin the playoffs.

So advantage New York right? Not so fast.

While the numbers are not there, Quick has shown glimpses of his super human side throughout the Kings’ current run – especially when the spotlights are at their brightest. He has been able to flat-out steal a couple of saves in each of his teams’ Game 7 victories; from the glove-hand larceny on Patrick Marleau which helped put the final nail in the Sharks’ coffin to a desperation save on Andrew Shaw to send the Western Conference finale to overtime, Quick has saved his best for when it is needed most.

Perhaps the scariest thing for the Rangers to consider about their opponent is that LA has found a way to defeat San Jose, Anaheim and now the 2013 champions without their goaltender firing on all cylinders. Through three rounds the Kings have surrendered an uncharacteristic number of goals, but have made up for it with timely scoring and an absurd sense of resiliency. If their offense can continue to come through and their defense finds a return to regular season form that won Quick the Jennings Trophy it could mean disaster for New York.

The Burden of Home Ice:

Unfortunately for the Kings, they finished the regular season with more points than their Eastern foes and have therefore earned the right to be the high-seed in the Final. Why is this unfortunate? Los Angeles has proved over the last couple of years to be one of the most effective teams on the road in the post-season. They were able to build a 3-0 series lead when starting away from Staples Center in each round of their 2012 Cup run, and have won three road Game 7s this year.

While LA did win their last series in which they started at home (2013 second round vs. San Jose), this series has a definite if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it vibe to it. The way the Kings have been able to deliver on the road in elimination games this season one would almost think they would choose to defer home ice if this series happens to go the distance. On the other side, New York is more than comfortable playing the underdog after defeating the Penguins and the Canadiens as the lower-seeded team.

In the end it is ridiculous to think that the Kings are anything but thrilled with the opportunity to play at home more often than not in this series, but there is a feel of unfamiliar territory that comes with their high seed.

The Inspirational vs. the Un-Killable

Both of these squads seem to have had some extra mojo working in their favor throughout the playoffs, which have helped propel them to a spot in the NHL’s final two. The Rangers have undoubtedly taken their place as the sentimental favorite in the playoffs, as their players have found a way to rally around Martin St. Louis after the tragic passing of his mother during their series against Pittsburgh. The way St. Louis, always a likable player, was able to take his game to another level and spur his team to a gutsy comeback against the Penguins and a subsequent dispatching of Montreal all while coping with the family tragedy has a storybook feel to it.

Throw in the story of Dominic Moore playing for his late wife and to a lesser extent Lundqvist trying to finally buck his playoff demons and there are plenty of reasons for someone on the fence to root for the Rangers.

But the Kings have also been weaving their own Hollywood-worthy plot in these playoffs. In a postseason that began with a historical feat as LA became the fourth team in NHL history to pull off the #ReverseSweep, the Kings have taken being clutch to a level hardly seen before in professional sports. 7-0 in elimination games, 3-0 in Game 7s, rallying from 3-0 and 3-2 series deficits, climbing out of three separate holes against Chicago, these Kings have redefined the phrase “it’s not over until it’s over”.

While they have not made it easy on themselves, Los Angeles has repeatedly found ways to persevere and get the job done when things looked their bleakest. Dustin Brown said it best when he quipped “We made history by making it very easy for us last time, and making history by making it very difficult this time.”

East Coast vs. West Coast. Quick vs. Lundqvist. Pearson and Toffoli vs. Kreider and Hagelin. Anyway you slice it the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is sure to be one to remember. Since I know better than to guess how it will end up, I will leave it to the two teams to figure it out.

Game 1 tonight. Go Kings Go.

Reflections of a Happy Fan

Photo Cred.- Getty Images

Photo Cred.- Getty Images

 

Sports are a fascinating, exhilarating, exhausting and often maddening enterprise. If you allow them to, sports can take you on a dizzying thrill ride, with peaks at the highest reaches of ecstasy and valleys that can plunge you into heart-wrenching depression, while reaching every level of anticipation, frustration and anxiety in between.

And all of this can be experienced while being planted squarely on your living room couch.

Sure, there is a lot that can be learned and experienced from personally playing hockey, football, baseball, water polo or what-have-you; but the incentive and commitment that goes with being a participant is much different than that of being a fan. My own 19-year hockey career was at its core driven by a deeply instilled passion for the game, but it was often directed by a host of different personal variables.

One might get into the game as a hobby and to meet friends, stay in the game to parlay their skill set into a college education (or in rare cases a career) and continue playing the game into old age to stay in reasonable shape. But in any case, the players are integrally connected to the game they play whatever its outcome may be.

So why do people sit glued to couches, bar stools and $250 nosebleed seats every-other night from April to the dawning of summer watching a group of 20 and 30-year-olds they have never met playing a game on a sheet of ice that they have no stake in? Why do people put friendships on hiatus for reasons such as “they are a Blackhawks fan,” and making conscious decisions to cancel on a planned get-together because “we just won Game 6 and Game 7 happens to be on the same night as our date”? Continue reading

Call to Action- St. Olaf Unites to Defeat Winter

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(NOTE: Before anyone gets their feathers ruffled by this article, know this was written for the St. Olaf Newspaper’s SATIRE issue.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t genuinely mean what I say (because I do), rather it means that the people quoted below didn’t actually say these things. Unfortunately, the eco-terrorists at Stolaf must have thought this article was unsuitable to even run in a publication that is characterized by BEING MADE UP.  Because God forbid anyone say anything that is not enviornmentally kosher on this campus.  So I’m going to post it here instead.)

Back in February, a fuzzy prognosticator named Punxsutawney Phil offered residents of cold climates a glimmer of hope– an olive branch of sorts promising that the particularly brutal winter would soon be giving way to a warm, lush spring and summer.  Fast forward two months and about 12 Monday morning snowstorms later and Minnesotans are still under the deep chill of winter, yearning for warmer days.

But out of great strife rises great promise and opportunity, which is exactly what has been brewing recently from the St. Olaf administration, who have unveiled a brand new, cutting-edge environmental initiative, which combats this unfavorable climate.  “Oles have always been pioneers and innovators when it comes to environmental issues,” President David Anderson said, “and I am proud to announce that we are among the first communities to dedicate ourselves to increasing our carbon footprint so significantly in hopes that winters like this will never plague us again.”

Under this new initiative, diesel-powered golf carts, donated by the Northfield Golf Club, will replace the bike rental program.  Public Safety has been ordered to issue tickets to any hybrid or any cars on campus deemed energy-efficient.  Even Randy Clay and Bon Appetit are on board, who ensured that all of their food would now be shipped from overseas because in Clay’s own words: “who cares about fresh vegetables? I sure don’t.”

The student body has embraced this new policy with open arms.  Sonja Smerud, the sustainability representative coordinator, has kicked off a campus-wide contest to see which dorm can amass the most waste over the month of April.  The only rule? No recycling. “I love this new approach to environmentalism,” Smerud gushes, “what’s the point of living a green lifestyle if the only payoff is 15 degree weather in April? We need global warming now more than ever!”

According to President Anderson, if all of these new implementations are effective St. Olaf could have the largest carbon footprint in the Midwest by the beginning of 2014, unseating the previous leader, Detroit.  “It is so wonderful to see the Ole family come together once again to achieve such a noble goal.  Together we can accelerate climate change enough that not only will we be able to reap the benefits, but that our children may never have to endure a winter like we have this year.”

 

Kings pick up a big two points… against Columbus

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The good news is that the LA Kings were able to shake off the horrid performance they turned in a couple of days ago in Anaheim and come out after Tuesday night with a much-needed victory.  The bad news is that it was against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

All prodding aside of a team whose best player has a career plus-minus rating of -88 (miss you JMFJ!), it was still nice to see the Kings pick up two points on the road, even though if it was not in as dominant of form as many would have hoped.

Who are we kidding, going into tonight many fans (myself possibly included) were only a loss to the Blue Jackets away from throwing in the towel, mashing the panic button, and calling for Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi’s heads on a platter.  But to the relief of the Kings and their faithful, Los Angeles was able to erase a 1st period deficit with three tallies in the second frame to leave Ohio with a 4-2 victory in their second game of a five-game road trip.

Slava Voynov continued his impressive play by burying the game winner at the halfway mark of the second with a cannon that beat Columbus goalie Steve Mason clean to the glove side.  Mike Richards finally got off the scoring schnied as he earned his first of the year 13:44 into the third period as he picked up a greasy rebound in the paint to add all the insurance LA needed to protect the victory.

Richards’ goal completed his Gordie Howe hat-trick as he notched an assist earlier on Jeff Carter’s second period goal and engaged in some extra-curricular activities with Brandon Dubinsky as well.  The problem with the new assistant-captain so far this season has never been his physicality- he has shown time and time again he is willing to lay the body on anyone as well as drop the gloves if he is called upon- but his lackluster offensive production.  Hopefully Tuesday’s two-point affair can help spark more of the same from Richards.

Jonathan Quick was able to shake off the ghosts of his horrendous start against the Ducks so far as he was able to stop 18 of 20 Columbus shots to secure the win, yet he is still missing the confidence and swagger from his game that stymied the rest of the NHL last Spring.  His mental resolve to not allow one bad game snowball into two is a good sign though, and I remain confident that the reigning Conn Smythe winner will return to his stellar ways soon.

Another plus to take from Tuesday is the increased production from the top lines. In addition to Richards’ two-point game: Kopitar, Carter, Brown, Gagne, and Doughty all logged points on the score sheet.  But leading the way was Justin Williams who notched three assists and was a plus-3 on the night.  Steady offensive contributions from these guys will go a long way towards salvaging the rough start to the season for the Kings.

Looking forward the Kings head to the dirty south and take on Nashville on Thursday, before heading into their first back-to-back series of games starting on Sunday, where they travel to Detroit and St. Louis, who if I remember correctly might have a beef with the defending champions.  Now expecting LA to sweep these three games might seem a little unrealistic, they certainly cannot afford to go 0 and 3.  Here’s hoping the black and white can conjure up a little of their road magic they rode in the playoffs, they might need it considering six of their next seven games are away from Staples.

But at the end of the day two points is two points, and hopefully the Kings can snatch another two out of the hands of Mr. Carrie Underwood on Thursday in country country.

Go Kings Go

P.S.- A while back to my amazement we had our first comment ever (we are almost like a real blog now!) which read:

pokecheckkid3
pckeckkid3@yahoo.com
70.190.17.115

I would like to know how much impact the ‘bash’ has on this blog.

While he has yet to leave his mark in writing on this forum, the Bash Man has recently been in contact with the legend himself: one Bob Miller.  It just so happens that for a school project he is taking on the task of interviewing Bob and I’m hoping he will share this process with the blog once it is completed.

And I know I am as shocked as anyone else- who knew there were actually assignments and classes in Hawaii?

Regardless stay tuned for more news about Bash and Bob.

Well at least we got a point…

That wasn't even the game winner you clown

“And the Oilers win the Stanley Cup!… And by the Stanley Cup I mean tie up a game in mid-January”

There have been many goals scored throughout the NHL’s rich history that will live on forever in legend and lore.  Goals that immortalized the players and teams that scored them and trigger goosebumps on anyone who happens to witness them.  Goals like Bobby Orr flying through the air, any of Wayne Gretzky’s many milestone goals, or any of the numerous Stanley Cup-clinching overtime winners.

Last night in Edmonton, Nail Yakupov took his place in these hallowed grounds reserved for the most incredible moments in NHL history.

Or at least he acted like it.

I’m guessing no one on the Edmonton bench or anyone else in the building reminded Yakupov that his goal wasn’t even the game-winner, because there was no chance that the young forward had anything left in the tank after channeling his inner-Theo Fleury and celebrated like a complete buffoon across the ice at Rexall Place after tying last night’s game in the dying seconds.

Nail’s English advisor might need to spend some more time with the Russian as he apparently needs more practice on memorizing his months of the year, as he must have looked at the calender before the game and thought it was early June, because normally celebrations like we saw on Thursday are reserved for game sevens of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now obviously I am ignoring the elephant in the room and criticizing someone on the winning team instead of acknowledging the fact the Los Angeles Kings squandered another third period lead en route to losing their third game in a row, leaving them still searching for their first win.

As is all too familiar with Kings fans, Los Angeles’ anemic offense turned a brilliant game by Jonathan Quick, who was five seconds short of logging a shutout and finished with 37 saves, into a 2-1 overtime loss to the Oilers.

While the Kings played better in stretches on Thursday as they did in the two previous games, their special teams play proved to be their downfall and one of the main reason they left Edmonton with only one point rather than the two they were hoping for.  The power play was non-existent, going a miserable 0 for 9 on the night and falling to an embarrassing 0 for 19 so far on the season.  Costly penalties at inopportune times gave the Oilers enough chances to finally put the puck in the net for the Oil, culminating with Sam Gagner’s power play goal while Jeff Carter was serving a too-many-men call 3:01 into overtime.

The Kings need to quickly develop short-term amnesia and forget about this game and focus on getting into the win-column, with their next chance coming up Saturday night in Phoenix as the Coyotes get their first crack at revenge for getting bounced in the Conference Finals not-so long ago.  And don’t expect any teams to show any sympathy for Los Angeles’ recent struggles, as long as the Kings can be considered the defending champs, they will continue to have a target on their backs and receive the “A” game from all their opponents– something I am not sure they have properly adjusted to yet.

Regardless, time is running out for the Kings to start accumulating points in the standings before they fall behind the pack in an ultra-competative Western Conference.

P.S.- Despite his circus antics, I hold no grudge toward Nail Yakupov.  I’m sure he just had a momentary emotional lapse and is nothing but humble and eloquent off the ice, carrying himself with maturity and showing the utmost respect toward his opponents like he has in the past.

Well at least I was right about the eloquent part…

Kings Hope for Something Good in Oil Country

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We are not even a full week into the 2012-2013 NHL season, and there has been next to nothing for LA Kings fans to be happy about.  Well ok, maybe that big, black banner that was raised to the Staples Center rafters but aside from that the Kings’ first two kicks at the can in their quest for a repeat have been nothing short of a pair of duds.

The Kings, who brought back virtually their entire Stanley Cup winning roster (sans Kevin Westgarth), as well as had an extra four months to sleep off their championship hangover, showed definite signs that they have a lot of sobering up to do after getting dominated in their home opener to the Chicago Blackhawks and dropping a 3-1 decision at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Now going into Thursday night many Kings fans have one eye on their Stanley Cup Champion memorabilia and their other eye on the panic button as Los Angeles looks to avoid an 0-3 start as they take on a youthful Edmonton Oilers squad.

What or who is to blame for the uninspired start?  Injuries to franchise player Anze Kopitar and cornerstone defenseman Willie Mitchell definitely didn’t help the cause.  Although Kopitar was able to return ahead of schedule and play on Tuesday in Colorado, that good news was matched by some equally sour news, that fellow assistant captain Matt Greene was out indefinitely with what turned out to be a herniated disc in his back.

Moving forward without two of their veteran defensemen in Greene and Mitchell leaves the Kings’ blue line a bit suspect.  Now all eyes are on Andrew Bodnarchuk, Davis Drewiske, and Jake Muzzin to see if they can fill the empty spaces left in the defensive end.

Offensively the Kings have looked like the Kings of old with their lack of scoring pop, only scoring three goals in two games.  A bright spot can be seen in the promising play of Kyle Clifford, who leads the team with 3 points; but it is evident that to be effective as a team Los Angeles is going to need more players getting on the score sheet than their 4th line grinder, as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Dustin Brown are all waiting to get their first points of the season.

There seems to be a lot of question marks with the Kings early in this abbreviated season but one has to keep in mind that the last time we got to watch the Kings they finished the greatest playoff run in perhaps league history.  God forbid if they actually lose a couple games.

It remains to be seen if the Kings can get out of their apparent funk and have their championship experience override the Oilers and their massive supply of youth and top draft picks.  If they can leave Edmonton with two points, then operation repeat has the green light.  If not, than protect the women and children and get to the fallout shelter, we have a disaster on our hands.

Well the world is coming to an end…

(From NHL.com) He’ll definitely lead the team in hits. Teenage pop star Justin Bieber has been offered a contract by the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.

“Yes, we would play him if he was up for it,” coach Matt O’Dette told NHL.com. “I have seen video on him and he does have some hockey skills.”

According to the team’s website, “The Bakersfield Condors and Head Coach/Director of Hockey Operations Matt O’Dette announced [Tuesday] that they have offered hit-recording artist/RW Justin Bieber an amateur tryout contract for the upcoming 2012-13 season.”

Bieber, 18 years old, is described as having “soft hands, a good skating stride, and a devastating wrist shot capable of beating NHL caliber goaltenders.”

“He appears to be strong in shootouts as well,” the team’s website says.

“I would compare him to Mike Ribeiro, formerly of the Dallas Stars, whom I played with back in the AHL with Quebec,” O’Dette told NHL.com. “And Mike Ribeiro was a pretty good dancer, if I remember correctly.”

Bieber grew up in Stratford, Ontario, and has practiced with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Very rarely do you see this combination of skill and toughness,” O’Dette said on the team’s website. “We share a common Canadian heritage since we both hail from Ontario. I’ve scouted some video of him online skating with my hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I think he could provide some elusive speed up front for us. Plus, he’s a right-handed shot which we’ve been looking to add. I think if we paired him on a line with (Robby) Dee and (Peter) Boyd, we’d be tough to beat.”

Bieber’s upcoming tour will be in nearby Fresno, Calif., on Oct. 5.

“So he could swing by for a tryout. And we’d be happy to have him,” general manager Matthew Riley told NHL.com.

Bieber, whose musical hits include “Baby” and “Boyfriend,” has almost 28 million followers on Twitter. A Best New Artist nominee at the 2011 Grammy Awards, he is ranked as the world’s third most powerful celebrity by Forbes, trailing only Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey.

“Plus, his sick flow will fit right in with a Condors team known for their style,” the website says.

Do I really need to say anything about this?  First the NHL is days away from shooting themselves in the taint for the second time in the last decade and now one of the next best leagues is giving free tryouts to pre-pubescent douchebags.  We are embarking on dark days for hockey fans indeed.

Anyone could sit down and write a whiny blog, complaining about how bad Bieber’s music is, and how this whole charade is a massive publicity stunt for the Bakersfield Condors and the ECHL, but I am going to try and take a different stance on this.

Consider me on board with this move.  I’d absolutely love to see the Biebs give up his luxurious, superstar lifestyle to settle down and play in BAKERSFIELD, aka the (insert crude and innapropriate object here) of America.  I’ve driven through Bako several times in my days playing in Fresno, (I loved that NHL.com thought it necessary to plug Bieber’s upcoming Fresno show, because obviously their readers were desperate to know the Condors’ newest star would be performing next) and the place doesn’t necessarily scream high class.  I would give Bieber a week living in Bakersfield before he either a) falls into a deep dark state of depression, b) Selena Gomez dumps his sorry ass because the Bakersfield mall doesn’t cater to her expensive tastes, or c) the first day of training camp comes and some meathead from the CHL mops up the ice with his dead, lifeless body.  I’m pulling for all three.

PS- I’m betting the house on either a massive down year or a suicide from Mike Ribiero.  You can’t have someone who is employed to coach a professional hockey team seriously compare your skills with Justin Bieber and come back unscathed.  He might as well cut his losses and call it a career… But at least he has his superior dancing ability to fall back on.