The Rookie Goalie

Matt Murray is 22 years old. Most 22 year olds are maybe just finding their careers, perhaps thinking about starting a family, probably on their fourth or fifth job in their lifetime. He now has hockey’s greatest prize staring him in the face.
He worked his way into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup due to a concussion to top goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury and an injury to backup Jeff Zatkoff. Matt Murray would never look back.
With numbers like a 2.09 Goals Against Average, a .925 save percentage, one shutout, and 14 wins, it will be hard not to hand over the Conn Smythe Trophy to this extremely talented young man. He will probably have to beat out Sidney Crosby for the award but there are worse things than coming in second to the world’s best player.
There have been numerous instances when Murray has come up huge for the Penguins, but the most striking quality is his consistency. He has not had to “stand on his head” for any games, which is also a testament to the solid team in front of him, and he has not had to make “spectacular” saves.
Ten of the Penguins last eleven wins have come by one goal. This means that their opponents are throwing everything they have at Murray in the last 3 or four minutes. In every one of those games Matt Murray has stood his ground by simply doing what he does best: playing consistent.
Murray has received tons of praise from some of the best of the best in goaltenders. Martin Gerber, the goaltender who got the Carolina Hurricanes to the playoffs before ceding to rookie goalie Cam Ward, had this to say: “He didn’t worry about what was going on around him, he’d just go play and stay calm, like it was something he had done his whole life.”
More praise from Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild: “The thing that has been most impressive to me has been the way he has handled some very tough situations.” Dubnyk was referring two situations: the tying goal and eventual overtime goal for the loss in Game 3 which Murray followed by winning Game 4, and losing his starting job to Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final only to win Games 6 and 7.
Matt Murray is at the forefront of joining some very elite company. There have only been four rookie goaltenders who have led their teams to the Stanley Cup. Murray is on the verge of joining the names Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Cam Ward, and Antti Niemi as rookie goaltenders to lead their team to a Stanley Cup. That’s four names out of 123 years of the Stanley Cup being awarded.

Even though Matt Murray is headed toward the most important game of his young life, he is doing the same things he is doing every other time he straps on his pads. That is the essence of a great goaltender. No changes. Same repetitions. Same meals. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if it is Game 7 against the Toronto Marlies or Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Consistency matters.

Sidney Crosby: Not Scoring But Leading

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the first two games in the Stanley Cup Final. Some people look to the goaltender as the reason for winning and while Matt Murray is playing well, their captain, Sidney Crosby, is playing better.
Although he hasn’t scored a goal yet, he has been instrumental in his team’s success so far against the San Jose Sharks.
Crosby is generating all kinds of scoring chances, especially with a devastating backhand, for himself and his teammates. Whether it is a perfectly placed backhanded, cross ice pass in Game 1 or winning the draw for the overtime winner in Game 2, Crosby is making the Sharks work hard to keep him off the scoresheet.
With the defence of San Jose occupied with Crosby making great plays all the time, the other players are able to generate a ridiculous number of shots on goal every game. The HBK line of Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel are the most obvious benefactors of not having to face to opposing teams top defences, including the Sharks. This line has generated 50 points so far and show no signs of slowing down.
Speaking of the overtime winning goal scored by rookie Conor Sheary and assisted by Kris Letang, it has become known that Crosby orchestrated the play from the beginning. This does not simply mean “i’m gonna win the faceoff and then you pass and you shoot.” Crosby switched the defencemen to get the puck to Letang, switched the forwards for Sheary to be on the boards, then told him to find a sweet spot in the middle of the ice. Crosby was also right in front of the net when the puck went in, meaning he knew the play and was there in case of a rebound.
Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals was game number 100 for the Penguins this year. That is a lot of hockey and on off-days most players take the day to rest. Guess who was in the rink practising one-timers and faceoffs after game 99? Crosby was one of six players on the ice for the optional practise with only fourth liner Eric Fehr to have also played the night before.
Almost everyone who knows Sidney Crosby has said that his work ethic is second to none. Recently, his sister and assistant coach Rick Tocchet have commented that he is always doing something to stay sharp. Whether it is working out in the gym, practising on the ice after game number 99, or something as simple as eating right and going to bed early, Crosby is always looking to better his game. To get that little extra edge.

This little things translate into big game plays like the play in the Game 2 overtime. It take lots of practise, patience, and dedication to make yourself one of the best players on the planet. Sidney Crosby does these little things all the time and that is why he has lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to two wins away from the Stanley Cup.

Following The NHL Playoffs From Abroad

Living abroad for over two years now, I have learned one definite, undeniable, concrete fact: most of the world likes soccer.
I like soccer too, however, in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs I need to watch the Game 6’s and especially the Game 7’s (not to mention Games 1,2,3,4, and 5.) For the most part, the only way for the world outside of North America to watch the Playoffs is on the internet.
This is a problem because the Stanley Cup Playoffs should be enjoyed in bars and restaurants with as many people as possible, just like any sport. Hockey is the fastest game on the planet and is growing in popularity every day, even gaining on soccer.
One great thing is that restaurants and bars around the world are starting to play more playoff hockey games on their televisions than ever before (provided the Champions League soccer games aren’t on.)
Finally these businesses are starting to realize the fan base that hockey can draw and the commercial successes that comes with it.
Chile, where I live, is the farthest point on the globe from the hockey meccas of Canada, the United States, or even Russia or the Czech Republic. Still, in some of the bars here there are people cheering on their favourite team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite probably never having visited the city where that team is based. In the world of satellite television, such a thing is not necessary.
The feeling is what matters. The adrenaline that comes when that all-important goal is scored.
Many central and South American countries that don’t even have snow, let alone ice, is a great example of how sports (hockey in particular) can bring people from all different cultures together to enjoy themselves. My sister, for example, lives in the jungles of Panama and still pesters me to get the end results of games to discuss them with her friends because they can’t watch live playoff hockey games! Hockey is coming to these parts of the world but it is not quite there yet.
The teams still standing in the playoffs are playing a phenomenally high level of hockey. They are physical yet skilled, tough defensively yet high scoring, and precise yet entertaining. Entertaining in any country and any language.
These three teams: the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the San Jose Sharks, are playing the best hockey of the year, as well they should be. In knocking off all the favourites, (the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings,the Washington Capitals, and the New York Islanders) these teams are now deservedly the best of the best.
Many hockey fans around the world have a favorite team. Usually, loyalty to a team springs from where a person resides, where they were born, or a family loyalty. This is a time honored tradition. Even the ones who break the mold and leave their hometowns to see the world still want to cheer on their team at hockey’s most important time of the year.
At a young age, a lot of people choose their teams for life. Whether you live in Montreal and cheer for Boston because your dad did, or if you had to move from Calgary to Minnesota for a job, people still cheer for the team they grew up with. Even when getting scorned for wearing the other team’s jersey at the local bar, people will cheer for the team they want to cheer for.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are different from the regular season, and especially year to year. This year is more downtrodden than others for hockey fans if you are a Canadian.
There are no Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 46 years, but there is still plenty for Canadians to cheer for.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the best player on the planet in Sidney Crosby, from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. The San Jose Sharks have long-time leaders Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Tampa Bay has Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin. All Canadians.

This article is meant to articulate that even if your hometown team (or even home country) is no longer playing playoff hockey, there are plenty of reasons to continue to watch the rest of these amazing Stanley Cup playoff games.

Should Playoffs Be Included in Front Office Awards?

The nominees for all the awards to be handed out in Las Vegas on June 22 have all been announced, with the final one for General Manager of the Year coming out at the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are plenty of awards for players: the Hart, the Messier Leadership Award, the Lady Byng, the Foundation Award, the Calder, the Masterson, the Norris, the Selke, and the Vezina. Not to mention the Art Ross and the William Jennings trophies for top goal scorer and top goaltenders, respectively. Eleven trophies in all.
Then there are two awards for the front office personnel who, arguably, have just as much to do with their team’s success as the players. The Jack Adams trophy is awarded to the coach who “contributed the most to his team’s success.” The other is simply the GM of the Year award which is voted on by all 30 General Managers, a panel of NHL Executives, and media members.
Neither of those definitions say that the award is specifically for the regular season like the other awards. However, these were both voted on before the Conference Finals even start. Ask any of the finalists for these two awards if they would rather finish first in the regular season and get a banner, or finish eighth in the season and have their name on the Stanley Cup.
That choice is pretty clear and that is why the Playoffs should be included in the voting process.
The finalists for the GM of the year are Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals, and JIm Nill of the Dallas Stars. Granted, during the regular season all these men did a fantastic job of putting together teams to win their conferences and many, many games. But there is only one man left in the playoffs now.
What about Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have made it to the Eastern Conference Final without his two top players in Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos? He built a depth team that could survive the playoff storm.
The award for coach of the year, the Jack Adams, will be either Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals, Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers, or Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars. Again, all amazing accomplishments in the regular season but they are all playing golf now while the other coaches are still rolling their lines, and watching game video.
Also, there is another award given to players just for the playoffs, the Conn Smythe trophy. This is given to the player “judged most valuable to his team during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
Perhaps there should be an award for, at least Coach of the Playoffs, and maybe General Manager of Playoffs too. Certainly a case could be made for the coach who most contributes to their team’s success in the playoffs. As well, a General Manager who puts together the best team to make it all the way to hockey’s Holy Grail should deserve more recognition to include the playoffs.

At the very least they could push the voting process back another round to see which coaches and GM’s make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Complete Team

The NHL Playoffs are down to four teams and the San Jose Sharks will have a tough challenge facing the St. Louis Blues, who just bested the ‘mighty’ Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
This is because each of these teams uses their entire roster to win these arduous games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals and now face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won their series against the New York Islanders despite being without their top defenceman in Victor Hedman for most of the series, as well as scoring machine Steven Stamkos.
Most teams would have floundered without their top two players (goaltender Ben Bishop notwithstanding), but supporting players in the Eastern Conference have made a huge impact on their teams successes in these playoffs.
Sidney Crosby was held to two assists in the round against the Washington Capitals and his team advanced. On the other side was Alex Ovechkin who was largely held in check for the series as well, despite being a 50 goal scorer for the seventh time.
Ovechkin tried his best to score as many goals as possible but it was not enough. The only way to get to the Stanley Cup Finals is to have each and every player doing their job every night, no matter how small a role they play. For example, the Penguins second line of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, and Nick Bonino led the way for their team in the deciding sixth game, scoring all four goals.
On the other side of the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning had an easier time with the New York Islanders with a convincing 4-1 series victory. Ben Bishop had a shut-out and was the driving force behind the Lightning but again, secondary scoring was a key to their success.
The Penguins will advance if they can solve Bishop and the Lightning will advance if they can solve Matt Murray (and keep Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in check) but the same, hard checking, supporting players will be the difference in the series once again.
Currently, in the Western Conference, the superstars that are paid for the job the they are supposed to do, have done so. Players such as Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns are all at the top of the playoff scoring race. However, they will be the first to say that their scoring accomplishments come on the backs of their teammates. Going to a seventh game (or any deciding game) in any round of the NHL Playoffs means that the entire team has played their hearts out for their hockey brethren.
The superstars of all the respective teams will eventually do what they do best, which is playing the game they were born to play at the highest level. There is a reason they are at the top of the hockey universe.
The rest of the team is what makes a team great. The second and third lines can do more damage to an opposing team in the playoffs than the first line ever will. They can have a devastating psychological, physical, and emotional impact on the opposition that the will require the coaches to have to re-evaluate their defensive game plan. To a coach, this is a very difficult task, maybe the hardest.
Whether the Sharks or the Predators or the Blues come out on top of the Western Conference, they will have a tough test against the winner of the Penguins and LIghtning series.
It will take an entire team effort and anyone can become the hero.

Playoff hockey. Gotta love it.

Too Good, Too Early

It is unfortunate that the Pittsburgh Penguins have to play the Washington Capitals in only the second round.
These two teams have had, by far, been the most entertaining and evenly matched series in the NHL Playoffs and deserved to play each other in the Eastern Conference finals and the winner playing for the Cup.
The Penguins are up 3 games to 1 in the series but those numbers have little to do with the absolutely amazing hockey being played between these teams. Also, if it was not for a 47 save performance from Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, this series would be tied. These two powerhouses have played remarkably evenly matched hockey as the scores can attest:
Game 1: Washington 4, Pittsburgh 3 (Overtime)
Game 2: Pittsburgh 2, Washington 1
Game 3: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2
Game 4: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (Overtime)
Both Games 2 and 3 each had two goals scored in the third period, just to add to the already high level of excitement.
These two teams have been fierce rivals for the past ten years when the great turnaround for both teams happened by obtaining the number one pick in the draft. After the Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004 and Pittsburgh grabbed Sidney Crosby in 2005, the race was on. Everyone knows how this story plays out but another similarity in this playoff series is how both these franchise cornerstones are being held off the scoresheet. Sure, they play tough and smart and generate all kinds of tough defensive match ups, but that is not what these two are really on the ice for. Ovechkin has 3 points in 4 games, but with 2 coming in Game 3 when the Capitals down 3-0 and Alex firing anything he touched at the net. Not exactly the timing you want from your best player. Crosby had one point in Game 4. His first of the series. Ouch..
So if your two best players on their respective teams are not contributing, guess what else these two teams have in common? The level of play from supporting players have carried both these teams. The two teams are averaging 5 goals per game so it is not like the goaltenders are standing on their heads every game (more later), so the scoring is coming from the guys who have favorable defensive match ups, aka not the top defensive pairings. The fact that these ‘secondary’ players are coming through for their teams when their top players get shut down is what having a great team is all about.
The shots are another example of Pittsburgh and Washington being evenly matched. Games 1 and 2 were dominated by Pittsburgh in the shots department but Washington roared back in the third game with 49 shots before evening out in game 4 with the shots 36-33 in favor of Washington. While the shots per game for each team has gone up and down, the overall total is 144-136 for the series in favor of Washington. An eight shot difference over 4 games is exactly what you would expect for a great series.
The goaltending in this series has been great as usual, just not all the time. Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby for Washington and Matt Murray for Pittsburgh have high save percentages and low goals against averages. This series has not really been about goaltending overall except for game 3 with Murray’s 47 save performance and Holtby’s 0.870 save percentage. However, there are still games ahead and these goaltenders will have to be at their very best to get to the next round.
From the head office on down, both franchises have done an admirable job building in keeping competitive teams over the years. Whichever of these two great teams comes out on top of this series, they deserve to go as far as possible.

East vs West

What is it about the Eastern Conference lately? They always have high scoring, talented, highlight reel teams, but can’t put in the final effort over the Western Conference to go all the way.
The evidence is the gritty, hard-nosed hockey that the Western Conference Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings played to win five of the last six Stanley Cups, with the Tim Thomas backed Boston Bruins narrowly beating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 as the exception.
The Western Conference seems to have found a way to get through the blood, sweat, tears and grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year feels the same.
The best team in the NHL in terms of points, the Washington Capitals, nearly let their series with the Philadelphia Flyers slip away. Mainly because of a simple goaltender change. If the Capitals are the dominating team that they are supposed to be, they would have decimated the Flyers as soon as they felt the rocking vending machine start to tip over. But they didn’t. They relied on their hot goaltender, which has to be done from time to time but not for the number one seed to squeak by the number eight seed. Ovechkin firing slap shots won’t get the Capitals the hardest trophy in professional sports to win, as previous years have proven.
On the other side of the bracket, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a much more dominating series against a much better team, the New York Rangers. With two rookie goaltenders, the same can be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but their games were much closer than the final result of the series indicates.
On the Western Conference side the teams seem to be playing full on playoff hockey. No holds barred, all the way to the finish seems to be the mantra of all the teams in the West. The Dallas Stars had some difficulty (similar to the Capitals) with the Minnesota Wild but they stayed their course that made them the highest scoring team in the regular season. They scored the goals that they have been scoring all year.They will continue to score goals until one of the other Western Conference team’s defence stops them. Defence and goaltending is the key.
That being said, the hottest team in the West is the San Jose Sharks and if the Stars run into them in the Western Finals they will need more than just a lot of shots on goal. Even now against the St. Louis Blues they will be in tough against a team that just beat the defending Stanley Cup champions and the league’s leading scorer in Patrick Kane.
But back to the Sharks, (who are arguably the best in the West with Pittsburgh being the best in the East so far) and the reasons they are clicking on all levels right now. They are the epitome of why the teams in the West have won more Stanley Cups in recent years. Great goaltending and defense when the game is on the line is the key to advancing. The Sharks didn’t do that the past few seasons but it looks like they have put those demons to rest.
The Kings scored only 11 goals in the series with the Sharks blocking 15 shots in Game 1, 28 in Game 2, 18 in Game 3, 25 in Game 4, and 29 in Game 5. When you see numbers like those going in an upward trend, one can surmise that the team is realizing how to win playoff hockey games. The Sharks are realizing this. One team all the time. No matter what the consequences.
Wayne Gretzky said after losing to the New York Islanders in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals that he felt his Edmonton Oilers could play another series, but when walking by the winning Islanders dressing room there was no partying or jubilation from them. They were so worn out from the grind of winning the Stanley Cup they could barely stand. The Oilers knew then what it would take to win the Cup and did it the following year.

These are the little things (read: massive things) that make the difference between raising the Stanley Cup banner and raising the Conference Championship banner next year. The remaining Western Conference teams seem to have the sand to make it all the way. Will the Eastern teams step up?

The Next Guy

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different brand of hockey. Almost a different sport. The intensity that goes into every single shift is the maximum amount that a player can give. The goaltender is zoned in for every single second the puck is in play. The coaches are constantly aware of every single player on the ice and how they plan to attack or defend every single shift because if you make one mistake, you make this difficult journey all the more arduous. One of the more difficult choices a coach has to make is which goaltender to start a game after losing momentum. Sometimes there is no choice, such as when there is an injury, but more often than not, there is the mind numbing conundrum of starting your backup goaltender in order to rejuvenate the team in front of him.
Injury is the reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins had to start third string goaltender Jeff Zatkoff in his playoff debut for games 1 and 2. Marc-Andre Fleury and backup Matt Murray were both out but the Penguins managed to give Zatkoff his first win. In game 3 coach Mike Sullivan had the opportunity to replace Zatkoff, after a loss in game 2, with Murray. Murray was amazing at the end of the regular season after Fleury was concussed, only to sustain an upper body injury on April 9. By re-instating Murray the Penguins played a solid, bounce-back game, only allowing 17 shots and 1 goal while scoring 3 goals on 31 shots.
The Washington Capitals were steamrolling the Philadelphia Flyers for the first three games, as many had expected, so this goaltender change was not such a hard decision for Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. Steve Mason was benched for game 4 in favor of Michal Neuvirth and for good reason after a 6-1 loss and the 101 foot gaffe the previous game. Neuvirth came in and made 31 saves to get the Flyers a 2-1 win, their first of the series. Only time will tell if the Neuvirth can put the Flyers on his back and take down the best team in the league.
Again, changing goaltenders inspired the team in front of them to play a supercharged game to get back in the series. This time it was the Detroit Red Wings who found themselves in a 2-0 series hole and decided to put in Petr Mrazek after Jimmy Howard allowed 7 goals on 64 shots in the previous 2 games. The Red Wings only allowed 16 shots on Mrazek to give him the shut out and scored two goals on 30 shots. He played well in game 4, stopping 30 shots but the Red Wings fell 3-2 after a powerplay goal with 2:32 left in the third. Allowing 3 goals in two games will pretty much guarantee a third straight start for game 5.
If you need more examples of a team playing hard with a new goaltender in net, here they are:
After losing both home games 3-2, Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks decided to play Frederik Andersen instead of John Gibson. The result: a 27 save shutout and a 3-0 win for the Ducks.
The high-scoring Dallas Stars probably didn’t need to replace Kari Lehtonen with Antti Niemi but perhaps they just decided to give Lehtonen the night off after a 5-3 loss in game 3. The move worked. The Stars won 3-2 with Niemi making 28 saves and giving the Stars a 3-1 series lead.

Whether due to injury, need of inspiration, or because of poor play, having a reliable backup goaltender apparently is a huge part of winning games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next problem for the coaches is when, or if, to go back to the goaltender that got you there.

The ‘X-Factor’ in the First Round Matchups

The playoffs start on Wednesday April 13th with three series, followed by four on Thursday, and the Ducks and the Predators finally starting on Friday. That means it’s time for any and all to weigh in on who they think is going to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
While this article will give predictions for the winners of each round, it will also discuss the ‘X-Factor’, or the player who will make the most difference, for each team.
Washington vs Philadelphia
Capitals – With many previous playoff failures, though not necessarily his fault, Alex Ovechkin is the leader and captain of this team and ultimately the success, or lack thereof, of this team is squarely on his shoulders. He will have the weight of the world on his shoulders for the entirety of the playoffs, right up until the final buzzer sounds.
Flyers – Sean Couturier is a big, strong center that will be charged with playing an extremely large roll. His task will be to try to limit the line of Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom to as few points as possible. Not an easy task.
Washington in 5
Florida vs New York Islanders
Panthers – Jaromir Jagr, the ageless wonder, will have to see if he can take his 44 year old body through the grind of a potentially long playoff run. He will have to keep up his great play from the regular season where he led the Panthers with 66 points.
Islanders – Top defenceman Travis Hamonic has been out since March 31 but has practised and should be ready to go. With number one goalie Jaroslav Halak out for the first round, the Islanders will need all the defensive help they can get.
Florida in 6
Pittsburgh vs New York Rangers
Penguins – Marc-Andre Fleury is supposedly ready to go for game 1 after sustaining his second concussion of the season on March 31. He is obviously their backbone on the defensive side and has a ton of playoff experience. The Penguins will need him healthy.
Rangers – Again, the goalie is the story if the Rangers want to win. Henrik Lundqvist is a world class goalie that is going to have to steal some games from the third highest scoring team in the league. The Rangers also have some key injuries on defence and their offence isn’t scoring nearly at the rate the Penguins are.
Pittsburgh in 6
Tampa Bay vs Detroit
Lightning – Ben Bishop will have to steal a few (maybe all) of the games for the Lightning if they want to win. With Stamkos out, the rest of the team will have to find a way to replace a lot of goals and if they can’t do it, then it will be up to Bishop.
Red Wings – Dylan Larkin has had an outstanding year for the Red Wings and led the team with 23 goals. He will need to score on Ben Bishop for the Red Wings to have a chance.
Tampa Bay in 7
Dallas vs Minnesota
Stars – Tyler Seguin will have to see if he can return to his regular season form after suffering an achilles injury and missing the final 10 games. However, he scored 73 points in his 72 regular season games, including 33 goals.
Minnesota – The Wild limped into the playoffs with losses in their final five games and two of their best forwards injured. This will leave most of the weight on goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s shoulders. He will have his hands full against the NHL’s highest scoring team.
Dallas in 5
Anaheim vs Nashville
Ducks – Ryan Getzlaf is in the same boat as Alex Ovechkin in that he is the captain of a team that is, and has been, expected to win it all. After Anaheim’s slow start they roared back to the top of the standings and are primed for a long run with the best powerplay and penalty kill in the league.
Predators – One of the best defencemen in the league for many years has been Shea Weber and he will have a huge workload with the big, strong forwards in Anaheim. Plus he will have to handle the Ducks’ top-ranked powerplay.
Anaheim in 6
St. Louis vs Chicago
Blues – Alexander Steen had 52 points in 67 games this season but only 17 goals. The Blues need secondary scoring behind Vladimir Tarasenko and will need more than Steen’s 6 playoff goals in 31 games.
Blackhawks – Corey Crawford was (is?) having a Vezina trophy season before being injured for 11 games at the end of the season, only to come back for the last game and allow five goals. With Duncan Keith out for game 1 and a depleted defence already, he needs to shake off the rust and play like he, and everyone else, knows he can.
Chicago in 7
Los Angeles vs San Jose
Kings – The Kings playoff success has been largely dependant on the play of goalie Jonathan Quick. If the Kings can put up just a few goals per game than they can usually rely on Quick to close it out. However, the Kings were outscored 12-4 in third periods during a 7 game stretch in late March, early April so they might need Quick even more this year.
Sharks – At the other end of the ice will be goalie Martin Jones, who has never started a playoff game and will be doing so against his former team. If Jones can keep his wits about him then the Sharks will have the confidence to execute their high scoring offence in front of him.

Los Angeles in 7

The Conn Smythe Trophy

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs right around the corner and almost all the playoff spots secure, save for the Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit saga, everyone wants to make predictions on how far their favorite team will go. While it is true that it takes an entire team effort to win the Stanley Cup there is always one (sometimes more) player that stands out over the course of two gruelling months of playoff hockey.
The Conn Smythe Trophy is given to the player who is judged to be most valuable to their team during the entire course of the playoffs. This is different from the other three major sports in North America (the MLB, NFL, and NBA) which give out their awards based on the performance of the player in the final series alone. While performing well in the last series to win it all is very important, the Conn Smythe Trophy recognizes not only the final 4 wins but also the other 12 that had to happen to get to the finals. Sometimes, most times, these previous wins are just as hard or harder to achieve because teams are playing their division or conference rivals; teams that they have played against many times in the regular season and teams that know how to strategize against your team. This article will examine some of the possible Conn Smythe Trophy candidates if their teams get all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Alex Ovechkin/Braden Holtby – Let’s start with the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals and their stars. The Capitals are hoping for it all this year and they have every reason to believe they can do it. They are well clear of any other team in terms of regular season points, they have the top goal scorer in the league in Ovechkin with 47 goals so far, and the league leader in wins for a goaltender with Braden Holtby’s 47. If Ovechkin can keep up his torrid goal scoring pace into the playoffs there is no reason why he shouldn’t be the playoffs MVP. If the Capitals end up winning the Cup then it will probably have something to do with goaltender Braden Holtby stealing a few games but otherwise playing solid the way he has been all season. The Conn Smythe Trophy might be a coin flip if the Capitals win the Stanley Cup.
Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane – The Chicago Blackhawks seem to be in contention for a Cup every year now and it is in no small way due to their best forwards. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have lead this team (and the league in Kane’s case) in points for the last few years and especially in the playoffs. Defenceman Duncan Keith is the reigning Conn Smythe winner but his recent suspension might hinder the perception of being the most valuable. Jonathan Toews is arguably the best captain in the NHL right now and if the Blackhawks reach the Stanley Cup finals it will probably be on their captain’s back, scoring or not. Patrick Kane is the Western Conference’s answer to Ovechkin and if the two of them end up battling it out for the Conn Smythe Trophy it should be very fun to watch.

Of course anything can happen in the playoffs and there are any number of players and goaltenders that can get struck by lightning and have an amazing run to the Finals. There are also the superstars on every team that have the potential to win games all on their own. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Drew Doughty, Jamie Benn, Alexander Steen, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf all have the skill and experience to lead their teams the Holy Grail of hockey and a chance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.