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Daily Playoff Rundown - 6/3/10

by chewy 3. June 2010 08:50
 

4 Stars

#1 - Claude Giroux (F - PHI) - Giroux netted the game winner in overtime to get the Flyers back in the series.  He also assisted on 2 goals earlier in the game.  Giroux now has 9 goals and 20 points in 20 games.

 

#2 - Scott Hartnell (F - PHI) - Hartnell scored on a deflection and setup Briere with an impressive pass for a 2-point night.

 

#3 - Danny Briere (F - PHI) - Briere had a goal and an assist for the Flyers, putting him 2nd in league scoring.  He's making a late push for the Conn Smythe Trophy, as he's now the Flyers leading goal and point getter.

 

#4 - Patrcik Kane (F - CHI) - Kane ended his scoring draught with a break away goal in the third.  He also got an assist in the game.

 

Player Notes:

  • Antti Niemi played well, despite giving up 4 goals in the game.  He stopped 28 of 32 shots.
  • Michael Leighton was adequate in the contest, stopping 24 of 27 shots.
  • Andrew Ladd was back practicing with the team but did not suit up for the Hawks in game 3
  • Jonathan Toews had an assist last night, but still hasn't scored a goal in the series.  He remains the league leader in points with 27

 

Conn Smythe Update:

No reason to change the favorites just yet, but Briere is making a case if the Flyers can comeback to win:

1. Antti Niemi

2. Jonathan Toews

3. Danny Briere / Chris Pronger

Daily Playoff Rundown - 6/1/10

by chewy 1. June 2010 08:13
 

4 Stars

#1 - Antti Niemi (G - CHI) - Niemi only faced 3 shots in the first period, but had plenty of work to do through the final two.  He finished the game with 32 saves on 33 shots for the game 2 victory.

 

#2 - Ben Eager (F - CHI) - Eager scored the game winner in the second period on a top shelf shot.  It was his first goal of the playoffs.

 

#3 - Marian Hossa (F - CHI) - Hossa finally ended his goal-scoring draught.  He opened the game's scoring in the second period by chipping in a rebound.

 

#4 - Simon Gagne (F - PHI) - Gagne scored the lone goal for the Flyers in the third period and nearly tied the game up shortly after that.

 

 

Player Notes:

  • Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were both held off the scoreboard once again for Chicago.  It just highlights how deep this deep is to be able to go up 2-0 without their top two stars registering a point.
  • Michael Leighton had 1 bad minute in the game, but played very well in the other 59.  He finished the game with 24 saves on 26 shots.

 

Conn Smythe Watch:

No change in the favorites for the Conn Smythe after game 2.  Niemi remains the front runner, as Toews has yet to register a point in the series.  Here are the top 3 candidates at this point:

1. Antti Niemi

2. Jonathan Toews

3. Chris Pronger

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

by chewy 27. May 2010 07:24
 

In the next couple of weeks, a long Cup draught will finally come to an end.  So which one will it be?  At the start of the season, these two teams were picked by many to meet in the big dance; however, the road by which we got here wasn't at all foreseeable.  The Hawks took care of business, as expected, in the West, with little fanfare.  The Flyers have had a run for the ages that started on the last night of the regular season, took us through a historic Round 2 comeback, and finished with a smack down on the Cinderella Canadiens.

 

Goaltending:

This really is the story on both sides of the rink.  The Flyers entered the playoffs with the ageless stigma of questions in net.  Going back several decades, the team has never been able to nail down a solid #1 option good enough to match the talent in front of him.  Who could have seen then, that after 3 rounds of action, the Flyers have the 2 best goalies, statistically, in the playoffs.  Should Boucher manage to recover from his knee injuries in the next week, there's a possibility of a goaltending controversy late into the Final round (should Leighton falter).

 

As for the Hawks, Niemi has been everything they prayed for and more.  He comes into the final round as a favorite for the Conn Smythe trophy, thanks to his solid, consistent play throughout the first 3 rounds.  While the big names this year either didn't qualify or were ousted early in the playoffs, a handful of lesser knowns have stepped up to steal the spotlight.  Here are some impressive stats to consider among the 3 men protecting the pipes:

 

Name

Games

Wins

GAA

Save %

Shutouts

Antti Niemi

16

12 (1st)

2.33 (tied 2nd)

.921 (4th)

2 (2nd)

Michael Leighton

8

6

1.45 (1st)

.948 (1st)

3 (1st)

Brian Boucher

10

6

2.33 (tied 2nd)

.915

1

 

Given the performance of these men to this point, there is no reason to believe that either side holds an edge in this category.  Neither Niemi nor Leighton have ever played in a situation like this before, so there's little history to go on there.  Consider this a wash.

 

Offense:

Both teams can bring a variety of scoring to the table, with top end talent spilling down to the third line.  Neither team has to depend too much on just one or two guys to get it done, which is obviously what you need to make it this far.   In the regular season, the Hawks outscored the Flyers by a considerable margin, and that was without Hossa for a good portion of the year.  Then again, they seem to have advanced to the Finals without Hossa producing in the playoffs as well.   Eventually, he's bound to find the net, which means additional trouble for the Flyers.

 

In addition to Hossa, the Hawks bring two star forwards on one line with Toews and Kane.  Byfuglien has conjured up the ghosts of John Druce and Fernando Pisani to lead the team in goal scoring thus far.  Add to the mix offensive talent like Bolland,  Sharp, and Versteeg, and it's going to be tough for Philadelphia to shut them down, the way they were able to do against lesser opposition.

 

The Flyers are no slouch up front either, and they've shown the are willing to play hurt to win.  Despite going down with "season ending injuries", Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, and Ian Laperriere have all returned  and played significant roles.  Briere and Richards have been earning their big bucks by leading the team in scoring, but the most significant contributions may be those from youngsters Claude Giroux and Ville Leino.  Leino in particular has shown incredible skill on a team where he could easily get lost in the mix.

 

Tough to say who has the edge in this department, but every shift should provide adequate excitement for the fans.

 

Defense:

This will be the first major challenge that the Flyers have faced this postseason.  Up until now, their competition has been extremely hurting in terms of offensive firepower, which may go a long way towards explaining their incredible goals against average thus far.  After all, what is there to fear in the likes of New Jersey, Boston, and Montreal,  the 3 lowest scoring regular season teams in the East to qualify for the playoffs.  Those three team combined for 645 goals in the regular season.  Compare that to the 761 goals for scored by Chicago's opposition (Vancouver, Nashville, and San Jose).

 

The Flyers have taken a top-heavy approach through the first 3 rounds, relying almost exclusively on the top two pairings.  Pronger, Timmonen, Coburn and Carle have averaged close to 30 minutes a game a piece.  It remains to be seen if all four of these horses can be driven so hard for so long.  If they can maintain the pace, then Coach Laviolette is wise to ride his top guns.  If one or more start to sputter, they might start to expose a weakness.

 

Chicago easily matches the Flyers in terms of top end talent.  Duncan Keith, the likely front runner for this year's Norris Trophy, is showing the world what hockey players are made of after losing 7 teeth without missing a shift.  The Hawks are deeper on defense, and can generate more offense from the backend than the Flyers can.  Since they can trust their depth players a bit more, Keith, Seabrook, and Campbell can stay a little more rested, which should help them as the series goes on.  Advantage Chicago.

 

Outlook:

History shows that this is an endurance contest, and the team that ultimately goes on to win more often than not enjoys a short series along the way to heal  their wounds.  Chicago faced much better competition so far, and dispatched their opponents in fewer games.  After sweeping the Sharks, the Blackhawks should be at 100% going into game 1.  After having to battle back to win round 2 in 7 games, the Flyers did themselves a favor by making quick work of Montreal.  Going back to the Boston series, it's debatable which says more about the team: the fact that they have what it takes to come back in any series, or the fact that they ever went down 3-0 to such a weak opponent. 

 

Bottom line is that these teams match up quite well and for both squads, this will be their toughest opponent yet.  Forget the seeds, Philadelphia and Chicago have both proven they deserve to be here.  Ultimately, Chicago's defense will most likely outlast the big four from Philly, giving the Hawks their first title since 1961, thus making the Toronto Maple Leafs the new New York Rangers.

 

Chicago in 6.

Conn Smythe Favorites - Finals Preview

by chewy 26. May 2010 13:56
 

After two rounds of play, the playoffs gave us some surprising candidates at the top of the list (Halak, Cammalleri, Pavelski).  Now that we're down to 2 teams, the candidates are more of the expected variety for each team.  The one unknown factor here, is how do you deal with Philly's goaltending situation?  If Leighton rattles off 3 more shutouts, is it conceivable to give the award to a player who missed the first half of the playoffs?  Since we're a long way from that playing out, here are the top candidates through the first 3 rounds of action, along with what will have to play out for them to get the prize:

 

1. Antti Niemi

Prior to the playoffs, there was a general sentiment in the hockey world that goaltending would be the one potential weak link for the Hawks.  I don't understand where that was coming from, aside from his rookie status, as Niemi was solid in net throughout the regular season, and had to fight through the politics of Huet's big contract to earn the #1 job.  Through 3 rounds of play, the cynics have started to fade.  Niemi has not only avoided being the weak link, he has actually been the team's greatest strength.  Through 3 rounds of play 16 games, he has a 2.33 GAA, (tying him with Philly Goalie Option 1, Brian Boucher), and placing him 2nd only to Philly Goalie Option 2, Michael Leighton.)  His .921 save percentage and 2 shutouts are also quality numbers, rookie or not.

 

What it will take:

The Hawks are getting scoring up and down their roster, which somewhat diminishes the role of any one of their stellar forwards.  If the Hawks go the distance, and he keeps his GAA to under 2.5 for the series, he's the most logical choice for the award.

 

2. Jonathan Toews

Toews has done it all for Chicago.  His solid play in all corners of the rink is only complemented by the fact that he leads all scorers this postseason with 26 points.  He also leads all playoff scorers with 5 power play goals.  He's still a far cry away from the 36 points that Malkin put up last season, but going back to 1996, the leading scorer in the playoffs before Malkin never topped 27.  Toews should join that company by the end of game one with the streak he's had.

 

What it will take:

Obviously, it will probably require a Chicago win for Toews to be considered.  He'll have to keep up a good point per game pace to prove his worth over his goaltender.  If Niemi's numbers start to slide and Toews can keep up the pace, Toews should pick up the prize.

 

3. Mike Richards

With a strong surge in the last few games of round 3, Richards now finds himself alone in second place with 21 points in 17 games.  He's been the emotional catalyst for their run this season, and has came through with key goals and assists at every turn.

 

What it will take:

If the Flyers win the Cup and Richards puts in a couple more points, he should be the man.  Even if Briere ultimately outscores him, it will have to be by a number of points to convince the jury that he was more valuable to the Flyers' fortunes than their captain.

 

4. Chris Pronger

It has become more common recently for the award to go to a defenseman.  Three of the last 9 have been awarded to a blueliner.  Perhaps the only difference is that for all three (Niedermeyer, Lidstrom, Stevens), those guys were also the captain of their team.  Although he doesn't officially wear the 'C' in Philadelphia, nobody can question the leadership he has brought to the Flyers.  After all, this isn't the first time Pronger has led an underdog team to the Finals in the past 5 years.    In terms of numbers, Pronger leads all defensemen in the playoffs with 4 goals and 14 points.  He's also been playing close to 30 minutes a night.

 

What it will take:

If the Flyers win and Pronger is in on a game winner or two, the case can certainly be made for him over Richards.  Also, if the points dry up for Richards, look for the Pronger talk to heat up as the favorite.

 

 

While these top 4 will merit most of the attention, here a few other names who could come into play if they step it up in the Finals, (or keep up their pace from Round 3).

 

 

5. Patrick Kane

Kane enters the finals as the 3rd highest scorer with 20 points in 16 games.  He's tied with Toews in goals, but trails his captain by 6 assists.  Beyond the scoresheet, Kane hasn't been as valuable to the overall success of his team as Toews, so he would have to pull off some magic in the final round to win the award.

 

6. Dustin Byfuglien

Although he currently sits in 28th position among playoff scorers in points, his contributions in terms of goalscoring make him a darkhorse candidate.  His 8 goals, including 3 game winners in Round 3, are tops for the Hawks.  If he can repeat that magic in Round 4, his name will certainly enter the conversation.

 

7. Danny Briere

Briere went on a nice, long point streak and currently sits 6th in scoring with 18 points in 17 games.  He also enters the finals as the player with the most goals, (second overall only to Cammalleri, who has gone home).  Briere will have to outscore Richards by a wide margin to earn the honors.

 

8. Michael Leighton

Even if Leighton can keep his miraculous playoff numbers rolling, it's a longshot that the award could go to a guy who missed the first round and a half.  And it's not as if he rescued the team from poor goaltending, as Brian Boucher was leading all goalies at the time of his untimely injuries.  Nonetheless, his play has been so spectacular, that it would be a crime not to include him on the list.

 

 

As for predictions, I say that ultimately, the Flyers will put a few more pucks past Niemi than the teams in the West managed to do.  Jonathan Toews will continue to step up his play and lead his team to the Cup and the Conn Smythe.

Daily Playoff Rundown - 5/25/10

by chewy 25. May 2010 08:22
 

Midnight has struck and it's time for Cinderella to give back her pretty dress.  

 

4 Stars

#1 - Mike Richards (F - PHI) - Richards continues to lead the charge for the Flyers, this time scoring a highlight  goal and two assists in the game 5 victory.  Richards has climbed into 2nd place in playoff scoring and is the leading Conn Smythe candidate for Philly.

 

#2 - Jeff Carter (F - PHI) - In Carter's 2nd game back, he showed no signs of rust, scoring two goals for the Flyers on 2 shots.

 

#3 - Michael Leighton (G - PHI) - Leighton stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced for the win, as he continues his amazing run in net for the Flyers.

 

#4 - Scott Gomez (F - MON) - Gomez gave Canadiens fans some late game hope, as he scored a nice goal in the third period to pull the game within 1.  He also had an assist earlier in the game.

 

Injury Update:

  • Duncan Keith is probable for game 1 of the finals on Saturday night after losing some teeth
  • Andrew Ladd is doubtful for the opening contest after leaving game 4

 

Player Notes:

  • Brian Gionta had a goal and an assist, along with 7 shots on net for Montreal
  • Jaroslav Halak ends his amazing playoff run with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save %, but astonishingly enough, had no shutouts.

 

The Finals begin on Saturday night in Chicago.  Check back tomorrow for our Conn Smythe candidates update and on Thursday for a preview of the finals.

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