Announcement: I was 4-for-4 in my NHL Playoffs Western Conference predictions. The teams that have moved on include the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, and San Jose Sharks.
After the whirlwind of excitement that was the NHL Playoffs Western Conference quarterfinals round, which included an unbelievable game 7 between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks, we’re set with the semi-finals match-ups beginning tonight with…
The Western Conference probably had the most exciting close to the regular season in terms of undecided NHL playoff implications. The field is tight. However, the field is led by this year’s runaway powerhouse – the Vancouver Canucks. Here’s the quick-and-dirty look at the Western Conference Round 1 match-ups for the 2011 NHL Playoffs.
#1 Seed Vancouver hosting the #8 Seed Chicago Blackhawks
While the defending Stanley Cup Champions from 2010, this team is a far cry from the Chicago Blackhawks from last year. And, they’re about to insert their collective heads into hockey’s equivalent of a wood chipper in the Vancouver Canucks. Wholesale changes have doomed the Blackhawks to a likely quick and embarrassing exit from this round of the playoffs. Long gone are Stanley Cup impact players including Annti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, and Andrew Ladd. You can’t jettison that many players from a Stanley Cup crew and expect to make your way back there the following year.
Vancouver was like a runaway freight train en route to the President’s Trophy for 2011 for the best record in the entire NHL with 56 wins. The Canucks don’t appear to have a single “chink” in their proverbial armor. Best in scoring, best in defense, best powerplay. They would have scored the “quadrifecta” if not for finishing a mere third in penalty-killing. If this isn’t an embarrassing broom-fest, I’ll be shocked.
More outdoor hockey please. Such is the plan of the NHL after the success of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins/Buffalo Sabres outdoor game on New Year’s Day. The event proved to be one of the more popular ideas put on by the NHL since their return from their self-imposed near-death sentence, if not before.
Naturally, Gary Betman and company want to capitalize on NHL’s version of the Ice Bowl and feature more outdoor shenanigans. This time the players are Wrigley Field, the Chicago Blackhawks and the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Detroit Red Wings. While the crowd for the second American NHL Ice Bowl probably won’t surpass Ralph Wilson’s almost-72,000 from last year, you can expect the Chicago/Wrigley Field faithful to be out in absolute force.
It should also be noted Wrigley can hold 41,000-plus Cubs fans and will, in all likelihood, be expanded for the NHL. While I’ve never claimed to be a hockey expert, more outdoor hockey can only be a good thing for the NHL. I watched a little bit of the Pens/Sabres game and you could tell the crowd was having a blast. Any time the fan experience is improved, especially for a sport that’s trying to regain a status it once had, it has to be deemed a good idea.
Some fans that didn’t get to make the trip to Pittsburgh to watch their Detroit Red Wings win another Stanley Cup enjoyed the game courtesy of JoeVision at Joe Louis Arena. Needless to say, they enjoyed the result.
I’m digging the homemade Cups. And hey, at least the Detroit fans didn’t tear the city apart while celebrating their victory. The victory parade is scheduled for tomorrow between 11 and 11:30.
This is how it was supposed to be. Detroit, having not clinched a playoff series at home during their run for the Cup, had to secure their right to raise it by winning in Pittsburgh. With the Red Wings, that’s par for the course. And win, they did. After beating Pittsburgh 3-2 (and almost giving the Pens another shot at life late in the third quarter), the Detroit Red Wings are your NHL Stanley Cup Champions. It was their fourth cup in eleven years and their eleventh overall.
Your Conn Smythe Award winner was Henrik Zetterberg, who had 13 goals and 14 assists during Detroit’s run. As pointed out by Puck Update, some feel Zetterberg’s performance, coupled with likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, vindicated European players and their quest to shake the “we’re not tough” label.
Whatever the case, I’m not a savvy enough hockey fan to debate these things; however, I do know this — the closing minutes of the third quarter in both Games 5 and 6 were damn exciting. Maybe Pittsburgh could’ve played with that sense of desperation for all of Game 6 instead of waiting until the wanning minutes, but alas, they did not. And now we have a new Stanley Cup champion because of it. Here’s some video of those closing moments, followed by the Red Wings’ celebration:
I’m left wondering what different locations Lord Stanley’s Cup will wind up at during his tour with these Detroit Red Wings…
By now, everybody’s used the image above this text of Hayden Panettiere making out with Lord Stanley’s Cup and that’s why I added the layover. Anyway, there’s a semi-important hockey game going on tonight in Pennsylvania and I’m pretty sure you all know the stakes — if Pittsburgh wins, they stave off elimination again and if Detroit wins, they raise the Cup.
We do not profess to being hockey experts here. In fact, I can count the number of games I’ve seen since the NHL has moved away from ESPN on two hands. That doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated. It is. I’ve long been a believer that NHL Playoff Hockey is one of the most competitive and grueling ways to win a professional level championship.
I think, for me, it has more to do with player and team recognition. Nevertheless, I normally watch the some of the Finals, especially when it’s a deciding game. So there I was last night, expecting to see Detroit crowned as kings of the NHL. I arrived sometime near the end of the second period when the Penguins still had their 2-1 lead and ducked in and out while the third period was getting lathered up.
I settled in time to see the Red Wings equalize and then take the lead away from the Penguins with two impressive goals. After that, I figured Detroit would clog up the defensive side of the ice while the clock wound down, securing another Stanley Cup for Hockey Town, USA.
Boy, was I wrong.
Thanks to an amazingly timely goal from Max Talbot with 35 seconds left — and some incredible goal-keeping from the Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury who had 55 saves — I and the rest of the hockey-watching nation were treated to some awesome overtime hockey. Both teams went at it with Detroit realizing what they had allowed to slip away be giving up Talbot’s goal while Pittsburgh threw their bodies all over the ice trying to keep their season alive.
And thanks to Petr Sykora, Detroit, instead of raising Lord Stanley’s Cup, now finds themselves having to play a Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Here’s a vid of Sykora’s season-and-series-saving goal.
Helluva shot, there. If you’d like to see a more informed recap, check out PuckUpdate.com’s perspective. Coming from a non-hockey following — although, I do consider myself an admirer — sports fan, I’m incredibly glad I got to watch last night’s battle. Now I know what I can look forward to seeing while waiting for the NBA Finals to tip: Game 6 of the NHL Finals.