2010 Stanley Cup Finals: PHT's finals predictions

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Everyone has their predictions for the Stanley Cup finals, where they
try and determine which team will win and in how many games. You’ll see
plenty of that tonight and especially tomorrow as we gear up for Game
1.

We here at Pro Hockey Talk decided to take things a bit further,
predicting not only the winner of the series but also a number of other
topics as well. Once again, I’m sure than I will get none of these
right.

Best goaltender:

James: Antti Niemi – It doesn’t really matter
which goalie is better, in the grand scheme of things, because the team
effect will make all the difference in this one. Michael Leighton will
deal with such a barrage that Niemi will look better. That’s all that
really matters.

Joe: Michael Leighton – I don’t believe that Antti
Niemi will be counted on to save the Blackhawks’ skin at all and while
what I believe the end results will make it seem like Niemi was the
star, Leighton is the guy that’s going to have to look the part, lest
his team lose by five goals a night.

Brandon: Michael
Leighton
– I think that both goaltenders will look great, but I just
have this feeling that Leighton will get more chances to show his
ability. Niemi will be solid, but Leighton is going to have a lot more
pucks to stop. He’s also the more athletic of the two, so while Niemi
will be solid Leighton will have more “wow”.

Biggest difference-maker:

James: Chris Pronger – Not necessarily a bold opinion,
but I think the gap-toothed elbow thrower can help the Flyers maintain
some dignity. Will he make enough of a “difference” for them to win the
series, though? Well, no …

Joe: Dave Bolland – He may not show up on the stat
sheet at all times with goals or assists but “The Dirty Rat” is the guy
doing everything else out there so Kane, Toews, Sharp, and Hossa can all
get free.

Brandon: Jonathan Toews – He’s been the
best player in the playoffs so far and I don’t see how that changes.
Despite the great depth of the Blackhawks, I doubt Chicago will have a
very easy time against the Flyers unless Toews continues to play at such
a high level.

Unsung hero of the Cup finals:

James: John Madden – He’s a great penalty killer but
has a Mike Grier-like deficiency when it comes to cashing in on the
many breakaways he creates. His lack of scoring will keep him from
drawing much praise, but he can do just about everything else.

Joe: Jordan Hendry – I’m sure you’re asking yourself,
“Who the heck is Jordan Hendry?” Hendry is basically Chicago’s sixth
defenseman and while he’s not getting a ton of minutes (Average time on
ice 8:15) or playing all that well (he’s a team low -4) he is allowing
Dustin Byfuglien to both be a forward and wreak havoc on everyone else’s
defensemen.

Brandon: Claude Giroux – The man has come alive in
the postseason and if the Flyers have any hope of knocking off the
Blackhawks he’ll have to continue being hot. He’s allowed the Flyers to
use two productive and effective scoring lines in the playoffs,
something this team will desperately need in the finals.

Storyline no one is talking about:

James: How about Joe Quenneville possibly breaking the great
drought of Cup winning coaches with awesome mustaches? It’s been too
long since Ken Hitchock represented the ‘stache.

Joe: The emergence of Claude Giroux. In the playoffs, he’s
scored at a point per game pace (8 goals, 9 assists in 17 games) and has
exploded on the scene as a top six forward on a team top-heavy in
scoring talent. While Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Danny Briere are
going to get the headlines, Giroux is the guy flying under the radar.
For the Flyers, his emergence has spurred them on to the Finals.

Brandon:
How another mid-season replacement coach can win the Stanley Cup. Last
year, Dan Bylsma took over the Penguins, turned the team around and took
them all the way to the Stanley Cup. Now, we have Peter Laviolette, who
took the Flyers after a horrible start to the season and while the
Flyers barely made the playoffs, he’s given this team all of the hope
and motivation it needs.

Top goalscorer:

James: Marian Hossa – For some reason, I just have a
weird feeling Hossa will have a good series. Eh, I’m probably just
saying this because “Jonathan Toews” or “Patrick Kane” just seems too
obvious, though.

Joe: Jonathan Toews – While the wealth gets spread
around pretty equally on Chicago, and I don’t see why that won’t
continue, Toews is, simply put, the man and while a guy like, say,
Dustin Byfuglien is going to have his hands full dealing with Chris
Pronger, Toews will enjoy having the extra room to maneuver.

Brandon:
Jonahan Toews – He did it against Vancouver and against the Sharks,
there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to roll against the Flyers.

Most penalty minutes:

James: Dan Carcillo is my first instinct, but since he might
get scratched for a game or two, why not Chris Pronger?

Joe: Chicago is really good at being physical and talking crap
and Philly is equally as good at it. I’m going with a wild card here
though and I’ll run with Chicago’s Adam Burish.

Brandon: I
would say Dan Carcillo, but he may not get enough minutes. I’ll roll
with Chris Pronger.

Predict the winner:

James: The Flyers are on fire, but look at the frail offenses
they faced in the playoffs so far. Simply put, the Blackhawks are a
completely different animal. Their offense is deep, their defense can do
it all and Niemi is making a name for himself. That being said, my
debate wasn’t “Flyers or Blackhawks?” but rather “Chicago in 4, 5 or 6?”
Chicago wins it in 5.

Joe: Philly hasn’t played a team this good since they played a
motivated and trying to get in the playoffs Red Wings team in early
April. If I wanted to be a real jerk and disprove myself, I could say
they haven’t played a team this good since they played Chicago in March,
but I won’t be that guy. Chicago has been a runaway train of hockey
awesomeness for the last two series and I don’t see why the 18th best
team in the league is going to get in their way. Chicago wins this
series in five
and I don’t think it’s going to be all that close

Brandon: This is a tough one, although it seems that no one is
willing to give the Flyers a chance at all with this one. I know
everyone thinks the Blackhawks will just roll through the Cup Finals,
but I just can’t discount the Flyers after the postseason they’ve had.
So I’ll go in the other direction. Flyers stun the world, win in 6.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.