Don Cherry's wild predictions: Maple Leafs make the playoffs, Coyotes move to Winnipeg

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doncherry1.jpgLeave it to Don Cherry to make sure our summer isn’t totally devoid of hockey talk or humor for that matter. The star of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada recently spoke with Ken Pagan of the North Bay Nugget in Ontario (one of the best newspaper names of all time might I add) and it appears that “Grapes” is already in mid-season form with some of his thoughts just a month away from the start of training camp.

One of two teams, along with the Florida Panthers, that have yet to reach the playoffs in the post-lockout era, the Maple Leafs should qualify for the post-season this year, Cherry said.

“I think they should make the playoffs,” he said prior to signing autographs for fans lined up in the restaurant. “I think (goaltender J.S.) Giguere is going to have a better year starting off there. They have one of the best defence groups in the league, but the problem is, they can’t score. They really don’t have the forwards. There are some tough guys on the third and fourth lines, but they’ve got to get those top six guys who can score and get somebody to play with Kessel and help him score.”

While the Leafs are the only one of Canada’s six NHL teams not to play a playoff game since 2004, there will soon be another NHL team in Canada, Cherry said.

“It’ll happen in Winnipeg,” he said. “I would say Phoenix will be the team. If you’ve watched Coach’s Corner, I’ve guaranteed within two years, Phoenix will be in Winnipeg. They have to go. They’ll never draw in Phoenix. They had a winning team this past year and they still didn’t draw. They can’t do much better than they did, to make the playoffs and still not draw. So they will be in Winnipeg and they’ll jam them in there.”

If these bold predictions had come from anyone else that works at CBC or anywhere else in the hockey media, these might come off as completely insane. Coming from Don Cherry, however, makes them a bit more fun and endearing, especially when you know that Cherry will argue with you up and down about how he’s right.

Calling for the Leafs to be a playoff team this upcoming season, with the way the team is made up at this moment is very bold. While Cherry is spot-on about everything that he’s said, projecting that lineup to be a playoff team is a very tall order. The Leafs are going to be very young up front and some of their off-season additions at forward are total wild cards in that we don’t know what they could add goal-wise.

As for his feelings on Winnipeg and the Coyotes… Who knows how that situation might end up. We know that if the league or the City of Glendale can’t find a buyer for the team sooner than later, David Thomson in Winnipeg is ready and waiting to be given the opportunity to buy the team and bring them back to Canada. Whether that happens or not remains the subject of nightmares for people in Arizona and the thing of dreams for fans in central Canada.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you. stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.

Ovechkin vs. Crosby shifts into high gear, Carlson clobbers Malkin

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You have to love when sports deliver on – if not exceed – the hype.

The second period of Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals has been brilliant and nasty, possibly more than many hockey fans dreamed.

It began with the Penguins getting the big edge; Sidney Crosby scored two goals in the span of 52 seconds and Braden Holtby needed to make some tough stops to keep it at 2-0.

MORE: Video of Crosby’s hot start

That put a damper on the great crowd at the Verizon Center for a bit, but the Capitals ended up responding.

Part of that was a physical response, with Dmitry Orlov delivering a big hit on Tom Kuhnhackl and John Carlson absolutely leveling Evgeni Malkin. The narrative got almost too obvious moments later, as Alex Ovechkin fired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 2-1.

Fleury made a tough stop or two of his own once it was 2-1, so while the pace is picking up, the two goalies seem like they’re alert to the challenge as well.

There was plenty of nastiness with 18.9 seconds remaining in the second, setting the stage for what could be a thrilling third period … and maybe more?

Buckle up.

Video: Crosby scores two goals in 52 seconds vs. Capitals

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Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins came roaring out of the gate to start the second period after a 0-0 opening frame against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

Crosby scored two goals in just 52 seconds to give the Penguins a sudden 2-0 lead. One feels some pity for any fans who didn’t get to their seats just to start the frame … though in the likely event that they are Capitals fans, they might have been spared.

To Braden Holtby‘s credit, he made a couple tough saves moments later to keep it 2-0. It’s been a hectic first few minutes of the second after that relatively mundane first 20 minutes, so hang on tight.

Check out video above; you can also watch the pair of goals in the GIF combo below: