Patrick Kane, Roberto Luongo

Western Conference playoff field all set – Familiar faces get reacquainted


After the Wild disposed of the Dallas Stars and put the Chicago Blackhawks into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it set the table for the Western Conference playoffs to have a familiar feel to it all. While there’s some new flavor in some of the pairings, there’s a couple match-ups that will look really familiar to fans from last year.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks

For the third straight season these two teams will meet in the playoffs. This time it’s in the first round and this time it comes with Vancouver in a much more dominant position. They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’ve been killing it all season long and now they have destiny set things up nicely for them so they can exorcise the demons of playoffs past right off the bat. Should Vancouver get over this psychological mountain in the form of a Blackhawks team living like they’ve been granted a new life, they’ll be very dangerous to deal with throughout the playoffs.

Chicago will instead hope to get in the Canucks heads like they have in the past and pull off a tremendous upset in their effort to retain the Stanley Cup. For Vancouver, this series has a Ric Flair feel about it: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings

An all-California playoff series is something we’ve been rooting for to happen for all season long and with all three California teams in the playoffs, things broke down perfect to get these two to face off against each other. The Sharks have the “playoff choker” thing still following them around but that doesn’t apply to this team. Antti Niemi has been lights out, they’ve got a host of new blood in the form of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to go along with the quietly monstrous year from Patrick Marleau as well as his running crew of Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks are firing on all cylinders now and very dangerous.

Los Angeles meanwhile is hurting without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Their offense isn’t as lethal as it once was without them and it’ll be up to Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown to score goals while Jon Quick will need to be lights out to keep the Kings involved. One thing they’ll really need is for Drew Doughty to once again look like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year. He’s been off a bit and they could really use big production at both ends of the ice from him.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes

They meet yet again. Last year it was Detroit ending Phoenix’s dream season in Game 7 in the desert during the first round of the playoffs. These two teams are more than familiar with each other and they’ll get to dance once again, this time with Detroit having home ice advantage. Detroit’s been a bit erratic to close out the year and they’ll start their series without Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll have a fully healthy defensive corps with Niklas Kronwall returning but they’ll need to be tough offensively to deal with the tough Coyotes defense.

Phoenix has been similarly hot and cold going into the end of the season and matching up against a skilled veteran squad like Detroit means they’ll have to be especially sharp. It’s a dangerous draw for both teams as they each have parts of their game that the opponent can struggle with. Phoenix’s physicality can give Detroit fits and the Wings’ savvy in big moments frustrates the Coyotes. If Shane Doan can break out his “DoanFace” a couple more times, the Coyotes might be able to finally make the second round.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

What a brawl this one should be. Both teams play overtly physical hockey. Anaheim comes in with offense to burn with Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry and old man dominator Teemu Selanne scoring tons of goals. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan along with defensemen Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, these Ducks aren’t like the Ducks from 2007 that won the Cup and would mug your grandmother to do it. The Predators are going to have to add that kind of snarl to the series if they’re going to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne will need to be the best player for Nashville while they try to generate offense from Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan. The Preds have been here before and at some point they’re going to get through. Whether or not captain Shea Weber can rally his team to do it this time against a Ducks squad that’s been uber-dangerous the last two months should make for some great drama and even better hockey.

Report: Escrow set at 16 percent

Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr
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Hey, remember in June when the NHLPA voted to keep the five-percent growth factor in spite of increasing worries about escrow?

Well, here’s why that decision was a significant one, via TSN’s Frank Seravalli:

With early revenue projections in place, the NHL and NHLPA set the escrow withholding rate for players at 16 per cent for the first quarter of the season on Thursday.

That means every player will have 16 per cent of earnings deducted from their paycheque and put aside until after all of this season’s hockey-related revenue is counted to ensure a perfect 50-50 revenue split with owners.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the players will definitely lose 16 percent of their salaries. Typically, they receive refunds when all the accounting is done.

Still, 16 percent is a good-sized chunk to withhold. They won’t be thrilled about it.

Related: To understand escrow, consider Duncan Keith

Isles, fans embark on new era tonight in Brooklyn debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Step aside, Jay Z. Pack up the nets. It’s time to roll out the blue-and-orange carpet in Brooklyn.

The home of Hannah Horvath and her hipster friends is set to sound the horn for the arrival of John Tavares and the New York Islanders.

Fans, make sure there’s a MetroCard tucked in the wallet next to the game ticket. There’s a new way to travel on game night — by subway, by train, and probably with an Islander or two along for the ride.

The Brooklynization of the Islanders at the Barclays Center is underway.

Led by the Blue and Orange Army — the hardcore fans who will “Rock the Barc!” every night — the Islanders know the generational loyalists will follow them about 30 miles to their new home.

But will Brooklyn get off the stoop and head to the rink?

The Islanders fled their outdated, lovable dump of a home in Uniondale, New York, for a fresh start at the state-of-the-art Barclays Center. So far, the Islanders have every reason to feel right at home.

Stanley Cup banners hang from the rafters, and the arena is wrapped in Islanders’ imagery. John Tavares and teammates have their faces plastered all over the building, nearby businesses, and subway terminals.

Alexa Ray Joel is set to sing the national anthem before the opener on Friday night against the Blackhawks, and there will be other nods toward the franchise’s past — all with an eye set on the future.

“We’re asking the fanbase to be with us along the way because we may do some other things that Brooklynizes the in-game experience,” Barclays Center COO Fred Mangione said. “There will always be a nice balance and that’s our goal.”

The Islanders are entering their first season at the Barclays Center – home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets since 2012 – after spending their first 43 years at Nassau Coliseum.

But if the Nets underwent a total reboot, from name to logo to jersey colors, this transition is more like Islanders 2.0.

Brooklyn remained true to the Islanders’ roots and brought along some Coliseum staples that should appeal to the traditionalists.

— Paul Cartier will play the organ just as he’s done since the Stanley Cup heyday.

— The four Stanley Cup Championship banners and six retired jersey banners will hang in the rafters, along with the banners of former head coach Al Arbour and former GM Bill Torrey.

— The Islanders super-fan group, the Blue and Orange Army, will pack sections 228 and 229.

The Islanders listened to focus groups and beefed up train service with a Barclays Center Direct line, adding two additional direct pre- and postgame trains. The two postgame trains will leave 20 minutes after the end of each game, regardless of when the final horn sounds.

Oh yes, that horn.

The Islanders’ plan to abandon their traditional goal horn with one that sounded like a subway horn was panned by fans during preseason games and abruptly scrapped.

The balance between old and new remains a work in progress.

“With 80 percent of our patrons taking a subway, you’d think they’d get the connection,” Mangione said. “But look, the tradition outweighed the connection and we understood that. We met on that right away.”

The Islanders also irked some fans — yet likely made some new ones — with the black and white third jersey they will wear 12 times this season. The jersey kept the four stripes that pays homage to the championships, yet scrubbed the skyline that omits Brooklyn and Queens.

“Our group always understood this change was a lot better than a Kansas City or a Quebec move,” said Blue and Orange member James Fess. “The cause is still the same, only the building has changed.”

While arena and team officials touted the parking lots around the arena, The Blue and Orange Army have ditched the cars this season for Traingating. The pregame party starts on the line and rolls right into Barclays.

Who will join them?

Brooklyn is loaded with transplants, who after flocking to the big city, found they couldn’t afford Manhattan. Or they’re new-wave hipsters who think Brooklyn is cool because of the art culture and TV shows such as HBO’s “Girls.”

Just how much of an interest they’ll take in hockey remains to be seen.

Jay Pichardo, 47, of Queens, New York, wasn’t so sure as he stood in line this week at the arena’s box office to buy tickets for a Rangers-Islanders game.

“They’re going to have show more interest in the community because they’re new,” said Pichardo, a season-ticket holder for the Rangers. “I don’t think kids here in Brooklyn even care about hockey. In Long Island, it was all about the families.”

Islanders CEO Brett Yormark said about one-third of the season ticket holders are from the Brooklyn/Manhattan boroughs, another third from the Isles’ old stomping grounds in Nassau and Suffolk county and the rest from Connecticut, New Jersey and other areas.

He wants the fans inside the arena to represent all of New York.

“We need to diversity the fanbase here in Brooklyn,” Yormark said. “For us to be successful, our fanbase needs to look very different than any other fanbase. We need to reflect the makeup of our borough. We do it for Nets games, we do it for most of our events.”

The Barclays Center will have a capacity less than 16,000 for hockey, putting it at the second-smallest in the NHL behind Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

It won’t be the cheapest ticket in the game.

“The average ticket price was about $45,” in Long Island, Yormark said. “In our building, it’s about $90. I thought, oh my God, they aren’t going to come. They wouldn’t pay for it. But people will pay whatever you need them to pay for something as long as the value proposition is aligned.”

The arena wasn’t built for hockey and many seats have obstructed sightlines. The rink is off center and sales reps walked potential season tickets holders around the sections to find the right fit.

“Getting people’s money is a big commitment for us,” Mangione said, “but the bigger commitment is getting someone’s time.”

Joseph Rosa, 28, of Queens, New York, said at the Barclays Center the wrong seat might not make season tickets worth it for 44 games each season.

“They’re the worst seats ever,” he said.

The Islanders still have to spread the news they’re in town. The motto above the register at the Modell’s across the street from the arena references the Nets in a sign that reads, “Brooklyn Now Has a Home Team.”

The sporting goods store welcomed the Islanders with open arms — and cash registers — upping the number of merchandise racks from two to seven this season and adding prominent window displays. Tavares jerseys and the new black-and-white jerseys hang in window space also devoted to baseball playoff gear for the Mets and Yankees.

“We have a lot of tourists coming in looking for Islanders gear,” store general manager Nick Chang said.

At the Buffalo Wild Wings a block from Barclays, no Islanders memorabilia was displayed on the walls, which included posters or beer signs representing nearly every other New York team – including the new MLS team, New York City FC.

The Islanders are locked into a 25-year lease with the Barclays Center, though it hasn’t stopped speculation they will eventually return to their former home.

While the “The Old Barn” sits empty as it undergoes a multimillion makeover, Nassau county executive Ed Mangano riled up the borough when he went on sports talk radio station WFAN and said, “I certainly do believe that we will see the return of the Islanders at some point.”

The Islanders say, not a chance.

The team’s headquarters and practice facility remain on Long Island, where the players continue to live. Tavares and his teammates will commute on the Long Island Rail Road to Barclays, just like the fans.

“We’ll miss the Coliseum, the crowd and that sort thing, but it’s not even a level playing field when you compare this facility to the Coliseum,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said.

Related: Goalie nods: Greiss gets the start over injured Halak