Heading Back To Broad Street…

When the Flyers squeezed into the playoffs just one month ago, they hoped but far from expect to be playing in the Stanley Cup finals.

On Thursday the two teams head back to Philadelphia, where the Flyers find themselves in a two game hole against a high-flying Chicago Blackhawks team. After a goal bonanza in game one, the two teams settled down and put together a defensive battle in game two that saw the Blackhawks take a 2-1 win.

The Blackhawks have won seven straight games on the road and will look to sweep for consecutive rounds when they arrive in Philadelphia.

Here are some thoughts after the first two games:

  • The Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t be luckier in the long-term; they have a number of solid goaltending options with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher currently battling it out for the starter’s job in the next game. After another strong display by Leighton, I would tip him to start Game 3.
  • Daniel Carcillo got back to his antagonizing ways in Game 2 (So much so that my friend watching with me commented: I didn’t realise Avery played for the Flyers…) and look for more of the same going forward; he was able to get under the skin of Ben Eager and could be effective in knocking the young, inexperienced Chicago players off their game.
  • Chris Pronger is a animal beast monster. Looking at footage from the first two games, he has manhandled Byfuglien and that’s shown up on the score board as the influential winger has 1 points so far this series and has a  -2 +/- so far this series.
  • I don’t think that Jeff Carter has fully recovered from the injury that almost knocked him out of the Olympics and his choice to go to Vancouver may cost his team. He has been a shadow of his normal crafty self and has only 4 goals and 2 assists, with a -2 +/- this post season.
  • To be a champion you need to win when you don’t play well and that is exactly what Chicago did in game 1. They didn’t play solid defensively but still managed to out-gun the Flyers and that’s a scary thought.
  • Another BIG THUMBS UP to Chris Pronger for doing whatever he can to get an edge in the psychological warfare of the playoffs. In a move that would make Jeremy Roenick proud, after both games he picked up the game puck before any Blackhawk could get near it. Now I realise you purists out there think this is a jerk move, but it’s a great way to get under the skin of a young Blackhawk team that will surely look to get back at him and might even take a penalty or two. So good on you Pronger, keep doing what you do!

Finally: Don’t count out the Broad Street Bullies.

Remember when these same Flyers had been written off after going down three games to none against the Bruins in the first round?

How about when all the pundits were saying there was ‘no chance’ those Flyers could compete with the great Halak and the blocked shot champs in Montreal?

This Philadelphia Flyers team has aged a number of seasons in this playoff stretch and they’ve already had to battle for their lives a number of times. I wouldn’t count them out just yet and look for some rough, wild and hard-hitting Flyer’s hockey in game four back at the Wachovia center.

Sticking by my prediction: Flyers winning in seven.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL Playoffs 2010 – Stanley Cup Final Predo

It’s wild to think that just a few weeks ago the season was winding down. The Toronto Maple Leafs were already golfing, Ottawa Senator and Montreal Canadiens Fans alike all thought they had a shot at going all the way and the Philadelphia Flyers squeaked into the playoffs by a nose.

Flash forward in true Lost fashion and we now sit with a matchup of what a month ago would have been called a ‘David verse Goliath” type battle. Goliath being the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks who were looking for a solid goaltending all season and have finally found it in young Antti Niemi and the resurgent Broad Street Bullies who have huffed and puffed to get their way to the finals.

In a new twist, here are my 5 keys to the series and then you will find my prediction for this series:

  • Goaltending MatchupBig GIGANTIC surprise Finnish flash Antti Niemi goes head to head with even bigger surprise Canadian Michael Lieghton. Niemi sits with a 921 save %, while Lieghton holds a sterling 948. The Canuck also takes the GAA category with a 1.45 versus the Fins 2.33. Throw in the factor that the Philadelphia had three shutouts in the last round and were able to beat the shotblocking kings at their own game last round, I will throw advantage to the Flyers.
  • Bridesmaid syndrome – Always the bridesmaid and never the bride? Marian Hossa has been on the losing end of a Stanley Cup series for the last two years seasons and it may just be time for that to change. He has averaged just under 18-minutes of ice time a game but after three rounds has just 2 goals. Two goals?!  With 51 shots taken he now holds a 3.9% shooting average. He is also second on the Blackhawks in Penalty minutes with 21 already, and he has shown a lack of composure that is out of character. Another disappointing performance from him in the playoffs will to finish with Hossa wondering the eternal question: Who’s can I jump to next.
  • The Buff Factor – Raise your hand if you’re sick of hearing about Dustin Byfuglien. Perfect. Well, get ready to stop seeing his name on the score sheet. The truck of a man has been busy sitting in front of nets all playoffs; getting up close and personal with both Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov, easily getting the better of both. However, the Flyershave one asset that will help even the battle: Chris Pronger. The defensive talisman of the bullies will be tasked with clearing out the garbage in front of Leighton and make no mistake, he will manhandle the Big Buff

The Old workhorse – Speaking of Chris Pronger, the man is getting old and entering the twilight of his career. He has been to the finals of the Stanley Cup three times in recent years and there will only be a few more opportunities for him to win the Holy Grail of hockey. The 35-year-old, 6’6″, 220 pound Canadian defencemen has his eyes set on another ring, so look for him to play like a man possessed and be a key factor in this series.

  • Home Ice Advantage In a series that many think will go seven games, the issue of home ice advantage can be key to lifting the cup. The Flyers have scored 28 goals at home, with just 14 against. On the other hand they scored 26 on the road and allowed 22 against. The Blackhawks 21 at home and allowed 23 against, while scoring a big 32 on the road and allowed just 17 against. What does this mean? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But if you’re looking at home-ice advantage, the Blackhawks have been outscored at home in these playoffs there and maybe it’s the edge the Flyers need?

So with all that out-of-the-way, it comes down to this: My prediction is…

The Philadelphia Flyer will stun the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games.

There we have it and that being said, I guess the Blackhawks will probably win in 5 just to prove me as wrong as possible.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL 2010 Playoffs – Round 3 Roundup

As a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf fan, havent made the playoffs in 5 season, and season ticket holder for the Halifax Mooseheads, last in the QMJHL for the past two seasons, I am used to disappointments but this round of the playoffs took that to a whole new level.

I chose to jump on the bandwagons of both the Montreal Canadiens and the San Jose Sharks only to be rewarded with two lopsided series – going in favour of the other team.

The WestSan Jose Sharks (1) – Chicago Blackhawks (2)

The San Jose Sharks got swept in convincing fashion by the Chicago Blackhawks, a demise I predicted last round here against the Detroit Redwings, but obviously the hockey Gods just wanted to torture me some more. They never really competed and I’d be surprised if Evgeni Nabakov ever plays another game for the Sharks. The question remains if the Sharks will gut their top line and trade the ‘big name players’ who are constant no-shows in the playoffs.

My Pick: San Jose in 7

Actual Result: Chicago in 4

The EastPhiladelphia Flyers (7) – Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Cinderella story had to end sometime; too bad it shattered after I picked the Canadiens to win this series.

Jaroslav Halak had been the goaltending standout in the 2010 playoffs until Michael Leighton swiftly stole that title with three shutouts against the Canadiens. While he put up a brick wall on the backend, his scorers went to work booking a place in the Stanley Cup finals for a team that didn’t make the playoffs until the last day of the regular season.

I genuinely felt bad for the Habs as they looked physically exhausted out there against the Flyers, who threw their body around and made their presence felt. After beating two of the best teams in the league, Washington and Pittsburgh, it didn’t seem that the Canadiens had any gas left in the tank and they were never really in this series.

My Pick: Montreal In 6

Actual Result: Philadelphia in 5

MVP Of The Round – Michael Leighton stole this and ran away with it. He posted three shutouts against the Habs, and has quickly shown that the Flyers backup goalie can get it done. We’ll wait and see if he can get it done against the high-powered Chicago offence, but for now I’ll let him enjoy his MVP performance.

The No Show – I was going to say the Habs entire roster, but they won a game, so clearly for the second time this series it is a tie between Marleau, Thorton and Heatley. Where were you guys? Pavelski didn’t pick up the slack and the Sharks got swept. I feel a change is coming in San Jose and a real shake up needs to happen.

Most Goals – Even though his team is out, Michael Cammalleri still leads with 13 goals, that are four better than the next best total.

Most Assists – Jonathan Toews continued his offensive success this post season and leads with 19 assists in these playoffs.

Most Points – Jonathan Toews also leads the overall points with 26 points, which is five better than Flyers Captain Mike Richards who sits at 21 points.

Cam Russell.. Seriously?

This week the Halifax Mooseheads announced they had re-signed GM and Coach Cam Russell to a contract extension, keeping the former NHL player around until the end of next season and although this isn’t a big surprise, it will be upsetting to Moosehead fans in the manner it was announced.

Apparently Cam was resigned last month but the team chose not to announce it, similar to the resigning of Marcel Patenaude in the 2007/2008 season, where they announced him signing a new contact a mere eight months later.

It’s obvious that Bobby Smith and the management team decided to hold off on the announcement due to disgruntled fans and the many fans who are upset with the job that Cam has been doing behind the bench.

I’ll fully disclose that I’m a full-fledged, card-carrying “Cam Russell Must Go” fan club member, albeit as a GM he has been doing an okay job, as a coach he has failed to make an impact on the team and get positive results.

Here are his fantastic stats for the last four seasons as a Coach:

2006/07 – 32/31/3/4 (71pts, 14th)
2007/08 – 42/23/0/5 (89pts, 4th)
2008/09 – 19/41/3/5 (46pts, LAST)
2009/10 – 13/48/3/4 (33pts, LAST)

This gives him a total of 106/143/9/18 for a shiny winning percentage of just .384% and yet the Ownership is more than happy to keep him behind the bench.

Last season the Mooseheads went up and down, and then down some more. Able to pull off some surprise wins over the top teams, but failed to turn up in must win games against fellow cellar dwellers.

With the junior draft fast approaching and the Moose sitting with the overall 2nd pick and six others in the top 35, Cam is  under the microscope to put together a team that can compete for the Memorial Cup in the next two years.

For now I will put away the “Will trade Cam for Bag of Pucks” sign, and wait and see how next season pans out.

After two seasons in last place, Cam will need to pick it up or the fans will finally give up on him and chase him out-of-town.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL Playoffs 2010 – Round 3 Predos

Well, it’s time to get back on track and get some predictions right. I know most of you out there are wondering why I even bother, with a great record of just 6/12 so far, you’d think I would give up? Stick with the 50% and go home. However, this round I’m going to give ‘er and take a chance on teams that I have yet to believe in.

So without further adieu, here are my Round 3 Semi-Final Predictions:

The EastIts late but it’s time to join the bandwagon

Philadelphia (7) – Montreal (8) – Yes. That’s right. We’ve got a matchup of the last two seeds in the east to crown an East Champ. Montreal has beaten two of the NHL’s best teams so far in these playoffs and have jumped on the back of excellent goaltending by Jaroslav Halak to prove all pundits wrong. On the other hand, the Flyers struggled into the post-season and had to complete one of the toughest comebacks in recent memory to beat the Boston Bruins after going down three games to none. Both teams went to seven games in the last series and will be pulling on everything they have left to get an edge.

In net it’s a showdown of Michael Leighton (Until Boucher comes back) and the suddenly infallible Jaroslav Halak. If the Flyers can get into the head of Halak and push him around they might have a shot, but it won’t be easy.

It’s time to jump on the bandwagon and support Canada’s teams, not just because it feels right but because they are the best team in this series: Montreal In 6.

The WestChicago ripped apart Vancouver in their series and the San Jose Sharks made short work of Detroit to reach this point.

San Jose (1) – Chicago (2) – Unlike the East, over in the West the top two teams have made it through the gauntlet and now face each other.

A high-powered regular season offence has finally shown life in the post-season for the Sharks and the young talent of the Blackhawks have been getting it done on the back of a young finish goalie.

Where the playoffs have been full of unexpected surprises, these two teams are the best in the West and deserve to be here. Joe Thornton finally showed up and will be the catalyst for the Sharks to get to the finals, however Duncan Keith will be draped over him like a bad wig and will try to shut down the big forward.

This series is tough with so much talent, but I feel that the Sharks will get under the skin of the young Blackhawks, taking this series.

My Prediction? The San Jose Sharks win in Seven.

That means the Stanley Cup will look like this:

San Jose Sharks (1st in West) – Montreal Canadiens (8th in East)

It will be a matchup of David verse Goliath proportions, well, if I am right for once.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL Playoffs 2010 – Round 2 Roundup

Prediction Results: Wow. Let’s just say I was a tad off with my predictions and correctly chose just one winner. That’s right, the only series I predicted correctly was Flyers winning

Here are the rest of my thoughts from Round Two:

Sharks Are For Real – After ripping apart the San Jose Sharks, I can admit when I am wrong. Their big guns showed up and they beat the Detroit Redwings handedly, these guys have finally shown that they can play in the playoffs and the Chicago Blackhawks should be worried.

Habs No Longer An Underdog – In knocking off both Washington and Pittsburgh, the Canadiens have beaten two of the toughest teams and can no longer be seen as an underdog. The bandwagon is overfull and Canada’s hopes of a Stanley Cup coming north of the border rests solely on the backs of these unlikely heroes. I for one am joining the bandwagon and see this team as a legit contender.

Stanley Cup Not For Russians – Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were barely visible in round one, and then Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar followed suit for the Penguins against the Habs. However, Both Alex’s are lighting it up for their country at the World Championships and both Gino and Gonchar flew out to join the team moments after they were knocked out. Maybe its the way that the Stanley Cup is built into our childhoods here in Canada, but it just seems to me that the Russians just don’t care about the Stanley Cup as much and it shows in their playoff play.

Underdog Goalies on Top – Jaroslav Halak is still showing that he has what it takes to bring the Habs their first Stanley Cup in the new millenium, but it was the play of Michael Leighton who came in for an injured Brian Boucher that really showed how the unproven goalies are stealing the spotlight this post-season.

MVP – Simon Gagne. Now, this is a tricky pick as he didn’t completely dominate the series but he was the catalyst for one of the greatest comebacks in modern sports and was the scorer of the game winning goal in Game Seven. Definitely MVP material for the Flyers and showed the heart that Vancouver and Pittsburgh lacked in their matchups.

The No Show – Sidney Crosby. Seriously though, Penguins are wondering where their Captain is after going colder than an iceberg. The star lit up round one, but just couldn’t get his game in gear against Hal Gill and the Habs.

Most Goals – Michael Cammalleri (MON) now leads the playoffs with 12 goals.

Most Assists – Jonathan Toews (CHI) lit up the Canucks and has the lead with 14 helpers.

Most Points – Jonathan Toews (CHI) leads the playoffs with 20 points.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

Shark Tank?

After beating the Colorado Avalanche in the first round and blowing past a hot Craig Anderson, it appears as if the San Jose Sharks are making quick work of a veteran filled Detroit Redwing’s who stuttered in the regular season and squeaked by Phoenix in the first round.

However, if there is one thing that is more constant than being confused after an episode of Lost, it’s that the San Jose Sharks always choke when it counts. If it is a guarantee that Liverpool will never win the Premier League or that the Toronto Bluejays won’t get past the Red Sox and Yankees into the playoffs, then its 100000% certain the Sharks will find a way to lose this series.

That being said, here`s their recent choking playoff history:

2009 Lost to Anaheim Ducks West Quarters Finals – After winning the Presidents Trophy in the regular season, they promptly went their opening two home games. They won game 5 in OT to push the series to a sixth game, but were crushed 4-1 as they fell to the 8th seed.

2008 Lost to Dallas Stars in the West Semi-Finals – They squeezed by the Calgary flames after winning game seven but then promptly lost their first three games against Dallas. They managed to pull back two before being beaten in the Fourth overtime of Game 6.

2007 – Lost to Detroit Redwings in the West Semi-Finals – Beat Nashville in 5 games and looked dominant. However, never really managed to get going in this series and got shut out in Game 6.

2006Lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the West Semi-Finals – Easily dealt with Nashville in 5 games and then went full tilt at the Oilers. They won the first three, but couldn’t close out and let in 17 goals in the final four games as they were dumped out of the playoffs.

So Redwing fans and Hockey fans alike don’t worry! The Sharks will probably choke and all will be right in the world. Heck, even if they do win the series, it just means they’re saving their best choke yet for when they face the Vancouver Canucks in the West Finals.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.