That was Quite Impressive

Is the Ottawa/Boston series THAT boring, are does it just feel that way in comparison to the Washington/Toronto and Edmonton/San Jose series?  Those latter two are (or were in one case, which of course I’m getting to) pretty clearly the best two series of the opening round.  Then I watch Ottawa/Boston and I just couldn’t care less.  Is it just me?  It’s not only boring hockey, but two teams that just feel about 10,000 miles away from the Cup and neither have a mode of transportation to get there.  I shouldn’t want any series to end, but yeah, it wouldn’t break my heart if we didn’t get a seventh game there.  The Caps and Leafs….give me seven, but I’ll talk about that beauty another day.

 

So I said Oilers in seven prior to the series.  Couture and Thornton came in hurt, Sharks even before those injuries were badly stumbling (I believe it was the night prior to the Couture injury they were blown out by the Stars), and it felt like the Oilers were the much better team coming in, however the Sharks had such a massive experience advantage that you knew it’d be a long series.  So while I can say “I called it”, I really only called the end result.  That series was NOTHING as to what I expected.

 

I figured the Oilers would pump the Sharks in game one.  The young Oilers are so fired up that they’ll look to win the series in one game and the veteran Sharks will somewhat let them and comeback to punk them in game two.  That I guess was the case for the first period, and then as you know the Sharks toyed with the Oilers the rest of the game.

 

Ok, this isn’t good.

 

The Oilers quite literally looked terrified as the game got tight in game one, so if that’s the case then how are they going to play now with even more pressure on to win game two.  Naturally, they dominated….

 

They win game three 1-0.  SERIOUSLY?!  Of the two teams, they’re winning a road game 1-0?!  And of the two teams, the Sharks are the team winning game four 7-0?!

 

In game five a team has a 3-1 lead only to let it slip away and lose in OT.  Ok, well that must have been the young Oilers.  Game six, a team pushes hard early on which leads to a 2-0 lead, there is a hard push the remainder of the game by the team trailing in the series but it comes up short.  This shit is ass backwards!!

 

And to put up with the way that series was officiated was frankly incredible.  You and me probably could have handled it better, but I thought the Oilers were awesome outside of the frustration in game four.  I know I bitch and moan about the officials a ton, but I rarely ever feel like they cost teams games, and it’s not just in the Oilers favour I complain.  It’s the consistency that rattles me.  Having said all this, in the last two games, the Sharks were given gifts both on what wasn’t called against them, but what got called on the Oilers.  I personally counted 7-1 (being generous on calling the Maroon penalty, I’ve never understood why a goaltender has a hall pass while outside his crease), yet the PP’s were 2-1 I think?  I probably have seen it that blatant before, but I don’t recall seeing it that blatant of an advantage for the “veteran team”.  Dave Randorf hinted at it a lot during the game five broadcast.  Nick Kypreos finally brought it to light in the first intermission last night.  It was horrendous, and the Oilers fought through it.  I said to my buddies I was watching with, it was fitting that the series ended with McDavid getting very obviously hauled down, with the puck, no call was coming yet again….and he still scored.

 

Now I’m not about to get all “fan boy” about this (although I’m sure a lot of you believe I had my Oilers goggles on big time with the ref rant…fair enough).  The Ducks were my pick to win the Cup and I’m definitely sticking to that.  Randy Carlyle is going to be comfortable with any of his top three centres on the ice against McDavid.  I know analytics guys don’t think faceoffs are overly important, but you have the number one team in the league in the dot against the 30th team in the league in the dot.  The Ducks are also (at least publicly) saying that they expect Cam Fowler and Sami Vantanen to both be back this series, Hampus Lindholm left game four against the Flames but he is supposed to be ready for game one.  So to sum that up, their blueline which is likely the deepest in the league is now going to have all hands on deck.  The one advantage it looked like the Oilers would have most of the season over the Ducks was in goal.  Well in three of the four games John Gibson was outstanding, and when called upon, so was Jonathan Bernier.

 

Having said all of that, the Oilers definitely can win this series.  I think it’s going six or seven either way, and the Oilers have proven they can win the tight games, they can win without McDavid being a force, they look completely comfortable with playoff hockey.  Remember, this lineup has nine kids most nights (most of whom make up their core) who are 24 or younger.  This team apparently won this last series with a pretty nasty flu bug going around their room.  Could have contributed to McDavid’s struggles, we know contributed to Draisaitl’s struggles early in the series, knocked out Klefbom for a lot of game six, and who knows who else it hit.  We have yet to see this Oilers team best in these playoffs.  So while I believe the smart money is on the Ducks, I definitely don’t believe it’s anything lopsided.

 

But even if they got swept by the Ducks, would anyone be overly pissed?!  Forget what anyone else thought, most of us Oilers fans didn’t see this team making the playoffs this season let alone knocking off the defending Western Conference champs.  It is all gravy from here.  It’s next season that this team will be one of the favourites to win the Cup.  For now they’re playing with house money!

 

Add to this, rumours suggest we are getting an answer as to where Spencer Foo will be signing, perhaps as soon as this is posted, and not only would he be a great addition to the Oilers, but most seem to feel the Oilers are the favourites to land him.  I watched this kid play a few times in Bonnyville, and his wheels alone are going to make him a top nine guy in the league.  Intelligent, skilled, plays with some balls, Oilers fans would really like him.

 

Last year I wrote this piece: http://soupsonhockey.com/2016/02/25/darkest-before-dawn/

 

Can you believe that was just 14 months ago?  This time last year, fans around the league were petrified the Oilers were about to win another 1st overall pick.  Now, this team is in the second round of the playoffs with a relatively legitimate shot to win the Cup (though again, I don’t believe they’ll get past the Ducks, and if they get past the Ducks, the Preds are a brutal matchup, and then if they actually got to the final, they’ll likely see the Pens who are…well…the Pens).  Incredible turnaround, which I know isn’t lost on any of you.

 

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Top 5 Conn Smythe Worthy Performances

Before I start this, we have to go through a few ground rules.  For starters, these are all guys from teams who never won the Cup.  Second, I was born in 83.  And while I can go toe to toe with anyone in the media on the history of hockey, I can’t really judge anyone’s playoff run pre 1984 or so.  Not that I’m able to remember much before 1989, but I do know all about the 84-88 playoffs thanks to my Oilers fandom.

 

Third, goaltenders aren’t on this list, because the fact is that if I can do a whole list on goaltenders.   It happens so often, that it really isn’t that special of a feat.  Still, let’s give honourable mention to those goaltenders: 2016 Martin Jones, 2014 Henrik Lundqvist, 2013 Tuukka Rask, 2006 Dwayne Roloson, 2004 Mikka Kiprusoff, 2001 Martin Brodeur, 2000 Ed Belfour, 1999 Dominik Hasek, 1998 Olaf Kolzig, 1996 Jon Vanbiesbrouck, 1994 Kirk McLean, 1985 Pelle Lindberg, etc.

 

It’s really ironic here because it’s a lot of guys who were on Canadian teams.  Not really my fault, there’s been a lot of Canadian teams in the last 23 years who went on dramatic playoff runs only to lose in the seventh game of the Cup final.

 

T-5. 1997 Eric Lindros

I guess this is a top six really because I kick things off with a tie.  I still remember how much he got CRUSHED for the sweep against the Red Wings.  What was Lindros supposed to do?  They pretty literally didn’t have a goaltender who could stop a puck.  Lindros was incredible through that entire run.  Only until he had to go against Centres like Yzerman and Federov (easily two of the top two way centres in hockey at the time), an OK D-man in Nicklas Lidstrom, and the best coach of all time was he slowed down.  In the moment nobody realized just how great that Red Wings team was, and Lidstrom in particular was just then emerging as one of the games elite defencemen.  But Lindros dominated the playoffs to that point, and still put up three points in four games in the final, he just simply didn’t get any other help.  26 points in just 19 games, and much like a Milan Lucic today there was so much more to Lindros than what the numbers say.  If you were shutting him down on the scoreboard, then he was going to completely dominate you physically.  Unfortunately, Lindros was never better than during this run.  But was it ever a great run!

 

T-5. 2002 Peter Forsberg

Yep, didn’t even play a game in the final and he’s on this list…he was THAT good!  Although we should be really honest here, in 2002 even the Eastern media wasn’t shy to say that the Eastern Conference was disgusting and would pose zero threat to whoever came out of the West, so game seven between the Red Wings and Avs in the West final was pretty widely regarded as the Cup final.  27 points in just 20 playoff games in an era where you didn’t score.  The guy missed the entire regular season, and his first game back which was game 1 for the Avs vs LA in the playoffs the guy didn’t have an ounce of rust.  Four game winners in that run, two of those were OT winners.  I was and always will be a massive Joe Sakic guy, and always got annoyed when people suggested Forsberg was the better player of the two.  But in the spring of 2002, Forsberg was the best player in the world without a doubt.

 

4. 1994 Pavel Bure

Another honourable mention at this point goes to Trevor Linden.  It was so tough to leave Linden off of here because it felt like he had more dramatic moments during that run for the Canucks, in particular game seven against the Rangers where he sniped twice.  That shorthanded goal he scored in the second period with the Canucks trailing 2-0 was all heart.  He was such a deadly player early in his career.  But the fact is that they don’t get to game seven, or the final, or the conference final, or get past Calgary without the Russian Rocket.  Started off slow with just three assists in the first four games.  Didn’t score (might not have had a point) in the first four games against the Flames, had only one goal going into game seven.  He did a total 180 after that.  Two goals in that game seven including that OT goal.  He had 15 goals in 18 games from game seven on.  He was simply unstoppable, and incredible to watch.  Not as good as what McDavid is today, but for those people who didn’t get to see Bure in his prime he had that similar game breaking speed with the puck that McDavid has today, which is so rare to see.

 

3. 1993 Wayne Gretzky

This was a run that’s well remembered simply because pre 2012 being the only season the Kings made the Cup final.  What seems to be somewhat forgotten is not only how tremendous Gretzky was during that run, but how surprising it was.  Gretzky was always good with the Kings, but he never seemed to be QUITE what he was with the Oilers.  Understandable, those Oilers teams had a lot more talent and he started to run into a lot of injury trouble.  He was out the first half of the 93 season due to back surgery and there was talk of him possibly retiring, which made his 93 playoffs all the more amazing.  40 points in just 24 games, three game winners including the controversial OT goal in game six against the Leafs in the conference final which sent that series to a seventh game, and we all know what Gretz then did in game seven.  Gretz had a couple of pretty good runs with the Blues and Rangers in the 96 and 97 playoffs, but this was the last one of his prime.

 

2. 2004 Jarome Iginla

Hate the Flames or love them, this team was pretty difficult to dislike, and a large reason for that was the way Jarome Iginla played during this run.  Iginla didn’t have the amazing numbers some of the other guys had (different era), but Iginla would get it done in vital moments seemingly every time.  Game seven vs Vancouver he got both Flames goals in regulation, then really was responsible for the Gelinas OT winner with his work in front of the net.  The series against the Sharks was slipping away.  Sharks had won games 3 and 4 and were coming home.  Early in game 5 they went to the pp, and it was Iginla who stepped up with a tremendous solo effort for a short handed goal which completely turned that series around.  In game 5 against Tampa in OT, it’s known as “the shift” in Calgary where Iginla, helmetless and all, completely took over the game which led to an Oleg Saprykin’s goal and the Flames were a win away from the Cup.  And of course here I’m only talking about his goals.  He was physical, his fights with Matthias Ohlund, Derrian Hatcher and Vincent Lecavalier were tremendous and always gave the Flames a big spark, Iginla was a freaking beast in 2004.  He played the way we all would play if we had that kind of talent.

 

1. 2006 Chris Pronger

Flames fans won’t like me for this, but take it as a compliment to your 2004 team Flames fans.  The 2006 Oilers would not have been anywhere near a Stanley Cup in 06 had it not been for Pronger.  He should have been the Conn Smythe winner in 06 over Cam Ward.  I recall Pierre Lebrun having that same sentiment after game seven.  21 points in 24 games (as a defenceman), was playing 30 minutes a night matched up against guys like Datsyuk, Thornton (in his MVP season), Selanne, and Eric Staal and was completely shutting these guys down.  Three guaranteed hall of famers, and Staal sure looked as though he could become one in 2006 (still will have a shot).  Keep in mind that I never saw Bobby Orr play, but I can say I never have seen another defenceman at the level Pronger was in 06.  He was just simply incredible, seemingly never making a mistake.  Most Oilers fans will never forgive him for what happened in the days following this run, but when you think of 2006, you think of Pronger and how tremendous he was.  He elevated an average team that spring to a team that had it not been for the Dwayne Roloson injury probably would have won the Cup, and there for Mr. Pronger wouldn’t be on this list.  But it happened, and he is, and this Oilers fan will just have to accept it one of these days…

 

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2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

April is the best month, isn’t it?!  If you love sports, it is.  Combine the Final Four with MLB opening day, the Masters, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBA playoffs, and the NFL draft with the fact that the snow is melting (or in the case here…has melted) and you can rock your flippy floppies around town again, it’s good times!

 

But obviously this year, especially in Alberta, it’s a lot different.  Five Canadian teams.  It’s only the second time since 1991 that both the Flames and the Oilers have made the playoffs in the same season.  It’s the first time since 1990 that the Flames, the Oilers, and the Leafs have all made it in the same season!  Here is another one for you…it’s the first time since 1993 that three Canadian teams have had home ice advantage.  So all these years of being near the bottom of the standings look as though they’re about to really pay off for the Canadian teams.  The Oilers and Leafs look as though they could be on a collision course in the next few years to meet in the final, and in my opinion the Jets and Flames won’t be far behind.

 

But that’s in the years to come.  This is 2017, and it’s getting depressing to look three and four years down the road so let’s just focus on what’ll happen in the next two months.

 

Anaheim vs Calgary

This is going to sound bad.  This is going to sound like a bitter Oilers fan.  I don’t care, because I know that isn’t at all what it’s about and it’s purely from a hockey POV.  The Flames are the weakest team in the West and to me don’t look like a threat to anyone in the conference.  This team hasn’t beat a playoff team with their starting goaltender on regular rest (not on the 2nd half of a back to back) in regulation time since NOVEMBER 23rd!  The media (Eastern media specifically) can rave about how they’ve looked the last few months all they want, the truth is that they’ve simply won the games they should win.  Now, in fairness, that’s not easy to do.  But the fact that they aren’t beating good teams at their best unless it’s in a gimmick format, that’s a terrible sign.  I also don’t think the Flames do anything that would intimidate another team.  Their skill is good not great, they’re not a big team, they have real good speed but not elite speed, the blueline is real solid but not overwhelming, and the goaltending is solid but nothing special.  Then you have the Ducks, who look terrific top to bottom.  I know, they’ve choked in game seven a lot, but don’t you have to take them seven before that becomes a factor?  The Ducks either match everything the Flames have, or better them.  I might have said the Flames are better in net about a month ago, but not the way I’ve seen Gibson play lately.  I just really don’t like them as a playoff team, and out of all the teams they could have played the Ducks are likely the worst matchup of all.

Ducks in 5

 

Edmonton vs San Jose

A lot of this depends on how healthy both Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.  I believe both are going to play, but I can’t see either of them being near their normal level of play.  If they are, the Oilers are in big trouble here.  The Sharks have a boat load more experience, and match the Oilers speed, size, goaltending, basically it’s the same matchup as Anaheim/Calgary.  But if those two players are what I expect them to be which is shells of there former selves, then the Sharks are at a major disadvantage in this series.  Home ice is pretty vital for the Oilers here just because they’ll be able to keep Vlasic away from McDavid a lot more often.  I know McDavid had success against him and Braun in the regular season, but Vlasic is the type of guy who can raise his game.  But while that’ll be the matchup everyone watches, I believe the X factor here is Brent Burns.  Possibly the best PP weapon in the league this season, and the Oilers PK was horrendous at times in the final two months.  Mind you, the Sharks had the worst PP of all 16 playoff teams, and Burns cooled off dramatically in the final month.  But as an Oilers fan I really fear the PP vs PK matchup here.  Another thing Oilers fans have to know going in, the officiating is going to be disgusting.  Not because it’s the Oilers, but it’s a veteran team vs a youthful team.  It’s humiliating that Elliotte Friedman can go on the air and talk about how a teams strategy will be to take as many penalties as they can against a player and in hockey circles this is accepted, and then they wonder why scoring is down and they have trouble growing the game.  ANYWAY…Tough time picking this one, because I THINK it’ll be the Oilers, but I just hope I’m doing this with the head and not the heart.

Oilers in 7

 

Chicago vs Nashville

I doubt many will have this one the same, but I’ve been hot and bothered by the Preds since about midseason (maybe I’m going a LITTLE far by saying I’m hot and bothered by them).  When everyone is going for the Preds, they’re damn good!  For me, something just doesn’t feel right about this particular Hawks group.  Full disclosure, outside of the Oilers, I’m pulling for Chicago in the West.  I’d kill for a Hawks/Pens Cup final.  But, I can’t put my finger on it, but I just don’t trust this Hawks team.  Zero adversity all season long, and they really drew the short end of the stick getting Nashville instead of St. Louis in my opinion.  I feel like the Preds can matchup with the Hawks everywhere, and the big X factor in this series is Pekka Rinne.  He’s not near as consistent as he used to be, but still has the ability to raise his game to an elite level.  If he does, and I’m saying he does, it’ll be the big reason the Preds pull off the upset.  As a bit of a Hawks fan, hope I’m wrong.

Preds in 6

 

Minnesota vs St. Louis

Not at all a sexy matchup here, but a very interesting matchup.  The Wild for 2/3 of the season were the top team in the West and looked like they would cruise to top spot in the Central.  In the last third of the season, Devan Dubnyk resorted back to Oilers Devan Dubnyk and the Wild crashed hard down the stretch.  Meanwhile, until the Ken Hitchcock firing the Blues looked as though they wouldn’t make the playoffs.  Since Mike Yeo has taken over, the Blues, Jake Allen in particular, have been great.  So which way do you go here?  I’m sure most will take the Blues.  I’m taking the Wild.  The Wild analytically, and I go back and forth on how much stock I put into analytics, but analytically the Wild are still a great team, they just aren’t getting saves.  The Blues are now getting saves, but are you going to trust Jake Allen in a pressure spot?  You’re going to be that person?  Ok, good luck with that.  Go watch these two teams in the playoffs two years ago and tell me how Allen looked.  How about the 2010 World Juniors, how’d he look there?  This kid is going to have to prove himself under pressure, and until he does I won’t trust him.

Wild in 6

 

Montreal vs NY Rangers

What an awful prize for the Habs to win for finishing first in the Atlantic.  I just don’t see how the Habs pull this series out.  Goaltending is pretty much a wash, the Rangers are quicker, the Rangers have as good of a blueline, are stronger down the middle, I think Claude Julien is an elite coach but so is former Habs bench boss Alain Vigneault.  I’m sorry to any Habs fans out there reading this, but I’m just not seeing it.

Rangers in 6

 

Ottawa vs Boston

I know the Sens managed to sweep the Bruins in the season series.  I know the Sens are the much quicker team of the two.  But the Bruins have so much experience, and so much high end talent that I really think in the end that is what’ll win out.  Plus, we don’t know just how healthy Erik Karlsson will be, and if he’s not 100% (I doubt he is) I’m not seeing how the Senators can win it.

Bruins in 6

 

Washington vs Toronto

This one might be the biggest shocker pick of all.  Ok, no.  That’ll be the Preds pick.  But the amount of games I go with here might surprise you all.  I just think you have a classic case of one team having all the pressure in the world, not to mention a brutal history, vs a team that nobody expected to be here and simply couldn’t have less to lose.  The Caps could easily sweep this series, so it’s a risky bet putting it out there that I believe it’ll go seven, but I just really believe that with how well coached this Leafs team is and that refuse to die attitude they seem to have, I really believe they’re going to be a very tough out for the Caps.  Washington is still going to take the series, and it might be good for them to get a bit of a scare early on.  You think of a team like the 89 Flames who could never get over the hump, looked like they had an easy first round matchup against the Canucks that season, and it went to OT in game 7 before they advanced.  Point is, these kind of things happen and I’m playing a hunch that the Leafs will push them to the brink.

Caps in 7

 

Pittsburgh vs Columbus

The biggest problem here is that I don’t think the Blue Jackets have another gear.  I believe we’ve been seeing their best all season long, and that’s great, but A) they likely have now emptied the tank and B) the Pens have a whole other gear to go to, yet still finished ahead of Columbus.  Having said that, I do think the Jackets are going to be a miserable out for the Pens.  Torts can coach in the playoffs, and knows Mike Sullivan well.  The Jackets have an edge in goal no matter who the goaltender is for the Pens.  They’ll start with Matt Murray, but he’s been inconsistent of late so don’t be surprised if Marc-Andre Fleury re-emerges.  Another thing you can’t forget is how miserable Brandon Dubinsky makes life for Sidney Crosby.  Still, despite all of this, and no Kris Letang, I don’t see the Jackets pulling this one out.  The Pens are just simply too talented and too experienced for the Jackets to handle.

Pens in 6

 

Conference Finals

Anaheim vs Nashville

Not at all a sexy matchup, but has the makings for a great series.  A rematch of the first round a year ago that saw the Preds pull a massive upset to everyone….but me (although maybe I shouldn’t brag, I think I got like three of eight right in the first round last year, and this season I think I took the Kings and Lightning in the final…)  Two teams that have a lot of size, a lot of speed, and a lot of skill.  At midseason I loved the Preds, and still do.  But as we’ve moved towards the playoffs, I’ve been seeing a Ducks team that pretty literally has it all and will be a nightmare for teams to matchup with.  Randy Carlyle has won in the playoffs too, and while I’m not sure he’s a better coach than Bruce Boudreau, I do believe that mentally it’ll help the Ducks simply not having Boudreau’s postseason shortcomings hanging over their heads.

Ducks in 6

 

Pittsburgh vs NY Rangers

We saw this one in the first round last year as well, and it wasn’t nearly the series Anaheim/Nashville was.  I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the Rangers to show up, and wow did that ever not.  At that point, the Pens had been a massive underachiever since 2009, and the Rangers…NEW YORK…was seemingly always forgotten despite a lot of recent success.  Yet here we are a year later and even without Kris Letang I still like the Pens to come out of the Metro, and I only like the Rangers to get this far because the Atlantic is a bit of a joke.  The Rangers on paper matchup with the Pens pretty good.  But having seen that demolition by the Pens last spring I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t happen again

Pens in 5

 

Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh vs Anaheim

Not the matchup I’m hoping for, but I think this has the makings of a tremendous Stanley Cup final.  The Ducks can match the Pens speed, have a better blueline should Cam Fowler make it back (and now that the Pens won’t have Letang), and the biggest thing of all is that the Ducks are one of the few teams in the NHL who can matchup with the Pens down the middle.  Kesler vs Crosby, Getzlaf vs Malkin.  You might then say “yeah, but the Pens kill you with the Kessel line”, but the Ducks have recently been running a 3rd line of Antoine Vermette with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry!  It would be a total pick’em series in my opinion.

Ducks in 7

 

Conn Smythe – Hampus Lindholm

 

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