Its almost June & only 2 teams are left playing in the NHL. The Philadephia Flyers, a team few people expected to still be playing, and the Chicago Blackhawks, a team many people, myself included expected to possibly be playing still.
When this season started, the Chicago Blackhawks (even though I didnt like admitting it, still fresh off the sting of them beating us in the playoffs the year before, I was still a bit bitter) were my team to win the West....of course, it wasnt a resound vote of confidence. I did have my fingers dipped in several bowls, including the Calgary Flames (before they tried to build a team out of 3rd & 4th liners).
It came as little shock to anyone that the Blackhawks finished tops in their division & 2nd in the Western Conference this year. A lot of people expected the Hawks to take over the reigns from the long time Central Division champs, Detroit Red Wings.
I had the team getting this far possibly...I just didnt know who the goalie was that was going to get them here. Upstart Finnish goalie Antti Niemi has stolen the job from the greatest goaltender ever from France, Cristobal Huet. That is saying a lot for Niemi. Afterall Huet stole the job from superstar Nikolai Khabibulin & subsequently was responsible for the former Cup champion being run out of town. Now Niemi might do the same to Huet.
Round 1, the Hawks had a date with the Nashville Predators. I never took the Preds serious all year long, and in the playoffs that didnt change. I expected the Hawks to dispense of them quickly, so you could imagine my surprise when the boys from the Windy City were down 2 games to 1 from a place that thinks when someone says "puck" it must be someone with a speech impediment swearing at you. But eventually calm was restored & the Chicago Blackhawks got out of round 1 4 games to 2.
For their next match up, they were going to try & recreate history. The Vancouver Canucks, the Hawks 2nd round opponents of a year ago were back looking for revenge. With an Art Ross winner & improved scoring all around, the Canucks were seemingly silenced offensively by the defensive pairings of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as well as Nik Hjarmalsson and Brian Campbell. The offense that was so explosive for the Canucks seemed missing, while the Hawks wasnt. Jonathan Toews stepped up in the series & started an offensive streak that is still in tact at this point. Dustin Byfuglien & Dave Bolland seemed too much for the thin & undermanned Canucks defense to handle. While offensively Patrick Sharp & Pat Kane did what was expected of them. The rematch ended the same way, on the same date a year later. Chicago Blackhawks win 4 games to 2
While the Hawks were running thru the west, another team San Jose Sharks were doing something most people didnt expect...they were also winning. With wins over the Colorado Avalanche after being down in the series, and a more shocking win over the surging Detroit Red Wings, who were starting to look like the Wings of old in the weeks prior, the Sharks seemed a formidable opponent for the strong Hawks team. The Sharks, known for being a great regular season squad, but always faltering come playoffs saved their predictable collapse for the Conference finals this time. The #1 team in the West in the regular season was beat down by the bigger and faster Hawks squad. While playoff choke artist poster child Joe Thornton was scrounging up 1 measely point in the 4 games, Jonathan Toews was busy getting 6 pts in that same time span, including game 2 GWG & assisting on 2 other GWGs. All the same suspects from the Canucks series were responsible in gutting the Sharks. Byfuglien, Bolland, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook & Keith did much of the damage. With the exception of Patrick Marleau & Dan Boyle, the Sharks were dead in the water from the word go of this series. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the top seeded Western team 4 games to 0 in the Western Conference Finals and took home the Campbell Bowl. With a sweep in the books, the Hawks started to set their sights on their ultimate goal...the Stanley Cup.
The Chicago Blackhawks are where many thought they would be. In the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe just not against who lost thought they would be there against. They will face a foe that was 24 points behind them in the standings. A team that would have finished 11th in their conference. But the Hawks wont take them for granted I suspect. Afterall, the only meeting these two teams had this year, the Hawks lost, and not all that long ago, back on Mar 13th.
Chicago will hope for youngster Antti Niemi to hold up the incredible performance he has put in for just 1 more round, while hoping out of the blue wonder Michael Leighton doesnt do the same on his end for the flyers.
With Jonathan Toews running amuck, already tallying 26 pts, it really seems they dont need anyone else to get the job done. But others are getting the job done. Patrick Kane has quietly put together 20 pts, while Patrick Sharp has been alright too. Even Marian Hossa, who many have seen as unproductive these playoffs, still has 11 pts himself. Then theres the big Bs. Byfuglien & Bolland. Duncan Keith was slow starting offensively these playoffs, but is now up to 10 pts. Brent Seabrook, Nik Hjarmalsson, Brent Sopel & Brian Campbell have done a decent job at adding some offensive jump to an already strong line up from the back end. As long as John Madden & his rotating group of checkers keeps doing their job, the lethal Philly offense shouldnt have too much luck against Niemi.
Coach Joel Quenneville will expect victory from his players. A Campbell Bowl isnt enough to quench the thirst these guys have right now. They have recent Olympic Champions who know how victory tastes. They have other recent Olympians, liek patrick Kane looking to get the bitter taste out of his mouth of a near victory. he doesnt want to go thru that again I assure you. While its clear Toews, Kane, Keith, Byfuglien, Sharp, Seabrook and Niemi want this championship badly. So do the rest. Ben Eager and Troy Brouwer are just as hungry. They know this moight be the closest they ever get & there is no waiting for the next chance. Marian Hossa is at the finals for a 3rd consecutive year, with his 3rd different team. He is 0-2 so far, he certainly doesnt want to go thru the pain of losing in the finals again.
I believe Chicago Blackhawks will win this series. The Flyers might have proven me wrong 4 times already this year, but at the same time, the Hawks have proven me right just as often.
As much as the city of Philadelphia might want this after the long wait they have had. Chicago is even hungrier. Philly hasnt been a champ since 1975, Chicago 1961. The Hawks fans have had to suffer thru the horrid ownership of Bill Wirtz, a man who probably would have played the games without electricity in teh stadium if it were leglally allowed. This franchise has had no chance to be a serious competitor too often in the past couple decades. Missing the playoffs 9 of the past 11 seasons prior to now, the Hawks have suffered longer then Flyerrs fans. Two generaltions of Hawks fans havent seen a Cup hoisted, while only 1 generation of Flyers fans havent seen it happen. The Hawks have had only 3 other Cup appearances since the last win in 61. The Flyers in comparison have only missed the playoffs 6 times TOTAL since winning the Cup & have been to the Finals 5 other times since their last Cup win. Everything about this series suggests Hawks fans have suffered longer, and deserve this more.
Whoever wins the 2010 Stanley Cup will have ended some long suffering for its fans & will have prolonged the other fans suffering a little longer. For what its worth, I think it will be the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks who will have the celebratory party, and I suspect it will be after game 6.
With every roster, I wont be surprised to have some wrong. But with Canada, I actually wont be shocked if I have a 1/3 of it wrong. There was just too many to choose from for too few open spots.
Team Canada, the host country. Canada will come in with enormous pressure on them to perform, not just by media who often act like a hockey championship should just be anointed to us, but moreso the fans, especially the unknowing fans who dont realize how lethal the other top tier countries really are. You would think 1 gold medal in 57 years would simmer our fans egos, but it doesnt. We expect gold from these guys & anything less will be considered failure. Despite them coming in ranked #2 in the world & only a couple years ago, were as low as 3rd. All that is irrelevant to the minds of Canadian hockey fans. In their minds Canada is here to pick up their Gold medals & the rest are just competing to see who shares the podium with them as silver & bronze medalists.
Reality is, the Canadian team actually looks strong on paper & thus will warrant such Gold medal predictions by the pundits & armchair analysts alike. I have complete confidence in GM Steve Yzerman to pick a strong team. I like the choice of him as a GM. I think he actually has an eye for the game & will be able to do something that his pre-decessors couldnt, put loyalties aside & pick solely on talent for the position.
Even though I know better than to toss aside the Russians, Swedes, Finns, Americans or Czech Republic as after thoughts, I too feel Canada SHOULD be the Gold favorites for 2010.
With only a few days till they announce their roster, here is what I think the team might look like.
Martin Brodeur- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) All time leader in wins & Shutouts, the backstop of the last Canada Gold Olympic medal, Marty has nothing to prove to anyone to make this team. Only question legitimately is, will be the starter?
Roberto Luongo- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) The winningest goalie in G.M Place...err Canada Hockey Place history will possibly be the starter in that very building. Great record at home this year helps his chances as well.
Marc Andre Fleury- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) With the collapse of Steve Mason, MAF has leaped into the limelight for the 2010 consideration. He will still need a horrible miracle to get into a game, but he will at the very least be on the team.
Dan Boyle- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The most minutes of any Canadian defenseman means Dan has had all sorts of situations this season in SJ. He can QB a PP, play ES & kill penalties. He is a lock.
Chris Pronger- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) He probably has helped Matt carle get a spot on the U.S. roster. Having a strong year in Philly....even if the team itself isnt.
Drew Doughty- LOS ANGELES KINGS (NHL) A month ago I must confess, I foolishly told someone I dont think Doughty will be on Team Canada. I was standing ona street & didnt have the wealth of info I have here infront of me & just foolishly thought there must be more top tier Canadian dmen than him. I was wrong.
Brent Seabrook- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) I revised this spot & took out Mike Green. Seabrook has lots of chemistry with Keith & was a strong consideration & I think in the end his defensive game will bring more than Greens offensive only game. So I have switched out Green for Seabrook in the end.
Duncan Keith- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) An often used dman for Chicago in all situations, Duncan will likely come here with the task of being a shutdown dman & Penalty killer. He has some offensive punch too if its needed.
Shea Weber- NASHVILLE PREDATORS (NHL) The hard hitting Weber will be expected to anchor the 3rd pairing.
Scott Niedermayer- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Even with the non-Niedermayeresque year he has had, Scott is still a solid lock for this team, if for no other reason than experience. The fact that statistically hes done well enough to warrant consideration helps the cause too.
Dany Heatley- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Hidden behind the strong start his teammate Joe Thornton is having is Dany. He'll be the top line left winger, regardless if his teammate centres him or not.
Sidney Crosby- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) You cant make a Canada roster without Sid. Doing so is clearly a sign of 1 of two things. Either a severe hate for him, or mental instability. In either case the young Stanley Cup winning captain will be the centrepiece of the teams top line.
Jarome Iginla- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) Probably the most well rounded player for Canada, Jarome will most certainly be on the top line, or 2nd line. Depending what type of forward pairings the coaches have in mind. In any case, he will certainly be a huge piece of any offensive attack Canada has.
Joe Thornton- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The leagues top scorer will likely take a back seat her e& play 2nd fiddle to Sid the Kid. Expect Joe Thornton to still be the set up man on the PP though. Might be no better passer right now.
Corey Perry- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) A big body who eats up big minutes & is offensively skilled, Corey Perry will be a loc for the team along with his linemate & countryman Ryan Getzlaf.
Brad Richards- DALLAS STARS (NHL) Having another terrific offensive campaign, Brad Richards in my opinion has done all he can to make a case for being on the team. He could be the victim of "too many Centresitis" if they decide to thin the roster out from Centre based players. But he should be here still.
Mike Richards- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) A penalty killing specialist by description, Mike also has offensive capabilities as well. He will be out on almost every PK situation Canada may get.
Rick Nash- COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (NHL) 40 goals last year, on pace for more than that this year. A lock for their top 2 lines & PP units.
Patrick Marleau- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Great in all sections of the game, Patrick can be used on the PP, ES & PK. He'll likely be logging a lot of minutes. What line, that is still a question.
Mike Fisher- OTTAWA SENATORS (NHL) Yes, Canada needs checkers. So whats even better than a checking forward? One that has offensive flair as well. Mike Fisher will likely get 4th line minutes by the bunchloads, expect him to do a a lot of PK time too.
Dustin Penner- EDMONTON OILERS (NHL) I surprised a lot of people by saying this in conversation. Most of them dont think hes as legit as the point totals suggest. I have been big on him for awhile, and I think hs size is the final straw in adding him to the line up. Great 3rd line pressence & possible big body for the PP.
Ryan Getzlaf- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) You cant pick Perry & leave Getlaf off. They are going to be paired together to see if they can mesh on the world stage as well as they do in the NHL.
Martin St Louis- TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NHL) All offense, Martin might get into the line up if some more offensive spark is somehow required. For the mostpart, he is probably watching from the press box though.
maybe- Marty Turco, Chris Mason, Brent Seabrook, Jay Bouwmeester, Stephane Robidas, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Smyth, Brenden Morrow, Jonathan Toews.
Last week the Blackhawks were here. This team used to be a good signing squad, but the egos are starting to wear on guys who used to be really nice.
To top it off, their teams P.R. guy (kinda looked like the midget troll of doom who runs the league) was running around telling his players (you know, the guys who HE works for...not the other way around) not to sign for us.
For a league that still is outranked by psuedo pastimes/sports like poker, UFC, golf & Nascrap in the U.S. I still find it utterly appalling that teams would discourage their players from looking good in the public eye at any time for any reason....yet still, there are dimwits like the butterball nutjob this team has who thinks this is a good idea.
CRISTOBAL HUET- 2 autographs. Signed 1 per, in some cases 2 per.
ANTTI NIEMI- no report
BRENT SEABROOK- 1 autograph. Used to be a guy willing to sign everything. Now is only signing 1 & quite adamant about it.
DUNCAN KEITH- 1 autograph. Like Brent, was once a great multiple item signer. No longer.
BRIAN CAMPBELL- 1 autograph. Still a 1 per. Never been overly great signer, not much has changed.
CAM BARKER- 2 autographs. Like the rest of the defense core, his signing habits have slimmed back considerably.
BRENT SOPEL- 0 autographs. Willing signer for those that asked.
NIKLAS HJALMARSSON- no report
PATRICK KANE- 1 autograph. As usual, not overly easy, but did sign a fair amount before the game. Outright refused to do jersey numbers, but was fine with most everything else. No longer personalizing everything was a bonus.
JONATHAN TOEWS- 1 autograph. Was one of the very few players who signed at the airport on the way out. Funny enough, he was one of the few who didnt sign at the hotel earlier.
PATRICK SHARP- 1 autograph. Like the other Patrick, still not overly easy & also wouldnt sign jersey numbers. He did however probably sign more autographs before the game here than he did all the last 2 seasons combined here.
TROY BROUWER- 0 autographs. He signed, but I missed him going for someone else. Seemed willing to sign multiples.
DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN- 1 autograph. Signed 1 per.
JOHN MADDEN- 0 autographs. I had nothing for him, but he was still willing to sign multiple items.
TOMAS KOPECKY- 0 autographs. No joke, he denied requests from the whole 2 people that wanted him before the game.
BEN EAGER- 2 autographs. An almost always unwilling 1 per signer did 2 for me at once. Iw as quite shocked by this considering the turn for the worse the rest of the team had taken.
KRIS VERSTEEG, ANDREW LADD, DAVE BOLLAND, COLIN FRASER, MARIAN HOSSA, JACK SKILLE- no reports
Total Chicago autographs 13
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.