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.
While many, and with good reason, have written Tyler Myers and Matt Duchene in on the Calder ballot already with a couple weeks of hockey still to play, the 3rd spot is possibly still debated by some.
The majority say John Tavares will get it. Some believe recently traded Atlanta Thrashers stud Niklas Bergfors can steal that spot. But the one that few are talking about, and I think is not only a serious contender, but also, a serious contender to win it, is Jim Howard.
Howard, the Detroit Red Wings barely 26 year old (aka- Calder eligible) starting goalie was on no ones radar at the start of the year, mainly because he was the undisputed back up in Detroit to long time veteran and past Stanley Cup winning goaltender Chris Osgood. But as Ozzie faultered early on, Howard stepped in and was a solid 2nd option. Since the Olympic break Howard has been the undisputed #1 in Detroit, going 12-2-1 in that time. In fact, since the start of the calendar year, Osgood only has 2 decisions (0-2-0), while Howard is 20-7-7 in that same timespan. it took till December, 3 months into the season for the Wings to realize who the real #1 was in their organization. If it took THEM that long, you can understand why sports writers and fans alike are still overlooking statistically, the 2nd or 3rd best goalie in hockey right now. Here is a guy who should be in Vezina talks by TV analysts & writers, but is barely even getting Calder mentions.
Its easy to see why Howard is overlooked by some. Statistically, he isnt the top rookie goalie....sort of. If it were not for Boston Bruins star Tuukka Rask also having a solid year, Howards dominance might seem more impressive for a rookie. But with Rask (who would also be a contender, if not for the fact he only has 40 GP) having a better GAVE & SPCT on the season, Howards 2.27 GAVE & .926 SPCT (both in the top 5 in the NHL) doesnt seem as spectacular to some. But it really is spectacular, and someone needs to start taking notice.
He is in the top 5 in the two most notable categories for goalie in the entire NHL. He is 10th in Wins, despite starting the year as the back up. He currently is riding a 6 game winning streak, and hasnt lost in regulation time since March 9th, despite playing in every game in that time. With a .918 SPCT, and a 2.23 GAVE in the month of March, for a team fighting for their playoff lives, his play has been nothing short of incredible.
Even while having more wins than Jose Theodore, the starting goalie for the #1 team in hockey, and Cristobal Huet, the #1 goalie for the Blackhawks 3rd in the NHL & topcs in teh Wings division, Howard seems to fly under the radar to everyone. He had far superior stats to Tim Thomas and even Jonathan Quick going into the Olympics, yet didnt get the call from Team USA. The guy just seems to get no respect. Even the Red Wings, who kept riding Osgood early in the season, despite Howard constantly having better stats in the limited games he was getting, overlooked him. I suspect, sports writers will do the same when voting for the Calder too.
There is only 2 goalies with a better GAVE than him who have played more than 40 games. There is only 2 goalies with a better SPCT than him who have played more than 40 games.
If you take out Hart contender, Ryan Miller from the equation, theres only 1 goalie in each of those categories. Miikka Kiprusoff in GAVE, Tomas Vokoun in SPCT. Jim Howard should be considered for the Vezina trophy. Let alone the Calder. But he wont, because the writers dont have a familiarity with him yet that they do with statistically inferior stars like Nabokov, Lundqvist, Bryzgalov, Brodeur or Luongo. All who have "good" stats, but not amazing stats. All who have inferior stats to Howard.
When you consider that Matt Duchene, the NHL rookie scoring leader has only 53 pts & 23 goals on the season. Stats that put him 62nd in points, and 50th in Goals amongst forwards, is a lock on the Calder ballots, Howard should be too. Howard is more dominant in his position than Duchene has been at his. More of a case can be made for Tyler Myers than Duchene. He is afterall in the top 10 in defenseman points, goals and top 20 in +/-. But he still, statistically is not dominating his position as much as Howard is his.
Against the 9 teams statistically ahead of the Wings currently in the league, Howard has 13-2-4 record. He has 13 wins against the top 9 teams in the league. He has beat all of them but 2, Washington and New Jersey. He also didnt get the chance to face Washington or NJ. So he has beaten all the teams above the Wings currently that he has had the chance to face. Probably not going to be a Vezina finalist, and possibly not even a Calder finalist. HOW??
There is a realistic chance Jim Howard wont be a finalist for the Calder, let alone the winner when the awards are handed out in Las Vegas in June. The NHL poster child for this years rookie crop, and NEW YORK team based kid wonder John Tavares will probably be hand picked by the NHL to be the other finalist just because. All that Howard has achieved this year will be ignored by the NHL writers most likely, and if its not, the NHL likely will ignore it anyways.
Jim Howard should be a Vezina finalist, and the Calder winner. At the end of the day, he most likely wont even be a finalist for either award. Whether the NHL writers or the NHL itself is to blame for this remains to be seen.
Like the two teams prior, I only went for the Wings prior to the game. This was bad for me, as it was day 3 of their trip here & it seems a couple of the players were under the assumption they must have signed for everyone by then. That being said, considering I put in just barely over 1/2 hr & missed 2 guys before I got there, really decent performance.
CHRIS OSGOOD- 1 autograph. He didnt look too keen on signing, but did for the people who asked. Like I said, day 3 is often the breaking point for players.
JIM HOWARD- 2 autographs. Happily did all items presented to him.
NICK LIDSTROM- 1 autograph. As usual, Nick made sure everyone got 1 item & took pictures with a few fans even.
BRIAN RAFALSKI- 1 autograph. Presented 2 items, he did 1. Still for day 3 I am just happy he signed. Hes had a history of being an unhappy signer at times.
NIKLAS KRONWALL- 1 autograph. 2 items presented, 1 signed. Happened a lot.
BRAD STUART- 1 autograph. Signed willingly.
BRETT LEBDA, JONATHAN ERIKSSON, DEREK MEECH & ANDREAS LILJA- no reports
PAVEL DATSYUK- 1 autograph. Made sure that everyone got 1, and didnt sign multiples for anyone.
HENRIK ZETTERBERG- 1 autograph. Signed 1 for everyone. Declined pictures with though.
TOMAS HOLMSTROM- 0 autographs. 1 of the few guys who didnt stop. I suspect he just assumed because it was day 3 that he had got us all already. Hes got a history of being a tough signer, but usually makes sure that everyone gets 1 on a trip.
JASON WILLIAMS- 2 autographs. Willing to do multiples without hesitation.
DAN CLEARY- 1 autograph. Considering he didnt sign a single thing for me last season, despite multiple requests. I'll take 1, even though 2 items were preseneted to him & barely anyone was asking him.
VALTTERI FILPPULA- 2 autographs. Signed both items without hesitation.
TODD BERTUZZI- 0 autographs. Disappointed in Todd. As a visitor since his trade away from here hes been a great signer. Today not so much. He told everyone he would get us when he came back to the bus, then signed for a whole 2 or 3 people out of the dozen or so waiting.
PATRICK EAVES- 1 autograph. Only had 1 item, he did it without a problem.
BRAD MAY- 0 autographs. Shockingly, I had nothing for 1 of my all time favorite players. But he did sign for everyone who asked.
DARREN HELM, KIRK MALTBY, KRIS DRAPER, JUSTIN ABDELKADER & VILLE LEINO- no reports
Total Detroit autographs- 15.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
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.