Sunday 11 Dec 2016

NHL Playoffs '13
Clobber Samson

"I don't believe in Astrology. The only stars I can blame for my failures are those that walk about the stage."

Noel Coward
Author, Actor, Wit

As you may know, hockey players, as all athletes, are extremely superstitious. On winning streaks, some don't change their underwear, nor their route to the arena, their diet; all kinds of things. There are constant references to 'the hockey gods' and 'destiny' as well as the rather ridiculous statements that God directly intervened due to a heaven sent prayer before puck drop.

Everybody is looking for an angle, an edge; an explanation, or an excuse. "It just wasn't in the cards this year." What cards, well, Tarot Cards?

Even the most jaded atheist probably rubs a rabbit foot before heading out onto the pond.

I bet even ole Noel Coward snuck a peak at his daily horoscope before each opening night.

It does seem otherworldly at times how that puck hits the crossbar or ya shank one while staring an open net with the goalie flailing away, scrambling back into position.

Of course, goalies are the most superstitious of all athletes, well notwithstanding chess player Bobby Fischer who was a freakin' loony.

In that regard, the Stanley Cup winners get to go to the White House, a place to which Bobby never got invited, maybe cause he used to shout "Death to the US.”

"I want to see the US wiped out" is likely not going to get ya an afternoon tea and bickey with Obie, Mr. Fischer!

Of course, after 20 years of futility, there'd be nothing wrong in all Canadian hockey fans hoping - even praying, consulting their mountain guru - that the teams from the US get wiped out this year, so that Lord Stanley's Cup returns to its home and native land.

Is that likely to happen, I don’t know. We have four teams in the hunt this year! Call the gypsies! Get out the voodoo dolls and pins.

I must confess that I'm one of those people who do not discount the reading of the tea leaves, the advice of the I Ching, the astrological charts and all ways, eccentric or not, concerning the great mysteries being revealed by some unconscious dark matter psychic network.

"There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt in your philosophy." Hamlet, the Dane who pranced around the castle in his tights. Draw your own conclusions.

I'm sorry however to report that, as a mere mortal, I can't foresee the future. I'm no Merlin gazing through the mists of Avalon trying to get an early morning peak into Guinevere's boudoir. I have no Harry Potter magic wand powers. My hocus-pocus is out of focus

As such, rather than secretly sifting thru Brian Burke's entrails, I can only look at the standings and the stats, or as I opined to a friend, like that fella from Notre Dame Cathedral, I just get by with a hunch.

I can say is sometimes the magic works, sometimes I burn and bury the evidence. I did after-all pick Carolina to finish first in the East. So, with that caution, strike up the Van Morrison. Here we go into the mystic;.

Let’s start in the East.

N.Y. ISLANDERS versus PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

With or without the Kid, most people have penciled-in the Pens to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final. Well, let's face it; they're a  decent team, eh. This is the team nobody wanted to meet in the first round but someone had to and that task falls to the Islanders, who some will say are just happy to be in the play-offs after an overly long drought. Some are already handing out the doggie biscuits "roll over Isles, roll over.” I bet ya many pundits will call this one a sweep.

Pens have home-ice advantage;. maybe. The Islanders have the third best road record in the East. In fact, their problem is winning at home! Even if they steal a game in Pittsburgh, they may loss all home games. Please sports announcers, should the Isles be on the ropes on the island, please refrain from references to that old chestnut, "it looks like the roof is falling in on the Islanders.” For those who know the decrepit state of the arena there, that'd be like using the word 'Macbeth" when you're doing the, more appropriately entitled, "Scottish Play.” Not wise.

Okay so the Pens have added Morrow, Iggy, Jokinen, Murray and they were already loaded for bear. Doesn't anybody remember last year when the Islanders went toe-to-toe with Flyers and lost? I still say the Pens need to confirm that one of their goalies can stop the puck on a consistent basis in the play-offs. Might that be their Achilles heel? It might be but not enough to lose this series. The Islanders are a one-line team. Shutting down Tavares won't be easy and the Isles will have to find a way to stop a relentless Pens attack. Miracles do happen but not here. It won't be a sweep.

Pittsburgh in six.

N.Y. RANGERS versus WASHINGTON CAPITOLS

One thing most hockey people agree on is play-off success, while not assured, comes with how well a team is playing down the stretch. I'm not sure if this philosophy is true, but can one think of another series whereby both teams fit that description to a tee? The Caps have the best record in the East over the last ten games, at 8-1-1; the Rangers are 7-3. Add to that the fact that both teams were fighting deep into the night for a place in the final eight. Both teams then are as play-off ready as any team in either conference.

I had actually written-off the Caps about the mid-way point and it wasn't looking good for the Rangers pre-Trade Deadline Day. Highly paid Brad Richards for the blue shirts was having a miserable campaign while it looked like Ovie was less than a shadow of his former shadow of his former self. Well, quote the old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Ovie had some kind of hockey blood transfusion. With some re-alignment by Coach Oates, things fell into place and the rest is history. Long lamented as a lame duck GM, Glen Sather pulled the trigger on Marion Gaborik and got an under-achieving Derek Brassard, along with others from Columbus, in return, nabbed Ryan Clowe from the Sharks and likely told Torts to cool his negative vibes mantras and, again, the rest is history.

I have no idea who to favour here. One has to give the Rangers a slight edge due to an all-round better defence, play-off experience and King Henrik. For the Caps, I'd be concerned that Brooks Laich and Joel Ward are not available because close series, if not the whole enchilada, comes down to depth and particularly the all-important third line. Yet the Caps have that home-ice advantage and two good goalies. They also have a slightly better road record. Of course, someone could win four in a row but this one has seven games writ large! One dimension that may spell the difference here is how each team will handle any adversity. I fear that the Caps are more vulnerable in that regard. If the Rangers get a split in Washington, that could prove fatal. If the Caps go up two-to-zero, the Rangers will be more ho-hum. I'm going slightly towards that latter scenario.

Rangers in 7.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS versus BOSTON BRUINS

The Big Bad Bruins have owned the Leafs for quite some time. If there's one team that might match them hack for hack, face-wash to face-wash, it's the Leafs. This one could get ugly early and often. Though usually a pacifist, why does that word end in "fist,” my greatest hope for this series is to see Dion Phaneuf meet Brad Marchand, Matt Cooke's twin brother, at centre ice and beat the living shite out of each other every night after the anthems. Jaromir! Why Boston” You are not a goon! You don't belong! I could hope for Toronto. They're from Canada, even if they pretend to be from New York. Let's be polite. They deserve respect for getting there this year. No more Laff jokes please. Now, Toronto might want to show some respect in return and tell their stupid fans to stop boo-ing Alfie in his own building. You dead sperm cells make Philadelphia fans look like they come form the city of brotherly love. Okay, I digress.

Some pundits have noticed that Boston has looked a bit fatigued of late and may be ripe for the picking, maybe they're just hibernating. They will have to rely on Rask who has been terrific but then again this is his first year in the limelight. It might turn into the lemon light! The Leafs do have some guys who can put the put under the crossbar. The Leafs opted to stick with Reimer in nets. Once they did, Reimer looked like a Vezina Trophy contender most nights. Might he steal a game, the series, maybe. Not even Merlin could answer that one!

Winning in Boston is difficult. The Leafs might have better luck taking on the Celtics. On paper, the Bruins are too strong, in all areas and are a serious Stanley Cup contender. Get 'em early, get a split in Boston and ya never know. I cannot predict an upset here but one would not surprise me. Since either Ottawa or Montreal will not get to the second round, it would be nice to see the Leafs win. In that regard, I do sense that the team from Toronto are the Eastern dark horse. They could go out in four or they might just get on a roll. Like the Canucks and the Sharks out West, it all depends on what team decides to show up on any given night. Alas, despite their fading ways down the stretch, the Bruins should prevail. Ho-hum;.

Boston in six.

OTTAWA SENATORS versus MONTREAL CANADIANS

Say it isn’t so, Joe!

Obviously every one, everywhere, is singing the praises of the Ottawa Senators organization from the owner down to the Zamboni driver for even making it into the play-offs given the numerous injuries all year: remarkable, truly remarkable. As for the Habs, few picked them to finish in the dance as well. Here we are ready for the Via Rail series. Choo choo!

Not what I wanted, but as the Rolling Stones once opined ya can't always get what ya want. Now that Karlsson and Cowen are back, another miracle, along with Anderson and Michalek, this same team took the Rangers to seven games last year. It'd be nice for the Sens to have Space Cadet at Centre but that is not looking likely. Hopefully, Alfie will stay healthy and not get 'gooned' and then morph into Freddy Kreuger, at the Sens bench.

The Habs, especially Carey Price, have struggled of late, but they'll be ready to rock. Michael Ryder is a better fit than is Erik Cole. Halpern has a lot of experience, along with Moen. Are there two better-matched teams in the East? Both built for speed over size, both have three good lines and fairly comparable and competitive fourth lines. Andy can match Carey. EK versus PK. Beauty! This could be a dynamite six or seven game series. Don't forget to breathe and pee. I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy this one.

How do you pick one team over the other? Well, one factor will be penalties and penalty kills. Ottawa is extremely good at killing them, but not so good scoring when they have the man advantage. If the Sens can thwart the Habs d-men on the PP and pop a few when their up a man, they have more than a decent chance here. I'll go as far as to say that if Ottawa gets through to the next round, look out. Wait, I can say the same thing about the Habs. For me, Ottawa and Montreal are the only two Canadian teams, right now, who can bring home the silver bacon.

Here is the only omen I can see re the result. This is a second Seed versus a Seventh Seed match-up, the curse of finishing second. Au Revoir 'Na na na na" land. It’s just a hunch Quasimodo.

Ottawa in six.

Okay, hitch up the wagons Chester, we're traveling west.

MINNESOTA WILD versus CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Are the Wild another example in pro sports of the danger of trying to buy a winner? Suter, Parise and then Pominville. They've obviously made Minnesota a better team that last year's version. They made the play-offs for the first time in 5 years. Just get in baby! They finished, by a whisker, in eighth. They might like that position. It had some  good karma last year for the Kings! Ottawa almost knocked off the Rangers in their opening round. The Kings ousted the Canucks mostly on two factors - Quick in nets and bulk and grit all over the ice. Being President's Trophy winner has its own historical baggage.

Minnesota has Backstrom; he’s a decent, sometimes brilliant goalie, but no Jonathan Quick. As for the President's Trophy winners, the Hawks, where's the weakness?

I must admit I was surprised at how many analysts, at the start of the season, picked the Hawks to win it all, or at least represent the West in the Stanley Cup, why, goal-tending. Crawford had a miserable play-off last year. Junkyard scraps and crazy glue holds Rayzor Emery together. Everyone figured the Hawks would upgrade by TDD. Not to be, why, both have been terrific. They won the Jennings Trophy. Whom do you start? The guy who calls you "sir.”

I will say that IF Columbus had notched the eight spot, I might give this one seven games, with a very possible upset. There will be no upset here. The only thing upsetting about this series is the Wild's uniforms. Anybody for a wild turkey shoot; please Minnesota, try something new!

Chicago in five.

DETROIT RED WINGS versus ANAHEIM DUCKS

If you don't think coaching matters, think again! How many pundits picked Anaheim to make the play-offs, let alone finish second in the conference? Okay, no hands up in the air on that one, Bruce Boudreau, the funny looking guy with the sometimes foul, but humorous, mouth got these guys organized and having fun again. Teemu Selanne and Sakic Koivu and other elder statesmen, Sheldon Souray has had a very good return to the NHL - have given the Ducks more than enough scoring. Gestalt and Perry are freshly minted players ready to rock. Add another team with two great goalies and watch out! Should we however be cautious and not so quick to write off the Red Wings?

Except for some long-time stars upfront, Datzuk and Zetterberg, the Wings have a weaker defence than past years, the understatement of the year, and must rely on Jimmy Howard stealing at least one or two games. Detroit is a smart management however. They've slowly rebuilt over the season and some of their youngsters as well as their second or third year guys have been playing with more purpose of late. Old warrior Johan Franzen aka 'The Mule" has, dare I say, got his ass in gear down the stretch. The Red Wings also come in having won four in a row to get this chance. Okay, so what's the scoop?

This is the most non-analytic choice of all. I love Teemu Selanne but I hate the Ducks. They're the Bruins of the West. I just hope they lose. There! Suck it up Burkie!

Detroit in seven.


L.A. KINGS versus ST. LOUIS BLUES

Or, if you prefer, WW3. I would guess that the rest of league is doing high-fives at the prospect of these two brutes banging the piss out of each other for seven games! I can assure you that the Canucks are one team that are thankful that they didn't have to meet either of these slugfests, in the first round. Yes, the Blues got trounced last year in the Kings rocket blast to the Cup. They'll be a little more prepared this time around. Hey, a little cheer for Jay Bouwmeester, who, by trade from Calgary, will be making his play-off debut.

One problem the Blues have going in is who will be their goalie? They have three to choose. Will the real Stanley Cup net-minder please show-up! The Kings have Quick again and if he falters, hello Bernier, equally capable of taking the Kings to the promised land. The Kings lost home-ice advantage to the Blues down the stretch. The Blues have a much better road record. They don't care where you are; they'll show up and whack ya till you cry "mercy!.” I was a little too harsh on Darryl Sutter last year. He's the guy in the encyclopedia where they talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Well, used to be; one sign that things aren't going well with the Blues will be the amount of smoke coming out of Ken Hitchcock's ears. I think the physical severity of this series will an effect on the ability of either team going deep. So, while I think the Kings will prevail, they will be damaged goods re making a run for an second cup.

Los Angeles in eight. 

SAN JOSE SHARKS versus VANCOUVER CANUCKS

For the Canucks, maybe the best match-up going in. Well, maybe one can say the same for the Sharks.

How many Cups have these teams won in September? How many times have their names ended up on the silver mug at season's end? The C's went to the Cup Final two years ago and got satirized and sodomized by the Bruins. This is not the same team, meaning not as good. I don't think they shown, albeit partly due to injuries, that they're as good as last year's squad. Of course last year there was that goal-tending controversy while this year there's; that goal-tending controversy! The last few games, five plus million "my contract sucks" back-up Roberto Luongo has played due to a 'body' injury to Schneider. He played fairly well on Thursday and well for 50 minutes on Saturday before his blasting by the Oilers; five goals in less time than you need to boil an egg.

Well, come first game, we might finally have our projected starting line-up for the first time. How do you sell 'hope'? Apparently, not very well; seats in the lower bowl at $255 a crack are available in droves. The days of packing the arena may be waning. (You can get the same seats in Anaheim for $115.00). We all know that owners live for the play-offs. It's when they make their money back. Maybe the C's owner is hedging his bets. Get the money in the first two homes games cause this team finishes early, again.

Well, meet their 'nemesis' or, if you prefer, those bosom buddies at the art of failure: Jumbo Joe and Patrick Marleau, the proverbial twin killing! They wrote the manual on how not to win the play-offs, bad Karma? The Sharks have built-up enough bad karma that things are bound to change one of these years. Right?

Both teams have the same advantage. Nobody is expecting either of these teams to go deep, so have fun boys and don't cancel that June summer vacation. The Sharks are dynamite at home in the Shark Tank but not so good on the road. The Canucks are almost as good on home-ice and significantly better on the road but the Shark Tank is where Vancouver goalies go to die. The Canucks picked up Derek Roy, the Sharks Raffi Torres. The Canucks strengthened their front three lines. The Sharks put together Torres with Havlat and Scott Gomez. Logan Couture is on fire, the new leader of the Sharks. Neimi will likely get a Vezina Trophy nomination.

Schneider, if healthy, could be a huge difference. He is the Canucks MVP. If however Louie has to play, it is quite possible he could become the Conn Smythe winner OR equally possible to get a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

The Sharks coach said the team that will win the Cup is the team that comes together as a group and believes in themselves. One pundit in Vancouver has probably hit the nail on the head. The losing coach in this series will be looking for a job. Obviously I'm torn;. and certainly will be by many Canucks fans, not to mention some friends, but I don't like what I see and hear lately from the Canucks camp.

San Jose in six.

Clobber Samson is a highly opinionated sports commentator, especially when it comes to Vancouver "Canucks," of the National Hockey League. Expect no balance in his columns. This is good.

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