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Popsicle Brothers Report (Part Six)
CALIFORNIA — The Popsicle Brothers are once again on a two-on-one brakeaway with a goal in mind — Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Last weekend the New Jersey Devils made it very clear this month what team will win the Atlantic Division.
With the Devils commanding 3-0 victory over the second-place Philadelphia Flyers last Sunday afternoon, the Flyers are nine points behind New Jersey in their division with a game at hand.
It looks like the Boston Bruins and New Jersey are on a collision course for the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams want to avoid meeting the hot, speedy Washington Capitals and superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin in the playoffs.
Ovechkin has but a fire under the Capitals behinds and could be the team to derail the Devils and Bruins Cup dreams.
The Devils all star goalie returned last week to a changed team during his almost four-month injury absence. The Garden State defensemen are now scoring as much as the New Jersey forwards, putting less pressure on goalies Brodeur and Kevin Weekes.
The Devils can thank substitute goalie Scott Clemmenson for his mid season run with stellar net minding (24-11-1 .922 save percentage and two shutouts). Brother Kevin Weekes has picked up where Clemmenson left off, winning his last three games.
If Weekes and Brodeur get hot, the New Jersey Devils are in fine shape for the playoffs. Defensemen Colin White, Bryce Salvador, John Oduya, Paul Martin, and Mike Mottau have formed a ring around the Jersey net making it very difficult to score.
Brodeur earned his 100th NHL regular-season shutout with a 27-save effort. He now has his eyes set on two coveted goalie records. Sunday afternoon Devil victory moved him within three of tying Terry Sawchuk’s, (played for five teams) mark of 103.
It was also Brodeur’s 547th career victory, moving him within four of tying Patrick Roy’s (Montreal, Winnipeg, and Colorado) league record. He should achieve both before the end of the season.
When number 30 hangs up his skates and puts his mask up on the shelf he no doubt will be heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Devil fans are very happy to see number 30 in net again at “The Rock”– Prudential Center.
Brodeur has been very impressive in his return, posting two shutouts and winning three times in four days. He has stopped 46 of 48 shots, and has four shutouts in 13 games this season.
A fresh Brodeur is even more dangerous; and likely still can’t believe the Devils have become a potent scoring machine which should make his job a lot easier in net and is definitely a luxury for one who was so used to winning one-goal games.
In other news, the New York Rangers fired their head coach Tom Renney last week and continue to slide downward in the Atlantic Division. Maybe the Broadway Blueshirts will slide right out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers are having difficulty scoring and goalie Henrik Lundqvist is paying the price for their ineptitude.
Both Nigel Dawes and Scott Gomez both have been struggling the 2nd half of the year. The fans in Madison Square Garden are now screaming the name of unrestricted free agent Sean Avery, but why put fuel to an already burning house? This would be a very bad move for the New York Rangers.
The Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins are the biggest disappointment in the Eastern Conference; both are still suffering from the Hossa trades, one from Ottawa to Pittsburgh a year ago then the Pens traded Hossa to Detroit. Hossa could now play in the Western Conference Finals.
Still predicting an Eastern Conference Final of New Jersey Devils-Boston Bruins. The two dark horse teams in the East are the very big and brawny new Broad Street Bullies, Philadelphia Flyers and Great Eight’s Washington Capitals. It should be an interesting finish.
Note to Don Cherry: While we know Cherry always speaks up for his Canadian kids, the reality is Ovechkin is better than Crosby – so stop hatin’ on the man and enjoy his fantastic skills.
The San Jose Sharks are trying to find ways to motivate each other to win games, with a 23 point division lead on the second place Anaheim Ducks. This is the best kept secret west of the Mississippi River. The Sharks are the class of the West with only ten losses in 60 games.
Cheechoo, Setoguchi, Thornton, and Grier are guiding the men of Teal. It was interesting that San Jose picked up another playoff veteran old horse Claude Lemieux. This should stabilize and assist older players Jeremy Roenick and Rob Blake in the Sharks locker room.
Last week the Sharks stumbled, losing two out of three to the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadians, beating the Ottawa Senators on their recent road trip. San Jose travels to Vancouver, St. Louis, and Minnesota this week. The Sharks are still in the race for the Presidents Trophy that is given to the team with the most regular season wins.
The Red Wings are just three points behind San Jose in the Western Conference; Datsyuk, Lindstrom, the old man Chris Chelios, and the rest of Hockey’s Big Red Machine show up on the ice year after year, replacing missing parts and moving on, and this year is no exception.
The Sharks can’t seem to win in Motown meaning San Jose needs to gain the President’s Trophy to gain home ice advantage in the playoffs if they intend to beat Detroit this year.
Goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been standing on his head in net this winter, and his sparking play in net has kept the Sharks on top of the Western Conference. Nabokov could win the Vezina Trophy this year for the goalie of the year with his league leading 32 victories, five shutouts, and a .909 save percentage.
Only time will tell.
Still predicting a Sharks-Red Wings final. Our dark horse is Calgary and scoring star, captain Jarome Iginla, who has come out of a pointless streak (no doubt pressing about the team scoring record) to post an eight game consecutive points streak, guiding the Flames quietly to third place in the Western Conference.
Head Coach Mike Keenan, another proponent of Canadian / North American talent, has gotten grit and goals from Todd Bertuzzi (15G 28A 43 points) and shifty centre Mike Cammalleri (team high 33 goals) in addition to Iggy’s team high 72 points (26G, 46A).
Iginla became the Flames’ all time scoring leader Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with his 400th goal and 834 point. His record – breaking achievement earned him NHL Player of the Week Second Star for the week ending March 1 (Brodeur earned first star, and Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk earned the Third Star).
With the pressure of the record off, Iggy, Cammalleri, Miikka Kiprusoff and the wicked good Dion Phaneuf will need to focus as they embark on a seven day East Coast swing (Ottawa, Philly, Carolina and Atlanta).
The surprising 4th place Chicago Blackhawks are keeping the Windy City Fans happy with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin aka the “‘Bulin Wall” stopping the puck. It would be nice to see another one of the original six NHL teams playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year – it might happen.
The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday afternoon at 3 pm ET. In braking trade news, the New York Rangers have re-acquired Sean Avery from the Dallas Stars and The New Jersey Devils have acquired Niclas Havelid from the Atlanta Thrashers.
Gary Norris Gray passes the puck back to Michael-Louis Ingram at the doorstep of Martin Brodeur can he put it in the net?