Gary Norris Gray BASN Staff Reporter
OAKLAND, CA (BASN)—The National Hockey League 2012 Playoffs.
As this season winds down The Gray Leopard Cove will review the 2012 season which teams will be moving on and which teams will be going fishing as Charles Barkley would state.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin April 11 on the Canadian TSN Stations, American NBC Sports Network, or your local Comcast and Verizon cable networks.
Let’s start in the EasternConference:
The most disappointing team in this conference would be the Washington Capitals. Many hockey experts picked to be the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions. The Caps started the season slow and it might have cost the team a playoff spot.
Alex Ovechkin has become a very selfish player and it has hurt the men in red, white and blue. Being named captain (Ovechkin) one should lead his team, he has not done so and Washington has suffered. The Caps are very strong on the right side with Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, and Goal Brother Joel Ward. This team remains weak at the goalie position with Neuvirth and Holtby in net. Both net minders have had up and down season with neither one being dominant in the pipes.
Washington put on the old retro white 1970-1980 jerseys it has not helped. They fired their coach in January to try to start a fire and that has not worked either. The Capitols are in danger of missing the playoffs completely for the first time in 8 years if they don’t right the ship.
The New York Rangers fought for the President’s Cup all season long with the upstart St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference. The Broadway Blueshirts have two solid goaltenders with Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron. Lundqvist may be even more dangerous this year in the playoffs because he has been giving rest with the capable Biron in net. The Rangers love playing at Madison Square Garden and will have home ice advantage throughout playoffs if they win Presidents Cup.
The first line with Brad Richards – Marian Gaborik as well as defensemen McDonagh and Girardi have to score more for the Blueshirts to make another Stanley Cup Final appearance. Head coach John Tortorella has the pulse of this team and knows when to pull the reins in or let the players fly.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins are in trouble with only one stable goalie behind the net. The Bruins should win the Northeast Division with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres right behind them.
Tim Thomas is getting overworked in net and that is not a good thing heading into the playoffs. The Bruins seem to have that famous Championship hangover and have not played well in stretches this season.
Defensemen Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuck have kept the Baby Bears in the playoff hunt. Don’t look for the Boston Bruins to repeat because they have to go through three tough teams in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t ask how the Florida Panthers are leading the Southeast Division; they are reminding everyone of the 1990′s and the John Vanbiresbrouck days, with toy rats raining down on the ice after every Panther goal. This is the biggest surprise in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Panthers have improved their team defense with two solid veteran goal-tenders in ex – New Jersey Devil Scott Clemmenson and ex-Washington Capital Jose Theodore who make up a great tandem behind net. Both men have found a home in Florida and both work well together. Rookie goalie Brian Foster was called up near the end of the season due to injuries and has filled in nicely as they also call for Jacob Markstrom in net.
The Panthers have to make a very important choice going into the playoffs who is going to stand in the pipes for Florida. The Panther offense is lead by centers Marcel Goc and ex-Devil John Madden along with left winger Thomas Fleischmann and the assist man, defenseman Brian Campbell.
Florida will go far if they don’t fall into another scoring drought;but the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference wears black and old gold.
The Pittsburgh Penguins who have played most of the season without their star player Sid Crosby and they are still fighting for a division title. The Pens have been chasing the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins most of this year. Evgeni Malkin carried this team all season and Marc Andre Fleury has been solid in net. Craig Adams became the other scoring force for the Pens. Teams overlook Pittsburgh’s team defense because of their powerful offense. Look for Pittsburgh to give many teams trouble in the playoffs this year with that explosive scoring power.
The Broad Street Bullies are back as the Philadelphia Flyers are trying to bring the Cup back to South Philadelphia. The black and orange have an offensive punch that many teams cannot contain. They have one of the biggest front lines in the history of the NHL.
Goal Brother Wayne Simmonds may have brought that punch back into the Flyers – literally. Simmonds brought that swagger from The Los Angeles Kings back to Wachovia Center. Goal Brother Wayne never backs down from any opponent; and head coach Peter Laviolette’s faith in moving Simmonds to the power play has paid big dividends in scoring and toughness. This gives confidence to the other Flyers to attain their goals on the ice.
They still have a problem in net with Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky they have not been the answer and if the Flyers want to kiss the Cup this year. Bryzgalov must play like like the $51 million man the Philly brain trust invested in as their number one goalie going into the playoffs.
The return of Jaromir Jagr from Russia and the offensive power of MVP candidate Claude Giroux may have changed Philadelphia’s chances. Love the play of Danny Briere and Max Talbot.
The New Jersey Devils will make the playoff trip again for the 19th straight year. Future hall of fame goalie Martin Broduer has shown glimpses of brilliance then at other times show his age. Second string goalie Johan Hedberg played more games in net than any other in the Broduer era.
New Jersey hired a new coach and he immediately installed a new defensive system the Devils moved right along as if nothing happened. The Devils have a powerful scoring left side with Ilya Kovalachuk, Zach Parise, and Patrick Elias all left wingers. Goal Brother Bryce Salvador is the only one left of the old “Left Wing Lock” defensive system that New Jersey made famous years ago.
<div > The Devils are hoping they don’t have to play the Washington Capitals in the first round because they match up well and could be ousted the first round if Ovechkin gets hot. <div > The Ottawa Senators finally could be on the right track, “winning”. They are making the Stanley Cup after a year of just missing out in 2010-11. The Matrix Man may also have finally found a home in Canada. Mr. Anderson, after years in the pipes in the Colorado Avalanche systemwas unappreciated and let go.
Mr. Matrix Man (Craig Anderson) has become a star in Ottawa. The Senators don’t have to gamble on defense anymore because they have Anderson in net.Captain Daniel Alfredsson must lead this team and that has been lacking in leadership in the Canadian Capitol City. Jason Spezza has to pick up the Sens’ offense. Forward Eric Karlsson has been a scoring machine for the Sens keeping playoff hopes alive. Ottawa won’t go far this year but this could be a learning experience for the young men in Red, White, and Black.
The Buffalo Sabres are trying to enter the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third straight year. Currently they are number nine, two points behind the inconsistent Washington Capitals. This team may have put pride back into the blue and gold and the fans of Northern New York are happy again with a solid team. Forward Jason Pominville and center Derek Roy are the stars of this team and if they get shutdown the Sabres do not win.
They have a rock solid goalie between the pipes with Ryan Miller who has improved the Sabre defense immensely. Miller has made some outstanding saves all year long.
In The Western Conference:
It will be a very interesting ending to this season in the West with five teams via for last three spots in the playoffs. In one night the leader of the Pacific Division could end-up in 9th place with a loss, that’s the way it’s been in the West all season long.
The biggest disappointment in this conference could be the San Jose Sharks who are fighting for their playoff lives. In the middle of the season they traded their heart and soul to Minnesota for a tougher player, Martin Havlat. Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley drove the Sharks into the playoffs last year and they are missing this year. This could cost the Men in Teal a playoff spot in 2012.
Starting goalie Antti Niemi has been a complete flop in net with his inconsistent play, letting in too many soft goals. Thomas Griess should be starting in net if the Sharks make a run for the Stanley Cup. Bay Area fans have also questioned the heart and soul of the Sharks after last year’s collapse. This team is lucky to be in the weak Western Conference and getting a chance to be in the playoffs.
The Sharks play the Los Angeles Kings in a home and home series at the end of the regular season and that could be the deciding games for both teams.
If the San Jose Sharks don’t make the playoffs this year it might be time to clean house. Releasing General Manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan.
The Saint Louis Blues are the surprising team of the Western Conference with the help of the two headed monster in net. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are making St. Louis fans sing the happy Blues. Goal Brother Chris Stewart has helped the offense in the Arch City along with Andy McDonald.
The Blues are fighting the New York Rangers for home ice advantage throughout the playoffs and the Presidents Cup. They west plays a wide open offense and the Blues have changed their team structure to play in this conference.
The second place Vancouver Canucks will win the Northwest Division but will not be challenged the rest of the season and they have played that way the past three weeks. It will be very difficult to re-start the engine once the playoffs start. Goalie Roberto Luongo has been hot and cold in net all season long. Cory Schneider has backed up Luongo without skipping a beat. The Sedin Twins (Daniel and Henrik) have not been the scoring machines of years past. Center Ryan Kesler could be called the spark plug for this northwest team. Like the San Jose Sharks if this team does not bring home the Stanley Cup the Canucks could also be blown up.
Goal Brother Trevor Daley and The Dallas Stars are not only trying to win the Pacific Division but to stay in the playoff picture. Four weeks ago they were in third place in the division, eighth place in the conference and looking like they would not even compete in the Stanley Cup. Kari Lehtinen can be called the Unknown Soldier in goal.
Mike Ribeiro is the set up man while Michael Rider is the scorer – a great combination. Loui Eriksson is the iron man of this team and the Stars will go as far as Eriksson will take them.
Pekka Rinne has the Nashville Predators in the right spot with outstanding net minding keeping his team in the race for the Cup. The Preds are another one of the new surprising teams in the Western Conference. Honorary Goal Brothers Jordin Tootoo and Brandon Yip are helping the team drive to the first round and home ice advantage. Tootoo is trying to get back into the lineup after a slight injury last weekend to the upper body. Mike Fisher leads this team is goals while Martin Erat knows how to share the puck and get it to a sniper to score. Ryan Suter solidifies the Predator defense with over 100 blocked shots.
The Red Army (oh I mean the Detroit Red Wings) are on the march again to another Stanley Cup playoffs their 21st time. Detroit veterans know the routine and are training the younger Wings. Detroit in mid-season went through a 24 game home winning streak so you don’t want to play them at The Joe Louis Area.
The old guard should keep this team in the playoffs at least for two rounds Bertuzzi, Filppula, Zetterburgh, Franzen, Lidstrom, and Datsyuk know the drill and should be ready. The Wings have The Three Degrees in goal with Jimmy Howard, Joey MacDonald, and Ty Conklin. They all should be well rested for the beginning of the playoffs. The management could be waiting to see which net minder gets hot before the start of the playoffs. The Wings will ride the hot hand to the Western Conference Championship.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another one of these disappointing teams. A team that has underachieved with their erratic goal scoring by their top stars. The right wing side of the Hawks line are a potential scoring powerhouse with Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Goal Brother Jamal Mayers. The Hawks solidified their defense with the acquisition of Goal Brother Johnny Oduya late in the season.
The Hawks also have not made a decision who will be in net. Goal Brother Ray Emery a longtime net-minder from the Ottawa Senators or Cory Crawford, Crawford has been inconsistent the past two months while Emery went on a five game winning streak two weeks ago pulling the Hawks back into the playoff race. If the Hawks can get their scoring shoes back on they will go far in the playoffs.
There are four teams currently tied for the last playoff spot in the west.
The Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, and San Jose Sharks are one point apart from each other with the Calgary Flames three points behind them.
Next Time: when the matchups are certain, The Cove will break down what should be an outstanding second season of hockey
Â©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod