HOW THEY WIN
PREDATORS: Replacing coach Barry Trotz with Peter Laviolette transformed Nashville from a counterstriker into an attacking team. The result was the Preds’ best goal production in four years. They lack a superstar up front, but rookie Filip Forsberg has flashed that kind of ability. The rest of Nashville’s forwards provide offense by committee. A more aggressive approach has made Nashville a better possession team and thus better defensively, as opponents can’t score without the puck. The Preds are relatively faceless up front, but it’s the opposite from the net out. Goalie Pekka Rinne bounced back from his 2013-14 hip problems with a stellar year. Nashville’s greatest strength: its blueline, led by superstar Shea Weber, who does everything well. Partner Roman Josi remains a secret stud. Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, Cody Franson and Mattias Ekholm round out a versatile top six that oozes puck-moving ability.
BLACKHAWKS: The uber-experienced Blackhawks are loaded with multi-championship players, from Jonathan Toews to Marian Hossa, and the majority of their 2013 Stanley Cup roster is intact. They don’t panic under pressure, as they showed last year rallying from a 2-0 series deficit in the first round to knock out St. Louis. Chicago keeps teams off the scoresheet so well because its deep D-corps, led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, pushes play toward the other team’s net. The Hawks crack the NHL’s top three in Corsi Close a third straight season. Goaltender Corey Crawford only has to be good and not great. The Hawks score a lot at even strength because of their tremendous depth. One of Antoine Vermette and Brad Richards is the third-line center for the playoffs. Coach Joel Quenneville can deploy championship-caliber checkers Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger as low as the fourth line. Read more
HOW THEY WIN
CANADIENS: Who’s kidding whom? When your goaltender is putting together a historically dominant season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration, it’s a generally accepted principle that he is the key to your hopes. You can dismiss the Canadiens all you want, but goaltending is still an enormous part of the game in the playoffs, and the Canadiens have one of the very best in the NHL. Combine that with a team that transitions from offense to defense quickly and is one of the most opportunistic in the league and it can provide a formula for playoff success. Whether it’s their historical mystique or their goaltending, the Canadiens have an uncanny ability to get into the heads of their opponents and crush their hopes before they have a chance to gain any steam. Yes, the Canadiens are top-heavy in terms of talent, but that top is as good or better than anyone else’s.
SENATORS: The Senators have relied on their youthful vigor and a group of kids who have turned out – at least in the short term – to be much better than expected. Anyone who thought Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone would be in the Calder Trophy conversation at the beginning of the season, go directly to the front of the class and collect your gold star. As they showed in their late-season run, the Senators are a team that plays on emotion. Andrew Hammond provided the Senators with outstanding workhorse goaltending and a feel-good story around which the entire organization could rally. If the Senators can harness that energy and carry it into a playoff run, who knows how far a team of guys who are too young to realize they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing can go? Oh yes, and it helps they have the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the game today in Erik Karlsson. Read more
HOW THEY WIN
CAPITALS: Scoring was never a problem for the Caps. Keeping the puck out of their net was. But new coach Barry Trotz and his beefed-up blueline (enter Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen over the summer) are producing results. Washington is now a top-10 team defensively, jumping up from the bottom third last year. The team’s possession numbers are better as well, so Trotz’s defensive rep pays dividends at both ends of the ice. In Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps have one of the most terrifying twosomes, but more weapons have been added, including young Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov and trade deadline acquisition Curtis Glencross. The power play is still deadly, and with multiple D-man options (John Carlson and Mike Green being the most prominent), opponents don’t get a rest if the top unit fails to convert. Goalie Braden Holtby has also been better than ever.
ISLANDERS: The Islanders, one of the best possession teams in the NHL, can head into the playoffs confident knowing the past three Stanley Cup winners have all ranked top-three in unblocked shot attempts (USAT). When the Isles are on their game, they’re jumping into passing routes and rushing up the ice or breaking up enemy incursions with active sticks. In captain John Tavares, New York has a potential Hart Trophy winner, and depth on Long Island hasn’t been this good in decades. The squad even has what has become known as the “best fourth line in hockey” in Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, all swift shift disturbers who bang, crash and disrupt. On the back end, the addition of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy – Cup winners with Boston and Chicago – has brought leadership and skill to a unit that always seemed to be a guy short in the past. Read more
By Gerald Eskenazi
Should a team be defined only by a championship it wins? Can’t a fan have memories of great moments without a title?
It’s spring, and flowers are sprouting, baseball training camps are in full mode, basketball and hockey teams are thinking playoffs and pro football is planning mini-camps.
The Rangers, one of hockey’s best, are poised to go deep into the playoffs, and their fans probably will be heartbroken (again) if they don’t come up with a Cup. But once upon a time, just getting into postseason play was heartwarming.
These days l recall the 45th anniversary of the greatest big-league sports event I covered during my long tenure as a sportswriter with The New York Times. Read more
Recently, 13-year-old aspiring journalist Haley Smilow had the chance to sit down with Arizona’s Shane Doan for a Q&A. Their conversation revealed some interesting facts about the Coyotes captain, who is one of the game’s genuinely good guys.
HALEY: What’s the best part about being a hockey player and what’s the worst part about being a hockey player?
SHANE: The best part about being a hockey player is definitely the competitiveness. They’re competing and having fun and, you know, you get challenged every day to do something that you love to do. As a kid, I mean playing a sport doesn’t get much better than that. So that’s obviously the best part. And the hardest part is being away from my family. I have a wife and four kids and it really kind of takes control of your life for six or seven months of the year and forces them to kind of get pushed back a little bit. I don’t enjoy that part of it.
HALEY: Who are the greatest influences on your hockey career?
SHANE: The greatest influence on my career would probably be my dad. He played, I admired the way he was and the way he played the game. And then guys that I played with, that I watched growing up. I loved Paul Coffey. I thought he was amazing. He was a phenomenal hockey player. And the guys that I’ve played with since, probably Teppo Numminen, Keith Tkachuk and Kris King are the 3 captains that I had, I admired them, along with Mike Gartner.
HALEY: Who would you not want to fight? Read more
By Doug Gilmour
The playoffs were always my time of year. That’s because no matter what kind of a season you had, the post-season is what everybody remembers. Whether it was a good year, a bad year or an average year, it didn’t matter. You write your ticket in the playoffs.
Make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between playing in the regular season and playing in the playoffs. Some NHL players raise their level of game at the most important time of year. Others who may star during the season disappear in the playoffs. It’s a time for desperation. You know if you lose, you’re going home. That’s what motivated me.
We all play for the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. It’s been a dozen years now since I last played in the NHL. But these are the things I still think about if you ask me about making a run for the title: Read more
By Jennifer King
Deep in the mountains of Transylvania exists a small village where…
If this sounds like an opening to a new Dracula novel, rest easy. It’s not. Instead it’s more like Field of Dreams – a tale of a hard-working man who brought his favorite sport close to home.
Karoly Jakab, 54, was working as a farmer when he decided to build an outdoor ice rink in Csikszentimre, a village in Romania of around 2,000 people located about 250 km north of Bucharest, the capital. He lives there with his wife of 31 years, while his three adult children have since moved to larger cities in Romania and Hungary. The village is a mountainous settlement where much of the population, like himself, has careers in agriculture, and the weather is similar to Ontario’s, as it sits at the same latitude as Sudbury. His motive for building an ice rink for the village was simple. “My belief was the rink was necessary to motivate the children and adults of the village to choose fresh air and not sit in front of a computer,” he said. Read more
By Corey Hirsch
So you want to be a pro hockey player? Here are five tips professional goalies do that amateurs should include in their training. Repetition and consistency are the keys.
1. SKATING SKILLS
The foundation of goaltending is based on balance and edges. The better skater you are, the better goaltender you will be. Before every practice and every game, your warmup should consist of simple skating drills: T-pushes, shuffles and slides. You use a T-push for long crease movements. Push with one leg, turn and point your toe to where you want to go with the other. Push then glide on that blade to the area you want to be. Shuffles are for small positional adjustments moving side to side. It’s similar to a small side step. None of them needs to take long. It can be one set of 10 reps each and can take anywhere from two to 10 minutes. My NHL goalie routine consisted of the same skating drills every day. The letter drills are the most effective. Use them, do them and become a better goalie.