Personal picks for the first round of the NHL playoffs or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the unexpected

Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are many perks that accompany being a hockey writer, and one of them is knowing that, despite not being invested emotionally in any franchise, you will be accused at one point in time or another of having it out for every NHL franchise. And I can assure you that working at an international publication such as THN only enhances the hilarity as the accusations stream in regularly.

Here at hockey’s magazine of record, we receive angry emails and letters screeching at us for virtually every conceivable bias: for some people, we’re part of the swarthy “Toronto media” and anti-Maple-Leafs; and for others – most of who reside (a) in Canada and (b) outside of Southern Ontario – we’re Leafs-obsessed and sleep under blue-and-white sheets every night; we hear from Americans who’d swear on a stack of hockey bibles we’re stridently cheering for Canadians and anything to do with the “Canadian game”, and we receive input from Canadians furious at our “obviously” blind allegiance to NHL Gary Bettman’s U.S. Sunbelt expansion strategy; we’re blasted by those who think we giddily cover Sidney Crosby’s every sneeze, and we’re ripped from others who think every member of our editorial team rues the day No. 87 became a star and do all they can to slight Crosby at every opportunity.

Much like the modern NHL player cannot absorb a clean-but-fair hit without four of his teammates rushing in to pummel the opponent who (I repeat, cleanly) hit him, many modern hockey fans are hypersensitive to any perceived slight. If you’re including a number of of teams in any positive list and you omit a particular franchise from that list for the sake of a palatable word count, you can rest assured you’ll hear from at least one fan from the omitted team pouting about it. And when you release your predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs, as I did Sunday afternoon: Read more

After Brossoit’s dandy debut, here are the top five first games of 2014-15

Laurent Brossoit (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)

Thursday night, Laurent Brossoit made his NHL debut between the pipes for the Edmonton Oilers. By the end of the evening, Brossoit was trotted out as the game’s first star after turning aside 49 of the 51 shots he faced.

Brossoit’s 49 stops made him the first goaltender since Manny Legace in 1998 to turn aside that much rubber in his debut. Even with his miraculous performance, the Oilers failed to take home the victory and were downed 3-1 by the San Jose Sharks.

Scoring the game-winning goal for the Sharks was Bryan Lerg, who, at 29, was also playing his first game in the big league. Lerg had bounced around the AHL for seven seasons heading into Thursday’s game, but he made the most of his first shot at NHL action, scoring with 2:52 remaining in the third period to lift the Sharks to victory.

Excluding Brossoit’s incredible first outing, here are the five best debuts of 2014-15: Read more

How did the best possession team in the NHL miss the playoffs, and how did one of the worst get in?

Kings

By golly, the anti-analytics crowd is going to have a field day with this one, yes it will. Those who poo-poo the fancy stats can look at the NHL standings today and point out that the best possession team in the league, the Los Angeles Kings, missed the playoffs, while one of the worst possession teams in the league, the Calgary Flames, lost their best defenseman and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup dance.

Take that and stick it in your pocket protectors, or something like that.

It’s remarkable, really. Over the past couple of years, the hockey world has been led to believe that advanced stats are the best harbinger for team success. Teams that have good possession numbers have far more success than those that don’t. So how do you explain how a team with a shot attempt differential of plus-733 has missed the playoffs, while one with a minus-847 (a difference of 1,580) can make it? Read more

Playoff scenarios: who makes it, who misses and why the Kings still have a chance

Raphael Diaz celebrates his wraparound goal (Glenn James/Getty Images)

With only two games remaining in the season for every team save the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, one would have expected playoff matchups to be set and the post-season-bound teams separated from those who are heading towards early summers.

However, the Western Conference still boasts three teams who have yet to formally lock up their ticket to the dance, with Los Angeles on the brink of elimination. And in the Eastern Conference, there are five teams within three points of each other and it appears that no one’s playoff berth is safe just yet due to the never-say-die attitude of the Ottawa Senators.

The frantic finish of the regular season will include teams scoreboard watching and clinching playoff berths with opposition losses, playoff atmospheres in final-day tilts and a couple of fan bases devastated because they came this close to their shot at playoff glory. Read more

Dear Hockey Gods: please give us an all-Canadian team Stanley Cup Final this year

Calgary Flames fans. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Before I say what I’m about to say, let me be clear: I’m not, in any way shape or form, a jingoistic Canadian hockey fan who thinks it’s a tragedy when one of my country’s teams fails to win at the elite international level, or who believes the number of Canadians on any NHL roster is an accurate metric for their capability to win. Good hockey is good hockey, and hockey fans ought to be happy with any display of the sport that is highly-skilled and passionately-contested.

With that out of the way, this is a plea to the Hockey Gods: it’s been 26 years since the last Cup Final between two Canadian teams. We’re long past due for another. And this year would be as great a year as any for it to come to pass. Read more

Hit counter: Kings, Blackhawks have taken a lot of punishment this season

Dustin Brown and Duncan Keith

The NHL’s 82-game season can be hard on players. No matter how tough a guy is, getting hammered into the boards on a nightly basis by 190-pound opponents takes its toll in the form of injuries and fatigue. And with the game faster and the players stronger than they’ve ever been, the number of hits a player sustains can really add up.

They certainly seem to have added up for the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, all recent Stanley Cup champions who have been hampered by injuries or fatigue this year, and who have been hit more often than any other potential playoff team in the league.
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Sam Bennett recalled by Flames, will make NHL debut this season

Jared Clinton
Sam Bennett

After being drafted in the first round, fourth overall by the Calgary Flames in last year’s draft, Sam Bennett’s season was derailed by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 59 regular season games.

The injury, said Bennett at the time, dated back to the year prior. He fought through the injury in order to try to make the Flames out of training camp, but eventually the pain from the torn labrum was enough that Bennett required surgery.

Now, after a 15-game stint back in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs, Bennett is finally getting his crack at the NHL. The Flames announced Friday afternoon that they have recalled Bennett from the OHL, and while the exact date of his debut is not known, it appears he could make his NHL debut as soon as Saturday in the Battle of Alberta when Calgary takes on the Edmonton Oilers. Read more