Five reasons why the New York Rangers will win tonight’s Game 7

New York forwards Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan celebrate Stepan's game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Blueshirts' 2-1 overtime win over Washington. (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

With a victory Friday night, the New York Rangers will be heading to the Stanley Cup final for the second consecutive year. The only thing standing in their way is the Tampa Bay Lightning. But worry not, Rangers fans, because your team has the edge.

Though the Lightning have been one of the best teams in the league all campaign and have been impressive through the first two rounds of the post-season, there’s something to be said for the continued success of one club, and that the Rangers have been able to maintain their play over the course of the past two years bodes well for them to keep things rolling as they head into Game 7 Friday night.

It may not be easy – and in all likelihood it could be a nail-biting, one-goal game – but there are five big reasons why the Rangers will be moving on to the final. Read more

Five keys for the Blackhawks heading into crucial Game 6

Jared Clinton
Hawks winger Patrick Kane celebrates with teammates Brad Richards and Duncan Keith. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the second straight season, the Chicago Blackhawks are heading into a must-win Game 6 in the Western Conference finals.

Unlike last season, however, they’re heading home and not desperately clawing back from a 3-1 series deficit, but the importance of Wednesday night’s game remains the same: win and the season continues, lose and get ready for a rocky off-season that could likely spell the end of this dominant Chicago team.

Through the first five games of the series, the Blackhawks have been hard to read. There have been moments where they looked every bit the unstoppable force that many believed them to be. Other times, Chicago has looked panicked and shaky in their own zone, left chasing Anaheim Ducks players around the defensive zone and hoping for a stoppage in play.

Heading into Game 6, the Blackhawks would be foolish to expect anything short of perfection to be enough to force a seventh and deciding game. As such, these are the five things Chicago needs to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive: Read more

The five fastest overtime goals in NHL post-season history

Alex Burrows (Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated)

Once it got to overtime, few expected Monday evening’s contest between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks to go anything less than one full overtime period. Shockingly, however, it was over almost as soon as it started – 45 seconds in, Matt Beleskey had won the game.

The series had already seen double- and triple-overtime contests, so Game 5 had that special “Here we go again” feel to it. That wasn’t the case, though.

While Beleskey’s tally was a quick strike that left some fans waiting to get back to their seats in time to catch the overtime and some watching at home hearing the contest end from in front of the refrigerator, it’s far from the quickest overtime-winner in NHL playoff history. All-time, it ranks as the 33rd fastest overtime marker and it’s not even the quickest this post-season.

Here are the five fastest overtime winners: Read more

5 Stanley Cup-winning goalies who were “just OK”

Antti Niemi

A hot goalie can take his team deep into the playoffs, but a cold one can also go pretty far with a strong enough team in front of him. A goaltender has won the Conn Smythe Trophy six out of the last 20 years, but we’ve also seen some pretty mediocre performances from Stanley Cup champion goalies.

We may well be in for another one this year. The Ducks’ Frederik Andersen is the only remaining goalie in the playoffs with a goals-against average under 2.00, and the rest of the pack have all had their struggles this post-season. Henrik Lundqvist is just getting over allowing 12 goals in two games, and Ben Bishop just allowed five goals in back-to-back appearances. Then there’s Corey Crawford, who temporarily lost his net to Scott Darling earlier this post-season.

The goaltending hasn’t been great, but does that mean Andersen is the odds-on favourite to win the Cup this year? Or will a mediocre performance in net be enough to carry the Rangers, Lightning or Blackhawks to the final?

The latter is certainly possible. Just look at these five netminders. To quote former Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, these guys were OK. Just OK.
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5 big-time playoff performers shorter than Tyler Johnson

Theo Fleury

Tyler Johnson is short and good at hockey. After two-and-a-half rounds of watching the guy lead his Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs, we’ve been hearing the same thing on every nightly broadcast. He’s pretty darn talented, but he’s not the first small guy to do big things.

There have been several big-game, undersized players who’ve stepped up in the playoffs over the years. Some played back in the black-and-white TV days. Others skated when radio was high-tech. One of them is stilling playing in Martin St-Louis, but we’ll leave him off the list because he’s still not done writing his legacy.

He’s also the same height as Johnson, and as much as we praised these two 5-foot-8 players for overcoming their size deficiencies, there are other historic playoff standouts who were even smaller.

Here are some of the best.
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Top 10 coaches by points percentage: Where does Mike Babcock sit?

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been mired in the basement of the NHL for several seasons, but the hiring of coach Mike Babcock is giving Leafs Nation a reason for hope for a better and much brighter future.

While he hasn’t coached long enough to make the top 10 all-time wins list, Babcock does have the most of any coach to be behind the bench for fewer than 1,000 games. As such, he has managed to become one of the effective coaches in the history of the game.

In order to better represent who exactly the top 10 coaches by points percentage are, however, we have to set a limit of at least 100 games as an NHL bench boss. Otherwise some coaches, like Cap Raeder, who was the fill-in coach for the San Jose Sharks for one game – a victory – have near perfect winning percentages without really having control of the club.

Here are the top 10 best coaches by points percentage: Read more

Which depth players could make a difference in the conference finals?

J.T. Brown

Stars always step up in the post-season, but the difference most years between a team that makes it to the finals and a team that falls shy of the last round is generally the play of their depth players. In some years, the depth players can even make all the difference. Take Darren McCarty or Mike Rupp, for instance.

McCarty, never the most offensively skilled of players, had one of the greatest games of his career in the Western Conference final in 2001-02. In Game 1 of the Western final that post-season, McCarty, who had scored just five goals and 12 points in 62 regular season games, notched a hat trick to help the Red Wings take the opening contest. Detroit wouldn’t look back, going on to their third Stanley Cup victory in three years.

For Rupp, it was one goal, the first playoff goal of his career, which made him a depth hero for the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03. Over the course of his entire 610 game career, Rupp scored only 54 goals. Having never scored a playoff goal in his career, Rupp found himself in the Devils lineup for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

In Game 7, Rupp opened the scoring 2:22 into the first period. He assisted on the Devils’ second goal to make it 2-0. And with time winding down, it was Rupp who found Jeff Friesen and got the primary assist on the goal that made it 3-0. To this day, Rupp remains the only player in NHL history to have his first career post-season goal be the Stanley Cup winner.

With only two rounds left, who are the depth players that could step up for the remaining clubs? Read more

Ducks, Bolts dominate five biggest NHL playoff breakouts through two rounds

Hampus Lindholm (Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Through the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, we’ve seen some things we expected to see: clutch performances from Hawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews; excellent goaltending from Rangers cornerstone Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal’s Carey Price; and of course, controversial calls from the officials. But one of the best elements of the post-season are the surprise factors that emerge – the rookies who step to the fore, or the youngsters who not only realize the success many predicted for them, but surpass expectations. And although we’re only halfway through the Stanley Cup tournament, there are already a number of those types of suprises. Here are the top five playoff breakouts thus far:

5. Matt Beleskey, Ducks. You expected to see Corey Perry leading the Ducks in goals this year. You didn’t expect the person immediately below him on Anaheim’s list of top scorers to be 26-year-old winger Beleskey, who never had scored more than 11 goals in a single regular-season before he set career highs in goals (22) and points (32) with Anaheim this season. The 26-year-old was used sparingly in the opening round against Winnipeg, but found his scoring form in the second round against Calgary, scoring one goal in all five games vs. the Flames. Every post-season goal he scores from this point on is making the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent more money on the open market this summer. Read more