With the end of the NHL’s regular-season approximately two weeks away, attention has settled on the possible first-round playoff showdowns. Many, if not most of the specific post-season berths won’t be finalized until closer to the final games on Apr. 11, but it’s not too early to start crossing fingers in the hope that some teams will wind up facing particular opponents and provide viewers with maximum entertainment value right out of the gate. Here are the top five best-case scenario first-round matchups this year:
5. Montreal vs. Ottawa. There are a few ways the Senators can take on the Canadiens in the first round, and most of them involve the Habs fending off Tampa Bay to retain top spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Sens hold on to the final wild card berth. Both results are entirely possible, and if it does happen, Canadian TV executives will be shimmying down the avenue as they celebrate the massive ratings that are sure to ensue. Read more
Heading into Thursday’s game against Nashville, Tampa Bay winger Cedric Paquette had missed the last six games with an upper body injury. It appears all is well with Paquette, though. After all, he used his upper body to launch Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm into the Lightning bench with a great hit.
The timing on the hit couldn’t have been better, either. With the Lightning down 3-1, Brian Boyle scored with 6:41 remaining in the second period to bring Tampa Bay within one. Then, off the ensuing faceoff, a total of four seconds later, Paquette came charging hard to send Ekholm for a ride: Read more
One of the things that keeps NHL GMs awake at night is the prospect of facing a white-hot goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Your team could be a President’s Trophy winner, but if you follow up regular-season domination with a showdown against a netminder who gets in your players’ heads via consistently outstanding performances, the only thing you can do is sit by helplessly and wish you had a goalie who had as much impact on the outcome of games.
This season, there are five (or so) of those type of performers quite capable of giving opponents nightmares in the playoffs. Here are the top five goaltenders to be absolutely petrified of (unless they play for your favorite team) in the 2015 post-season:
5. Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators. The man known as “The Hamburglar” has the city of Ottawa in the palm of his hand thanks to his unreal 14-0-1 record – and if he can lead the Sens to a Wild Card post-season berth, there’s every chance his magic continues and he plays an instrumental role with a special playoff run. People are going to be waiting for his Cinderella start to go full pumpkin, but the 27-year-old Hammond is playing with house money in this first chapter of his NHL career. As a soon-to-be restricted free agent, he’s also got a clear financial incentive to stay hungry and capitalize on the opportunity the fates have provided him.
St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has done a lot of roster building over the past few years and if the franchise is going to win its first-ever Stanley Cup, the window is open. Of course, the Blues could also get knocked out in the first round again and no one would bat an eye – the West is just that competitive.
Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm did something Tuesday very few NHLers have been able to do this year – put a puck past Canadiens superstar goalie Carey Price – and he did so from his knees, moments after being tripped.
The teams had yet to score in Nashville as they approached the midway point of the first period. But Ekholm recorded the first goal of the night after picking up the puck just outside Montreal’s blueline, splitting through a pair of Habs defenders – and after one of them (center Tomas Plekanec) tripped him on the way by, he still managed to beat Price blocker side for his sixth goal and 16th point of the season: Read more
College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.
Last season, the No. 1 spot on the Norris Trophy ballot I had the privilege of submitting belonged to Boston’s Zdeno Chara. But at the end of the breakdown of my vote for the Norris, I said “One of these years, though, Weber has to be the recipient”.
This is the year it ought to happen. And as it stands, I’m giving my first-place Norris vote this season to Predators captain Shea Weber. There are good cases to be made for more than a few blueliners (including Chicago’s Duncan Keith, L.A.’s Drew Doughty, Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson), but it’s about time the hockey world acknowledged Weber’s unique skill set.
Weber certainly isn’t having a career year on offense (that came last season with his 23-goal, 56-point campaign), but he’s in the top 10 among NHL defensemen in scoring in 2014-15 with 15 goals and 45 points. With an average ice time of 26:24, he’s nearly three full minutes behind Doughty (29:17) and slightly behind Preds defensive partner Roman Josi (26:28). But if you’re basing your vote strictly based on points or time on ice leaders, you’re voting wrong. The Norris goes to the blueliner deemed to have displayed the greatest all-around ability, not the one who makes the most highlight reels. And Weber’s multitude of abilities make him capable of hurting you physically, in any zone, and have a direct effect on the scoreboard at both ends of the playing surface. Read more
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is having a year for the history books. Almost singlehandedly, with unthinkable saves and stellar play, he’s guiding Montreal to the playoffs.
For his efforts, there’s talk of Price not only taking home the Vezina Trophy as the season’s best goaltender, but the potential for him to earn the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. That Price is being recognized for what he has done this season is only right – if Montreal makes it deep into the playoffs, it might be one of the greatest goaltending seasons in modern hockey history.
But for every Carey Price, there’s a role player who has done their part to perfection, making the difference that doesn’t necessarily show up on the score sheet, but translates to victories in the long run. These are the NHL’s unsung heroes, and here are the top five this season: Read more