As far as international hockey tournaments go, the world championships isn’t very high on the excitement meter. It’s a big deal to many European players, but in North America, holding a tournament in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a good way to generate hype.
We know that it’s not truly a best-on-best event, that will happen in September during the World Cup. But there are some interesting aspects to the tournament. One of which is that it’s a 16-team event. It makes for a long tournament, but it also means you get to see hockey minnows such as Hungary and France take on Canada and the United States. Blowouts can be fun.
The event, being held in Moscow and St. Petersburgh, starts with a bang on Friday with the U.S. facing Canada (9:15 a.m. ET, TSN). Here are some fun facts and reasons to keep an eye on the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Auston Matthews, U.S.: Have you heard of this kid? Probably going to go No. 1 overall in the draft to the Maple Leafs. Kind of a big deal.
Hockey is the ultimate team sport, or so we are lead to believe.
And yet we also know that the further a team goes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the more it can benefit the individuals that make up the teams. Let’s be honest, there are a number of players on the eight teams still standing who are playing for contracts next season.
A player like center Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, is in his 19th season in the NHL, on a one-year contract for $800,000 — quite a comedown for a guy who used to earn $4 million a year with the Nashville Predators. Still the 39-year-old native of Virginia, MN, is playing for the love of the game. Playing pretty well, too. In six games, Cullen has two goals – both game-winners – and three points while averaging 15:22 of dependable two-way play.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 8 p.m. ET, in Dallas.
THE BLUES WIN IF…
St. Louis conquered its white whale. Now what? It was a monumental accomplishment for the franchise to finally oust the Joel Quenneville-era Chicago Blackhawks after three straight seasons of first-round exits, all after the Blues had dominant regular seasons. The key now is to use the victory as a springboard into newfound glory instead of an emotional triumph that drains all their energy. The Blues must be wary of a letdown in Game 1 on the road. If they can shrug off the potential adrenaline dump, they’re in good shape.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, in San Jose.
THE SHARKS WIN IF…
The Sharks weren’t the popular pick in their first round series against the Kings, but Los Angeles was dismantled in five games by San Jose. The Sharks were considered the third-most likely of the three Pacific Division entries into the post-season to win the Stanley Cup, and now they’re the last team from the division standing. They’ve put the rest of the Western Conference on notice as they head to Round Two for a date with the Nashville Predators.
With round one in the books (and round two already begun thanks to very odd scheduling by the NHL) it’s time to check back in on the advanced stats vs. eye test debate.
Before the playoffs started we showed you three sets of predictions: one based on numbers, one based on eyes, and one based on both. They mostly agreed on each series to varying levels, but there were some differences. Here’s the first round scorecard.
On this edition of the podcast, we break down every second-round playoff series and make our predictions.
Also, we discuss if and when the Ducks will fire coach Bruce Boudreau. And if there’s been a changing of the guard among Western Conference powers.
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[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]
SERIES STARTS: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, in Washington.
THE CAPITALS WIN IF…
It’s almost hard to believe this needs to be said, but the Capitals really need to get their offense going in the second round. Washington scored twice in the final three games of the first round, and while that was against an admittedly stingy Philadelphia Flyers club that had otherworldly goaltending from Michal Neuvirth, that’s uncharacteristic of this Capitals team and now isn’t the time for the offense to start to sputter. Alex Ovechkin came to life early, but he was actually held off the board in two straight elimination games as the Flyers made the series much closer than it should have been. If it wasn’t for Nicklas Backstrom’s Game 6 goal, the Capitals very well could have gone to seven games.
SERIES STARTS: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, in Tampa Bay.
THE LIGHTNING WIN IF…
It’s a testament to the Lightning’s depth of roster talent that, without their best player Steven Stamkos and their second-best defenseman Anton Stralman, they still shoved aside the Detroit Red Wings in five games in Round 1. Tampa reached the Stanley Cup final a year ago for a reason. If it was a one- or two-man team, that wouldn’t have been possible.