Can Two Be Better Than One?


Written on 4/30/2010 by Jim Cerny

The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some mighty large shoes to fill because the first round was as exciting and entertaining as any opening round has been in recent memory.

Some quick thoughts on the first round before providing my second round predictions.

1) Sidney Crosby (photo) has pulled away from Alex Ovechkin as the game's most important player. While Ovechkin was unable to lift and inspire his teammates in the first round, clearly struggling with his own game as the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead and were kayoed by the 8th seeded Canadiens, Crosby had the opposite effect on the Penguins. Crosby, who has captained his team to two straight appearances in the Cup Finals as well as the 2009 Stanley Cup championship, posted 14 points in the opening round series win against Ottawa. Just as important, Crosby played with fire, grit, and passion, traits that clearly were lacking from Ovechkin's performance.

2) What has happened to Alexander Semin? A true NHL star, Semin was a non-factor---and one could argue, a detrimant---for the Caps, the biggest upset victims in Round One.

3) Let's hear it for unheralded goalies Antti Niemi (2 shutouts) of the Blackhawks, Tuukka Rask (2.18 goals against) of the Bruins, and Brian Boucher (.940 save percentage and 1.59 goals against) of the Flyers. Great job by Colorado's Craig Anderson in defeat, as well.

4) First Round Heroes: Crosby, Montreal's Jaroslav Halak, San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Detroit's Niklas Lidstrom, Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, Vancouver's Mikael Samuellson, Boucher, and Boston's Miroslav Satan.

5) I should have trusted my gut about the New Jersey-Philadelphia series. I picked the Devils in seven, and my gut kept telling me it would be another bad first-round defeat for New Jersey. Turns out my gut was right, and this was the worst of the Devils three straight ousters in the first round because it did not even look like they competed in the final two games. Now Lou Lamoriello is looking for yet another new head coach.

6) Turn out the lights, but what a great party it was for the Phoenix Coyotes, who capped a riveting revitalized regular season with a seven-game first round gem of a series against the Red Wings. Losing to Detroit in Game Seven hardly tarnishes their season. And the mid-ice salute to the home fans after that loss was one of the true highlights of the NHL season when you consider everything the Phoenix franchise has been through this past year.

Now on to the predictions, which I originally posted on Twitter yesterday. In the first round I was a perfect 4-for-4 in the Western Conference, but only 1-for-4 in the East.

In Round Two:

Sharks over the Red Wings in seven games
Canucks over the Blackhawks in seven games
Penguins over the Canadiens in six games
Bruins over the Flyers in six games

Enjoy it!

This Price is Not Right


Written on 4/21/2010 by Jim Cerny

Listen, I know that Jacques Martin knows a helluva lot more about hockey than I do. And I confess, I am not in Montreal covering the Canadiens-Capitals series in person, so I don't have my usual inside feel of what is going on around both teams.

But I think Martin is making a big mistake, and showing signs of true panic, in starting Carey Price in goal tonight instead of Jaroslav Halak in the critical Game 4 versus Washington.

I am more than aware that Halak was strafed for six goals, including the overtime winner, in Washington's frenetic 6-5 comeback in Game 2, and followed up by allowing three goals in a four-shot sequence in a 5-1 loss in Game 3 before being pulled in favor of Price. That Halak was pulled in the third game was the correct move for Martin to make in trying to stem the Caps' momentum.

Halak, though, is your No. 1 goalie. You pull him, fine. But you put him right back in there tonight. Without his stellar play, especially after cementing himself as the clear-cut No. 1 over Price the final two months of the season, the Habs probably are not even in the playoffs.

This is no knock on Price, the 22 year-old who has not won a game since right out of the Olympic break. He hung in there in relief on Monday, allowing two goals on 23 shots. But he should be wearing the baseball hat tonight, not shouldering the fortunes of his team.

The move reeks of desperation on the part of Martin. And even though players on both sides praised Price to the sky following the morning skates at the Bell Centre today, I'd be shocked if a majority of any kind privately supported Martin's decision in the home team's locker room.

Yes, Price gives the Caps a different look in goal. He's much bigger, takes up much more of the net, and is a better puckhandler than Halak. But Halak is the better goalie, having the better season, and is the Habs true No. 1.

As I stated yesterday, this is not Bruce Boudreau yanking Jose Theodore, Washington's No. 1 by default this season due to the injuries that sidelined young Semyon Varlamov. Washington's situation is a 1a replacing a 1 in goal. In Montreal that is not the case. Halak clearly beat Price out for the job, has had a terrific season, and should be allowed to prove his mental toughness in bouncing back with a strong start against the Caps tonight.

Martin should be more concerned with his club's Ole!-style defense which has repeatedly stepped aside to allow Washington's high-powered offense a plethora of prime scoring chances.

Disallowed Goal Not Canucks Biggest Problem


Written on 4/20/2010 by Jim Cerny

OK, let me get this out there right away. The Vancouver Canucks do not trail the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in their best-of-seven because Daniel Sedin had a goal waved off last night, video review from Toronto ruling he kicked the puck into the net.

Vancouver trails LA because their star goalie has not been good enough, the club as a whole has taken a bunch of undisciplined penalties, and the penalty kill has been strafed by the Kings power play.

One video review, as major a decision as it was, is not the difference here.

I know my friends in Vancouver, who loved me when I predicted a Canucks Cup right here back in early October, do not agree, nor do they love me any more. But if you watch these games objectively, as I do, you can't fail to see the Canucks shortcomings, so far.

For those of you who have yet to see it, here is the replay of the Sedin disallowed goal. That's a 50-50 call which likely could go either way. I think Mike Murphy in Toronto got it right disallowing the goal. Sedin is driving hard to the net, but it does seem like he is looking down to where puck and skates are going to meet, and clearly directs the puck in that way.

The thing is, slow motion shows you things more clearly, and leads you to believe Sedin knew what he was doing in directing the puck in with his skate. But in real-time, that play happens so fast, it's hard to imagine that the hard-driving Sedin could think and react so quickly. 50-50 call either way.

Nevertheless, the Canucks rebounded to score a bit more than a minute after the disallowed goal to pull within 4-3 of the Kings before eventually losing 5-3. Had Luongo not allowed 4 goals on 16 shots, nor had the Canucks not surrendered three goals on three power play chances for LA, things might have been different, and that's where Vancouver needs to focus heading into Game Four.

For the Canucks to win, Luongo needs to be much better, and Vancouver has to find a way to silence the Kings power play, which is now a whopping 7-12 in the series.


Some other quick playoff thoughts:

I understood, and totally agreed with, Bruce Boudreau's decision to replace Jose Theodore in goal with Semyon Varlamov, and not just because the kid played so well last night, especially dazzling in the first period up in Montreal. Theodore was No. 1 much of this year by default because Varlamov was hurt much of the time. Switching from one to the other here, just like during the Caps first round series against the Rangers a year ago, is easy to digest on the ice and in the dressing room because neither goalie is the clear-cut No. 1.

However, I believe Montreal's Jacques Martin needs to go back to Jaroslav Halak in Game Four, despite pulling him during last night's loss in favor of Carey Price. At one point in time, Halak and Price were even on the depth chart, no clear-cut No. 1 like in Washington. But over the course of the year Halak claimed that top spot while Price, the favored son, did not. This is Halak's team now and he should be back in their starting Game 4 at the Bell Centre trying to even up that best-of-seven.


By the way, how much fun to watch is that Caps-Canadiens series? Offense, offense, and more offense. Great skating, back-and-forth action, scintillating fun.

I'm not sure you win a Stanley Cup playing this way, but I know I am enjoying watching it!


I think my favorite player to watch in this post-season is Phoenix captain Shane Doan. One of the nicest, most sincere, down-to-earth stars in this great game, Doan had played in only 32 playoff contests over the first 13 years of his NHL career, spent entirely with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise, and none since 2002. Seeing him back in the post-season, playing with a relish and exuberance second to none, has been a joy. Watching him score only the seventh playoff goal of his career in Game Two against the Red Wings was another true delight.

Unfortunately Doan is a no-go for this evening's huge Game Four in Detroit. Doan is out with an "upper body" injury, though coach Dave Tippett says it is a day-to-day injury and that this brief rest should have the captain back in there for Game 5 back home in Phoenix.

Hope so. Love watching Shane Doan getting a crack at skating in the NHL's post-season.

Hand Out The Hardware


Written on 4/19/2010 by Jim Cerny

Before the NHL actually begins announcing its three finalists for each of the major post-season awards this week, let me share my ballot for the five biggest awards: the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, and Jack Adams Trophy. And let's see how much my opinion changed from mid-season "Halfway Home" Awards that I shared with you 40 or so games into the 2009-10 campaign.

Hart Trophy:

1) Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks): He is the guy who fueled the top scoring team in the Western Conference. Sedin led the NHL with 112 points and did it with far less fanfare than players named Crosby and Ovechkin. A brilliant playmaker, Sedin led the NHL with a Gretzky-like 83 assists, 14 more than runner-up Joe Thornton.

2) Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins): He didn't make my Top Three at mid-season, but Sid the Kid turned in a fantastic year, including a career-high 51 goals which tied Steven Stamkos for the league-lead. His 109 points were tied for second most in the NHL, the second highest total of his five-year career to date. Quite simply, Crosby is the heart and soul of the defending champs, and proved it with Evgeni Malkin sidelined a fair amount this season.

3) Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals): My mid-season MVP faded after the Olympics, and earning another NHL suspension did not help his cause. Still you can't overlook his 50 goals, 109 points, 7 game-winners, and plus-45 over 72 games worth of action. Ovie would have led the league in scoring had he played every game like Sedin had. Ovie's true measure of greatness may lie, not only in his points production, but in how other Caps thrive because he attracts so much attention from the opposition (read: Nicklas Backstrom, another true Hart contender).

MIS-SEASON HART: Ovechkin, Sedin, Patrick Marleau/Joe Thornton

Norris Trophy:

1) Mike Green (Washington Capitals): My runner-up at mid-season, Green gets the nod over Duncan Keith because the numbers are just a bit better. Green led all NHL defensemen with 19 goals, 57 assists, and 76 points. He also recorded 10 power play goals and was 7th among all players with 35 power play points. In addition he logged big minutes and his defensive play is underrated.

2) Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks): We're plitting hairs here because Keith, my mid-season pick, could easily snag this award, too. He is the better defensive defenseman when compared to Green, leading one of the league's stingiest defensive teams, plus he was second among all NHL defensemen with 69 points. Perhaps the difference here is that Green is a dynamic power play performer and Keith is a very good one. Simply put, just a terrific all around year for Keith.

3) Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings): I didn't want to go 1-2-3 in my voting and have it match how these three defensemen were 1-2-3 in defensemen scoring, so I kept trying to find a reason why Doughty should not be a finalist for this award, and failed to come up with a legit one. The sophomore sensation recorded 59 points, scored nine goals on the power play, played 25 minutes a night, and was a plus-20 for a Kings squad that only had a plus-22 goal differential this season.

MID-SEASON NORRIS: Keith, Green, Chris Pronger

Vezina Trophy:

1) Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres): This has nothing to do with his great play in the Olympics. From start to finish this year, Miller (above photo) was the best goalie in the NHL, leading the Sabres back into the post-season and to a Northeast Division title. Among goalies who played at least 50 games this year, Miller was the leader in goals against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929), while ranking fourth with a career-high 41 victories. Focused, poised, and spectacular, Miller is the hands-down winner of this award.

2) Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix Coyotes): There are many reason why the Coyotes are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but none are bigger than the play of Bryzgalov, who set career-highs in games played (69), goals against average (2.29), wins (42), and shutouts (8). He gave this team its confidence with his spectacular early-season play and then showed tremendous consistency throughout the year.

3) Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils): Marty is just amazing, playing in a league-high 77 games at the age of 37 this year, while leading the Devils to the Atlantic Division crown. Brodeur surpassed 600 career wins, 1,000 games played, and set the all-time shutout record this season, while finishing with a terrific 2.24 goals against average. Brodeur led the league with 45 victories and 9 shutouts. The Hall-of-Fame can wait, though. Brodeur is far from finished.

MID-SEASON VEZINA: Miller, Brodeur, Craig Anderson

Calder Trophy:

1) Tyler Myers (Buffalo Sabres): Like teammate Ryan Miller and the Vezina Trophy, Myers was my mid-season Calder pick and he holds on for the top spot now, as well. The rookie defenseman played in all 82 games, averaged 23:44 of ice-time, faced the opposition's top line every night yet still was a plus-13, and finished with 48 points, 3rd most among all NHL rookies. Myers is a stud in all facets of the game, and his towering 6'8" frame and all-around game remind many of Boston's Zdeno Chara, who has been quick to point out that Myers is way more advanced at age 20 than he was at that age.

2) Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings): I wrote a column during the season saying that the Red Wings needed to go out and find a veteran NHL goalie in order to make the playoffs because Howard was too inconsistent. Well, I was wrong. Howard grew stronger as the year progressed and turned in an impressive 37-win rookie campaign. He also posted an excellent 2.26 goals against average in 63 appearances, making me eat my words as the Wings once again reached the post-season. Shocker that Ken Holland and Mike Babcock were right and I was wrong.

3) Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins): This one I got right. Coming out of the pre-season I truly believed that Rask would supplant Tim Thomas as the Bruins' No. 1 goalie during the season, and, though coach Claude Julien took some time before coming to the same realization, that is excatly what happened. Rask's final numbers (1.97 goals against, .931 save percentage, 5 shutouts, and 22 wins in 45 appearances) were outstanding.

MID-SEASON CALDER: Myers, John Tavares, Evander Kane

Jack Adams Trophy:

1) Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes): This is a slam-dunk. Tippett took over the 'Yotes late in training camp, instilled his system quickly and decisively, and then guided the club to a 50-win season and the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. I thought he was an excellent coach in Dallas. I know he is an outstanding coach in Phoenix.

2) Joe Sacco (Colorado Avalanche): It was a bit of a struggle at the end, but Sacco, a rookie NHL head coach, was able to prod the Avs into the No. 8 seed out West after a great start to the season. Confidently and deftly using as many as five rookies in his every-day lineup, Sacco guided the Avs to a surprising 95-point season.

3) Cory Clouston (Ottawa Senators): I didn't think much of Ottawa's playoff chances this year, but perhaps I overlooked Clouston's 19-11-4 record after taking over the Sens with 34 games to play a year ago. They didn't make the playoffs last season, but the Sens made strides under Clouston. Ottawa followed up by battling Buffalo for the Northeast Division title, settling for a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and a 94-point finish.

MID-SEASON JACK ADAMS: Tippett, Sacco, Scott Gordon

Philly-Rangers Final War & First Round Predictions


Written on 4/13/2010 by Jim Cerny

Now that we have all sixteen teams set for the two-month journey in order to determine the next Stanley Cup champion, I will join the expanding list of so-called "experts" in providing my predictions.

But first I digress.....

I was at Madison Square Garden on Friday and down in Philly on Sunday as the Rangers and Flyers battled for the final one of those 16 playoff berths. And I know that both teams are extremely flawed, and would not have even qualified if they played in the Western Conference as opposed to the East, but what great theater those two rivals provided.

MSG was electric on Friday as the Rangers kept their season alive with a 4-3 victory that was chock-full of plot twists and momentum swings and huge plays both ways.

Not to be outdone, the Wachovia Center was even louder and more raucous than The Garden for Sunday's contest, with the home team even dusting off a video of Kate Smith circa the mid-'70's singing "God Bless America". Simply great stuff!

Then Henrik Lundqvist plays one of the truely great games in goal for the visitors and nearly steals a playoff spot for his completely-outplayed team of Rangers. But the Flyers finally break through early in the third period to tie the game 1-1, and win it in the shootout with Brian Boucher somehow besting an exhausted Lundqvist ("I was dead tired...didn't have a good feeling heading into the shootout") for a 2-1 Flyers win.

Philly secures a playoff spot, one point better than the Rangers, who head for an early summer vacation.

Great theater. Whoever put that NHL schedule together and had Rangers and Flyers home-and-home to close out the season, well, give 'em a raise, or at least a Molson!

OK, prediction time. Well, wait, a second, before I get to that let's revisit how my pre-season predictions went (not so great):

In the East I had had six of the eight teams correct, though I opted for Carolina and the Rangers over Buffalo and Ottawa. Plus I had Philly as a lock, not to mention my Stanley Cup representative from the East (Yikes!).

Out West, I only nailed five of eight, though am proud to say I got LA right when many people did not think they would make it. Calgary, Anaheim, and St. Louis were my misses as Nashville, Colorado, and Phoenix made me look bad. For what it's worth, I had Vancouver heading to The Finals. That's got a better shot of happening than the Flyers, at least!

So now here we go:

Eastern Conference:
(1) Caps over (8) Canadiens in five games
(2) Devils over (7) Flyers in seven games
(3) Sabres over (6) Bruins in six games
(4) Penguins over (5) Senators in four games

Western Conference:
(1) Sharks over (8) Avalanche in five games
(2) Blackhawks over (7) Predators in five games
(3) Canucks over (6) Kings in six games
(5) Red Wings over (4) Coyotes in five games

Two Special Farewells


Written on 4/09/2010 by Jim Cerny

There were two special goodbye celebrations, one planned and the other more spontaneous, last night in the National Hockey League.

In Pittsburgh the Penguins played their last regular season home game at Mellon Arena---aka The Igloo---their home since 1967. A trip down memory lane was part of an extended pre-game ceremony held by the Penguins, culminating in one of the coolest on-ice team photos ever as former Penguins and current Penguins gathered at center ice.

They were all there last night in Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux, Craig Patrick, Bryan Trottier, Eddie Johnston, Phil Coffey, Sidney Crosby, Mike Lange, the great Voice of the Penguins. The late Bob Johnson was remembered and included. Classy night all around, celebrating my personal favorite arena in the NHL.

I'll miss the old barn; miss walking up the hill from downtown and seeing the glistening silver dome up ahead of me; miss getting lost time and again in the bowels of an arena I never could quite navigate perfectly; miss the distinct pipes of the PA announcer; miss the roar of the hometown fans.

Of course there is still more hockey, playoff hockey, to be played at The Igloo this spring before the barn gets razed. That's why the feel in Pittsburgh last night was one of pure celebration, because there was still the feel that another great memory or two lay right around the corner.

In Dallas, there was a different kind of celebration, one that was generated by true love of a city and a fan base for one special player, Mike Modano (above), who quite likely was playing his final home game before retirement beckons him.

It was an incredibly spontaneous and emotional three hours in Dallas last night, building from the roars during pre-game warmups all the way through Modano's selection as the game's First Star and ensuing twirl around the ice.

Modano was brought to tears more than once last night. With less than six minutes remaining in regulation, the Stars organization played a video tribute to Modano on the jumbotron. What followed was a long sustained outpouring of love as Modano received a deserved standing ovation from the crowd. Not only did his teammates join in standing and saluting the player who has been the face of the Stars franchise since it still played in Minnesota back in 1989, but so did the Anaheim Ducks' players---the Stars' opponents on this night---and the officials on the ice.

A player who personifies class, as well as world-class skill, it was no surprise to see opponents and officials join in the salute to the all-time U.S. born goals leader.

Somehow Modano was able to compose himself and score the tying goal on a deflection with 1:47 left to play. The great ones, even at the end of their illustrious careers, are able to script signature moments one more time, more often than not. And Modano delivered.

And then he delivered again. After being denied on a partial breakaway in overtime by Jonas Hiller, Modano scored the shootout deciding goal in a 3-2 Stars victory.

"It was tough to leave the ice (at the end of the game)," said Modano, who soaked in the cheers one last time after beind named First Star. "Not knowing what the future holds, whether this was it or wasn't. The fans were fantastic."

In typical deadpan manner, Modano concluded with the following comment:

"This is probably the end....but you never know, I may come down with a case of Favre-itis!"