Sunday, April 3, 2011

First Round Playoff Matchups, A Saturday of Sports, Baseball Returns, Saints vs. Redskins

The Playoffs are Coming

I dont think I am breaking any new ground by saying that the playoffs are the best part of the NHL season. There is only one week left in the regular season, but a lot is still to be decided. One thing that is certain is that the road to the Stanley Cup Finals goes through Vancouver in the Western Conference. Heading into the last week of games, lets take a look at the first-round matchups if the season ended today

Western Conference:

1 Vancouver 
8 Chicago

It would be awesome to watch the defending Stanley Cup Champions start their title defense against the favorite to win the Cup this season. These two teams can score and five of the top thirteen scorers (H. Sedin, D. Sedin, J. Towes, P. Kane, R. Kessler) playing night in and night out would make goaltending more important than it already is. So many of the key players that lead the Black Hawks to the championship last year are gone and that includes Antti Niemi. Roberto Luongo  is third in save percentage and is having a career year. The Black Hawks have eliminated the Canucks the last two seasons. 

2 Detroit
7 Anaheim 

The Ducks are red hot and Corey Perry is leading the charge with 46 goals. Detroit has done a great job dealing with injuries all season, but they lost at home to St. Louis (not a playoff team) 10-4 on Wednesday. Jimmy Howard has 35 wins, but he only has the 30th best save percentage (.908). Detroit is a very shaky number two, and Anaheim is a surging seven. 

3 San Jose
6 Nashville

This is one of those Western Conference playoff series that would get virtually no attention on television unless it's the only one still going at the end of the round. The series has some stars (Heatley, Thortan, Rinne, Weber) but these teams fly well under the radar. Pikka Rinne has been one of the best goalies all season posting a 2.10 GAA and a .920 SVPT. San Jose has not had much playoff success the last few seasons, and Joe Thorton has been a dog in the playoffs for years. 

4 Los Angelas
5 Phoenix 

The Kings suffered a terrible blow when leading scorer Anze Kopitar suffered torn ligaments in his ankle. Kpoitar isn't coming back and that could hurt the Kings chances of making a run at the Stanley Cup. Phoenix stepped up and signed Hobey Baker finalist Andy Miele today. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact he can have at the NHL level. I can recall other college superstars who have ended their college career and made an impact on the NHL playoffs. Off the top of my head, I can recall Jeff Farkas scoring a big playoff goal agains the Devils. 

Eastern Conference

1 Philadelphia 
8 Rangers

The Rangers are fading to the finish and watched Henry Lundqvist get beat up to the tune of six goals against the other night against the Islanders. Philadelphia has been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, but they never seem to get good goaltending in the playoffs. I was surprised that the Flyers didn't trade for a goalie at the deadline. Sergei Bobrovsky is not the name of a goalie that I would expect to raise the Cup over his head, but Antti Niemi wasn't an established playoff star last spring. 

2 Washington
7 Buffalo

As a Sabres season ticket holder, I want no part of Washington. Don made some good points as to why Washington would be a good matchup, but I just cant get passed the fact that we haven't beaten them since Danny Briere was on the team. I will talk more about the Sabres a little bit further down. 

3 Boston 
6 Montreal

This old time rivalry has heated up the last couple of weeks to the point that even Bill Simmons was tweeting about it the other night. Boston is so physical that playing a seven game series against them could leave a team with nothing left to compete in the next round. Montreal is such a mind fuck on their own players. The media and the fans are so intense that playing there and being successful there in the era of 24/7 media seems impossible. 

4 Pittsburgh
5 Tampa Bay

Does anyone have any credible information about Sidney Crosby? Let me answer, NO. The Penguins have been so tight lipped that anyone who tells you they know when and if Sid will be on the ice, I want you to punch them in the face. Tampa Bay has emerged as a solid contender under the leadership of Steve Yzerman. It would be interesting if these teams were to meet because the two of them taken full advantage of top draft picks. Pittsburgh wont have Malkin, will?/wont? have Crosby, but Fleury will bring a ton of playoff experience into the spring. The Lighting hit big time when they drafted Steven Stamkos first overall, and Victor Hedman is a Norris Trophy waiting to happen. 

More about the Sabres...

I was thinking tonight about where I want the Sabres to finish, who to root for when I scoreboard watch, and how annoying the horn is in Washington. I got to considering the various playoff match-ups and decided on the order I want them to finish from best case to worst case...

For the sake of argument lets say it finishes like I outlined above,  1. Philadelphia, 2. Washington, 3. Boston...

1. 6th- The chance to play Boston a team that we know we can beat (4-1-1 this season) is the best case scenario for Sabres fans. 
Stafford has been a monster against the Bruins all season and Gerbe loves to play in his home city of Boston.  The only downside is they are so big and physical that they could wear us out in a long series and leave us with nothing left if we were to advance.  

2. 8th- Philadelphia has struggled at home, there goaltending is shaky, and Pronger is beat up. The down side is that they can score a ton and some of the Sabres can be very streaky scorers. 

3. 7th- Washington and Pittsburgh should just duke it out on their own. The Sabres struggle against Washington and some of the idiots at HSBC Arena boo every time Ovechkin touches the puck and it drives me nuts. 

4. 9th or Worse- That would suck very much.

Today 4 Became 2

Saturday is a great day to hit the couch and watch sports. I started the day watching Phil Mickelson (dressed in green and looking awfully hefty) shoot a course record 63 in Houston. I was doing my scouting for The Masters. Regardless of the play today, I will probably pick Todd Hamilton or Anthony Kim to win. 

Also in Houston, Butler defeated VCU and UCONN defeated Kentucky to set the stage for a Connecticut versus Butler final on Monday. There was anywhere from 8-25 people covering the games for CBS to I managed to hear a couple of interesting facts. 

  • Butler is the first team from the state of Indiana to reach the Final Four in back to back seasons. Initially, I was surprised that Indiana never managed to do it, but who else would I have considered as a team capable of such a feat? Purdue? Indiana St? IUPUI? 
  • This wasn't mentioned on the broadcast, but I think Brad Stevens should at least consider visiting Norman, Oklahoma. 
  • Charles Barkley has been great all tournament, but I am not sure why Steve Kerr needed to be in the booth. 
  • They showed some of the VCU practice and a drill called, "Ironman" featured coach Shaka taking a charge in his suit. 
  • I expect K. Walker and UCONN to just keep on running and win another National Championship, but I really want Butler to win. They came so close against Duke last season it would be great to have them finish the deal this season. 

Baseball is Back

Baseball is back. Leave it to Apple to make me even more excited about baseball than usual. The AT Bat 11 App for the iPad is loaded with so many cool features. You can read all about the app right here

Another reason I am excited for baseball season is that The Sports-Casters are taking our time previewing the season. Last week we had WFAN's New York Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti on Episode 13 to talk about the Yankees. Then we had Alex Belth from the BronxBanterBlog and Travis Goldman from the Pinstripe Alley to help us with Baseball Bonus #1.

Next week, Richard Deitsch from Sports Illustrated will preview baseball in the media on Episode 14, and Glenn Stout and Tony Lee will join us for Baseball Bonus #2 to focus on the Boston Red Sox. 

Here are some links you need:

Episode 13 featuring Sweeny Murti as he previews the Yankees. 
Baseball Bonus #1 featuring Alex Belth and Travis Goldman. 

A non baseball link to a podcast I did with Carter Camper. Athletes Spotlight #1

Alright, it is time for Brees to say goodnight...

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