Monday, November 28, 2011

Alex Ovechkin...Where have you gone?

Alexander the Not So Great

Things are starting to go from concerning to alarming in Washington. The Caps are tied for the last playoff spot in the east and there doesn’t seem to be any button head coach Bruce Boudreau can push to get his star player going in the right direction. The tension is clearly starting to show as we have seen a few instances on the bench where Alex Ovechkin has shown his displeasure. Ovechkin is clearly not playing to his potential. Is it the coach’s fault? Or is it Ovi’s?

Let me throw out some numbers that at this point make it no longer a slump but a trend for the Russian sniper. Over Ovechkin’s first 5 seasons he averaged 5.4 shots per game. This year he is averaging 3.6. He also averaged 18 power play goals per year through his first 5 campaigns, this year he is on pace for 8. In 11 home games this season he has 1 goal and to this point he has not registered a game winner. For a man thought of as the best player in the world, well at least he is getting paid that way; those numbers are just simply unacceptable.

A few years back my former college teammate and now Columbus Blue Jacket RJ Umberger made a statement about the Caps saying they were not made to make a run in the playoffs. While that caused a stir at the time, he proved to be right, as the Caps have not made it past the second round of the playoffs the past 2 seasons. The point of bringing that up was Boudreau has been trying to change the culture in the Caps dressing room and build the type of team that can be made for a playoff run. By the numbers at the very least, that new culture has not made Alex Ovechkin a better player. That gets me back to the question of whose fault it is.

If Alex Ovechkin were constantly dogging it out on the ice and not being a team player, which all indications have shown that he has done neither, then I would lay most of the blame on him. But his work ethic is there and he truly shows passion for the game, unlike another Russian forward on that team but that’s a story for another time. So with that said, I have to put most of the blame on Bruce Boudreau. The coach’s responsibility is to get the best out of each and every player. As of now he is only getting about half of the Alex Ovechkin from his first 5 years. I think Boudreau had the right idea when he wanted to change things and hold everyone accountable at both ends of the rink, but at this point he has to find a way to make his best player just that, his best player.

It is time to release the dog, or Ovechkin! Instead of making him drive 55 in his Porsche, take the collar off and let him do 100. In other words just let Alex Ovechkin play the game the way he knows how to, fast and reckless. In most cases you don’t want to have different rules for different players but I think this is one of those rare situations that it would work. Alex has never been a good defensive player and that hasn’t changed but now people are putting him under the microscope and picking out every bad defensive play he makes. Well these are the same mistakes he was making 3 years ago but no one was noticing that because he was scoring 50 goals a year. He doesn’t look happy out there and looks as if he is thinking too much out on the ice. Let the man free wheel and get back to being Alexander the great, the National Hockey League needs him!

I like Bruce Boudreau and think he has done a lot of good things in Washington. But time is running out and patience is wearing thin I would think in the front office. Sometimes you have to think outside the box and do things most people might not do because if they are going to make a change it won’t be getting rid of the guy making 9.5 million a year for the next decade.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

'Trap Gate', Sidney Crosby and Penn State Hockey

Scandal Effects on Penn St. Hockey

What can you say about the events that have taken place at Penn State this week? A lot of sick and disturbing acts were brought to the four fronts and has really saddened the entire country. I am not going to sit here and give my opinion on what took place, as many have done that already and done it well. I do want to bring up another aspect that is more in our world and that is the effect it will have on the brand new hockey program that will begin play in less than a year at State College. The football program has already lost at least one top level recruit because of these events, so what will happen to hockey?

 That is a question that might not be answered for a while. But you have to think the young men that have committed to play there as well as others who are being recruited for the future will have to think twice about Penn State being their destination for playing college hockey. This in no way is a shot at head coach Guy Gadowski or his staff. They have just started when it comes to recruiting and putting a stamp on the University, which right now makes them look like the cleanest program on campus. But there are just so many questions surrounding the community that is Penn State University, it would be hard to imagine a young man committing to something now that is in such a state of flux.

Thinking back to when I was deciding on where to attend college, it was hard enough to commit and feel comfortable starting a new life in a new place. But to add  more stress of going to a school where there are so many questions and more importantly questions about who is going to lead the University into the next decade. It would be really hard to say yes to Penn State right now and that is really a shame for a program that looked to have so much promise. This will be an early road block but hopefully the University will get the right people leading the way and the hockey program can flourish down the road.

Trap Gate

Did anyone happen to see the game the other night between the Flyers and the Lightning? Well in case you missed it, the Flyers decided to play keep away from the lightning for over 30 seconds, having their two defenseman play catch with the puck between the two faceoff circles in their zone. The comical thing was that you saw the referees at first waiting for the play to develop. Then looking at the defenseman as if to ask them what the heck you guys are doing, to finally looking at their counter parts as if to say to one another what should we do? Eventually they stopped the play and dropped the puck in the Flyers zone. After it happened a second time, the Flyers finally started to play a regular pace and things went back to normal but it was definitely something new for these eyes of mine to see in a hockey game.

In case you were like me asking yourself why this would happen, it came simply from the Flyers trying to figure out a way to beat Tampa Bay’s neutral zone trapping system. The Lightning had been very successful lately by clogging the neutral zone to cause turnovers and create offense. Well the Flyers came up with a plan to see if the Lightning would grow impatient and come out of their system. As it turned out, the Lightning stayed disciplined and the Flyers were stuck looking like fools. But in my mind it was worth a shot. Coaches these days are trying to be innovative and come with new ways to create offense and I think in this case Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette was trying something new to try and beat a certain system. It did not work but in these times , thinking outside the box to help your team win a game has become the norm.

Sid the Kid

Ok, ok I understand that every media member wants to be the first one to get the scoop on when Sidney Crosby will return, but the continuous bombardment of him and the Penguin’s coach asking when he will return needs to stop. Clearly this is the biggest story in the NHL and he is the most important player in the league. But as I wrote earlier on in the summer, concussions are so unpredictable and can be so delicate that even though a guy has started practicing and is allowed to have contact. By no means does that mean he is ready to play in a game. There is one thing to be bumped in practice, but it is another thing to have a 220 pound defenseman barrel in on you at top speed looking to separate you from the puck.

So with those things in mind, let’s all be a little patient with Sid the Kid. As I said, with him being the most important player in the league, the right thing is for him to come back when he knows he is ready. The last thing we want is another Eric Lindros scenario. I know in our society it is a what have you done for me lately kind of deal, but waiting a couple of extra weeks or even a month is well worth it to see Crosby play another 10 years at the level we know he is capable of.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Early returns in the NHL

Before I get into the NHL and what has transpired early on, I want to touch on a topic that I bashed early on when I started this blog and that is the flashy uniforms in college football. To show that I am not biased towards my Alma mater, Ohio State. Let me say that they are just as guilty as anyone for displaying in my mind some horrific digs Saturday night vs Wisconsin. I don't get it, probably never will and now I have to put my own school in the that same pile as the other schools. Which is teams spending needless time and money on these 'specialty' get ups.

Ok so enough of that, lets talk some hockey. We are about 3 weeks into the NHL season and teams are starting to find their identities. There have been some pleasant surprises and some major disappointments in the early goings. When I look at the top of the standings in each conference, there is one key factor that has put most of these teams near the top and that is goaltending. Whether they are surprise teams or teams that were supposed to be there, goaltending has been the driving force behind their early successes.

Eastern Conference

At the top of the Eastern Conference is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Where do you begin when you talk about the job head coach Dan Bylsma has done for the Penguins? This team has had injuries to top players, has been missing the best player in the world all season and has not made an excuse about it. They just go on with their business and of course get great goaltending from Mark-Andre Fleury to lead them. The Washington Capitals are the other team off to a great start in the east. They ripped off wins in their first 7 games before taking their first loss. They have veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun in net who is off to a great start, but like I have said before, the real season for the Caps begins in April, but I like the way they are playing so far in this campaign.

Surprise Teams

While I sat here about to write this post I wasn't sure where I would put the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are one of the top teams in the east standings but if you are outside the city of Toronto my guess is that you would think of that as a surprise. So as of now until further proven in the season, the Leafs are stuck in this category. What can you say about the start that Phil Kessel is having? He scored his league leading 10th goal of the season last night and has been Toronto's best all round player. A guy playing at that type of level can only instill confidence in his teammates and that is exactly what he has done. The Leafs have also have gotten solid goaltending, which has been a weakness in their past short comings. They are still struggling defensively and in the long run that may catch up to them but as of now the Leafs are a team on the rise in the east.

I am glad I waited a while to give feedback on the early part of the season. Sometimes you can be to quick to judge a team and I would have been guilty of that in terms of the Ottawa Senators. After getting blasted a few times in the first couple of weeks I was ready to label them the worst team in the NHL. But now after ripping off 5 wins in a row and riding the stick of red hot Jason Spezza, that label has never seen the light of day. I am not calling Ottawa a play off team but  they are surprising people with this streak after such a horrific start.


Well it seems as if the Stanley Cup hangover has caught up with another team in the Boston Bruins. The one alarming factor in this instance is that Boston has virtually the same team from last season. Last year you could argue that Chicago had to make so many changes and that lead to a slow start but aside from Tomas Kaberle, the Bruins roster looks the same.

Another disappointment is the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs started the season 1-5-2 and were letting goals in at an alarming rate. Carey Price has struggled and in one instance miss played a face off won back towards the net and let it slide through his legs. The Canadiens are small up front and have a lot of money spent on players that are not producing. They most recently are riding a 3 game winning streak as Price has shown signs of being better, but the people in Montreal have to be a little worried.

Western Conference

When I look at the Western Conference I see so many quality hockey teams and the battle for playoff spots are going to be so intense that the points these teams scrap for in October are looking like battles you would normaly see in March. Great stuff early on! With that said, there are a few teams that are off to good starts to set them selves up for the rest of the season. The L.A Kings are off to a hot start lead by Jonathan Quick, who recently recorded 3 straight shutouts. L.A has the the stingiest defense thus far. Another group that is at the top of the conference is the Chicago Blackhawks. Corey Crawford has been solid in the pipes and the depth of the Hawks line up is really showing thus far on the score sheet. And last but certainly not least is the San Jose Sharks. After a rough first week and a half, the Sharks have gone on a 5 game tear and look to regaining their touch.

The Surprises

I feel as if I am beating this point to death but once again the key behind some of these surprise starts is in the nets. The Dallas Stars have shot out of the starting gate behind the brilliant net minding of Kari Lehtonen. The former number one pick is taking on all comers and putting the Stars on his back and looks like he wants to carry them to a playoff spot. The other surprise is up in northern Alberta. The Edmonton Oilers have jumped out to a 6-2-2 start and are being lead by the kid line of Eberle, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins. They have really energized a franchise that has been starving for a winner. They are also getting spectacular goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin. Is the Bulin Wall in a contract year? if so, lookout NHL!!!

The Disappointments

Probably the biggest let down in the league thus far has to be in Columbus. I was in the city when the Jackets began play 11 years ago and the people of Columbus really embraced the team. But after many years without a playoff win the people have shown their displeasure with a steady decline in attendance. It looked as if the Jackets were to turn the corner this year with their off season moves. But with the suspension of James Wisniewski and the offensive struggles early on. The Blue Jackets have only managed 1 win and now there are rumblings that the head coach and general manager may be fired. It is still early in the season but it will be hard for this team to overcome this start.

The other disappointment in the early stages of the season would have to be in Vancouver. Still loaded with tons of talent, it may be hard for the Canucks to fully put last years game 7 defeat behind them. They had a strong win against Washington the other night to give them a little boost. The biggest challenge for the players in Vancouver this year will be between their ears. Can they put the past behind them and move forward?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The College Game and NHL Injuries

I spent this last weekend in South Bend doing the radio broadcast for the series between the Irish and my alma mater, Ohio State. I luckily got a chance to sneak my head into the new home for the Irish, The Compton Family Ice Arena and from what I did get to see, it looks like a gem. 5,000 seats with all the niceties you would expect from an arena built in 2011. The one thing that I saw about the structure that should prove to be a home ice advantage for Notre Dame is how the seating is right on top of the ice surface. It should make this place an intimidating challenge for road teams and give the Irish a major boost of adrenaline.

So as I said before, I did cover the games this weekend and unfortunately they were played at the Joyce Center as the new barn was still a week away from completion. As anyone that has been to the Joyce would know, it is one of the worst rinks in college hockey. It will not be missed by many if any at all. But what I did take from this weekend was how good of a state the college game is in. I watched two teams that are on different paths so to speak this season play two quality hockey games that as in many contests, a few breaks here and a few there and both night's outcomes could have been different. A young Buckeye team challenged the Irish in every way and came out of the weekend with a series split. At no time did the Buckeyes look intimidated and at no time did the Irish look as if they were taking the Buckeyes for granted. Two teams that are separated by a lot in the rankings just showed me how competitive the college game can be no matter where people may think they belong in the pecking order.

NHL Injuries...The Laundry List

I went on earlier and of course the first headline is the NHL power rankings, which I bypass simply because they don't matter in October, but good for you if you're ranked number 1! What I did stop and notice was the that almost every headline other than that was about an injured player. Most teams are roughly five games into their seasons and the list of injuries to quality players is getting ridiculous. Tyler Kennedy with a concussion, Jason Blake with an arm laceration and Drew Doughty put on the injured reserve. Those are just three names, others include Andy Mcdonald, David Krejci, and Dustin Penner. Hockey is a dangerous sport but it is not football. I mean is it crazy to ask the question, is the game getting to fast?

We all know that playing the game at a high level has become a 12 month a year deal. Players take very little time off and are almost always trying to find better ways to become stronger and faster in the off season. It is a full time job and know one is telling these guys to slow down, certainly not myself. But it is alarming to see how many guys are going down this early in the season and it has to be concerning to players, team executives and the fans. The NHL is doing a great job with the rules and cracking down on illegal hits but with the speed of the game reaching new heights, at some point there is not going to be any new rule to slow the injuries down. We just have to hope for the best that most players can remain healthy.

On a positive injury note, my former college line mate Ryan Kesler will be making his season debut tomorrow night. After having hip surgery in the summer, which looked to have slowed him in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Kesler will only have lost 5 games of the season to that injury.

And while pouring on some good news, I am sure most of you heard that Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact in practice late last week. A good sign for the NHL's best player as he gets closer to game action. But in my opinion, nothing will be known until he sets foot on the ice in a real game. I mean if you are a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and in practice you see Sidney Crosby coming down the wing, are you gonna be the guy to test that 'cleared for contact' status and lay a hit on him? I'm thinking most guys are gonna at best give him a small rub off. So to me if he is cleared to get hit, he should start playing in games or else he is gonna have to supply all of his own hits in practice to test his head. Tough spot for the team but a good sign that he is clearly feeling really good and that is the first step.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notre Dame, TV Deals and The First Week in the Books

Well the dust has finally least for now. In the past week, Notre Dame has accepted an invitation to play in the Hockey East and Bowling Green did the same with the WCHA. That leaves one lone independent for the 2013-'14 season and that is Alabama Huntsville. It is a long shot but I hope that the WCHA, who will only have 9 teams in the conference will at least take it into serious consideration to add UAH.

Speaking of those crafty Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has recently announced that they have worked out a deal with NBC to cover Irish hockey when they join the Hockey East. We all sat around waiting for the Notre Dame shoe to drop and we find out why it took so long. They were trying to leverage a better national TV deal. I give Notre Dame credit in a sense that this was the time for them to make this happen. They were coming off a season in where they reached the Frozen Four. They had multiple conferences chasing them for their services. They were the preseason # 1 team in the country and are about to open up a brand new hockey facility this fall. All the moons were aligning and they landed a great deal with NBC.

I would like to think that Notre Dame was doing this for the betterment of College Hockey but lets be real, they were looking out for #1 and who would blame them. I certainly wouldn't and the rest of the College Hockey world shouldn't either. In fact they should all be very excited about this. More national coverage, more exposure to new fans and more money being generated to grow the game even further. I may not have been a fan of the way Notre Dame handled the situation over the summer, being very coy about it all. But facts are facts and the Irish landed a National TV deal, a huge arrow up for College Hockey.

With CBS Sports Network, The Big Ten Network and now Versus, which will become NBC Sports in January of 2012. College hockey has come a long way in such a short time in terms of national television exposure. It is incredible that College hockey will be sharing the same television stage as the National Hockey League. But when you stop and think about it, it shouldn't seem that far fetched. I mean look at all of the former college players out there that have become stars in the NHL. Um, Ryan Kesler, Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek just to a name a few so you don't think I am just blowing hot air.

So instead of looking at this as a surreal deal for college hockey. I look at it as a necessity for both the Versus/NBC network as well as the game of hockey. With so many college players being drafted now, it would seem to me that exposing these players on television before they become NHL stars would only enhance the popularity of the game. Plus with most of the players drafted to specific teams already but still college eligible, fans of say the New York Rangers can check in on 2009 first round pick Chris Kreider while he plays for Boston College. Versus can build him up while promoting college hockey and the NHL at the same time. Bam!!

Ok, lets get away from talking about television and get to the real games. Last week was the beginning of the College Hockey season as well as the NHL. With the NHL being a 82 game season, I am going to hold off on any first week ups and downs. The same should be said about the college game but with only about 35 games apiece, all the games are very important. That being said, please don't get too excited about a first weekend sweep or too down about losing the first 2 games of the season. The big reason for that is the lack of practice time and prepration leading up to the first games.

The rules made by the NCAA have made things very difficult on college coaches. They are only allowed a certain amount of hours with the team leading up to the start of the season which in some instances only gives them 8-10 days of practice leading up to the first real games. That hardly gives these coaches enough time to implement all of their systems on the ice and create the type of team they want to be throughout the season. To put it into perspective, the NHL gets about a month of training camp and has 7-8 preseason games to install all the systems they want. These college coaches have to be very precise with their time early on and build off the foundations they have laid as the season opens up. So don't explode over the first weekends results!

Case and point,there were a few examples of dominance this weekend, for instance the Boston College Eagles who went up to Grand Forks and captured the Ice Breaker Tournament by defeating host North Dakota 6-2. You might look at that and say, wow look out for Boston College! But lets see a couple more weekends like that before we crown them the champs. I mean take from that same game on the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota. They struggled to beat Air Force and then got ripped by Boston College on their home ice. Are we discounting the Fighting Sioux now? I'm certainly not, and that is the point I am trying to make. Lets allow these teams to get into their seasons a little bit before we write teams off or crown a champ in October.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NHL Preview - Western Conference

Western Conference

Playoff Locks –

San Jose - The Sharks have made some good runs in the playoffs the last couple of seasons. The trades for Marty Havlat and Brent Burns have put them in a great spot to contend again for the Western Conference Crown.

Vancouver - Without question the Canucks ability to overcome a heart breaking loss in game 7 of the finals will be their biggest test. They resigned the right guys and still have a loaded team that will again be vying for the top spot in the West.

Chicago – The Hawks did what they had to do this summer and that was fill in the bottom half of their line-up. All of their top players return to the mix with the veteran depth they added. Corey Crawford was solid last year and there is no reason to think he won’t be the same this time around.

Detroit - Just like Nick Lidstrom did, the Wings will return to the playoffs for another season. They did lose Brian Refalski to retirement but added Ian White and Mike Commodore to the blue line.

Los Angeles – With Drew Doughty finally locked up for 8 years, the Kings can finally concentrate on the task at hand. Mike Richards was an excellent pick up and gives LA a great one two punch down the middle with Richards and Anze Kopitar.

Playoff Probable’s –

Anaheim – The Finnish Flash is back and that had to be some relief for the Ducks Brass. Teemu Selanne had 80 points in 73 games last year and solidified the depth behind the Ryan/Getzlaf/Perry line. Hiller looks back to form in net and the Ducks should find a spot in the post season.

Columbus – This is a franchise that has been screaming for a winner. They finally spent some money and now have a little more depth up front to take some pressure off guys like Derrick Brassard and Antoine Vermette. The Jackets need solid goaltending from Steve Mason, the only question mark holding them back from a sure playoff spot.

Nashville – Say what you want about the Preds and their low budget but they continue to make the playoffs every season with Suter and Weber on the blue line and Pekka Rinne in net, I have a hard time picking against them.

Playoff hopefuls –

Calgary/St. Louis/Phoenix – The Western Conference is tough, and like in many cases before, it could come down to the last day of the season. Having said that, these are a couple of teams that will make a run but fall short. The Flames were unable to land Brad Richards this summer and in return it will cost them a playoff spot. The Blues made a couple of veteran signings this off season in Arnott and Langenbrunner but they are both way past their best day. And the Coyotes, they made the playoffs behind the solid goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov a season ago. With him off to Philadelphia, there are just too many questions in net for the Yotes.

Watching the Playoffs –

Minnesota – While I do love the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi you have to give something to get something and the loss of Brent Burns will hurt the Wild more than they think.

Dallas – I am not sure what direction this team is going in but they did make a big mistake last season by not trading Brad Richards and letting him walk for nothing this summer.

Edmonton – A lot like the Islanders in the east, they do have a ton of young talent, but they are at least two years away from making a playoff push.

Coming out of the West –

This was a difficult choice; the West is loaded at the top in which I see at least 5 teams with the capabilities to make it to the finals. With that said, I am going with the team that made some of the bigger moves in the off season and that is the San Jose Sharks. The additions of Brent Burns and Martin Havlat will prove to be a breath of fresh air for a team that has been close the last couple of seasons. And I see them doing it in a rematch of the 2010 Western Conference finals against Chicago. It will take them 6 games to do so.

Stanley Cup –

The San Jose Sharks in 5 games over the Washington Capitals

Antii Niemi will hoist the Cup for the second time in 3 years and Patrick Marleau, after 15 years in San Jose will finally bring the Cup home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NHL Preview - Eastern Conference

NHL  Preview/Predictions

Eastern Conference

Playoff locks –

Pittsburgh - Despite the questions around Sidney Crosby the Penguins proved they can win without him, and with a healthy motivated Evgeni Malkin back and a nice under the radar signing of Steve Sullivan. The Penguins will be right near the top of the standings.

Buffalo - With a new owner in place the Sabres went out and spent and spent wisely on top defense and adding depth at forward. Ryan Miller is in his prime of his career and should lead this team to a playoff berth.

Washington - Another year with high expectations for the Caps. I like some of the moves they made with the signing of Joel Ward and getting a cup winner in Troy Brouwer. But for this team it’s not about getting in the playoffs, it’s what they do when they reach them.

Philadelphia – A major overhaul in Philly this summer that brought in a new goaltender and possibly a new style of play. After Carter and Richards were traded, will the Flyers have enough offense? I still like them and think this change was for the better.

Boston – The defending champs return almost everyone from a year ago. The only thing that would hold this team back Is a Stanley Cup hangover.

Playoff Probables –

Tamp Bay – The Lightning made a great run last year and Steve Yzerman has become a great leader in the front office. I think they are a playoff team but the one question I have is in goal. How long can Roloson keep playing at a high level?

New Jersey – I think it’s safe to say that the Devils are glad a new season Is here. Marty Broduer has at least one great season left in him and with a healthy Zach Parise back to lead this team, the Devils should find their way back to the post season.

Playoff Hopefuls –

Florida/Montreal/Winnpeg – I think it will be one of these three teams that will be able to grab that last playoff spot in the east. Florida made major changes and brought in a lot of depth players but goaltending will be a question. Montreal needs to get something from overpaid Scott Gomez if they want to be taken seriously. And in Winnipeg there is hope after the former Thrashers had a nice start last season only to falter in the second half. Will the large crowds of Winnipeg be the enough to will the Jets to a playoff spot?

Watching the playoffs –

Toronto – At least a year away from a contender for the playoffs. I like where they are headed but the east is too tough for them right now.

N.Y Rangers – Brad Richards won’t be enough to put them in the playoffs.

Carolina – The have some good young talent in Raleigh and a great goaltender in Cam Ward but not enough depth to compete for a playoff spot.

N.Y Isles – A ton of young talent but still at the bottom of the east.

Ottawa – The fans in the countries capital city are in for a long season.

Coming out of the east –

The obvious question in the east is the health of Sidney Crosby. If he is back healthy and playing at his normal high level the Penguins would be my pick. But as we speak, he is not ready to go and as I did a piece about concussions this summer and on their unpredictability I can’t rely on his full return. So with that said, I like the Caps to finally erase their playoff demons and win the Eastern Conference over the Philadelphia Flyers in six games and reach the finals.

Western Conference predictions and who will hoist the Cup next spring to come shortly.