April 16, 2014

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Bold NHL Playoff Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

The 2014 NHL playoffs bring a jolt of energy to the league that it’s been looking for. Along with revamped divisions this season is a new-look playoff format. Gone are the days of reseeding and here are the days of the NHL bracket. Matchups are determined by divisions with each quadrant of the bracket representing a division.

There are still eight playoff-eligible teams with the top three teams in each division guaranteeing themselves a spot with two final wild card spots available. The division winner with the best record will play the lesser of the wild card teams in the first round.

That being said it’s the greatest postseason in all of professional sports. The new format is nice but diehard hockey fans with ice in their veins know anything can happen. Expect the unexpected. Here are some bold predictions for this year’s NHL playoffs.

Boston Bruins

Will the Boston Bruins hoist the Stanley Cup in 2014?

There will Be 4 Series That Go to Game-7 in Round 1

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you—there will be four series that go to Game 7 in Round 1. With the new format there are despised rivals pitting off against one another right off the bat. Not wanting to give an inch these series will go the distance.

They are as follows:

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche

The most surprising matchup to go seven out of this group is the Wild v. Avalanche.  Minnesota is the hockey state and the pride of natives like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will show through. In the end the Avalanche will get the series win because of the young bevy of talent they have. Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon along with others will be too much to tame for the Wild.

Other game seven winners will be the Canadiens, Rangers and Kings.

Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, He’ll Take the Hockey World by Storm

He was selected No. 1 overall in the 2013 NHL draft. He scored the most points by a rookie this season with 63. He also set a record once set by Wayne Gretzky for most consecutive games with a point by an 18-year-old. Yet, Nate MacKinnon is just about to be discovered by the hockey masses.

He’s being mentioned in the same breath as Gretzky and is from the same town, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, as Sydney Crosby. Reminder, he’s only 18 but like The Great One and The Next One before him he’s living up to the hype.

MacKinnon will explode in the playoffs with nine goals and 11 assist as he leads the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

The Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers will Feature 4 OT Games

Let’s get something straight—the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers hate each other. It’s okay, it’s hockey and that’s why we love it.

One thing that didn’t about the NHL playoffs this season is that overtime will be played as 20 minute periods until a winner is determined. There’s not an abbreviated period possibly followed by a shootout. There’s sudden-death hockey until the lamp is lit. What’s not to love about nearly endless hockey?

This series will not disappoint in that department, Games 2, 3, 4 and 6 will got to OT with each team splitting the affairs. The Rangers will win game 6 with a goal by Carl Hagelin in the second OT and laugh last in Game 7 as they’ll survive and advance.

This one will be intense throughout.

The Boston Bruins will win the Stanley Cup

Before you become outraged with the selection of the regular season’s best team being chosen to hoist the Cup hear us out.

The winner of the President’s Trophy for most points during the regular season doesn’t mean postseason success. Nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Since 1920 only 40 teams have won both the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season. Since 1985 this has only happened eight times. Keep in mind the league has expanded from 21 to 30 teams since 1991.

The Chicago Blackhawks did it in 2013 and the Boston Bruins will do it again this year. The Bruins fell in six games last year in stunning fashion to the Blackhawks and have unfinished business this time around.

The Bruins have four solid lines and a goaltender in Tuukka Rask that has been the best in the league this season. They’re loaded with veteran leadership with just enough youth to keep them fresh.

They’ll face the Colorado Avalanche you will capture the hearts of many on their way to the Cup but fall short to the experience of the Bruins.

Bruins in six games

Jarome Iginla will win the Conn Smythe Trophy

The Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs will belong to Jarome Iginla this postseason.

Iginla is a Hall of Famer who is after his first Cup. He signed with the Bruins this offseason on a one-year deal to capture every player’s dream. Even at the age of 36 he scored 30 goals this season. The fact that he knows he’s still a prolific scorer and this is his shot at glory will ignite Iginla.

Expect him to have the look of a kid in a candy store when he’s on the ice this postseason. In the end he’ll have 12 goals, 11 assists and one Cup.

April 15, 2014

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Breaking Down Bubba Watson’s Win At The Masters

By: Joe Williams

The 2014 Masters began with 98 players in the field. One by one they dropped out of contention until there was one man left on Sunday afternoon. Bubba Watson won his second green jacket in the last three years. In case you missed it, here’s how golf’s first Major of the year went down:

April 1: This is no April Fools joke…Tiger Woods announces that he had surgery on his back and will not play in the Masters. 97 players left.

April 6: Just four days before the Masters begins, Matt Jones wins the Shell Houston Open to take last spot in field. He’s just happy to be in the field. 96 players left.

April 9: The day before the Masters begins, Ryan Moore wins the Par 3 contest. Nobody ever wins both. 95 players left.

Ian Poulter

Ian Poulter made it into the final 15, but couldn't hang on to beat Bubba Watson.

Round 1
1st hole: Brendon de Jonge makes a double-bogey on his first hole ever played at Augusta. Matthew Fitzpatrick, Keegan Bradley and Derek Ernst also walked off the first hole of the tournament at +2. That’s not how you want to start a major. 91 players left.

Front nine: Luke Donald takes an eight on the par-4 ninth hole for a front-nine 43. Graham DeLaet and Craig Stadler fired 42s. 88 players left.

Back nine: Jason Dufner started with nine straight pars but was derailed with a double-bogey at the tenth. He followed that up with three bogeys and a nine on the second side to shoot an 80. Chang-woo Lee, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Niebrugge, Ben Crenshaw and Branden Grace all failed to break 80. 82 players left.

Round 2
1st hole:
Graeme McDowell makes a double-bogey. Not the way to start your round. 81 players left.

Front nine: Mark Leishman makes a double-bogey on the 9th hole, dropping five shots in the last six holes. He would go from leading the tournament to missing the cut. Michael McCoy, Peter Hanson, Boo Weekley, Garrick Porteous, Trevor Immelman, Matteo Manassero, Patrick Reed, Ian Woosnam also played poorly on the first nine. 72 players left.

Phil Mickelson makes a triple-bogey at the 12th hole. 71 left.

Rory McIlroy’s second shot on the 13th hit a sprinkler and went well past the green, leading to a bogey on a hole that he desperately needed a birdie to climb back in the mix. This isn’t the kind of luck that major winners get. 70 players left.

Back nine: Tom Watson shoots +9 on the back nine. Tim Clark, Matt Every, Scott Stallings, Y.E. Yang, Roberto Castro, Angel Cabrera, David Lynn, Mark O’Meara, John Huh, Dustin Johnson, Ken Duke, Harris English, D.A. Points, Zach Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, Sang-Moon Bae and Victor Dubuisson also struggle. 51 players left.

Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson both finish bogey-bogey to miss the cut by a shot. 49 players left heading into the weekend.

Round 3
1st hole: Nick Watney, Francesco Molinari, and Oliver Goss make double-bogeys. Not what they had in mind for “moving day.” 46 players left.

Front Nine
Brandt Snedeker drops to +2 after a five-putt, quadruple bogey on the 4th hole. Joost Luiten, Darren Clarke, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle, Billy Horschel, Thongchai Jaidee, Martin Kaymer, Thorbjorn Olesen, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, Larry Mize, K.J. Choi, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink, and Henrik Stenson all struggle on the front side. 30 players left.

Back nine: Stephen Gallacher, Lucas Glover, Steven Bowditch, Bill Haas, Jamie Donaldson, Louis Oosthuizen and Bernhard Langer fail to get into contention with one round left to play. 23 players left.

Final round
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano makes bogey on the 1st hole. 22 players left.

Adam Scott bogeys the 2nd and 3rd holes, Steve Stricker makes double-bogey on the 3rd and Russell Henley makes bogey on the 3rd. 19 players left.

Kevin Streelman bogeys holes 3 and 4. Jason Day makes bogey on 4 and Kris Kirk takes a double-bogey the 4th. 16 players left.

Jimmy Walker cards a bogey on the 7th. 15 players left.

Jordan Speith holes sand on the 4th hole to go -7. Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Gary Woodland are all at +1 and eight shots behind. 11 players left.

Jordan Speith birdies the 7th hole to go -8. At -1, John Senden is too far back. So is Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Kevin Stadler. 7 players left.

Fred Couples knocks his second shot into the water on 11 and makes a double-bogey. 6 players left.

Rickie Fowler is out after back-to-back bogeys to start the back nine. 5 players left.

Thomas Bjorn makes a bogey on 14. He’s -2 and five shots back. 4 players left.

Matt Kuchar fails to birdie 15 or 16 and trails by four with two holes to go. 3 players left.

Jonas Blixt fails to birdie 17. He trails by three with one to play. 2 players left.

Jordan Speith fails to birdie 17 and Bubba Watson sinks his par putt to take a three shot lead to the final hole. It’s safe to say that Watson has another green jacket at this point. 1 player left to claim the Masters.

April 14, 2014

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

UConn wins … again: The Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball teams both took home NCAA championships last week with their respective wins over Kentucky and Notre Dame. While the women were heavy favorites coming into the tournament, the men’s team checked in as a No. 7 seed. They were the lowest seed to win it all since the Villanova Wildcats’ 1985 championship squad, who were victorious as a No. 8 seed. The men’s championship game, in particular, which featured No. 7 and No. 8 seeded teams, proved that it’s difficult to write off nearly any team in the field.

UConn Huskies

The UConn Men's & Women's basketball teams both brought home NCAA Championships this season.

John Calipari and the NBA: Shortly before the UConn-Kentucky game on Monday, former Wildcat Rex Chapman tweeted a rumor that Kentucky’s coach, John Calipari, would be leaving after the game to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. Chapman later retracted the statement, but the buzz was already generated. For what it’s worth, Calipari denied the rumor and says he intends to stay with the Wildcats. The coach leaving for the NBA, particularly the Lakers, seems intriguing – but it also would be the wrong move. Few collegiate coaches do well enough to have long careers in the league and while Los Angeles is a prime job, there’s no guarantee for success there with not much else around an aging Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Los Angeles will have cap room this summer but still aren’t guaranteed to land a major star. Plus, Coach Cal has perhaps the best setup in the NCAA with top recruiting classes every year and a rabid fan base at one of college basketball’s historic programs.

Bubba Watson wins the Masters: Golfer Bubba Watson held off the field over the weekend to win the Masters. The victory on the sport’s grandest stage was his second in three years and his score of 69 in the final round gave him a three-stroke win over Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth. Crying afterwards and with his family close by, he just comes off as a guy that’s easy to root for. Despite the drama and popularity of the Masters, television ratings plummeted. A few reasons could be given, but the primary one is the absence of Tiger Woods. Love him or hate him, Woods’ appearances draw viewers. With his recent back injury knocking him out of the event, fewer viewers tuned in.

Rory McIlroy … and toast: A college lecturer bet $1,700.00 on golfer Rory McIlroy to win the Masters after seeing his ‘image’ on a slice of toast. Seems totally reasonable.

Ultimate Warrior dies: The Ultimate Warrior, one of the WWE’s brightest stars in the 1990s, passed away unexpectedly last week when he suddenly collapsed at the age of 54. Making the death even more eerie was that only days before, he had reconciled with the federation that made him a star after disagreements between the two sides that spanned many years. James Hellwig, who legally changed his name to Warrior, was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame over the weekend then appeared on Monday Night Raw just prior to his death.

Shawne Merriman to the WWE: Speaking of pro wrestling, a former football player is reportedly on his way to the WWE. Defensive standout Shawne Merriman is hoping to make the jump from the NFL to pro wrestling, after debuting briefly at Wrestlemania as an announcer. Merriman is an outstanding athlete but my bets are generally against these sorts of things working out. Not only is wrestling a difficult art to grasp, but the schedule is incredibly demanding with the talent often working several dates a week with live shows and non-televised house shows. Traveling on the road makes it a difficult life and learning how to wrestle is just part of it.

Chad Johnson could land in Canadian Football League: Last we saw Chad Johnson, he was Chad Ochocinco and catching passes for the New England Patriots. After a disappointing year where he caught only 15 balls for 276 yards in 2011, he didn’t play another regular season game. According to ESPN, Johnson is now hoping to latch on with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. He may be able to still play at the age of 36, but using a stint in the CFL to revive his NFL career is unlikely. The wide receiver has been in steady decline since 2007 when he caught 93 passes for a career-best 1,440 yards. Since that season, he has had only one 1,000-yard season. His brief time in New England may have been a bit of an aberration since he wasn’t targeted very much. However, it’s been a few years since Johnson has even played competitively – let alone all that well.

Ball Girl interference: A Baltimore Orioles ball girl accidentally fielded a live ball and somehow couldn’t stop smiling about the gaffe.

April 10, 2014

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Sizing up Kevin Durant’s MVP Season

By: Matt Bowen

Kevin Durant is the best basketball player on the planet. Right now this statement can’t be argued. This is fact. What he’s doing this season is nothing short of genius. On a nightly basis his pure dominance emulates the greatest players in history.

Kevin Durant

Will Kevin Durant be holding the NBA MVP trophy at the end of this season?

No, Durant hasn’t led the Oklahoma City Thunder to an NBA title yet but that will happen this season. His game can’t be contained. He’s a masterful puppeteer and his opponents are simply on strings. His recent streak of 41 straight games with 25-plus points is the third longest streak in NBA history.

Before we move on sit back and let that stat sink in for a second.

Only Wilt Chamberlin and Oscar Robertson have had longer streaks. 41 games! That’s half a season straight with that kind of production. To be considered a star scorer in the NBA, a player must average 25 points/game for the season. This season Durant is averaging a whopping 32 points/game. Not since Kobe Bryant in 2005-06 has a player averaged more. To put his year in perspective, Carmelo Anthony led the league with 28.66 points/game last season. In the game where he scored less than 25, he scored 23 and only shot the ball 13 times. He also didn’t play in the fourth quarter. That fact shows how selfless Durant is—individual accolades mean nothing to the man; resting up for a title run is everything.

Durant is only 25 years old—to think that he’s still 2-3 years way from his true prime is silly. We haven’t seen the best of KD yet and that is ridiculous. This season he has shot 50.8 percent from the field. For a shooter such as himself to make half of his shots over an entire season is impressive.

His numbers in his age-25 season are comparable to the great Michael Jordan in regards to scoring. Keep in mind that the game has changed a bit from Jordan’s day—the 3-pointer is the preferred currency of the NBA these days. Through 76 games in 2013-14 Durant has taken 1,564 shots, 457 of which are of the 3-point variety. In 81 games in his 25-year-old season Jordan took 1,795 shots, 98 of which were threes. Durant’s shooting percentage beyond the arc is 40.5 percent compared to MJ’s 27.6. Yes, Jordan shot 53.8 percent from the field in 1988-89, but only 5.4 percent of his shots were threes. A staggering 29.2 percent of Durant’s shots are from the long line. Jordan averaged 32.5 points/game compared to Durant’s 32. Keep in mind we’re taking about Jordan—arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

To think that Durant’s career isn’t following the path of Jordan’s is preposterous. Now, six rings may be out of reach but it’s not impossible. Durant’s shot is silky smooth, true poetry in motion. He’s averaging 34.6 points/game since the start of January.

This being said, there’s no denying he’s the best. He has no ceiling. Expect nothing less than a ring at season’s end.

April 8, 2014

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8 Players To Watch At The Masters

By: Joe Williams

Finally, Masters week is here. Golf fans have been waiting for about eight months since the last major tournament finished. Sadly, there is no Tiger Woods in the field this week, but there are still some interesting storylines to watch. Here’s eight players that have a great shot at putting on a green jacket on Sunday afternoon.

Sergio Garcia

Can Sergio Garcia win his first major and take home the green jacket?

Adam Scott
He’s playing as well as anybody right now. He is the defending champion. In his last three Masters tournaments, he finished second, eighth and first. If he can finish third or better, he’ll pass Tiger Woods and become the new No. 1 player in the world.

Jason Day
He hasn’t played since winning the Match Play Championship six weeks ago because of a thumb injury. But this dude always seems to play well in the majors. A win will make him the No. 1 player in the world.

Phil Mickelson
He has to be at the top of this list. He almost always plays well at Augusta (14 top 10 finishes in 21 appearances) and did not play well last year. He’ll be looking to get that taste of of his mouth. Did I mention he already has three Masters titles? They all came in even years too.

Henrik Stenson
Here’s another guy that can take over the No. 1 spot in the world rankings this week. He’ll have to win or finish second to get it done though. He’s off to a slow start after an incredible finish last season.

Rory McIlroy
When he is on his game, he laps the field at major championships. (See the U.S. Open (2011) and PGA Championship (2012)). He nearly won the Masters in 2011 and has been playing well so far in 2014.

Sergio Garcia
Will Sergio ever win a major? Two years ago, he said he isn’t good enough. But he’s played well at Augusta. He won the Qatar Masters in February and keeps finishing in the top 20 every time he tees it up. He’ll do it again this week. But can he finish in the top one?

Matt Kuchar
He nearly won in 2012 and was in contention heading into 2013’s final round. He’s due to win a big one. The question for Kuchar is going to be how will he bounce-back after knocking it in the water and then losing in a playoff last week in Houston?

Fred Couples
It seems like every year there is a 50+ player that puts together a couple great rounds and contends at Augusta. Nobody is more likely to do that than Couples. He went 20+ years without missing a Masters cut. He’s been playing well on the Champions Tour. And he’s already got one green jacket. Couples in contention on Sunday would be a huge draw.