April 30, 2013

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Bold Predictions for the 2013 NHL Playoffs

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NHL playoffs promise to be as fast paced as the abbreviated season. The strike-shortened season was roughly only 100 days long and the league carries plenty of momentum into the “second season.”

The league began the season with a black eye but with a jammed packed schedule that went down to the wire, the NHL recovered nicely from a near catastrophe.

With fans back on board the playoffs will be as captivating as ever. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks dominated their respective conferences this season, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to meet in the Finals.

Remember, it was just last season when the Los Angeles Kings were the first team in history to win it all as a No. 8 seed.

Who will hoist the Stanley Cup in 2013?

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, expect the unexpected during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals Will be the Best Round 1 Matchup

As a hockey fan, one can’t help but lose sleep over this series. Coming into the season this was an all-or-nothing type of season for both sides. After a poor start, both teams rebounded well to finish the season on a strong note.

Now, two teams under the microscope will duke it out in a series that screams seven games. The CapitalsAlex Ovechkin finished the year with a league-best 32 goals and needs to continue that trend if his team is to advance.

The Rangers spent a ton of money in the offseason only to be seller’s at the trade deadline. What’s done is done and the team found a way to manage the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. New to New York, star Rick Nash led the team in goals with 21, now it’s his duty to lead his team to a Stanley Cup victory.

So, who will win the series?

Capitals in seven games

The Rangers may be facing an intense amount of pressure, but Ovechkin and the Capitals have their backs against the wall.

The Detroit Red Wings Will Upset the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t play consistently good hockey until a week ago, but now they’re hot at the right time.

Spoiled by decades of success, Wings fans were looking lost until recently. The playoffs seemed like a mirage, but the good organizations always seem to get their way and the Wings are in as the No. 7 seed in the West.

Now, the Anaheim Ducks are the underdog in the series even though they are the No. 2 seed. The Wings took the season series 2-1 and have too much momentum right now for Corey Perry and company to stop. Wings stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are carrying their team nicely right now.

The Wings won four straight games to make the playoffs and in that time Zetterberg notched 10 points.

Red Wings in six games

The Wings are too hot to lose in the first round but will run out of gas shortly after.

One Not So Bold Pick–Sidney Crosby Will be Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been without their captain Sydney Crosby since March 30 due to a broken jaw, but he’ll be on the ice in the playoffs.

He may have missed the final 12 games of the season, but he scored 56 points in just 36 games. The Penguins should be considered great without him and with his presence on the ice they are the most dangerous team in the league.

It may take a game or two to get back into the groove, but Crosby is the best all-around player in the league. Even with missing the final 12 games, Crosby only lost out on the Art Ross Trophy (most points/season) by four points. Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis took the trophy with 60 points. St. Louis was then followed by teammate Steven Stamkos’ 57 and then Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby with 56.

Crosby makes everyone better and knowing that Penguins acquisition Jarome Iginla has only played a total of :50 seconds with Crosby, the best is yet to come.

Crosby tallies 17 playoff points—6 goals, 11 assist

The Toronto Maple Leafs Will Win Their Series against the Boston Bruins

A classic Original Six matchup here, the Toronto Maple Leafs square off against the Boston Bruins in an instant classic.

These rivals won’t back down, but the Maple Leafs will surprise most when they survive and advance. The Maple Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 and although both teams stumbled to the finish line, the Leafs carry positive momentum because the city is buzzing.

The Bruins have looked incomplete of late and can’t seem to finish the game. They have dominated the series between the two of late, winning 9-of-10, but the tides will turn here.

The Leafs are well balanced across the score sheet. Expect Nazem Kadri, a 22-year-old center to get under the Bruins skin and light the lamp. In the end, the Bruins won’t know what hit them.

Maple Leafs in five games

Montreal Canadiens vs. Vancouver Canucks in the Finals

What?!

That’s correct, an all Canadian final is in store.

How?

The Montreal Canadiens are almost forgotten about but the finished second in the Eastern Conference. The have a goalie in Carey Price who is made for these moments and a perfect blend of toughness and finesse. They are the team that doesn’t have a scoring sensation but rather a group of guys who pitch in at the right moment. A number of players could get hot and spell disaster for their opponents.

The Vancouver Canucks are playoff tested and feel disrespected. They’re almost forgotten about at the moment. Don’t make a mistake by overlooking  them and consider them a “has been.” Remember, they have the Sedin twins. Last time I checked they have some weird twin thing going on that gets the puck to the back of the net with regularity.  The Canucks X-factor is Ryan Kesler. He’s a world-class player coming off of injury. With only 17 games played this year, he’s seen just enough ice time to make a big difference in the playoffs.

This series will be a slugfest. Plenty of grit combined with a series littered with scrappy goals will make for a memorable final.

Canadiens in six games

Carey Price wins the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP

April 29, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Draft: The popular NFL Draft was held over the weekend and it was, as usual, a big attraction. The true popularity of the league was on display as millions and millions tuned in over the three-day event. The NFL not only has the most popular on-field product in American sports, but has managed to nearly turn its draft into a national holiday. One of the big surprises was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith falling to the second round. Smith, once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick fell and fell … and fell. But when it was all said and done, he landed in a pretty good spot with the New York Jets. Starter Mark Sanchez has fallen out of favor for a couple of years now and backup Tim Tebow is rumored to be released. Smith should have a chance to not only play in 2013, but win the starting job.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise.

Russell Westbrook out for NBA Playoffs: The Oklahoma City Thunder caught an unbelievably tough break when starting guard Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in Game 2. He suffered a tear in his knee and will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on Saturday. Westbrook is often the subject of criticism for his questionable shot selection, but he still averages 23 points a game. And his seven assists and five rebounds per game make him one of the more complete point guards in the league. Once considered a team that could knock off the Miami Heat for their first NBA title, I’m not even sure OKC makes it out of the western conference now.

College football sets playoff system: College football and the BCS announced their plan for the new playoff system set to begin in 2015. Six bowl games will rotate sharing semifinal games – The Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Chick-fil-A, and Cotton. Each year, two of those bowls will host the semifinal games while the other four will hold significant BCS-type games. The first title game in 2015 will be held in Cowboys Stadium. The real winner in all of this? The fans. Not only will there be a four-team playoff, but there will be two additional big time games. Currently, there are the four major bowl games and the BCS Championship. But now, there will be a total of seven major matchups. And in addition, the two semifinal games and the remaining four contests will be held during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Two tripleheaders over the holiday should give you plenty of reasons not to leave your couch.

Rick Pitino gets tattoo: Yes, this is real news … just go with it. Rick Pitino promised his Louisville Cardinals team he’d man up and get a tattoo if they could win the National Championship. That happened and Pitino didn’t back down. Here’s a picture of it. Not great, but not horrible, I suppose. And props to the coach for not going with a small one-inch tattoo on his ankle or something.

Aaron Rodgers signs new deal with Green Bay Packers: In a move that could keep their star quarterback in a Packers’ uniform for the rest of his career, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise. If he plays out that contract, he would remain in Green Bay for the next seven seasons, through 2019. That would keep him in a Packers jersey until he’s 38. He could play longer, of course, but if nothing else, the bulk of his playing career should be in Green Bay.

UNLV plans Jerry Tarkanian statue: The Las Vegas Sun reported that UNLV is planning a statue for former head basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian, recently elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the school have been on the outs for a while with the relationship mending a bit in recent years. And the coach had long been targeted by the NCAA for a variety of issues involving his teams. But wherever you come out on Tark, the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability as a head coach. He won more than 80% of his games and led UNLV to the 1990 National Championship.

April 25, 2013

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New York Jets Face a Make-or-Break Draft

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL Draft is set for April 25 in New York City and the New York Jets face the most pressure. There are certain teams in sports who are constantly surrounded with drama. Right now, the Jets are the “It” team in this category.

Yes, it’s easy to argue against that point because they play on the world’s largest stage, but the Jets are really good at being a three-ring circus right now. Things undoubtedly started to escalate last offseason when the team signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a hefty contract extension. That was it–Sanchez was the “Sanchize” quarterback. His contract is worth $58.25 million over five years and a guaranteed $20 million in 2012-13. He was now the guy.

The New York Jets and Mark Sanchez face a make-or-break season in 2013.

Wait.

Then the team traded for Tim Tebow just a few short weeks later.

Hundreds of hours of media speculation later and Tebow attempted a whopping eight throws last season.

The Jets finished a dismal 6-10 in 2012 and were outscored by 94 points.

What now? How does the franchise reinstall faith in their faithful? How do they repair stability from top to bottom? How do they turn their situation into something positive?

Well, the team made a bold move last and traded cornerstone cornerback Darrelle Revis last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although sidelined in 2012 with an ACL injury, the Bucs rolled the dice and gave the Jets the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Yes, Revis is as good as they get, but it’s a bit less drama for the Jets. It’s a start.

Now holding the No. 9 and No. 13 pick in the first round, it’s time for the Jets to start gaining some traction. It’s time for some positive attention.

Face it, they’re vested to both head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Sanchez for 2013, they’ve made their bed and they will sleep in it.

Now, they must make the right moves in the draft to deflect all the negativity.

So, who do they take?

New GM John Idzik needs to make a good first impression to the fans, who want nothing more than a return to relevance. Believe it or not, Revis was a good move.

Depending on which style of players are left on the board when their time come the Jets may be best off trading down.

Think of the St. Louis Rams in 2012 when they traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins for who turned out to be Robert Griffin III. While the Redskins got the best of the deal in year one, the Rams got four picks, including three first-round choices in return.

True, the Jets don’t have a No. 2 overall pick, rather Nos. 9 and 13. Also, there is not a RG3 caliber player in this year’s draft. But, if the team were to trade down for both picks they could get potentially four to six picks for the future.

If nothing is sticking out like a sore thumb, be conservative and trade down. If someone can’t be passed on, consider him a steal.

It’s time to think big picture for the Jets. There is no quick fix. Whichever path they choose to travel, little-by-little they can rebuild.

Radio City Music Hall will be filled with crazed Jets fans screaming J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the team’s decisions. Only after his announcement s will the hometown fans announce their verdict.

The future of the franchise lies in the balance of the first round. Jets fans, keep your fingers crossed.

April 25, 2013

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

It’s that time of year and all the cool kids are doing NFL mock drafts. I gave in to the peer pressure so here is my attempt to get a couple of Thursday’s 32 picks right.

In 2012, we knew who the first QB taken, and first overall pick, would be before the NFL Draft started. Those answers aren't as clear this year.

1 Kansas City Chiefs: There’s a new coach in town. Andy Reid has got himself a new quarterback. Now he’ll get someone to protect that quarterback.

The pick: Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M

2 Jacksonville Jaguars: When you are picking second, you can’t afford to miss on your pick. The Jags will wait for round two or three to get a quarterback and look to improve the worst pass rush in the league.

The pick: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

3 Oakland Raiders: With Matt Flynn in the fold, the Raiders can hope he becomes the franchise guy and look to fill a gaping hole on the defensive line. It’s a choice between Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd.

The pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

4 Philadelphia Eagles: This is where we find out if new coach Chip Kelly wants to groom Geno Smith for the future or protect Michael Vick for the present. One thing we know about Kelly is that he loves speed.

The pick: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

5 Detroit Lions: For the Lions to compete in the NFC North, they are going to have to beat Green Bay. That means getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.

The pick: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

6 Cleveland Browns: Championship teams have to be great on one side of the ball. In Cleveland, that’s not going to be the offense until Weeden proves he is the right guy or they find someone else. Adding free agents Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves and the top cornerback in the draft gives the defense a chance to be really good.

The pick: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

7 Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals offensive line was awful last year and if Fisher is still on the board, they won’t waste any time turning their card in.

The pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

8 Buffalo Bills: Here’s another team with a new quarterback. Buffalo follows suit and picks up some protection for Kevin Kolb.

The pick: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

9 New York Jets: The defense just took a major hit by trading Revis to Tampa Bay. If the pass coverage gets worse, the pass rush better improve.

The pick: Barkevlous Mingo, DL, LSU

10 Tennessee Titans: The Titans brought in Andy Levitre to fill the hole at one guard spot. Filling the hole on the other side would make life much easier for Jake Locker and Chris Johnson.

The pick: Johathan Cooper, G, North Carolina

11 San Diego Chargers: San Diego has got to get Phillip Rivers back on track. His 47 turnovers and 79 sacks over the last two seasons are way too many for this team to win.

The pick: Lane Johnson, T, Oklahoma

12 Miami Dolphins: Cornerback duo Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are gone and the Dolphins still have to face Tom Brady twice a year. They need another corner.

The pick: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida St.

13 New York Jets: The secondary still needs help and this is the pick the Jets got in the Revis trade. But they don’t care when one of the best players on the board falls into their laps.

The pick: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

14 Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Cam Newton is going to need more weapons to keep up with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

The pick: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

15 New Orleans Saints: Getting Sean Payton back will help the offense so this pick should be used on the defense. With several options to choose from, the Saints take the best defender left on their board.

The pick: Bjoern Werner, DL, Florida St.

16 St. Louis Rams: With two big needs to fill and two first round picks, the Rams must decide between a safety and wide receiver.

The pick: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

17 Pittsburgh Steelers: James Harrison is in Cincinnati and Mike Wallace took his talents to South Beach. One will be replaced with this pick.

The pick: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

18 Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones just invested $100 million in Tony Romo. It’s safe to assume he’s going to want to protect that investment.

The pick: D.J. Fluker, OL, Alabama

19 New York Giants: When the Giants are great, they are putting pressure on the quarterback. And they like to draft pass rushers.

The pick: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

20 Chicago Bears: The Bears need help at linebacker with Brian Urlacher now gone. They’ll get it here, but it’s not who you think.

The pick: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas St.

21 Cincinnati Bengals: There aren’t a lot of holes in this roster. The biggest one is probably at safety. Not anymore.

The pic: Eric Reid, S, LSU

22 St. Louis: They’ve already picked up a safety. Now it’s time to get a receiver to fill the void left by Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola.

The pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

23 Minnesota Vikings: Percy Harvin is out and Greg Jennings is in. But the Vikings could still use one more guy to help take the weight off of Adrian Peterson.

The pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

24 Indianapolis Colts: Protection for Andrew Luck, a replacement for Dwight Freeney, or maybe the first running back off the board?

The pick: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA

25 Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler are in this division. Better get another defensive back.

The pick: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

26 Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers would love someone he could hand off to that would keep the defense guessing. First running back comes off the board here.

The pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

27 Houston Texans: Andre Johnson needs a tag team partner and Matt Schaub won’t complain about having another weapon either.

The pick: Keenan Allen, WR, California

28 Denver Broncos: The defensive line needed reinforcements even before the Dumervil debacle. One falls into John Elway’s lap on draft day.

The pick: Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri

29 New England Patriots: If the Pats make this pick it’s got to be a receiver or someone to cover a receiver.

The pick: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise St.

30 Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez decided to give it one more shot which means this is the perfect time to draft his replacement and let him learn from a Hall-of-Famer.

The pick: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

31 San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use another safety after losing Dashon Goldson in free agency.

The pick: Matt Elam, S, Florida

32 Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis is retired and Dannell Ellerbe is in Miami so they probably take a linebacker here.

The pick: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU

April 24, 2013

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NHL PLAYOFF RACES

By: Tyler Vespa

With 5 nights left in the 2012-13 NHL regular season, the final spots in both conferences are still up for grabs. 6 teams in the Eastern Conference have clinched playoff berths, as well as 6 teams in the Western Conference.

Can Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers hold on and make the NHL playoffs?

This is where the fun begins. In the Eastern Conference, it’s 3 teams for two spots involving the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers, and the Winnipeg Jets. Ottawa and New York sit 7th and 8th in the conference, each with 52 points. Ottawa has a game in hand on the Rangers.

The story for the Jets took a turn for the worst with their loss last night to the Washington Capitals. Winnipeg must win its final game of the season and hope for the Rangers and Senators to each lose all of their remaining games.

Out West, the game of musical chairs is much more complicated. It’s 5 teams for 2 spots. The Minnesota Wild are 7th with 53 points. With 2 games left, the Wild need at least 2 points to clinch a playoff spot. In the precious 8th spot are the Columbus Blue Jackets. With 2 games left, the Jackets sit 1 point in front of the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in 21 straight seasons. The Red Wings have a game in hand on Columbus.

The 4th team still in the mix is the Dallas Stars. However, the stars did not align last night as Dallas lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in regulation to the San Jose Sharks. With 2 games left, the Stars need to win out, and hope Detroit loses 2 of their final 3 in regulation, and Columbus loses their final 2.

The final team will need a miracle. It’s the Phoenix Coyotes. The Yotes’ must win out and have Detroit, Dallas, and Columbus all basically lose out. Except for the Stars, if Columbus and Detroit lose out in regulation and Dallas loses 1 of 2 in regulation and earns just one point in its final game, the Coyotes are in.

Western Conference

7. Minnesota  53 points- 46 GP

8. Columbus   51 points- 46 GP

9. Detroit        50 points- 45 GP

10. Dallas       48 points- 46 GP

11. Phoenix    46 points- 45 GP

Eastern Conference

7. Ottawa        52 points- 45 GP

8. NY Rangers 52points- 46 GP

9. Winnipeg    51 points- 47 GP