May 29, 2013

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The Mystique of Game 7

By: Matt Bowen

Sports mimic life, the movies, and folklore—Game 7 in any playoff series is the cat’s meow.

Nothing is better than a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred bout between two teams that have grown to hate one another over the previous six rounds.

For some, the rivalry is just blossoming as teams and their fans quickly grow a disdain for all things opposition. For others, the enemy is familiar and not welcome.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks face-off in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Nothing brings such a rivalry to a fever pitch as a Game 7. With the season, pride and bragging rights on the line, losing to a despicable foe stings the worst. Players don’t get to wash away the pain in their soul with a win the next time out. Fans have to stomach the body blow knock-out dealt by the gloating faithful of their rivals. Sometimes these memories torment players, fans, and franchises for an eternity.

Even though one may find themselves on the wrong end of a Game 7, the love of the game leaves them desiring more.

The NHL has received a gift from the hockey Gods—on May 29 the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will duel in a Game 7 that promises to be one for the ages. You see, this game will be something special. This is not a normal Game 7, this is THE Game 7. The next time these bitter rivals will meet in the playoffs it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

With NHL realignment set to take place, the Detroit Red Wings will venture into the Eastern Conference next season. This leaves the Chicago Blackhawks as the lone Original Six team in the Western Conference.

All of a sudden there’s much more on the line in this Game 7. The winner gets the satisfaction knowing that they got the last laugh with so much at stake. Sure, the loser may exact their revenge in a somewhat meaningless regular season game next season, but the playoffs are different. Game 7 is different. This rivalry is different.

Two blue collar cities such as Detroit and Chicago are too hard-nosed to lie down for their opponent. Expect both sides to come out swinging and fight til the end. Both sides know how much this means to their diehard fans.

Every year there’s a playoff game that just won’t end—it lasts way past your bedtime. Five overtimes later, you can’t fall asleep, can’t stop watching. Don’t worry, your boss will understand. The whole city understands. The outcome will shape the mood of the office for the rest of the week.

Hockey enthusiasts hope it’s this game. The game and its fans deserve it. History is what we want—expect nothing less.

The lore of Game 7 will undoubtedly leave us in awe.

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 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

April 2, 2013

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Why NHL Realignment Makes Sense

By: Tyler Vespa

With the NHL realignment approved for next season, the league will now feature four divisions instead of six. These would be the Midwest, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic. The Midwest and Pacific divisions would makeup the Western Conference, while the Central and the Atlantic divisions would make up the Eastern Conference. The Central and Atlantic divisions will have 8 teams each, while the Pacific and the Midwest will each have 7 teams.

The Red Wings will say goodbye to the Western Conference and move to the East nest season.

Here is what the NHL will look like next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

Pacific

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Detroit Red Wings

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

The playoffs will still feature 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will not be division based with a new wild-card feature. The top 3 teams from each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs The final 4 places will be filled in by the next two highest placed teams in each conference, and will be based on regular season points, regardless of their division. This means one division could send 5 teams while another could only send three.

Regular season points will also determine the seeding of the teams. Meaning, the division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the least points, and so forth.

This plan is exactly what the league needed after two lockouts in the past 8 seasons. Something needed to change. As you can see the only two teams changing conferences will be the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit has been crying for this move for years.

With that I give you 4 reasons this plan for realignment is a win-win for the league and everybody associated with it:

Geographic simplicity: We will see fewer issues with time zones and travel. Teams in the same conference will enjoy easier travel simply because they are now crossing over fewer time zones.

More Original 6 matchups: Detroit is now in the same division with 3 other teams from the Original 6: Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Also, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers are in the same conference.

New Playoff Format: With the imbalance of teams in each division, there is talk of a “Wild Card Format” being added to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This could mean a play-in game where two teams play one game to become the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Another win or go home game would be genius.

Dream for Television: The Eastern Conference would have a rivalry game almost every night. Teams in Canada will get awesome exposure, with a myriad of Canadian vs. Canadian rivalries. New rivalries and big matchups will be made out West such as with the 3 California teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Even more Canadian exposure is bred with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

March 18, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

The NCAA Tournament is here: It’s NCAA Tournament time. The NCAA released its tournament bracket yesterday and while the field is generally wide open, that’s even more so the case this year. In case you missed it, the four No. 1 seeds were Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga. There’s been no truly dominant team in college basketball with the No. 1 spot changing hands nearly every week. I haven’t hashed out my bracket yet, but my early pick to win it all might be Louisville. The Cardinals fell a bit off the radar in the middle of the season after three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, but they lost two of those games by a total of four points. And as we found out, those are three pretty good teams. Louisville went on to win 13 of their last 14 games and the one loss was a five overtime thriller to Notre Dame.

Should the Cowboys move to the NFC South?

Team USA bows out of World Baseball Classic: Team USA lost games to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. Most amusing was the attitude by some players on Team USA who were none too pleased with the way the Dominican Republic celebrated after their victory. First things first – the tournament means much more in general to the other countries playing. Team USA’s players want the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic title. I’ve got no problem with the enthusiastic celebration by the Dominican Republic.  It’s not only a big deal to them, but it was a dramatic victory as they scored two runs to snap a ninth-inning tie. Team USA being upset about the celebration is akin to a ranked college basketball team losing on the road and then being angry that the home team’s fans storm the court. Want to know the best way to avoid opposing teams celebrating? Win.

Tony Gonzalez Un-retires: The NFL season has barely ended, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t wait to get back onto the field, despite saying he was retiring during last season. Gonzalez is expected to now return for 2013 and his coming back isn’t really that much of a surprise. He’s still in great shape and with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, he not only was productive but had one of the best years of his career. What is surprising, though, was that Gonzalez made the announcement to come back so quickly. It’s only March and training camp isn’t any time soon. By making his decision so soon, it only shows he was never all that convinced that retirement was for him. You could make the argument that the team was pushing him for a decision in order to figure out what path they might need to take in free agency. But Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who’s still producing, so they would have given him a bit of leeway.

NHL Realignment for 2013-14: In a move that’s gone somewhat under the radar, the NHL will undergo some realignment for next season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move into the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will head to the west. Simply put, the move makes a ton of sense and the only hope is that other professional leagues will follow suit. Don’t hold your breath, though. While it would make far more sense for the Dallas Cowboys to be playing in the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers to move to the NFC East, things like that aren’t likely to happen for one big reason: rivalries. Unlike the NHL, with a limited schedule, the NFL can’t have all of its teams face each other every year. And Cowboys fans wouldn’t be all that thrilled with losing annual games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.

The Miami Heat keep winning: In case you’ve not noticed, the Miami Heat are pretty good at basketball. The Heat have been winning, and winning … and winning. The team won their 22nd straight game on Sunday and is a threat to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game record streak set in 1971-72. Can the Heat break the record? Sure. But even though they’re steamrolling the rest of the league right now, there are a few things that will stand in their way. The Heat have many road games coming up in the next couple of weeks including some that should be tough. Among those stops are trips to Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Heat have had several near losses during their streak. Four of their wins have been by five points or fewer and one has gone to overtime. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this – the Heat have already clinched a playoff spot and have a large lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. At some point, you’ve got to imagine the team will try to rest some players and that could bring an end to the streak.