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.

July 2, 2013

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In Case You Missed It – June

By: Joe Williams

Another month has come and gone so as we are getting ready to celebrate Independence Day, let’s see what crazy stuff has happened in the sports world in the last month.

The No. 1 football prospect in the class of 2014 claimed that while he was being recruited, one coach promised him that he could meet Michael Jackson.

The NBA’s most prized free agent lost a free throw shooting contest to a sports writer’s daughter.

Dwight Howard lost a free-throw contest to a sports writer's daughter. In his defense, he was shooting left-handed.

Jessica Korda fired her caddie after nine holes of a round in the Women’s U.S. Open and replaced him with her boyfriend.

During Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert drank a 20 ounce Gatorade in less than six seconds.

Tiger Woods shot the worst nine holes of his career with a 44 during the third round at Muirfield.

Cleveland Indians shortstop Mike Aviles was ejected by the home plate umpire after the game had already ended.

Speaking of Tiger Woods, his girlfriend, Lindsay Vonn who is an Olympic skier had to take a mandatory drug test while at a fashion awards gala.

A member of a women’s golf team was sanctioned by the NCAA for washing her car on campus. The NCAA asked her to pay the school $20 for the use of the water and hose.

Former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail after slapping his lawyer on the butt during the court proceedings.

A Chicago Blackhawks fan decided to grow a “playoff lawn” instead of the commonly grown “playoff beard” and put up signs saying he wasn’t mowing the lawn until the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. But the city paid someone to mow his lawn before the NHL playoffs came to an end.

Brett Favre finally took the blame for his problems with the Green Bay Packers.

“College” was spelled wrong (Colllege) at the NCAA College World Series.

A girl in New Hampshire was crowned state champion in tennis after her opponent quit because of the abuse she was taking from the crowd during the championship match.

The Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners ended up using the Oakland Raiders facilities after a game when the raw sewage flooded the showers.

During a PGA tournament Carl Pettersson’s ball was hit by another player’s ball while he was in the middle of his swing.

Miami Heat player Mike Miller lost a shoe during the game but that didn’t stop him from hitting a one-shoe three pointer against the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Merion, the course the hosted the men’s U.S. Open used a wicker basket on top of the pins instead of a flag.

Tiger Woods shot a 293 at the U.S. Open. It was his worst 72-hole score at a major championship as a professional.

Jeff Baker of the Texas Rangers was placed on the disabled list after suffering a sprained thumb as a result of what he called “an over-exuberant high-five” from an unnamed teammate.

More to come in July I’m sure.

July 1, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup – Late in Game 6, it looked like the Stanley Cup Championship series was headed for a Game 7 just like the NBA Finals this year. With the Blackhawks holding a 3-2 series lead, the Bruins had a late 2-1 advantage in the game. But Chicago scored two goals over the final 1:16 left in regulation to stun the Bruins and win the cup. That second goal by Dave Bolland was the latest goal scored in regulation to ever clinch a Stanley Cup win. Simply an amazing end for what has been the best team in hockey this season.

Dave Bolland's last second goal clinched the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks.

Aaron Hernandez charged with murder: Aaron Hernandez, a tight end with the New England Patriots, was charged with murder in the death of a former football player Odin Lloyd. The story’s been all over the news and we won’t rehash all of the details here, but it’s just a sad, sad debacle. Hernandez, understandably, was let go by the team as he awaits a trial.

Oregon lands on probation – The Oregon Ducks‘ football program was placed on probation by the NCAA for three years based on recent recruiting violations. While the move is a small blow to Oregon, the Ducks have to be happy that they won’t be banned from postseason play or stripped of any past achievements. A small loss in scholarships and recruiting visits are pretty minimal compared to what the Ducks could have ultimately faced. Postseason bans are among the worst things that can happen to a program that has to then sell recruits on playing with no chance of a bowl berth.

Roger Federer shoe ban – The All England Club has always been a stickler for rules about its all white attire. Still, it was mildly interesting that they banned the shoes of Roger Federer that he wore in his opening matchup at Wimbledon. Federer’s shoes were white, but the soles were orange. Note that Federer has won seven Wimbledon titles and is regarded by some as the sport’s greatest player. Seriously, could you see David Stern cracking down on Michael Jordan for a minor uniform violation? Not likely.

Bruins fan has lifelong tickets … for free - A great story found its way at the bottom of the headlines last week when after several years, a Boston Bruins fan mentioned that she had free tickets for life given to her by the club. The 77-year old woman, Marge Bishop, had to recently give up her front row tickets that she held since the 1960s because of the steep costs – $150.00 per ticket, per game. She had become friends with zamboni drivers and was known by many of the staff there. When told Bishop was no longer going to be purchasing the tickets, the club gave her an all access pass to come whenever she wanted free of charge. Teams can’t do this for everyone, but it’s nice to see years of loyalty rewarded.

Big East hires Val Ackerman as first Commissioner – Former WNBA president Val Ackerman was named the first commissioner of the new Big East last week. The new conference, which consists of basketball-heavy and non-FBS football schools will be a challenge for her. With Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Butler, and others, the league will be a very good one for college hoops. But it will still be a challenge to try to keep up with other conferences where football is the primary revenue generator. For the conference to ultimately succeed, a few of the schools will have to make deep NCAA Tournament runs in order to make the league attractive to land sizable TV contracts in the future.

Brian Shaw new coach of the Nuggets – Brian Shaw was hired as the new coach of the Denver Nuggets – a move sure to cause more confusion among fans. The team axed George Karl who had done a reasonably good job there and has been a successful coach in the league. That’s not to say that Shaw can’t eventually be an upgrade, but expecting the team to do much more under him right away probably isn’t realistic. Karl was the league’s Coach of the Year after he won a franchise record 57 games and Shaw has a tough act to follow. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this will end badly.

ARod angers Yankees - The Alex Rodriguez situation took on a new twist when he tweeted that he had been cleared by a doctor to play again since rehabbing from hip surgery in January. That contradicted what the Yankees had previously said and GM Brian Cashman was none too pleased, telling reporters that the star needed to ’shut the (fill in your own creative word here) up.’ Rodriguez has had a rough offseason after seeking a woman’s phone number during a playoff game last year, having the surgery, and then being named in the PED scandal. The problem is a big one for the Yankees as he’s still owed a boatload of money from his mega contract several years ago and has been in a steady decline the past few years. Typically a team would trade a player causing them so many headaches, but the contract is a reason he’s not likely to go anywhere.

Metta World Peace still hanging out in L.A. – The Los Angeles Lakers got some good/bad news (depending on how you look at it) when forward Metta World Peace, aka Ron Artest, announced he wasn’t opting out of his deal and would instead return to play for the team. He was a decent player last year, but the Lakers would prefer not to pay him the $7.7 million he’s owed. They can either eat the salary and hope that he produces again next year or they could try to amnesty him. Under that situation, they’d still have to pay him after he’s released, but he wouldn’t count against the salary cap.

June 17, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Justin Rose wins U.S. Open: Justin Rose capped off a spectacular Sunday of golf winning the U.S. Open (+1) for his first major championship. He became the first British golfer to win the title since 1970 when Tony Jacklin did it. Just as big of a story was Phil Mickelson finishing as the bridesmaid yet again, as he finished in a tie for second at +3 with Jason Day. Mickelson’s eighth 2nd place finish ties him with Sam Snead, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson for the third most runner-ups in majors history. Jack Nicklaus leads the way in that category with 19.

Alex Ovechkin was the winner of this year's Hart Trophy over the weekend.

San Antonio Spurs take 3-2 series lead over Miami Heat: The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat by way of their Game 5 win on Sunday night. That puts the Spurs in position to win a fifth ring for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan … but it won’t be easy. San Antonio still needs to win one out of two games in Miami and the Heat just don’t lose very much at home. And with an NBA title on the line, you can bet the fans won’t be easy on the road team.

Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins tied 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece with two exciting contests thus far. Andrew Shaw scored a goal in the third overtime of the Game 1 thriller to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win. The Bruins won Game 2 in overtime behind Daniel Paille’s third goal. Even if you’re not a good hockey fan, two overtime games already should make you want to watch the rest of the series.

Chad Ochocinco Johnson heads to jail: Chad Johnson caught a break in his no-contest plea to battery charges against his then-wife when a court was ready to give him a community service/counseling deal to avoid jail time. But when Johnson smacked the butt of his attorney at excitement over the deal … well, let’s just say the judge wasn’t impressed. Judge Kathleen McHugh told Johnson it wasn’t a joke and promptly rejected his plea deal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Seriously, though – what was Johnson thinking? I can understand being happy at the prospect of not heading to the clink, but he clearly should have showed a bit more restraint until he got out of the court.

Alex Ovechkin wins Hart Trophy: The Washington CapitalsAlex Ovechkin took home his third Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP over the weekend. The winger is only the eighth player in league history to win that many. Other players such as John Tavares and Sidney Crosby were also deserving, but Ovechin led the league with 32 goals and did so in a season where he moved to wing.

Tim Tebow signed by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a bit of a splash last week when they announced the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t question that coaching guru Bill Belichick can find a way to utilize him in some way. What is surprising is that New England would bring him in with what should be a minimal impact. Unlike in New York, Tebow isn’t being brought in to challenge starter Tom Brady. So unless Brady goes down with an injury, Tebow’s impact at the position would be small. The talk is already about making Tebow a receiver or part of offensive packages as a skill player, but will he really be such an offensive difference-maker that it will make it worth all of the added attention and scrutiny of the team? Not likely.

Jason Kidd hired as Nets’ head coach: Last week I mentioned the possibility of the recently retired Jason Kidd becoming the Brooklyn Nets new coach. The Nets, who hadn’t previously had Kidd in mind, were convinced after his agent reached out to them and Kidd was hired last week. My opinion hasn’t really changed on this – a team with expectations so high shouldn’t be hiring a rookie head coach. He was a great player, but other greats such as Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Wes Unseld didn’t exactly make a successful transition from player to coach.

Dwight Howard and Chris Paul teammates?: ESPN reported last week that free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul may be exploring options to end up on the same team together. This move, of course, isn’t unprecedented with several players doing this in the past, including the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Howard and Paul are rumored to desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, but that would require a few things to happen. The team doesn’t have the cap space to sign Howard, so they’d need to do a sign and trade for him. And chances are that Blake Griffin would need to be included in such a deal.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney says football will soon end: Speaking at a football academy, Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney declared that the game of football will end in 10-20 years because it is too dangerous. Barney’s not the only one to voice such an opinion with all of the talk of concussions lately, but I’m not sure the game ends anytime soon. After all – a sport like boxing where athletes take repeated shots to the head still exists. And when you consider that football is the most popular sport in the country, the guess here is that football continues to implement more safety measures rather than shut down entirely.

June 10, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NBA Finals tied up 1-1: After a close loss at home on Thursday, the Miami Heat rebounded for a 103-84 blowout win in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Heat still find themselves without home court advantage, but now have a fighting chance to win the series. Another loss would have put the team in an 0-2 hole facing three straight games in San Antonio under the 2-3-2 Finals format. And against the experienced Spurs, that may have been too big a deficit to overcome.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals series at 1-1 with their Game 2 win on Sunday.

French Open concludes: Tennis’ French Open wrapped up with a couple of the game’s biggest stars finishing on top. For the men, Rafael Nadal won a record eighth French Open title, defeating David Ferrer this weekend. Nadal won easily in straight sets and his eighth title at the French is the most of any man at any Grand Slam tournament. On the women’s side, Serena Williams won her 2nd French title, also in straight sets, over the defending champ Maria Sharapova. For Williams, it was her 16th major championship.

Major League Baseball/Biogenesis scandal: Major League Baseball is reportedly trying to suspend a group of 20 players linked to the Biogenesis/PED scandal. The alleged list includes some big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon. If the suspensions happen, some teams could find themselves in a bind. Players like Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta are parts of teams (the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, respectively) in playoff races. Because of that, it will be interesting to see what types of moves that clubs make in advance of any potential suspensions.

Coach Jason Kidd?: The recently retired Jason Kidd doesn’t want to spend a season without basketball. ESPN reports that the former point guard is interested in coaching – specifically, he wants the Brooklyn Nets’ job. A few years ago, that may not have been a half bad idea. But the Nets have a lot invested in this team and if I’m GM Billy King, there’s no way I’m taking a call from a player with no coaching experience in college or the pros.

The ‘Average’ Lebron: Dennis Rodman made headlines again when he said LeBron James would be an average player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comments were made when comparing James and Michael Jordan. James may not be as great as Jordan, but average? It’s hard to envision the 6’8” freak of nature as just an average player in any era. Rodman made a good point in that the game may not be as physical as it once was, but James does so much more other than score. He’s a tremendous rebounder and passer and there’s no question he would still be a star in that era … or any other, for that matter.

Marc-Andre Fleury to return as Pens’ starter: The Pittsburgh Penguins, Stanley Cup favorites after, were unceremoniously swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. In the process, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, was replaced by backup Tomas Vokoun who played well in the series. But head coach Dan Bylsma said afterwards that Fleury is a franchise goalie and will return as the team’s No. 1 starter – and that’s probably the right move. Fleury is only 28 years old and helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances only a few years ago. And with two years and $10 million left on his current contract, the Pens have little choice but to at least give him another shot if they are against trading him away.

Tommy Rees chosen as Notre Dame starting QB: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently lost his starting quarterback Everett Golson to an academic-related suspension. As expected, Kelly announced that he will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter in 2013, per mlive.com. That’s no surprise as he’s the most experienced player of the other options, Andrew Hendrix and newcomer Malik Zaire. The Irish are fortunate to have Rees as few teams have two quarterbacks with as much experience as he and Golson. Instead of turning to an inexperienced backup, Notre Dame has Rees, who started nearly every game in 2011 and has played in 33 career games.

Brett Favre takes blame in parting with Packers: Quarterback Brett Favre accepted some of the blame for his ugly divorce from the Green Bay Packers in a recent radio show interview. That’s good news for the two since Favre will always be recognized as a Packer even though he also played briefly with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. The Packers will want his participation in team-related events for the rest of his life, and it’d be much better if the two sides can reconcile and get along since Favre has been such a big part of the organization.