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NASHVILLE…. The Stanley Cup hopes of the Minnesota Wild and their fans have been dashed once again. They have been eliminated from the tourney by the St. Louis Blues 4 games to one. To illustrate where the thought process of this column might be coming from, if the Minnesota North Stars were still in the State that was their namesake they would have just completed their 50th anniversary season. I saw my first NHL game in around 1960-61, it was a televised Sunday afternoon match between the Chicago Blackhawk’s and the Montreal Canadiens. I didn’t get to see my first NHL game in person until 1967 when the NorthStars came to town. I have been waiting for a Cup winner in the State of Hockey ever since.
I saw plenty of games in person (High School and CHL) and even played in many before the NorthStars arrived on the scene. And with the Canadiens being one of my absolute favorites from the start, and seeing them hoist the Cup many times, it’s not like one of my teams never won it. And I know, the “Stars” won it in 1999, a few years after departing from our midst, but while I cheered it heartily, it wasn’t the same. In fact, after the hoopla subsided, it became a kind of empty feeling. It just reminded me that they weren’t “our” team anymore. A team residing in my beloved Minnesota STILL has not won the Stanley Cup. SO, Saturdays knockout game was another exercise in frustration for myself, and for many other Minnesota hockey fans that feel the same way that I do. And the tough part is that I am not certain I see one on the horizon in the immediate future for this club.
Certainly they are one of the top 10 teams in the league right now, you can argue that they are close, but how close? Close enough to actually win it? This is where I have to get off of the train. You want my honest opinion right? Or do you want the homer cup o’ sugar? The Wild as currently constructed aren’t good enough to win a Stanley Cup. That’s just reality. I would rather say otherwise, but can’t. I’ll go in-depth on that next week when I do a season’s end autopsy on this team. But back to this years tourney, in a stunner, the Nashville Predators have swept the Chicago Blackhawk’s 4 games to none. That’s right, a sweep of the powerful Hawks has been completed. (you think the Wild have problems?) My immediate post series thought is that you have a core group on the Hawks that has accumulated a lot of hockey mileage over the past few years, the salary cap has forced them to constantly reconstruct their roster every time they had success, and now it’s time to pay the hockey piper, and the Pred’s just rang the cash register on them.
The up and coming Edmonton Oilers have bounced the vaunted San Jose Sharks from the Cup race 4 games to two, and if you are looking for a reason, it is a similar situation to the Hawks. Fresh faced team spanks aging contenders. The Anaheim Ducks advance by taking out the Calgary Flames in a four game sweep. After a tough early season, many fans didn’t see Calgary recovering enough to get a playoff spot but they surprised in front of stout net minding by Brian Elliott. He didn’t have too good of a series though and may have to settle for a 2nd tier contract in free agency this off-season. The Ducks are tough.
IN THE EAST the NY Rangers have beaten the Montreal Canadiens in a 6 game series in which the Canadiens just could not score when they really needed it. Their Captain Max Pacioretty tied for the playoff lead in shots on goal with 28 and ended with no goals and only one assist. And the real scoop on this series is that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist simply beat Montreal’s Carey Price. And I am a fan of Price, he has done well in International play, but if my count is right he has only won 4 playoff series in his career. Sure, it’s a team game, but the hype he gets just might not be justified by any playoff results.
The Ottawa Senators knocked the Boston Bruins out 4 games to 2 and I’m not surprised. The Bruins struggled to get in and they seem to be lacking the depth to make anything happen once they get there. And if you are looking for a telling stat; Star forward Brad Marchand has 6 goals in 47 playoff games since the Bruins 2011 Cup run. Ouch. If you thought the defending Champion Pittsburgh Penguins were going to get munched up by the regular season darling Columbus Bluejackets, you would have been wrong. The CBJ are only lucky they didn’t get swept by the Black and Gold machine. The Jackets held off elimination in G4 with a win, but that was that. The Pens said enough of that and spanked them in G5.
In probably the most interesting series in the East the Washington Capitals had to fight tooth and nail to get past the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs in 6 games. This series featured five OT games with one of those going to 2OT. So, were the Leafs better then expected or are the Caps not as good as some fans think? They are about to find out because now they must do battle with the Pens who own a 8-1 lifetime playoff series record against the Caps. There is a lot of talk that this is the Caps Cup year because with the pending free agency of many rostered players, this Caps team will most likely look very different next season. It’s literally now or never for this club.
FOR ROUND TWO I have the Nashville Predators over the STL Blues. The Blues depended heavily on goalie Jake Allen to beat the Wild and the Pred’s have more of a team game working right now. Pred’s in 6. The Oilers are up and coming but the Ducks are tough and established. Ducks in 6 games. Ottawa’s magic runs out and the NY Rangers and “The King” nail this one down in 5 games. And nothing against the Caps but I don’t see the Pens playoff supremacy over them expiring this year. It will be tough though, this one goes seven and Sid will be wishing Ovi good luck at the World Championships once again…. PEACE
NEXT WEEK; WILD PLAYOFF AND SEASON BREAKDOWN…OVER & OUT!