The best hockey time of year is right here, right now!

Marc Elliott

CARLTON PEAK… Ladies and Gentlemen, the best hockey tournament on the planet is about to kick off and I could not be more excited for that. We are lucky to have so much great hockey to observe every season, and especially here in The State of Hockey, how could it get any better? Youth hockey, High School, Collegiate and Professional, it is a veritable hockey buffet for us to consume every year. And the piece de’ la resistance? It can only be the Stanley Cup. No matter where this trophy goes I am amazed that everyone knows what it is and holds it in great reverence. This silver chalice gets nothing but respect wherever it goes worldwide. In fact, I saw a documentary over the weekend where a sports personality got to have the Cup for a day due to an event for a Charity he operates, and the first place he went was to meet friends at a restaurant. Getting out of his vehicle to go inside, the Cup was basically swarmed. When he finally got it and himself inside, the people in the restaurant broke into applause! It was unreal. 

So, it’s tourney time and after sweating out the final few games, the Minnesota Wild hung on to 3rd place in the Central Division and are into the dance. On the downside, that did not get them any home ice unless they continue forward, and a team seeded above them gets ousted. At any rate, the Wild have drawn the Winnipeg Jets and they are going to be a formidable challenge to get past. They are that good. But the Wild are pretty good too. As I said throughout the season they are somewhat enigmatic, and I have addressed several times the games they dropped to bottom standings type clubs, the games they were blown out in and so on. But the beauty of this time of year is that everyone who gets in starts off with a clean slate. Everyone in the dance is 0-0. And this time of year, the SC tourney means no tie games, no 3 on 3 overtime frames and no shootouts. They play until there is a winner, every game, every night. Awesome. 

Are you getting into the NHL Stanley Cup Bracket Challenge? It’s a lot of fun, doesn’t cost anything to enter and you can enter solo or start your own league with family and friends. It is pretty cool. For myself, even though the brackets weren’t finalized until Sunday evenings makeup game between Boston and Florida was decided, I began to think through some of the matchups that were set in stone and tried to come up with my bracket choices. This year looks to be pretty challenging to say the least. The teams that many would consider to be favorites could be out in the 1st Round, and teams that aren’t getting much consideration outside of their own fanbases just might surprise and go deep into the tourney. I have twisted and turned enough though, and here is how my brackets look and why. I hope you will enjoy this tournament as much as I am going to!

ROUND ONE IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE; Atlantic Division, Tampa Bay/#1 overall vs. New Jersey/2nd Wild Card. I am going with Jersey here to upset the Bolts. The Devil netminder Keith Kincaid gives them the edge in goal and no skater on either roster is playing better than the Devs Hart Trophy Candidate Taylor Hall. Who won the EDM/NJ trade that landed Hall in New Jersey? It wasn’t the Oil. Devils in 6 games. Boston/#2 vs. Toronto/#3. From December to mid-March I thought the B’s were one of the top 3 teams in the show. That was then, the B’s kind of flattened out the last couple of weeks in the regular season and the Leaf’s continued to play a consistent game. I give Rask in goal a slight edge over Andersen, but the B’s won’t outscore the Leaf’s, and they won’t outcoach (Cassidy vs. Babs) them either. Leaf’s in 7.

Metropolitan Division; Washington/#1 Div. vs. Columbus/1st WC. Oh boy. Fans have been waiting for the Caps to make a playoff run of any sort for a long time now. And they have a goalie controversy on top of that. (Grubauer vs. Holtby) Both teams played strong down the stretch, and is Caps Coach Trotz the same whip-driver that John Tortorella is? NO. I’m on a limb here, CBJ in 7. Pitt/#2 Div. vs. Phi/#3. Another headache inducing series. The Pens won all 4 regular season tilts here. But the regular season is over. I give the Pens the edge in goal with Murray over Elliott. The Flyers have Giroux. The Pens have Crosby. They also have Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Hornqvist, etc. Pengwah in 6.  

IN THE WEST, PACIFIC DIVISION; Vegas/#1 Div. vs Los Angeles/1st WC. The Knights have been nothing short of amazing in their 1st season while the Kings are enjoying a resurgence of sorts after coaching and player changes. Vegas was 2-1-1 vs. the Kings in the regular season. The Kings challenge with a huge group of forwards while Vegas will basically skate your shorts off. Coach Gallant rally’s the Knights here in 7. Anaheim/#2 Div./San Jose/#3 Div. The Sharks had a 3-0-1 record vs. the Duck this year, and if my memory is correct, the Duck have had mixed 1st round results recently. However, the Duck finished the regular season 8-1-1 while the Sharks stumbled. Does that mean anything? Yes, momentum is a danger. Ducks in 6. 

CENTRAL DIVISION; Nashville/Overall #1 seed vs. Colorado/2nd WC. The Av’s had the biggest regular season turnaround of any team in the league this year but went 0-4 vs. the Preds. The Av’s are a hurting unit right now as well. Cinderella’s season ends here in 5 games.  Winnipeg/#2 Div. vs. Minnesota/#3 Div. The Jets went 3-1 vs. the Wild this year featuring a 7-2 blowout at the Peg. Their other two wins were one goal games before losing a 4-1 decision in St. Paul. In GF, GA, PP%, PK%, Face-off wins and Points %, the Jets win every category. They have a very big forward group which the Wild can struggle against particularly when they are on offense, trying to penetrate the slot area. I could give the Wild the edge in net if Devan Dubnyk didn’t have the tendency to surrender the occasional weak goal. Wild return Jared Spurgeon to the lineup but will still be missing Ryan Suter. This is simply a bad matchup for the Wild, Jets in 6. I’ll give you the rest of my bracket next week! PEACE

CONGRATS to the UMD Bulldog Frozen Four National Champions! STICKS OUT, LIGHTS ON for the #Humboldt Broncos. Still too heartbreaking for words… OVER & OUT