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Western Front Blog

by Staff
Good Call Carlyle
04.17.2009  12:36 P.M. ET

Well, if any Ducks fans had doubts about coach Randy Carlyle starting Jonas Hiller over Jean-Sebastien Giguere, they are clearly satisfied now. Hiller is the only reason the Ducks are in this game right now, let alone leading. He has come up with big save after big save against the top-seeded Sharks.

Hiller was clearly the better goalie at the end of the regular season and he is proving again tonight that he should be between the pipes throughout the playoffs.

With 13 minutes to go in the third period, Hiller has stopped all 26 shots the Sharks have fired on goal. The Ducks finally rewarded Hiller by capitalizing on a power play opportunity 5:18 into the third period. Scott Niedermayer ripped a slap shot through a screen and past Evgeni Nabokov, giving the Ducks a 1-0 lead.

Don't get me wrong, Giguere has done plenty for the Anaheim organization, but the time might be now for Mr. Hiller.

-- Matthew Cubeta

Right with Ryan
04.17.2009  12:32 P.M. ET

A year ago, Bobby Ryan was barely a bit player in the Anaheim Ducks’ six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Still trying to find his way in the NHL, Ryan only played in two games and was sent down to the American Hockey League during the series in order to get on the ice and help the Portland Pirates in their quest for a Calder Cup title.

Ryan now has a much different role. The 22-year-old winger pushed his way onto Anaheim’s top line and made himself a legitimate candidate for the Calder Trophy by leading all rookies with 31 goals.            
"I know that last year, I was kind of a guy they asked to come in and bring energy, whether it was four to five minutes a game or something like that," Ryan said.

"But this time around, I think it’s different. I feel like I can contribute and be a power-play guy and a guy that puts points on the board.

"It’s a different feeling going in. You’ve got to be a lot more focused. You’ve got to be a little more prepared for what’s coming."

Now that he’s playing important minutes alongside leading scorers Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Ryan realizes that he will have to produce if the Ducks are to upset top-seeded San Jose.
One thing he won’t do is change his game.

"There’s enough pressure from outside influences," Ryan said. "What I’m going to try to do is put all of that in the background and just focus on the task at hand, one shift at a time. I’ve got so many guys in this room that I can listen to for advice or whatever that might be useful.

"For me, nothing’s changed. I think it’s just going to be for me to play the way that I have throughout the regular season."

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said he expects Ryan to respond to the heightened atmosphere.

"We’ve talked about it a lot,” Carlyle said. "We’ve talked on numerous occasions and brought those points up. We can talk all we want about what it’s going to be like. Until you experience it, it’s really up to the individual in how he reacts to it."
-- Eric Stephens

Things starting to heat up
04.17.2009  12:06 P.M. ET

A game I thought would have plenty of power plays started fairly quietly. Dan Boyle was called for a debatable tripping penalty late in the first period, but the Ducks were unable to capitalize.

The second period started with more of the same. However, Rob Niedermayer, one of Anaheim’s daily penalty killers, has taken two two-minute minors in the second stanza. The Ducks have stood strong though and killed both off surrendering just three shots to the Sharks while on the man advantage.

By the end of the second period, the Sharks were 0-3 on the power play while Anaheim was 0-1. Look for more penalties to come as things heat up.

The game saw its first scuffle midway through the second period following a Brad Lukowich slap shot that was covered by Jonas Hiller. Ryane Clowe went to the net hard and met up with Chris Pronger after the whistle. Both sizable, Pronger and Clowe had some words and perhaps things are starting to pick up in this California rivalry.

--Matthew Cubeta

Please allow me to correct myself

04.16.2009  11:58 P.M. ET

So often in life we make bold statements only to find ourselves with egg on our face moments later. Assuming an overtime game can go on for hours and then watching it end 12 seconds after the opening faceoff would certainly fall into that category. So, imagine my surprise as I had barely settled into my seat when Martin Havlat took a pass from Dave Bolland and fired a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles and into the Calgary net to end overtime almost as quickly as it started.

We all make mistakes.

Havlat's game-winner, made all the more remarkable by his game-tying score with just over five minutes remaining in regulation, was a fitting coda to a spectacular opening game of this Western Conference Quarterfinal. The Hawks and Flames traded quality scoring chances all night, while Nikolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff, facing each other for the first time in the postseason since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, both made one great stop after another.

One can only hope the rest of this series is as exciting as Game 1 promises it to be. And if the remaining games are as good as the one we just witnessed, I think I can accept being wrong.

-- David Kalan

New faces, more experience for Sharks

04.16.2009  11:13 P.M. ET

One thing that clearly stands out to me at the start of this game is the completely different look to the Presidents' Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks this time around in the playoffs. After a disappointing second-round departure handed to them by the Stars in last year’s playoffs, the Sharks brought in plenty of Stanley Cup-winning players in the offseason and at the trade deadline.

Three defensemen have won the Cup in the past: Dan Boyle in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rob Blake in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, while Brad Lukowich has won two Cups, one in 2004 with the Lightning and one in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.

Two forwards have also hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup: Travis Moen in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks and Claude Lemieux -- who is actually a healthy scratch tonight -- has won four Stanley Cups (in 1986 with Montreal, in 1995 and 2000 with the Devils and in 1996 with the Avalanche).

Possibly the biggest change for San Jose, head coach Todd McLellan, who won last season as the assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.

-- Matthew Cubeta

Why not more?
04.16.2009  11:11 P.M. ET

After seven years without a postseason appearance, one could understand if the crowd at the United Center felt a little starved for playoff hockey. Well, they've gotten their money's worth tonight and there's more to come.

A score by Chicago's Martin Havlat with 5:33 to go has forced the first overtime game of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the closing minutes of regulation both teams had multiple strong chances to take the lead, but both Miikka Kiprusoff and Nikolai Khabibulin have continued to stand on their heads to keep the game square. With the battle of attrition we've seen tonight, this game doesn't seem likely to end until someone makes a mistake. And considering how well both teams have played for the last two periods, if that's the case, we'll probably all be here for a while.

-- David Kalan

Flames jump in front

04.16.2009  10:50 P.M. ET

Calgary and Chicago appeared deadlocked and with no shots at breaking the stalemate any time soon, but Daymond Langkow took advantage of a Chicago turnover to start a two-on-one rush early in the third period, eventually passing the puck over to Michael Cammalleri, who put it past Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin for the go-ahead goal.

Chicago has generated two strong chances since, but Miikka Kiprusoff looks like a man determined to shut the door. Kiprusoff stoned Jonathan Toews on a three-on-one and then made a spectacular glove save moments later to maintain Calgary's advantage.

-- David Kalan

My Name is Jonas
04.16.2009  10:48 P.M. ET

As expected, Jones Hiller led his Anaheim Ducks teammates out onto the HP Pavilion ice for the warm-up and he’ll get the start in goal for Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks.

Despite attempts by reporters to get an idea of who he would choose to start, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle maintained his strict policy of not naming who his goaltender would be Thursday night. However, there was little doubt that Hiller would get the nod over veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Hiller went 23-15-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage this season. The 27-year-old native of Switzerland logged the bulk of the action during the Ducks' late push to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Giguere, 31, has struggled all season, particularly after the death of his father, Claude, in December. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner went 19-18-6 with a 3.10 GAA and a .900 save percentage — the latter two being his worst numbers since 1998-99 with Calgary, his second NHL season.

-- Eric Stephens

Flames Getting in the Way
04.16.2009  10:17 P.M. ET

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Chris Williams displayed some potential multi-sport talent by winning the Shoot the Puck Competition during the second intermission, but he had a much clearer path to the net than the Blackhawks have had much of the night. Calgary has clearly made flooding shooting lanes a major part of its defensive strategy, and the Flames are executing that strategy to a T. Even on the rare occasion when Calgary hasn't put a body in front of the puck, Miikka Kiprusoff has been there to make the save.

Offensively, the Flames are continuing to put pressure on the Blackhawks defense, putting 11 shots on net in the second period and holding the overall edge in scoring chances. While they haven't scored since the first period, Calgary's defense is keeping things level by making it difficult for any Chicago shooter to get a clear view of the net.

-- David Kalan

Ryan Dempster Gives Hawks a boost
04.16.2009  10:17 P.M. ET

Comcast SportsNet Chicago aired a brief interview with Chicago Cub and native Canadian Ryan Dempster during the last stoppage in play in which he told the Blackhawks to "kick a little butt." Well for a few minutes things certainly seemed to go that way. Hawks defenseman Cam Barker finally broke through Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, who had been stellar up to that point, tying the game at one goal apiece.

Off the very next faceoff Chicago clearly stepped up the intensity level and forechecked voraciously. One notable play saw Andrew Ladd close in on Kiprusoff as he played the puck behind his own net, resulting in a rushed pass and an eventual turnover. The initial excitement from Barker's score seems to have slowed down somewhat, but unlike the first period, which was dominated by the Flames, this game is now playing like a tight battle between two equally-matched opponents.

-- David Kalan

Kipper Holding down the fort
04.16.2009  9:58 P.M. ET

The Blackhawks have started to pick up the pace in the second period, pressuring the Flames both on the power play and at even strength, but stalwart Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has been equal to the task.  No. 34 is keeping the puck out of the net thus far and made a big glove save on Chicago's Patrick Sharp eight minutes into the second stanza.

The Hawks can shoot as much as they want, but if Kipper continues his strong play, it will be a long night for Joel Quenneville's crew.

-- David Kalan

Wings fly from the blueline

04.16.2009  9:49 P.M. ET

The two goals that broke Game 1 open for the potent Red Wings came from an unexpected source: the defense. With the game knotted at one, blueliner Jonathan Ericsson, who only played 19 regular season games with Detroit this season, was credited with a goal  that Columbus' Manny Malhotra redirected into his own net; then, 48 seconds later, defenseman Niklas Kronwall slapped in a shot on the power play. The two had a combined seven goals during the regular season, but half of the Wings' goals in their 4-1 Game 1 win over the Blue Jackets.  

-- Colin Kelly

Calgary Applies Pressure Early
04.16.2009  9:27 P.M. ET

For much of the first period, the Blackhawks have appeared tight and outmatched by the visiting Flames. Calgary has generated the most chances, put twice as many shots on net as Chicago and registered the only goal, a score by David Moss at 8:38 of the opening frame.

While the Flames are controlling much of the flow, the Hawks did have a bright spot in the play of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and in a save made by captain Jonathan Toews. Toews may have provided a rallying point for Chicago, albeit unintentionally, by taking a high sticking double minor late in the period. While the captain sat in the sin bin, the Hawks' penalty kill has taken all comers and muted the Flames' power play. If Chicago can finish the job at the start of the second, it may provide a momentum switch for the home team.

-- David Kalan

All-California series cuts travel
04.16.2009  9:19 P.M. ET

Both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are accustomed to a heavy travel schedule each NHL season because of their location on the West Coast.

Only a trip to Phoenix provides either team an airplane flight of less than two hours. It’s no wonder that the squads will appreciate the 70-minute commute between the Bay Area and Southern California in the first Golden State series in 40 years.

"I think it'll help out a lot," Sharks center Patrick Marleau said. "Not having to change a couple of different time zones. A couple-hour flight is a lot better than a four-hour flight to the East Coast.

"You take advantage of it here in the first round. Hopefully it’ll add up to something in the end."

Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said he anticipates benefits from the reduced travel.

"You feel better," Niedermayer said. "You feel like you have a lot more energy. It’s good for both teams, ultimately, I guess. To have that one-hour flight in the same time zone is a good thing."

Said Marleau: "Mentally, you're not far away from home."

-- Eric Stephens

New Era for the Second City
04.16.2009  8:02 PM EST

It's hard to believe that just two seasons ago the Blackhawks were averaging less than 13,000 fans per game and the loudest part of the United Center was arena organist Frank Pellico.

Things can change in a hurry.

While I imagine Pellico still gets his autograph seekers -- and he deserves every one of them -- those days are a far cry from the scene at the United Center tonight. Following Rocky Wirtz's takeover of the club, President John McDonough has worked wonders to re-awaken a dormant but passionate fanbase and GM Dale Tallon has worked the free agent market deftly and drafted shrewdly to put a winning product on the ice.

The Hawks have gone from irrelevance on the Chicago sports scene, to having the Sears Tower lit in red. The fans have come back in droves, routinely selling out the UC, the team has responded with its first playoff berth in seven seasons, and if tonight's crowd against Calgary is any indication Chicago could be a tough place to visit for a long time to come.

-- David Kalan

Don't knock Ozzy

04.16.2009  8:02 PM EST

One of the few knocks on the Red Wings entering the playoffs was the shaky play of Chris Osgood. His GAA swelled to a career-high 3.09 this season, a sign that the 36-year old was starting to show his age.  But in the first period of Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, the veteran netminder looked extremely sharp.  He's done this all before -- he does have three Stanley Cups, including 2008.

His first test came 90 seconds in, after Brad Stuart turned over the puck to Jason Chimera in the defensive end. Osgood came through with a diving stop to prevent a goal and set the stage for several more spectacular plays. Osgood finished the period with 14 saves, helping to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes.

-- Colin Kelly

He's been waiting a little while

04.16.2009  7:54 PM EST

He won't be the only person making his first playoff appearance tonight, but Olli Jokinen, who is in his 10th full NHL season with 799 regular-season games played, has certainly waited the longest. In fact, Jokinen has waited longer than any player in NHL history before taking the ice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time -- a mere 12 years after he was drafted No. 3 in 1997.

His wait has been so long that Calgary's opponent tonight, Chicago, made the playoffs in Jokinen's fourth full season -- and tonight is the Blackhawks' first postseason appearance in seven years.

After seven seasons in Florida, where he became the Panthers' all-time top scorer, Jokinen was dealt to Phoenix in the offseason before becoming the biggest fish reeled in at the trade deadline six weeks ago. At the time, most observers dubbed the the Flames as Cup contenders with the talented Finn on board, and he responded with two goals in his first period, but the postseason is a completely different animal from the type of hockey Jokinen is used to. How he responds to the pressure will go a long way towards deciding whether the Flames or the Hawks will move on.

Then again, he'll probably be better prepared than some of his younger competition. When Jokinen played his first NHL game, Chicago winger Patrick Kane was 9 years old.

-- David Kalan

Plenty more to watch for in this series

04.16.2009  6:55 PM EST

Despite the seeds in this quarterfinal matchup, the Sharks and Ducks series will be a lot more intriguing than expected from your typical 1 vs. 8 seeds. Since their rivalry began in 1993-94, these teams have posted identical 41-41-8 records against one another.

The Sharks took two of four games during the regular season against the Ducks, but we all know Anaheim played its best hockey at the end of the season, finishing 10-2-1 in its final 13 games.

Interesting matchups to pay attention to:
Joe Thornton vs. Ryan Getzlaf - Two of the game's best playmakers. Both players scored 25 goals during the regular season, with Getzlaf adding 66 assists and Thornton posting 61. Look for both centers to set up plenty of goals this series. 

Dan Boyle vs. Scott Niedermayer These two blueliners quarterback the power play as well as any defenseman in the NHL. A lot of people might disagree and say Chris Pronger is Anaheim’s power-play leader, but Niedermayer runs the show; Pronger has the heavy shot. With the man advantage, Boyle recorded eight goals and 24 assists while Niedermayer tallied nine goals and 23 assists. If anyone scores on the power play this series, odds are Boyle and Niedermayer are setting the goals up.

Patrick Marleau vs. Corey Perry The teams' goal scorers. Marleau led San Jose with a career-high 38 goals this season while Perry also set a career-high scoring 32 goals to lead the Ducks. Both players also led their teams in game-winning goals; Marleau with 10 and Perry with eight. Each plays a hard-nosed game and brings plenty of speed and energy to the table.

Other notable players:
Sharks -- Travis Moen, acquired by San Jose from Anaheim at the trade deadline, and Claude Lemieux, who has been known for his playoff heroics in the past.

Ducks – Ryan Whitney, Anaheim's big trade deadline acquisition, and Rob Niedermayer, who's played in 91 career playoff games.

This will certainly be an interesting series -- the second all-California playoff series -- and I think the Ducks have the talent and experience to pull off a stunning upset, but the Sharks were the best team during the regular season for a reason.

 -- Matthew Cubeta

Canucks back on the ice

04.16.2009  6:52 P.M. ET

Vancouver’s Steve Bernier hit the ice 15 minutes before the rest of the Canucks Thursday morning.
The team practiced for roughly an hour, but Bernier felt a little overtime was necessary to help him polish up his shooting from in close.

Missed opportunities from the hash marks in have plagued the first-year forward this season and he’s on a mission to rectify that in the postseason.

“Playoffs are so important and it’s so hard to get scoring chances that when you do have one, you want to do the best you can to score,” he explained.

Bernier’s new routine, which started at the beginning of the week, has him rifle pucks into the net from the goal mouth, before backing up 10 feet to practice his touch from farther out.
The extra work set the stage for a light practice where the Canucks focused on their special teams play, specifically the power play.

Noticeably absent from the skate was forward Pavol Demitra -- he blocked a shot so was given the day to rest up -- and defensemen Mattias Ohlund, who was sent home when he arrived in the morning with a touch of the flu. Both are expected to play Friday.

Sami Salo will also be in the lineup, albeit a little more colorful. He took a puck to the face on his final shift of Wednesday night’s game. No stitches were needed but his left eye is black and blue.

 -- Derek Jory

Tough time for Huskins
04.16.2009  1:36 P.M. ET
A change in locale hasn’t changed the fortunes for Kent Huskins in what’s been a difficult season.

After spending the last four years in the Anaheim Ducks’ organization and the equivalent of two seasons at the NHL level, Huskins was traded to the San Jose Sharks, along with left winger Travis Moen, on March 4 for prospects Nick Bonino and Timo Pielmeier along with a conditional 2011 draft pick.

The Sharks went ahead with the deal even though Huskins, 29, had been sidelined for 27 games  because of problems related to a broken right foot he suffered on Dec. 19 when he blocked a shot in a game against Edmonton.

The original prognosis was two-to-three weeks, but the foot didn’t heal on its own and Huskins underwent surgery in January. The defenseman has yet to make his San Jose debut, even though the Sharks had hoped he would provide additional depth on their back end.

“It’s taken a long time to get back to where I was at,” said Huskins, who had two goals and six points in 33 games with Anaheim this season.

Huskins didn’t sound optimistic about being ready at some in the first-round series against his old team.

“It’s tough to say,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve just got to keep working. We have seven other great defensemen who are healthy and have done a great job for us all year. Right now, I’m just going to kind of support those guys and get myself ready to go.”

Huskins has still followed the Ducks to some extent and noted the irony when they fell to the No. 8 playoff spot after St. Louis’ win over Colorado on Sunday.

“It was funny,” he said. “I was watching the games and seeing whose going to finish where. It went right up until the end of the season. This should be a great series. It should be really physical. Just a battle.”

 -- Eric Stephens

San Jose psyched
04.16.09  1:34 P.M. ET

In some circles, San Jose’s franchise-record 53 wins and 117 points this season won’t be enough unless there is an accompanying run to the Stanley Cup after several playoff disappointments.

But that hasn’t stopped those from displaying their civic pride upon the Sharks capturing their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the most points in the regular season.

The message board outside the city’s convention center took note of that with a note of congratulations. A full-page advertisement from a home improvement store chain in the San Jose Mercury News also celebrated the Sharks’ impressive regular season.

Also, signs that spell out “THIS IS SHARKS TERRITORY” also appear in shops all along the downtown street that runs into HP Pavilion.
--Eric Stephens

Turbulent season
04.16.2009 12:30 P.M. ET

Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has certainly had a turbulent season, one that started before the puck even dropped. When Chicago General Manager Dale Tallon signed Cristobal Huet to a four-season contract, conventional thinking was that Khabibulin would be dealt, but Tallon decided to keep Khabibulin.

Some might have thought that Khabibulin was kept around simply to push Huet, but that was not the case. Khabibulin got hot and has showed the form that made him a Stanley Cup winner with the Lightning in 2004.

Khabibulin has started 11 of the Blackhawks' last 13 games and had just one loss in regulation during that span.

There is more bad news for the Flames, the Blackhawks' first-round opponent. Khabibulin has Calgary's number with a 22-5-2 record against them, including a 2.06 goals-against average in 31 career regular-season games.

Khabibulin also has a playoff history against Calgary. He was the Lightning's starting goalie when they beat the Flames in seven games to capture the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Khabibulin had a 2.00 GAA in that series, including a shutout in Game 4.

Khabibulin, however, is focused on his playoff future and not the past. He has no explanation for his success against Calgary.

"I can’t explain it," Khabibulin told the Calgary Herald. "I don’t know why. Just because I’ve had success against them before doesn’t mean anything now. I guess it gives me a little bit of confidence. But once the playoffs start, you start from scratch."

Flames left wing Mike Cammalleri, who led the team with 39 goals this season, thinks that he doesn't have to adjust his game because Khabibulin is in goal and notes that most goalies inherently have the same weaknesses.

"It’s almost comical ... or hypocritical, right?" Cammalleri told the Calgary Herald. "Every day we get reports on these goalies and it’s the same things. 'Get a lot of traffic. They hate traffic.' Although I’ve yet to meet a goaltender who loves getting screened. ‘And when he’s down, shoot high. And when he’s up, shoot low.’ I mean, it’s really common sense stuff.”

- Adam Schwartz

Final score, Canucks 2, Blues 1

04.16.2009 / 12:55 AM ET

The main story has to be the team play of the Canucks -- nothing spectacular, nothing flashy, just a hardworking effort on the part of Vancouver, specifically the defense. Their fans have to be excited.

What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Canucks struggled down the stretch, missed the playoffs and had a tumultous offseason. This year, they're one game into the playoffs and they looked impressive in grabbing a 1-0 series lead. A great defensive effort, timely scoring and another solid effort from Roberto Luongo in tonight’s victory re-affirms my belief that they are a squad to be feared in this postseason.

Not to take anything away from the Blues, who, thanks to a stellar game, were finally able to solve Roberto Luongo. But they'll have to make more than a few adjustments if they want to take Game 2 and make it a series -- the game wasn't quite as close as the final score indicated.

- Deven Persaud

Third Period Thoughts
04.16.2009 / 12:20 AM ET

The Canucks continue to throw bodies in front of Chris Mason. It's a testament to his skill -- plus a couple of posts hit by Daniel Sedin -- that the Canucks have juts two goals.

Now that the penalty calls have stopped, the game is finally getting into a rhythm, with both teams' defenses asserting more of a physical presence. I haven't heard much from either team’s forward corps at all this period. Neither team seems able to carry the puck into the offensive zone effectively, I wouldn't be surprised to see Blues coach Andy Murray move to a dump and chase plan with Keith Tkachuk and David Backes forechecking hard.

- Deven Persaud

Second Period Thoughts
04.15.2009 / 12:08 PM ET

The confidence the Sedins are showing is remarkable. Two years ago in Dallas, they were getting knocked around playing against the top defense pair of the Stars. This year, with the Blues' D being forced to concentrate on two scoring lines, the twins are flying. A cheeky goal in the first period and a shot off the post in the second are evidence that the Sedins are clearly playing inspired hockey.

Speaking of inspired, a stat just came up: Brad Boyes' score was the first goal allowed by Roberto Luongo in more166 minutes of play. Does anyone think that the Blues have their work cut out for them?

-- Deven Persaud

Special Teams and Screens
04.15.2009 / 11:52 PM ET

You can't stop what you can't see. Steve Bernier looked Tomas Holmstrom-esque on the second Vancouver goal, blocking Chris Mason's view as Sami Salo's point shot sailed into the net.

On the next penalty kill, the Blues successfully defended against this by playing a big box and tight to the point on the power play, rushing the D-men and forcing them to move the puck before they can shoot.

However, the Canucks have proven adept at moving the puck along the side boards and into the slot -- as they did on Daniel Sedin's first period goal -- and it will be interesting to see how St. Louis is able to contain this suddenly potent and varied Vancouver power play.

- Deven Persaud

Bailouts and Leafs Stock
04.15.2009 / 11:05 PM ET

Roberto Luongo is in the zone, and his teammates know it. Mathias Ohlund just crept in to take a shot in the Blues' zone, knowing that even if he didn't get back in time, Luongo would bail him out. Right there is a major theme in this series: the ability of the Vancouver defensemen to cheat knowing that they have one of the best goalies in the world backing them up.

As an aside, how many former Maple Leafs are playing prominent roles in this series? It's 20 minutes into the first game and I've heard Sundin, Wellwood and Colaiacovo mentioned half a dozen times each already. Alex Steen, get in the game!

- Deven Persaud

Early Thoughts in Game 1
04.15.2009 / 10:38 PM ET

Three goals. That's how many Robert Luongo and Chris Mason gave up in the last week of the season, COMBINED. For anyone expecting an offensive shootout, go watch a tape of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Despite the lack of offense, this game already has the Vancouver crowd hyped, and they're chanting early in the game. For a province that's considered calm and serene, these Canuck fans seem like an ornery group. They've got good reason: Their big forwards are really laying into the defense. Ryan Kesler just stood up Carlo Colaiacovo.

Mats Sundin and Keith Tkachuk took a faceoff against each other. One started his career with the Quebec Nordiques the other with the Winnipeg Jets. What are the chances another faceoff happens in the entire playoffs with guys who played for those teams?

- Deven Persaud

A few more things on the 'Nucks-Blues series

04.15.2009 / 6:58 PM ET

Canucks: Secondary offense -- For years, Vancouver has been a one-line team, in the past with Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison and this season with the Sedin twins. But you have to think that with the acquisition of Mats Sundin and the emergence of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, the Canucks are finally able to roll multiple scoring lines, and that could spell trouble for the Blues. If this line’s success doesn't carry into the post-season, don't be surprised to see Coach Alain Vigneault collapse the D, reel in the forecheck and try to win on the back of Roberto Luongo.

What to watch for -- The Kesler-Sundin-Burrows line will come out quickly, but look for them late in the third. If Kesler and Burrows are still banging away in the corners and freeing up space for Sundin with the same energy they had in the first period, then they haven’t been neutralized by the Blues' defense and will probably be effective throughout the series

Blues: Defensive depth and experience -- Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jay McKee, Mike Weaver, Roman Polak and Jeff Woywitka. Although it's not exactly Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis -- the Blues' top pairing last time they made the playoffs -- this unsung group has gotten it done all season. But as solid as they've been this season, they'll have to be even better to shut down a deep Vancouver forward corps while the offense tries to solve all-star netminder Roberto Luongo. Key for this group will be a quick turnaround in the defensive zone.

What to watch for -- Watch for the quick outlet pass out of the zone and to the forwards. If the Blues' inexperienced D can stay calm and make the safe tape-to-tape play under pressure it will kick-start the forecheck and lead to chances.  If they can't, watch for turnovers in front of Chris Mason and a quick series.

- Deven Persaud

Penalties on their minds
04.15.2009 / 1:14 PM ET

The San Jose Sharks have made it clear that they refuse to be bullied by the Ducks in their first-round matchup.

Anaheim used their signature physical style to win the Stanley Cup in 2007 and it hasn't changed this season. The Ducks had the most penalty minutes in the League with 1,418, including a League leading 82 major penalties. Conversely, the Sharks had the fewest penalty minutes in the Pacific Division and the fourth-fewest penalty minutes during the regular season with just 1,037.

A physical series usually means that there are going to be plenty of penalties and, in, turn the ensuing power plays are going to be important.

San Jose coach Todd McClellan is more than aware of Anaheim's physical style of play and is expecting a physical series and the Ducks not to divert from their usual plan.

"I don’t think that Anaheim is going to change the way Anaheim plays and I know we’re not," McClellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "So there’s going to be some bumping and grinding, some battles in the corners."

During the season series between the two teams the Ducks had 145 penalty minutes and the Sharks had 108, including two games where San Jose took just two minor penalties.

During the season series the Sharks scored 5 power-play goals in six games and the Ducks scored 3 -- four of which San Jose won. 

San Jose had the second-best power play in the Western Conference and the third-best in the League at 24.2 percent, but the Ducks weren't far behind with the third-best power play in the conference and tied for the fourth-best in the League at 23.6 percent.

Last season Dallas scored 9 power-play goals in their six-game defeat of the Ducks, including 4 power-play goals in Game 1. Subsequently Anaheim goalie J.S. Giguere knows the importance of staying out of the penalty box from the start of a series while maintaining their physical presence.

“A big part of the problem last year was we were very undisciplined against Dallas, a team that had a good power play,” Giguere told the Orange County Register. “We can’t wait two games before we start being disciplined because it could cost us the series.

“Stay out of the box, finish your checks, but be the instigator - don’t be the retaliator. That’s going to go a long way in us being successful in their building.”

- Adam Schwartz

The grind is over! And the marathon begins!

04.15.2009 / 12:10 PM ET

What's up hockey fans! Sean Pronger here, but please, call me "The Journeyman."  I know what you're thinking: "What in the 'Gretzky' are you doing on"

Great question, just like my playing career, I'm fooling someone ... and it feels good!

Since everyone with a keyboard and a microphone is making predictions on the playoffs I thought "Wayne It," I'll make mine too! So here we have The Journeyman's Western Conference Quarterfinals picks:

San Jose vs. Anaheim --  Anaheim in 7. I'm sure everyone is shocked. Obviously, I have a slight bias toward the Ducks. Not only did I used to play for them, but we all know I'm related to one of the Shark Tank's favorite players "Lou."  And yes, my driver's license does read "Chris' Brother Sean" but that, my new friends, is not why I'm picking them. Here's why: The way the Ducks played down the stretch when everyone (including yours truly) counted them out. The key players from the 2007 Cup team are healthy and hitting their stride: Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Pronger, both Niedermayer's. Add in Bobby Ryan coming of age, Ryan Whitney and his playoff experience, Francois Beachemin's incredible return and you have a team that is a "Wayne-load" better than eighth place. They have perhaps the best defense in hockey and the real question is their goaltending. If Jonas Hiller plays the way he did in the last month of the season, the series may be shorter than 7.  However, if he stumbles, they have a Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner dying to get back in the net to prove himself and erase a disastrous season. Who are the Sharks going to throw in the net if Nabokov struggles? 

The X-Factor: Joe Thornton – All bets are off if he can dominate in the playoffs the way he does during the regular season. But based on past playoff performance, Olympic performance, and the Ducks' defense core, I'm putting my monopoly money on the Ducks.

Detroit vs. Columbus: -- Columbus in 6. Yeah, that's right! The Blue Jackets are knocking off the Stanley Cup champs. And yeah, I played for them too! The overachieving Blue Jackets will continue to ride Steve "Don't call me Patrick Roy" Mason right into the second round. OK, OK ... I can't tell a lie! The real reason for my pick is I've had, what some might call, a few troubling experiences playing against Detroit. Here's a little taste of my world back in the day. I was with the Anaheim (Mighty back then) Ducks and anchoring the fourth line. We were playing the Red Wings in Detroit, so they had the last change. And they were not afraid to use it! As soon as my line jumped over the boards, here came those "Mother Gretzky Russians" ... Fedorov, Kozlov, Larionov, Konstantinov and Fetisov.

Warren "Bundy" Rychel would come over to me before each faceoff and say, "You realize if you lose the draw, we're going to be chasing these guys the entire shift," and my entire career as it turns out. I still have nightmares about those guys. So you see, I have my reasons, but I stand by my pick. Columbus in 6!! Deal with it Detroit!

Vancouver vs. St. Louis:  Vancouver in 5. Alright, alright. I played for them too. But it was only for three games! I just think the Canucks have too much depth and a goalie that is capable of winning a series by himself (won't be necessary however), not to mention they've been playing some decent hockey for the last two-plus months. St. Louis made a valiant effort to get in, but unfortunately their time is up.

Chicago vs. Calgary:  Calgary in 7. And no, I didn't play for the Flames or the Blackhawks! I made this pick the old fashioned way -- coin flip. I like the Flames' mix of skill and grit and I believe their goalie will answer the bell for the postseason. I love the Blackhawks' youth, skill, and passion, but for some reason the coin kept coming up Flames. I think deep down I just want to see the Canadian teams go deep into the postseason.

There you have it Peeps. Make sure to place your bets before the puck drops.


A special thanks to Kevin Smith, my fellow blogger ... brilliant. Kevin, feel free to steal any of my one-syllable words. No need to thank me, it's all about the game.

Signing off

-- The Journeyman, aka "Chris' Brother Sean"

Some premature planning

04.15.2009 / 09:58 AM ET

Scanning the hockey headlines Tuesday AM, I came upon this item from Terry Jones in the Edmonton Sun. It seems Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell already has mapped out the team's parade route after winning the Stanley Cup.

Now that is admirable optimism to be sure, but also the kind of stuff that ends up on the bulletin boards of opposing teams. Right off the bat that's the St. Louis Blues.

"Put us on boats and take us around the seawall of Stanley Park and then end up at the Convention Centre," said the native of Port McNeil on Vancouver Island. "That would be the ultimate. It would be really, really cool."

Let's be fair. Mitchell is an affable guy who was shooting the breeze with reporters, so it isn't like he's deadly serious about the nautical celebration. But he is darn serious about his Canucks making a run at the Cup.

"It's my dream. It's what I play for," Mitchell said. "There would be nothing better than being one of the 23 guys who wins a Stanley Cup here.

There have been some lean years. If you grew up as a Canucks fan as a kid, you know what it would mean. It would mean everything.

"You've got to believe. We're capable. We've definitely got a shot."

And a parade plan too.

-- Phil Coffey

Blue Jackets ready to roll

04.14.2009 / 03:07 PM ET

As the only NHL team never to have made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the seventh-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets are eager to end the drought when they drop the puck in Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET (VERSUS, TSN2). Of course, a first-round matchup with the defending-champion Red Wings may not be the welcome the Jackets had in mind, but Columbus is no stranger to the Winged Wheel.

The division rivals met six times this season, with the Jackets and Wings splitting the series, but Columbus did take three of the final four meetings, including an 8-2 trouncing of Detroit at the Joe last month. Having earned at least one point in 13 of their final 17 games, Columbus has only gotten better as the season has worn on.

With Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, Calder Trophy-favorite Steve Mason in net and Rick Nash proving himself to be a two-way force rather than a one-dimensional point machine, these clearly aren't your 2000 expansion-variety Blue Jackets.

Of course, it would seem foolhardy to ignore the team on the other end of the ice. The Red Wings have set a long-term standard of excellence unmatched in the League by any team since Gretzky's Oilers. The reigning champs boast four Cups and six Presidents' Trophies since 1994.

The resume speaks for itself.

Detroit has had its first-round hiccups, most notably a stunning loss to the upstart San Jose Sharks in 1994. But with Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and the recently extended Johan Franzen, the Wings' offense can compete with any in the NHL. Throw in a superior defense led by Nicklas Lidstrom, perhaps the finest blueliner of his era, and Detroit is one of the clear favorites to hoist Lord Stanley in June.

But the brash Jackets are unlikely to be intimidated by a foe they know so well. While postseason hockey may be a novelty in Columbus and standard in "Hockeytown," the Blue Jackets stand a decent chance of causing some damage. With two talented teams coming from completely different ends of the spectrum, it will be interesting to see who winds up crashing whose party.

David Kalan

10 points on Canucks/Blues
04.14.2009 / 2:36 PM ET

Canucks. Blues. Where do I even begin?

1. Last time these two met in the Playoffs, the Canucks were down 3-1 in the series and came back to win. All I can remember about that series is wanting to see Keith Tkachuk go through the Braveheart "You Can't Take Away My Freedom" device that slowly rips you in half.

2. Playoff hockey is all about chemistry and momentum... These two teams have both.

3. My last movie was shot in Vancouver. My new movie is shooting in St. Louis. I have gone to five games since arriving in Missouri. I've never seen the Blues lose in person. Am I scared?  No.  Want to know why?  I've never seen the Canucks play here.

4. The Blues organization has been extraordinarily generous to me and my film crew -- Even invited all hundred of us to a game when the Kings were in town -- Even invited me to come skate with former players on the Scottrade ice on a game day. They are a tremendous group of professionals that I am proud to know.

5. Everyone in the Blues organization is dead to me.

6. Sundin has never won a Cup... Now he's on the Canucks. The Leafs didn't even make the playoffs. Ha ha. Only downside? Would have been fun to watch the Canucks beat the Leafs in the Stanley Cup Final and prolong Sundin's jersey retirement in the Air Canada Centre by a decade.

7. Last time these two met in the Playoffs, the Blues were a physical team and the Canucks were a finesse team. Hey Jackman, did you see Burrows pick that guy's head off the ice by his hair just to punch him in the face. Watch out, Jackman. Watch out.

8. Goaltending.  The Blues have Manny Legace playing for Peoria right now. Their starting goalie is Chris Mason... That's funny, I haven't heard of him either.  He's actually been playing pretty well since All-Star game... Four words -- Welcome to the Playoffs. Oh, and have you met my friend Bobby Lou?

9. I'll be at Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis wearing either an orca, a skate in spaghetti, a stick in the rink, or a flying "V".

10. Canucks in six.

-- Jason Reitman

Are you ready?

04.14.2009 / 10:42 AM ET

I have tried to prepare you for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past and now that we are one day away from the second season, are you ready? 
How does it feel Columbus, are you in playoff mode or still thanking the hockey gods for the opportunity to play for the Cup?  Can you dethrone the champs and move on to Round 2?
Calgary, are you OK, wondering if the team will ever get healthy?  Do you feel like a big underdog even though you team has the playoff experience and the up-and-coming Blackhawks are just sticking their toes into the playoff pool?
You folks on the left coast, are you prepared for the battle in California?  Only the strongest will survive and the pressure is building in San Jose.  The Ducks have the experience, the Sharks want to prove their doubters wrong and in the end, only one team can move on.
The St. Louis Blues are hot, the Vancouver Canucks have the goalie everyone thinks can carry them to the Stanley Cup Final, but only one team can win.  The Blues came out of nowhere and the Canucks are now expected to get on a playoff roll.  We don’t know how this will finish, but it will be fun to watch.
The media buzz in NYC and Washington D.C. is Avery and Ovechkin.  If I were in control of all things media, I would focus on Jose Theodore and Henrik Lundqvist.  This series will be determined by the men wearing the masks.
Carolina feels good, entering the playoffs on a roll with a hot goalie.  The New Jersey Devils have the experience and the goaltending to win.  If you can answer “who wants it more?”, you will have the winner of this series.
Boston is on Montreal’s mind and with good reason.  The Canadiens have the chance of turning their so-so season into a memorable one.  Boston is heavily favored and now must live-up to the hype.
For the next two weeks or so, the State of Pennsylvania is the hockey State. Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia will be a series that will become an “instant classic.”  Right out of the gate the series tone will be set and it will be fun watching it play out.
Round 1, aka the Conference Quarterfinals will provide us hockey fans with a taste of what is to come.  Play a shift at a time, dig deep, only the strong survive.  OT wins, shots of the posts, blown breakaways and tremendous saves are in our future and I am ready, are you?
If not, it is not too late to prepare.  Get into the game now and stay with it for the next two months.  The ride is great, the outcome is up in the air and right now it is a sprint -- First to 16 wins starts tomorrow.
Questions, comments, want to talk hockey, email me at

-- Paul Kukla

Mats is back in postseason

04.14.2009 / 1:28 PM ET

For the first time since 2004, Mats Sundin is going back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. What remains to be seen is whether he'll be the 28 points in 41 games player of 2009 or the dominant force that saw him average nearly a point per game over his storied playoff career.

The one saving grace for Sundin is that because he’s only played 41 games for Vancouver this season, he should be well rested, unlike previous campaigns. That’s not to say he needs the respite. Despite averaging 71 games for the past 12 years, Sundin managed to lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs eight times, including two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It should be easy to tell early on in Vancouver's series with St. Louis if the rest has helped his 37-year-old body get battle-ready for the postseason. Watch how Sundin takes the offensive zone. If he's driving around defenders, trying to take the puck to the net and using his 6-foot-5 frame to force his way in, look out Chris Mason. But if he stops at the hash marks looking to shoot or pass then we might have already seen the best No. 13 has to offer.

-- Deven Persaud

Get ready to rock

04.12.2009 / 10:46 PM ET

Every building is filled with excitement at this time of year, but you could make the case that the United Center will be the loudest later this week.

It's been seven years since the Chicago Blackhawks last played in a playoff game, but that all changes following the team's fourth-place finish in the Western Conference this season. Chicago will host the Calgary Flames in the first two-games of a seven-game series that is going to be awfully fun to watch.

The Blackhawks are entering their first postseason since 2002 on a high note. They went 6-0-1 in their final seven games of the regular season and blanked the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday to complete a home-and-home series sweep.

"We're happy we got home ice. Everybody looks at the success we had against them this year, but that obviously means nothing at this point," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who finished third on the team in scoring with 69 points.

"It's a new season, a new beginning. We're happy to be here at home. We got a lot of momentum going and we got to build off that. And obviously don't let off the gas pedal for a second."

Although coach Joel Quenneville has yet to make an announcement, it's a safe bet that Nikolai Khabibulin will be the club's No. 1 goaltender heading into the playoffs. Khabibulin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, made 37 saves in Sunday's 3-0 win against the Red Wings.

Khabibulin made 42 appearances this season, as opposed to Cristobal Huet's 41. Huet signed as a free agent with the club last summer, while Khabibulin is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

"It's definitely nice to finish on a high note. The game didn't mean much for either team, but you want to have good habits going into the playoffs," Khabibulin said. "For a goalie, I think anytime you get a shutout it's good. Having said that, you know tomorrow is another day and the regular season doesn't matter anymore."

What the Blackhawks were able to accomplish this season, though, means a heck of a lot to their fans. Rest assured, they will repay the players with a lot of noise later this week.

-- Brian Compton

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