The Stanley Cup playoffs got underway Wednesday on various fronts shifting the spotlight away from the Toronto Maple Leafs where the jury still can’t figure out what went wrong.
Let’s take a closer look at the playoff matchups.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins — The fast-skating Wings have been in playoff mode for the past month and they’d knock off most of the Eastern Conference clubs. They’re fast, young and hungry. The Bruins play four lines and their grinding style is perfect for the playoffs.
The B’s prevail in six games.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers — The Flyers and Rangers split four games during regular season. The Flyers have lost eight straight at Madison Square Garden and will be without starting goalie Steve Mason for the opener. The Rangers have the best goalie in Henrik Lundqvist but can they muster enough offence? Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is one of the best in the game and he’ll get the most out of Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis. Of all the teams in the East, New York plays the best defence and in the playoffs that’s a key.
Rangers in six.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning — Carey Price and Tomas Vanek will lead the Canadiens past the Lightning regardless of who plays goal for the Florida club. Thomas Vanek is the best addition at the trade deadline and an unrestricted free agent, he is looking at a huge contract if he has a big series.
Habs in six.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins swept the season series and if Marc-Andre Fleury plays well, the Penguins prevail. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the two best players in the game, and they have too much firepower for Columbus.
Penguins in five.
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche — Patrick Roy will have his youthful Avalanche fired up from the outset. Colorado rookie and Maritimer Nathan MacKinnon, who was used sparingly in the world juniors more than a year ago, will want to show Team Canada folks that he is the real deal.
Avalanche in five.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were without seven regulars down the stretch and goalie Ryan Miller was so-so. The Blues have a terrific D, but can they score enough to beat the Black Hawks? The Prophet doesn’t think so, and Chicago gets Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville will outthink Ken Hitchcock.
Hawks in six games.
Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks — The Ducks have a great young goalie in Frederik Andersen, who broke Lundqvist’s record for shutouts in a season in Sweden. With a name like Frederik, you better like him. Coach Bruce Boudreau rolls four lines and Teemu Selanne is in his final season. Ryan Getzlaf is challenging Sidney Crosby for the Hart Trophy and it’s time he and Corey Perry start earning their money. Ducks are going a long, long way. Dallas had the edge in the regular season and they have Tyler Sequin who is now one of the top five players in the game.
Ducks in six games.
L.A. Kings vs. San Jose Sharks — This is a tough one to pick. The Kings added Marian Gaborik at the deadline, but he’s playing in the West Conference where it’s more of a blood-and-guts game. L.A. has Jonathan Quick and the Sharks have Antti Niemi, so the goaltending is even. The Sharks have a lot more scoring in Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, are big and physical and are due to make a long playoff run. Home ice is a big advantage in this series.
Sharks in six games.
If you’re a curling and/or basketball fan, then you’ll likely want to be in Summerside or in Charlottetown as the Island is rocking this weekend.
At Eastlink Arena in Summerside many of the best curlers in the world will be competing in the finale event of the Grand Slam of Curling series, the Players Championship.
The biggest names in the Curling world should draw big crowds. Twelve of the best teams in the world, both men and women, will compete, including Olympic women’s gold medallist Jennifer Jones and young star Rachel Homan plus perennial powerhouse rinks skipped by Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Brad Jacobs, Brier champ Kevin Koe and Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue.
This is the last competition together for the Koe rink as the talented skip is forming a new club next year. In addition, Island fans can get a chance to watch Island boys Adam Casey and Brett Gallant, who are with the Gushue rink, and Geri-Lynn Ramsay, of Summerside, with the Crystal Webster rink out of Calgary. Both the men and women will play for $100,000.
By now, you know the Island Storm lost the National Basketball League seventh and deciding game in Windsor, Ont. The Storm elevated basketball to a level never before seen in Charlottetown and the crowds attending the series here last weekend suggests the Storm is here to stay. Well done boys.
Also on the basketball front, the all-star weekend is set for Charlottetown and I’d expect a big crowd for tonight’s skills events and Sunday’s all-star game set for 2 p.m. Saturday gets underway at 9 a.m. with the NBL kids camp, and at noon, there’s the all-star reception and awards banquet. At 2 p.m. there’s the prospects game, and from there to 9:30 p.m. the highly anticipated three-point and slam dunk competitions.
Live racing is almost here at Red Shores Charlottetown, qualifiers are set for this afternoon at 1 p.m. at the city track and they should draw a big crowd.
Lots of simulcast action available from USA tracks, including The Meadowlands, Yonkers, Pocono, as well as from Woodbine and Flamboro in Ontario.
Local racing lost one of its veteran horseman with the passing of Rollie Larkin, one of the most respected owners, trainers and breeders in the Maritime game. He will always be remembered for that exciting little pacer Bub, who gave us so many thrills especially in his Gold Cup and Saucer appearances. Rollie just adored that little horse. To all associated with this gentleman, our condolences.
Mark MacDonald is starting to heat up, coming off the injury list, as he bagged four winners last Saturday at Pocono and was a just beaten in the $25,000 feature as Abelard Hanover edged Mark and former Gold Cup winner Eighteen in 1:48:4. Eighteen meets the same field tonight at Pocono while former world champion Daylon Magician and ex-Little Brown Jug winner Michelle’s Power both are in to go at Pocono tonight.
At The Meadowlands, there’s the $63,000 final of the Whata Baron series featuring Wake Up Peter (Scott Zeron), Captive Audience, Burkentine Hanover, Alexas Jackpot and six others. At Yonkers, there’s three divisions of the Levy series at $50,000 each and once again the Burke brigade will be tough to beat with eight in this series, including unbeaten Foiled Again and Gold Cup winner Hillbilly Hanover. Local trainer Mitch Tierney is headed to Ontario with four or so later this month.
Congrats to Brian MacPhee’s rink, which also includes Brent Campbell, Connor MacPhee and David Morrison, for their upset victory over the Doug MacGregor rink at last Saturday’s Horsemens Curling championship at Charlottetown Curling Club.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. He can be reached at email@example.com.