OAKLAND -- (BP) -- Last Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings played the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks for the last position in this year's playoffs.
The Blackhawks had to wait for the final results because the Red Wings beat Chicago 5-3. The Minnesota Wild beat the Dallas Stars 5-3 letting the Blackhawks off the hook and off the record books as being one of the Stanley Cup Champions not to make the playoffs the next year.
This was just typical for the Western Conference; and it has been a very long strange wonderful journey. In the Western Conference teams would jump from 12 place to 4 place with a good winning streak and would fall back to 12 place with a losing streak.
Competition was tough and fierce making each game and each point count. At one point this year 6 points separated 10 teams. It was great for the true hockey fans just too bad Versus and NBC did not get the memo and let the American public witness this fantastic hockey.
Both networks have done a very shabby job promoting the National Hockey League with their weekly renditions of the Game of the Week. Maybe they believe the world of hockey revolves around Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers.
At one point, like last year the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins dominated their telecasts. If you want to gain viewer-ship and promote the game properly why not have a double header with the western teams in your broadcast like the Los Angeles Kings, the Phoenix Coyotes, the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and the President’s trophy (team with best record) winner Vancouver Canucks.
The Pittsburgh Penguins made the playoffs without their stars Sid Crosby and Evgini Malkin and the Washington Capitols played many games without the Electric 8 Ovechkin and took the number one spot in the Eastern Conference.
The New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs made a gallant run at the Eastern Conference title.
Both started the year in last place. Both had major injuries to key players yet both teams came so close to getting into this years post - season.
This will be the first time since 1995 that the Devils will set home watching the playoffs like the rest of us. Head Coach Jacques Lemaire had the Devils on the right track and The Toronto Maple Leafs have a very bright future with so many young players wearing sky blue and white.
Goalies Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist have personally guided the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers respectively to the playoffs with outstanding play in the Sabre and Ranger net.
They will have to do it again in the first round of the playoffs if their teams advance.
There is also this troubling note - only two Canadian teams will continue their season. The Montreal Canadiens, in the East, and the Vancouver Canucks, in the West.
It would be a beautiful twist of fate if these two teams meet for the Stanley Cup Final. Remember hockey is Canada’s national sport and this cannot be a good thing for the National Hockey League if fans in the great north cannot enjoy their teams.
There are the financial woes in the desert with the Phoenix Coyotes, the league hold the ownership papers of this howling team and another struggling franchise in Hot 'Lanta, the Atlanta Thrashers.
One of these teams might be moving to Winnipeg, Canada to rekindle the hockey craze north of the boarder. Winnipeg fans would welcome another team with open arms after their beloved Jets moved to Denver in the early 1990’s to become the Colorado Rockies.
The lingering anger and bitterness would leave after the Jets/Rockies won the Stanley Cup a year after the move with one of the greatest goalies of all times Patrick Roy, the father of the butterfly style in net.
Lastly, all three California teams made the playoffs for the first time since Anaheim and San Jose joined the league. Too bad San Jose plays Los Angeles in the first round.
Don’t forget our Goal Brothers on the ice; Black stars are all over the league making the NHL a true fruit salad as my colleague Michael Louis Ingram would say.
In the playoffs watch the wily veteran Mike Grier, scrappy defenseman P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, sturdy Joel Ward of the Nashville Predators, the strong willed right winger Wayne Simmonds of the Los Angeles Kings and double duty guru Jamal Mayers of the San Jose Sharks.
Goalie Ray Emery with the Anaheim Ducks and The Unknown Soldier - Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes.
America will not see the two best black players in the NHL playoffs this year.
Dustin Byfuglien of the Atlanta Thrashers and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames because their teams faded at the end of the season.
Iginla is almost guaranteed to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame once he puts down his skates. The second Black Captain in league history might have to move to another team in order to win a Stanley Cup.
It would be sad for Calgary Flames fans but their team does not have the bodies (or a top notch centre) to produce a Stanley Cup winner in the waning years of Iginla’s career.
Here are the match-ups for the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals
The New York Rangers will have to find a way to score if they expect to beat the Washington Capitals. With the injury to Ryan Callahan it will be difficult for the Broadway Blueshirts. Henrik Lundqvist in goal won’t help my childhood favorite team; with the Great Eight back in the lineup anything in possible for the Caps.
They still have big questions in net with Neuvirth and Varlamov they have to decide who is the number one goalie and stay with him. This could be the Achilles heel for the men in red. Knuble and Backstrom have taken the slack since number 8’s absence. Washington wins in six.
The Philadelphia Flyers big front line, Dan Carcillo, Claude Giroux, and Jeff Carter should handle the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers still have to decide who will be in net, Leighton, Bobrovski, or Boucher.
The Sabres should make it interesting with stellar goalie Ryan Miller. Thomas Vaneck have keep the Sabers hot the last two weeks of the season but the Flyers will cool them off. Philadelphia in six.
This will be the closest series in the Eastern Conference two of the original six Boston and Montreal; they already didn’t like each other from jump street. After the Zdeno Chara boarding incident a few months ago, the heat from the rivalry could make Zamboni useless.
Boston size should naturalize the Canadiens speed. Boston’s Chara-Lucic line could be called the power line with Mark Recchi heading up the second line.
The Bruins have Vezina Trophy candidate Tim Thomas in net and that will help neutralize Les Habitants speedy forwards. Love to watch Shawn Thornton play.
Check out Goal Brother P.K. Subban's defensive play for Montreal, it is poetry in motion; and not a bad slap shot to boot. The ex-New Jersey Devil Line of Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez have to produce to keep the Canadiens in series.
This could be the only upset in the Eastern Conference. Montreal in seven if Carey Price shows up in net, Boston in six if he does not. This is classic battle of size vs. speed.
This is a toss up. The Tampa Bay Lightning have the right name with their speed with Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Simon Gagne matching up well against the overachieving Pittsburgh Penguins.
They have done this without Malkin and Sid Crosby. Malkin will not be back while Crosby started skating last week. Jordan Staal has to step up the scoring spree if the Penguins are to move on to the second round. Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury is one of the premier goalies he will have to show it in this series. Defensemen Kris Letang has to help Fleury. If Crosby plays Penguins in seven if not Tampa Bay in seven (Steven Stammkos is the X-factor for Tampa Bay).
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
Talk about the Wild, Wild, West this is it. Every one of these series could go seven games. Take your pick from 1 through 8; anybody could win the Western Conference Title.
The Favorites are the Vancouver Canucks with the Sedin Twins and Roberto Luongo in net and the San Jose Sharks with their three powerful lines. The Sharks can just wear you down with the mixing and matching of lines.
San Jose does this very well and throws the defense in complete disarray, giving the advantage to the Sharks.
The Detroit Red Wings are beginning to show their age and are slowing down. The Red Army did not play well the last two weeks of the season but came up big the last game of the year beating up the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, making them sweat the whole day and rooting for the Minnesota Wild.
The Hawks got lucky as the Dallas Stars came out flat and lost to the Wild 5-3.
The dark horses are the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes and could win playing defense.
The Sedin Twins should give the Chicago Blackhawks an early vacation. The Vancouver Canucks have finally found a goalie Roberto Luongo with a strong backup Cory Schneider to stop the opposition from scoring.
This year Luongo wont be as tired because he did not have to play 70-plus games this year. Sami Salo continues to be the star on defense.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been hot and cold all year long. When they are in full pressure mode the Hawks are one of the best hockey teams in the league but they have had some very serious mental lapse during the season that have created long losing streaks.
To go from Stanley Cup Champion to eighth seed does not bode well for Chicago. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Jonathan Toews have to score. They still miss their hard hitting defensemen Goal Brother Dustin Byfuglien who played in Atlanta this year.
The Hawks are putting all of their hopes on young goalie Corey Crawford. Brent Seabrook has come on strong the past two weeks he has to continue to help Crawford defend the Hawks nest.
It won’t be enough. Vancouver in six.
It is really bad that the San Jose Sharks have to play the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. The Kings will be missing high scoring Anze Kopitar. Goal Brother Wayne Simmonds along with Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll must carry the team.
Jonathan Quick has been a hot and cold goaltender and the Kings will rise and fall with him in net.
The Sharks can be a machine at times with their three revolving lines, but they commit too many mental penalties that give the opposition power plays. San Jose will have to avoid this to beat Los Angeles.
Rookie Logan Couture came up big the last two weeks of the season scoring at will. Goal Brother Jamal Mayers will join Thornton and Marleau on one of the most potent scoring lines. Goalies Niemi and Niittymaki are still shaky in net and that could be the weakest link in San Jose’s armor. San Jose in six.
The Detroit vs. Phoenix match up could be the most interesting in the west. It’s old school vs. new school, it’s old guard vs. the new kids on the block, this should be fun series to watch.
The Coyotes are the team nobody knows about. Phoenix gave a warning to the Red Wings by defeating the San Jose Sharks both games of season ending home and home series. Shane Doan and Ray Whitney are their stars along with big Illya Bryzgalov in net.
The Detroit Red Wings come up with the usual suspects Jimmy Howard has to be better in net. The Wings 2 line could be the key to this series, Holstrom, Helm, and Zetterburg could swing games in Red Army’s favor.
There will be howling in the desert with an upset by the Desert Dawgs. Phoenix in six.
The last playoff series the Anaheim Ducks take on the Nashville Predators. The Ducks can’t stop quacking with Goal Brother Ray Emery in net and elder statesmen Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
Cannot forget high flying Corey Perry buzzing around the net. Love to watch left winger Jarko Ruutu.
The Nashville Predators are the Darth Vaders of the league you know they are there because of the sound coming from that breathing machine and heavy walking. Goal Brother Joel Ward and First Nations
Brother Indian Jordin Tootoo number 22 should keep the Preds in every game. In net the new star of the southeast is goalie Pekka Rinne. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber help Rinne in Nashville’s defense.
The Ducks want to keep this dream season alive for Teemu and Saku. Anaheim in seven. 1 Period Scoring: Gray 6 (Ingram, McClean) 4:14.
Gary Norris Gray can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com