Archive for the ‘2014 NHL Playoffs’ Category

Granlund winner

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Five minutes into overtime between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche last night, Mikael Granlund started to make the best play of his young NHL career. His linemates Zach Parise and Jason Pominville helped the Wild gain possession low, and room opened up behind the net. With Avalanche defender Jan Hejda draped all over him, he carried the puck east-west, at one point hanging on to it with one hand on his stick, took Hejda out to the far wall, where a combination of shoddy body position from his opponent and a fortuitous bounce left him with a clear lane to the net.

He then took the puck directly into traffic, stick-handled beneath the player waiting in the slot (Marc-Andre Cliche) and above Eric Johnson, carried the puck across the crease, and tucked his seventh shot of the night home on the far side.

With that, Granlund became just the fifth player ever to score his first NHL playoff goal in OT of a 1-0 win, and the Wild trimmed Colorado’s series lead to a manageable 2-1, instead of falling behind 3-0.

I wanted to explain what went wrong for Colorado (it wasn’t all Hejda’s fault), and I will below, but first here’s what made Granlund’s goal so special from an offensive standpoint:

* He got his legs moving behind the net and took the puck east-west, which forces defenders to rotate, and can create problems.

* He actually thought about cutting in with a wrap-around, feels he doesn’t have body position, but stays with it and stays strong on his skates.

* He was relentless. When he gets taken into the wall, he’s immediately looking for the puck, and immediately gets his legs moving again.

* The pure skill of the play. He showed great hands in tight and a nose for scoring goals. Not bad for a 22-year-old.

***

As it is with any goal, some players messed up. I wanted to briefly point out something that seems misunderstood when hockey people talk systems and positional play: you are not chained to any particular area of the ice, so when things break down, you’re allowed to leave. 

I’ve written about a system I like before here, which the Boston Bruins play. In every hockey game some players are going to get beat in the d-zone, so you want your team to be able to provide help when that happens. The idea is that you want to force the other team to make plays. Read the rest of this entry »

bracket

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Minnesota (4) vs. Colorado (1)

Prediction: Colorado in 6

Why: My biggest question mark with the Wild is in net. They’re heading into the post-season with a plan to lean on Ilya Bryzgalov, who’s been very good for them since they acquired him from Edmonton. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov is a career .913 goaltender (just below average for a starter), and that’s thanks in no small part to three seasons in Phoenix behind a tight defensive system that saw him post a .921, a .920 and another .921. Since then he’s played 101 games and has been borderline awful on the whole, which I tend to think is probably the goalie he actually is. His .908 save percentage in the post-season (38 games) isn’t all that stellar either.

The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL’s 4th highest-scoring team, scoring an average of three goals a game (okay, 2.99, whatever), which doesn’t bode all that well if your team isn’t super-comfortable with who’s between the pipes.

I do believe that the Avs are a gettable team. Certainly their abysmal possession numbers are concerning, and I’m not a huge fan of their d-corps (quite the opposite actually), but if Varlamov can give them the saves they need, I think they’ve got the grit and talent up front to get through the Wild in the first round. I particularly like that their core is so young. When that puck drops Thursday in Colorado, the Wild are going to need to weather what I think is going to be a pretty overwhelming initial storm.

Chicago (3) vs. St. Louis (2)

Prediction: Chicago in 6

Why: The St. Louis Blues are going to be brutal to play in playoffs. They have one of the NHL’s finest d-corps, legitimately good-to-great goaltending, and enough talent up front to make them tough to deal with.

But, they just happened to draw the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues “collapse” down the stretch really hurt their odds of winning the Cup.

Read the rest of this entry »