Heroes and goats are as much a part of playoff lore as actually winning a championship. And in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, there are players I just love to hate.
Many of the players on my list are critical in making selection to determine winners. Thus, in no particular order, let me rip a new one for:
DANNY BRIERE, C, PHILADELPHIA
Briere is a pest. Briere is a whiner, while he pokes and prods on the ice. Briere also talks plenty of trash on the ice.
In addition, he also seems to score goals at the most opportune times against your team.
Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby may not like anyone on the Flyers. I dislike Briere with such a passion... I wish he was on my favorite team.
So it came as no surprise when Briere twice tallied (the first one was disallowed) the overtime winner for the Flyers to top New Jersey in Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals opener.
As Briere goes, so goes the Philadelphia fortunes. He must be in the lineup to advance.
ALEX RADULOV, D, NASHVILLE
Did NBC’s color commentators take Radulov apart following Sunday’s Game 2 debacle at Phoenix!
Former All-Star Keith Jones laid down the hammer over his – 3 performance after the opening two games in the desert. Then Jeremy Roenick, who also knows a thing or two about putting the puck into the net, reminds us about Radulov’s qualifications, "The KHL MVP."
Now, to be fair, Radulov was only second in the voting for MVP while playing for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, but he is the Kontinental Hockey League’s career and single-season scoring leader after "defecting" on his contract with Nashville, leading to all sorts of international sanctions.
Following a strong series in a 5-game decision over Detroit, Radulov was one of my hidden reasons to watch the Predators advance to the Cup finals. Now? Hockey-tonk may be dropped into the hamper by the Coyotes.
Alexander Semin, RW, Washington
Capitals coach Dale Hunter stated, "just mixing up the lines," after placing one of his team’s leading scorers on the fourth line at practice following a Game 1 disaster to the New York Rangers.
Semin couldn’t get a shot on net, then took a pair of stupid penalties (one while the Caps were on the power play).
So I looked at the stats from the 7-game upset of defending champion Boston: three goals, sure, but a – 3 for the series. And the playoffs, defenses win, and with rookie goalie Braden Holtby looking anything like he did against the Bruins, so I’ll take the Rangers in five games.
ANYONE ON PHOENIX
Let’s face it. If the Coyotes make it to the Cup final, the entire NHL front office will look as purple as a woozle. And won’t the television rating be something – as in nothing.
Ever heard of Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette or Martin Hanzal? They all scored in a Game 2 win over Nashville, as the hockey mecca of Phoenix enters the week just two victories away from the Western Conference finals.
Doan is a legitimate star and goalie Mike Smith – no, not the jockey – simply plays his angles without the showmanship of the three Vezina Trophy finalists.
No doubt, commissioner Gary Bettman wants the Los Angeles-St. Louis series winner to play in the Cup final, especially after the early eliminations of Detroit, Chicago and Vancouver.
At least with realignment, the NHL could get two Eastern teams in the final. However, Nashville or Phoenix will prove to be…boring.
Capitals-Rangers: Washington is too banged up from the Boston series, then failed to generate much offense against the Rangers in the opener. NYR also didn’t generate many chances, but they did convert.
We told you in advance that Holtby was the catalyst to win the series over Boston. Now he may become the rookie scapegoat when the Caps problems are forwards unwilling to help out on defense.
Flyers-Devils: Again, goaltending is key. So when New Jersey took Game 1 into overtime, it was a coin flip situations.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who turns 40 in a few days, looked his age, but has always bounced back – the experience factor. Philly’s Ilya Bryzgalov (again) looked just as bad, but got bailed out by Briere.
Forget the hype. Look for the Devils to grind out a series victory.
Coyotes-Predators: I was convinced Nashville would become the Western wonder child, then they laid two eggs in Glendale, Ariz.
Sure, coming back from 2-0 down can occur, but the historical statistics state otherwise. The other problem with Phoenix: they are boring to watch.
Kings-Blues: A pair of historically poor franchises in the playoffs will see one get a shot at a finals berth. Under Wayne Gretzky, L.A. played for the Cup once (in 1993), only to have the Marty McSorley illegal stick incident ruin a possible 2-0 sweep in Montreal to open the series.
St. Louis, except for its first three seasons when the «expansion team division» got killed (0-12 record) by the Original Six division, has never truly played for the Cup.
Mid-season coaching changes rallied both programs into postseason play, but the current difference can be found in L.A.’s Game 1 win when Blues D Alex Pietrangelo his head driven into the boards by Dwight King.
Pietrangelo returned for one shift to kill a penalty – the Kings scored – then he returned to the dressing room. If he doesn’t return, television executives are already whispering about a L.A. vs. NYC Cup final. Whoa!
Take that, Dodgers-Yankees, Lakers-Knicks or Giants…well, never mind!
Scott Pritchard from PritchardsPicks.com and Gaming Today's Mark Mayer cover top pro baseball and pro basketball sporting events.
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