STANLEY CUP Preview

StanleyCupFinal2018-1014x570


Memorial Day in the United States will see the traditional meeting of ‘East v West’ facing off, as the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals gets underway with the Western Conference Champions Vegas Golden Knights taking on the Eastern Conference champions the Washington Capitals. In what will be one of the most fascinating finals in recent times, one thing is for sure about this year’s final and that is a new name will be etched onto ‘Lord Stanley’s’ trophy with both sides looking to land their first-ever Stanley Cup triumph.

The two conference champions met twice over the regular season, with the Golden Knights prevailing both times as they won 4-3 on Christmas Eve in Washington and then shut the Capitals out 3-0 in Las Vegas back in early February. Something that both sides have shown in their quest for the cup is not having any ‘fear’ and with the two sides facing different sorts of adversity in their respective playoffs runs, as the two have come through it all.


 


1200px-Vegas_Golden_Knights_logo.svgFor the Vegas Golden Knights, they had to go through two teams with plenty of Stanley Cup experience and Cup final credentials to boot in the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. There is an argument to say that the playoffs in the Western Conference side of things have been rather poor, with two of the first round matches seeing ‘clean sweeps’ happening and have occurred more over the past three years.

The flip side to that argument is that since the Lockout season of 2005, the West have lifted the Stanley Cup more often than their Eastern counterparts have, as the West hold a 7-5 advantage, though this was prior to the Detroit Red Wings  moving over to the East due to the alignment change in 2012-13 season. This year though sees one of the most unpredictable Stanley Cup Finals for a long time and hasn’t a clear odds-on favourite. 

For what has seen a number of first’s for the new boys to the National Hockey League this season, the Golden Knights opened up their first-ever playoff series at home at the T-Mobile Arena against the former champions from 2012 and 2014 in the Los Angeles Kings. It has to be said, that the series was a let-down and lacked any real drama at all, with the only note of the short series being an overtime winner in game two for Vegas. 

After what was a walkover against the Kings in the first round, the Knights then headed north of Los Angeles and another Californian side in San Jose. The series started much in the same vein as the previous one for Vegas, as they demolished the Sharks 7-0 in the opener and looked like the home side was going to be too strong.

Game two saw Logan Couture of San Jose netting a game-winner in second overtime to inflict a 4-3 loss on the Golden Knights before Vegas returned the favour in game three with a 4-3 win in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead. A shutout by San Jose tied the series at 2-2, however, two strong performances by the Golden Knights in games five and six culminated in a 28-save shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury and moved the Vegas Golden Knights to their first Western finals.

The Western Conference finals pitted the Golden Knights against another side for who the conference finals was a new experience as well, in the Winnipeg Jets. The remaining Canadian side in these playoffs took the series opener at home with a 4-2 win, while in game two the Golden Knights hit back with a 3-1 win as the series shifted to ‘Sin City’.

Winnipeg then found themselves coming up against a brick wall in Marc-Andre Fleury and saw the Canadian goalie proving to be a game and series winner on his own with a couple of brilliant performances between the pipes.

Back to back wins at the T-Mobile Arena saw the Golden Knights needing just one more victory to reach their first Stanley Cup final and they would have to close the series out on the road in a noisy and passionate Winnipeg building. A boisterous crowd in Manitoba was silenced when Alex Tuch got Vegas on the board early until the Jets drew level late on in the first through Josh Morrissey.

Midway through the second, Ryan Reaves scored what turned out to be the series-clinching goal for the Golden Knights, while Fleury was forced into making some important saves late on in the game to deny Winnipeg a tying goal and eliminated them from this years postseason. 

Vegas has gone through these playoffs spreading the goals around and had made it very much a team effort in their run. Ex-Florida Panthers Center Jonathan Marchessault has been a key guy for the Golden Knights as he leads the way for his team with 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) and has a plus/minus of +10 in their 15 games so far.

Meanwhile, right-winger Reilly Smith has posted 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists) and former Columbus Blue Jackets Center William Karlsson has also been outstanding for the Western champions, with the 25-year old Swede putting up 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) and +9 too. It hasn’t just been their attack that has posted good numbers for Vegas, their defence has been rock solid too. It has seen them conceding just 27 goals, yet on the attack, the defence has tallied 16 strikes and accounts for 38% of the Knights goals.

Of course, though, the standout player of the postseason has been that of Marc- Andre Fleury between the pipes for his side, with Fleury posting a save percentage currently of (.947%) and also leads the way in the goalie standings with four shutouts. 


1200px-Washington_Capitals.svg

 

In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals will play in what is only their second Stanley Cup final in franchise history, following a 20-year wait since their last visit in the finals which ended in a sweep for the Detroit Red Wings back in the 1997-98 season. 

Following a stuttering start to their playoffs campaign that almost saw them facing an elimination game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, the Caps’ bounced back with four straight wins to set-up a meeting with their arch-rivals in the Pittsburgh Penguins. In what turned out to be an unsurprisingly physical and brutal matchup between the sides, it saw the Capitals Tom Wilson being highlighted following a couple of ‘highly questionable’ big hits towards the heads of a couple of Penguins players in the space of two games. 

In game two, a high shot on Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin saw Wilson claiming after the game that he was ‘just backchecking’ on the hit, while the following game saw him making contact again to the head of another Pittsburgh player, this time in Zach Ashton-Reese and left the Penguins man with a broken jaw and concussion. The league handed out a three-game suspension and saw him forced to miss the rest of the series.

Washington though didn’t need him going forward, as they finally put their hoodoo against their rivals to bed. After suffering at the hands of Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury over the years, it saw another Evgeny coming to the fore in Kuznetsov, but this time, it was in the red of Washington. An overtime winner by the Russian in game six saw the Capitals advancing on to the Conference finals. 

In the Conference finals, they faced the best side in the Eastern conference in Tampa Bay and saw an epic seven-game series between themselves and the Lightning. Both sides failed to win either of their home games in the first four games of the series and we had to wait for game five before a team could finally win on home ice.

Tampa Bay took a 3-2 series lead with them to D.C, but Braden Holtby would prove to be the key man late on in the series for Washington, as the netminder produced a couple of stunning performances to deny the Lightning and forced a game seven back in Tampa, where the Capitals defeated the Bolts’ to progress to the finals. 

Looking at the numbers posted by Washington, Evgeny Kuznetsov is the Cap’s top scorer with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) to his name, while his fellow countryman in Alex Ovechkin, has 22 points (12 goals and 10 assists) as the two Russian have led the Capitals in the points scoring. Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson have backed them up with 16 points each, while T.J Oshie has 15 points in the postseason with 7 goals and 8 assists.  

This final has a lot of interesting subplots to it. Such as, who will lift Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in their respective franchise’s history. Will Vegas become the first-ever expansion team to win the cup in their Inaugural season? – Can Washington break the ‘Fleury’ jinx that the netminder has over them in the playoffs gone by, plus can Fleury become the first goalie since Billy Smith of the New York Islanders sides of (1980-82) to win three straight Stanley Cups?

One thing for sure though, it should be a great finale to the NHL season and hopefully not a dull affair. 

Advertisements

Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Cup – update

The Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Cup for 2018 in Ostrava, Czech Republic is rapidly drawing to a close and after eighteen games of Para Ice hockey action, it’s time to take a look back at the tournament so far. At the time of this blog, the Final itself and the two semi-finals will not have taken place yet.

                    ca  us  EUUN0001

Day one of the ‘Elite Division’ saw an absolute cracker of a contest to get the World Cup off to a bang, as the North American neighbours in Team Canada and the United States played out a seven-goal thriller, with the nation from the ‘Stars and Stripes’ pipping their foes north of the border to a 4-3 win.

It saw the Canadians lead 2-1 after the opening period of play, but the Americans reversed that scoreline in the second stanza to take a 4-2 advantage into the third period. Canada’s Nandini Sharma made it a tense finale with 51.3 seconds left in the game, but the US managed to hold onto the win and draw first blood in the tournament.

Canada didn’t have time to dwell on the loss, as they played the second of their two-games of the day against Team Europe and saw the side from the ‘Great White North’ firing on all cylinders with a thumping 13-0 thrashing to split their opening group games. Christina Picton led the way for the Canadians with a hat trick, while Raphaelle Tousignant, Emilie Robitaille and Jessica Matassa all collected a brace of goals in the rout.

Day two saw the US playing twice, as following their 5-0 in their first game against the European side, it then saw them facing off again against the Canadians and had a different outcome this time around to the previous day. A lone goal was by Canada’s Raphaelle Tousignant in the second period was the difference between the two and saw a split in the Round Robin series between the two hockey powerhouses.

On day three, Europe suffered losses in both their games against the US and Canada. It didn’t see the European side getting off to the best of starts in either game to be honest, as the first match saw the Americans taking an early four-goal lead with less than eight minutes played and had the side looking to stem the flow of goals being shipped. Much to the relief of the European side, they managed to see the rest of the first period out and all of second too and had them entering the final period trailing by those four early goals. However, the US made sure that they weren’t going to be blanked for another period of play and they managed to score a fifth for a 5-0 win.

Much like in their previous game at the start of the day against the United States, Europe once again found themselves behind the eight-ball pretty early on, as they fell four goals behind yet again in the first period. The Canadians managed to find the back of the net once in the second stanza to lead 5-0 going into the third and the final period. Canada found the twine four more times to win 9-0 and finished top of the standings with a goal difference of plus 22.

Saturday will see a deciding game between Team USA and Team Canada in the World Cup final, as it will also be a rematch of four years ago when the Americans lifted the first-ever World Cup thanks to a devastating performance by Kelsey DiClaudio who netted four times to beat the Canadians in their own backyard.

elite


This tournament has also presented a chance for players to grow their skills alongside the Main Event of the Women’s Elite Division, as the ‘Developmental Division’ has been introduced at this World Cup and has been an entertaining part to this tournament as a whole.

As said previously, this year’s World Cup features over ten countries taking part in this festival of Women’s Para Ice Hockey with eleven countries alone being involved in the Development Division.

 

Great Britain was able to ice two sides in this tournament, with d the GB team dubbed ‘GB Fangs’ fall to the Norwegians 5-0 in their opening game. GB Claws’ suffering a similar fate to what the ‘Fangs’ did, with a Finnish/Swedish mixed side handing the British side a 4-2 loss.

Meanwhile, the hosts were one of three joint sides in competition as had the Czechs joining forces with Croatia and in their first outing played out a 1-1 with the Netherlands.

The remaining game of the day saw the three mixed side, as a team made up of Australians and Scottish players recorded not only a 2-0 win but registered a shutout against France in the process.

 

Day two saw Norway and Holland playing out a thrilling game with the Norwegians edging the Dutch 4-3 to maintain their 100% start to the tournament. 

For the Great British duo, it saw both ‘Claws’ & ‘Fangs’ recording 2-1 victories in their respective matches. As the Fangs defeated the hosts and also saw the ‘GB Claws’ side beating the Aussies and Scottish side by the same score. 

Another side with an unbeaten record coming in the second day was the mix of players from Finland and Sweden, as the Nordic brotherhood racked up a comprehensive 9-0 win over France to remain perfect.

 

On the third day, Norway won 3-1 over the Croatia/Czech Republic team to move on to 6pts, while GB Fang’s shutout the Netherlands 1-0 to and trail Norway by two points in the standings.

The Great Britain Claws picked up a 2-1 victory over France, while the Nordic duo of Team Finland/Sweden remain with an unblemished record of three wins from three as they beat the Australia/Scotland squad 5-1.

Schedule:

GOLD MEDAL GAME / World Cup Final:

Canada v USA


 

Women’s World Cup Para Ice Hockey is coming

26219277_144799779492086_6652269838032147041_n

This week sees the start of the second Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Cup taking place in Ostrava, Czech Republic, as this competition will boast more than 10 countries participating in this event. The organisers and players as well, have spoken off trying to expand the competition and in doing so highlight the Women’s game to which it is has attracted some attention from around the world as part of the Agitos Foundation. The Agitos Foundation is the leading global organisation that helps to changes lives and make everything contributing to an inclusive society for all with Para Sports being a key element in that plan.

The inaugural competition took place back in 2014 at Brampton, Ontario, Canada and on that occasion, it saw the United States of America being crowned the first World Cup winners of the tournament, as they beat the Canadians 5-1 in the final. Back then it saw the World Cup being played between three sides, with USA, Canada and European side.

At this year’s event, it sees the competition having two separate divisions taking place over the course of the six-day event. There is the Women’s Elite division, which is the same three sides as last time, with the best players from the US, Canada and Europe facing off against each other twice in a round robin style group, and where each side will have one day where they play two games. 

Meanwhile, the other side of things, sees a ‘Women’s Development Division’ running alongside the ‘Elite division’ of the competition with 8 teams battling it out. The hope of the development division it to give those participating a chance to learn and gain experience for future events and expand the game globally and the World Cup as a whole moving forward in the future. 

Countries taking part are Australia, France, Netherlands, Scotland, Norway and also two sides that have joint countries in the lineup – with the home nation in the Czechs teaming up with Croatia, while Finland and Sweden make up a Scandinavian duo. The remaining two sides in the division are from Great Britain and split into two teams with GB Fangs and GB Claws. 

On Saturday there will be an All-Star game taking place, with those players involved in the development division set up getting some ice time and also see the tournament culminate in two semifinals with the losers playing a Bronze medal game, while the winners advance to the Gold Medal game.