The NHL Playoffs are Here and You Should Be Watching

This is the prize that 16 NHL teams are vying for in the Stanley Cups.

This is the prize that 16 NHL teams are vying for in the Stanley Cups.

I’m not going to fabricate this; I love hockey but I don’t watch nearly as much of it as I would like. The exception is of course “playoff hockey.”

The National Hockey League Playoffs begin tonight and there is no better tournament in all of professional sports than these playoffs. That’s right, I said, “no better tournament.” You can tell me about the NBA Playoffs or the NFL Playoffs but neither of those has the consistent drama, aggression and spectacular play-making like the NHL Playoffs do.

If you aren’t a hockey fan then you don’t understand and I get that but I would encourage you to give it a try. Remember, these men aren’t racing up and down a court or field wearing shoes. They are on a sheet of ice with what amounts to a razor blade strapped to each foot. They run into each other at full speed, they take hard rubber pucks off of various body parts even when those pucks are traveling at upwards of 100 miles per hour.

They won’t just bang into each other either. They’ll also slam hard into walls and plexiglass. They’ll whack each other across the arms and wrists and ankles with their sticks in the hopes that one of the officials doesn’t see it.

There will be stitches mid-game and that player will return to the action because that’s what hockey players do. There will be teeth knocked out and there will be bumps and bruises and injuries that are described only as “upper body” or “lower body” injuries. Because that’s what hockey coaches do.

You’ll see coaches yelling at officials and coaches yelling at each other. There will be fans screaming, horns sounding and you’re going to see an octopus thrown on the ice in Detroit. in fact you’ll probably see several eight-legged creatures come flying from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.

What you are also going to see is great play and overtime thrillers because that what happens in playoff hockey. There will be flukey goals and quirky bounces but there will be amazing saves and eye-hand coordination that will blow your mind.

That’s playoff hockey and that’s why you should be watching.

SY

Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's team opens with the team he was a legendary player for in Detroit.

Here are my first-round picks.

Western Conference

Minnesota vs St. Louis, Wild in 7

Chicago vs Nashville, Blackhawks in 6

Anaheim vs Winnipeg, Ducks in 5

Vancouver vs Calgary, Canucks in 7

Semis – Blackhawks over Minnesota in 6, Ducks over Canucks in 5

Conference Finals – Blackhawks over Ducks in 7

Eastern Conference

Montreal vs Ottawa, Sens in 6

Tampa Bay vs Detroit, Lighting in 7

NY Rangers vs Pittsburgh, Rangers in 5

Washington vs NY Islanders, Caps in 5

Semis – Lightning Over Senators in 6,  Rangers over Capitals in 5

Conference Finals – Rangers over Lightning in 6

Stanley Cup Finals – Rangers over Blackhawks in 6

What you need to know:

A team from Canada has not hoisted the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. Prior to that year, a Canadian team had won the Cup in seven of the previous nine seasons… There are five Canadian teams in this year’s playoffs… The Conn Smythe Award is given to the best player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It can and has been won by a player on the losing team. The last to do this was Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere… There were no Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2005 due to the NHL Lockout…

 

 

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Sports in America Twenty Years From Now

Soccer
Soccer

Twenty years from now I see soccer becoming the dominant sport in America like it or not.

Welcome to 2035! Jump on board the time machine with me as I give you my thoughts on what sports in America will look like 20 years from now.

The biggest change overall will be the rise of soccer. If you read my column regularly then you know this just destroys me but it’s what I see happening. The world is a smaller place now because of technology and social media and the most recent World Cup proved just how crazy Americans are getting over soccer.

The vast majority of the fan base right now is kids, teens and twenty-somethings with smatterings of older adults thrown in here and there. If you advance things 20 years, that means the current fan base will be a prime mixture of fans in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

Soccer has long been treated as a red-headed step-child in America but with the fear police assaulting football, I see it growing by leaps and bounds.

Speaking of football, I have a gut feeling participation nationally will continue to drop as parents keep their kids from playing for health reasons. Far be it from me to tell any parent how to rule over their child but I believe much of what has happened to “make the game safer” has largely been blown out of proportion.

I also believe that college football will actually become bigger than the National Football League. I feel this way because the NFL will continue to lose viewers. Recent polls have shown that men over 50 is the largest demographic that is no longer watching pro football.

That speaks volumes because if they stop watching then their kids will become less interested as well. The pro game in general has become a shell of its’ former self with the violence of the game all but removed and defense becoming an after-thought as everything favors offenses today.

If the NFL moves teams to Europe I also predict that will quicken the pace of its’ demise.

LeBron

The NBA will need to have more personalities twenty years from now as LeBron will be long gone from the court.

My crystal ball sees the National Basketball Association staying popular but it faces some challenges. First and foremost the game must have personable stars that provide the face of the league. LeBron James is clearly that face today but Michael Jordan set the bar so high I wonder if it is unreachable. I have yet to see a player with Jordan’s ability to be an assassin on the court and be friendly off it has been unmatched.

I also think the NBA will shorten its’ season. We are seeing a rise in star players spending more time on the bench for rest and for minor injuries. Fans will demand this going forward.

Major League Baseball will continue to see Latin players flood the rosters. This is not a bad thing in any way. MLB’s biggest issues will be keeping the games as short as possible as well how to deal with pitching injuries that are on the rise. Don’t be surprised if MLB contracts a few teams in an effort to keep competitive balance high.

I also see contraction in the National Hockey League where some teams just aren’t filling seats. The NHL will finally have some personalities and players that will draw fans in that haven’t normally been there in the past. The game itself is in good shape, but it will need to do more to draw in those fringe fans and I think it will once Gary Bettman is no longer the commissioner.

Al in all, sports will continue to dominate our lives but I see changes coming and for me personally I’m not real crazy about them.

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The Casino Review sportsbook blog provides news and analysis on the online sports betting industry, helping experienced and recreational bettors get the most out of their online betting experience.

Despite All of Its’ Problems, the NFL Remains …

NFL Map
NFL Map

The National Football League has a firm grasp on the nation's sports' attention.

Trying to knock off the popularity of the National Football League is like Robert Duvall’s space shuttle crew in the movie “Deep Impact.” No matter how hard they tried, the crew was unable to completely knock the asteroids off their collision-course with Earth. Oh sure, they were able to deflect an asteroid but a great deal of damage was still done.

This must be how the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball must feel when trying to slow the momentum of pro football in this country.

No one in all of sport has a better playoff than the guys in the National Hockey League. No one in all of sport has a more decorated history than does professional baseball and no one in sport has the glory of individuals like the NBA does. Yet despite all of that, the National Football League continues to run roughshod over the other three.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for all of his faults and sometimes ridiculous decisions, has made the NFL into the only year-round professional sport. Even with its’ length, baseball can’t hold the attention of the fan base for 12 months. The NHL or NBA? Not even close.

McDonald

Ray McDonald is but another NFL player who has screwed up yet the NFL continues to thrive.

Strangely enough, the NFL also leads in the dubious category of ‘most likely to have criminal and otherwise bad behavior.’ Look at the developments over the last few weeks… Players in Pittsburgh busted for smoking marijuana in the car just hours before they departed for game… Wes Welker of Denver got his 3rd concussion since November yet that was overshadowed by his four-game suspension for amphetamine usage… Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay was banned for six games and fined $500,000 for a DUI in which he tested positive for a number of drugs… Just hours after Goodell laid out the new penalties for domestic abuse which included a six-game suspension followed by a lifetime ban, the Niners’ Ray McDonald was arrested on domestic assault charges.

I didn’t even mention Josh Gordon in Cleveland who announced yesterday that he was going to be a car salesman while on suspension and  I didn’t even mention Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones drunk-dialing Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson either.

All sports’ leagues have problems. I’m not suggesting any are free of them. Baseball has PED problems and basketball had Donald Sterling and hockey has a goon mentality it is trying to remove. Those things really do pale in comparison to the excessive issues of the NFL. From domestic violence and drunk driving off the field to the crackdown on illegal holding on defense, the NFL is essentially a dysfunctional family that relies on its’ popularity and wealth to remain at the top.

For all of the problems this opening weekend of the NFL will once again reign supreme over anything else that might be on television. Stadiums will be filled and merchandise will be sold in ridiculous amounts. Fans will check their smartphones and tablets and computers not for emails or texts or tweets but to see how their fantasy football teams are doing.

I honestly don’t know what it will take for the NFL to stumble to the point where it loses popularity or lags behind another major sport. Fans are tired of the criminals being in uniform and office personal getting in trouble but they continue to watch anyway. The NFL is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object rolled into one.

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Favorites for the 2015 Stanley Cup

Cup
Cup

Here are your favorites for the 2014/2015 NHL Stanley Cup.

As I am always apt to do once a season in one of America’s major sports comes to an end I like to give you the opportunity to see the favorites for next year. Why do I do this so far out? There are a few reasons but one of my favorite is that when you throw some money at a long-shot, especially in a sport like hockey, the excited feeling of knowing you ‘called this’ so much earlier is hard to beat.

We have a really interesting scenario in the National Hockey League right now because the Los Angeles Kings have won two of the last three Stanley Cup titles while the Chicago Blackhawks have won two of the last five Cups. Only Boston has thrown a cog into that pattern.

Will one of those three teams hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2015? Let’s look at the favorites.

Chicago 7/1 – The Blackhawks remain one of the most talented teams in the league with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford and are rightfully the top favorite to win the Cup. Because the Western Conference is the more competitive of the two conferences right now, the mission for Chicago is more difficult than it is in Boston. Still, I really like the Blackhawks’ chances and you should too.

Rask

Can Tuukka Rask lead the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Finals?

Boston 17/2 – The Bruins have to be the most disappointed team of the group of favorites simply because of the way their season ended. The Bruins were dumped in the second of the Eastern Conference Playoffs by their rivals in Montreal. Only one team ends its’ season successfully but for Boston, much more was expected of this team.

The core remains in Boston led by goalie Tuukka Rask and they will again challenge in the Eastern Conference but what they do this offseason could keep me from pulling a trigger on them right now.

LA Kings 9/1 – Some teams are built for the regular season and some are built for the playoffs. The Kings are clearly built for the postseason. As long as this team remains healthy and Jonathan Quick is between the pipes they will be right there in end. This is a rare team in that they truly love to compete as illustrated by their comebacks in the earlier playoff series. That fact alone makes me really like this team to repeat as champions.

Pittsburgh 10/1 – At the time of this writing the Penguins are still without a head coach. GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were both relieved of their duties following another poor playoff showing. New GM Jim Rutherford has shown great patience in the hiring process but he needs to make a move soon with the NHL Draft and free agency on the horizon.

As long as the Pens have Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin, they’ll be a threat but both need to perform better in the playoffs. Right now, I’d stay away from the Penguins.

Anaheim 12/1 – The Ducks have to be smarting from their season as hard as anyone. They led 3-2 over their crosstown rivals the Kings in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs and eventually lost the final two games and the series. Legend Teemu Selanne has moved on but Ryan Getzlaf remains to lead the NHL’s best scoring offense. Jonas Hiller is expected back in the net which gives the Ducks a great shot to improve on last year’s season. Ultimately, do you trust their defense?

Long-shots I Like…

Detroit 22/1 , Montreal 20/1, Minnesota 18/1

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Kings Look to Win Stanley Cup at Home

casino-211

The New York Rangers were able to extend the NHL Stanley Cup Finals to Game 5 by avoiding the sweep on Wednesday with a 2-1 win at home over the Los Angeles Kings.

The Rangers are now back on the road, but have had success away from home in this postseason. The Rangers prior to Wednesday night’s win might have felt as though the bounces have not been good to them during the Stanley Cup Finals.

The hockey gods paid the Rangers back and more however on Wednesday.

The Kings saw two of their shots stop right on the goal line. That included one with only a minute left in regulation.

Los Angeles played its best game of this series on Wednesday peppering Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers goalie with 41 shots. However, the bounces this time when the Rangers’ way.

The two teams now will meet Friday night in Los Angeles with the Rangers once again in an elimination game.

Having avoided the sweep in the finals, the Rangers are now taking aim at being the first team to rally from three down in the Stanley Cup Finals to win since World War II.

The Kings have been rallying to win series’ this season during the playoffs. Los Angeles rallied from 3-0 against San Jose in the first round and 3-2 down in the second round against Anaheim.

New York also rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 games. In three of their four wins, the Rangers were on the road in that series.

The Game 5 odds on Bovada and sportsbook.com have Los Angeles favored at -170 and the Rangers sitting on +160.

On betonline and topbet, the total for Game 5 is still on 5 goals. With two consecutive low scoring games, the UNDER was moved to being the favorite at -120.

The OVER could have some value since both goalies made a number of superb stops in Game 4. If the puck is bouncing differently in Game 5, the score could be high, making a winner of the OVER.

The current money line has Los Angeles at -170 with New York on +160.

The goal total is 5 with the UNDER at -120 and the OVER +100.

The puck line shows New York at +1.5 for -200 and Los Angeles at -1.5 for +175.

The Stanley Cup Finals will end tonight in Game 5 as the Kings will use their home ice advantage to lift the Cup high in the air for their second NHL Championship in the past three seasons.

I like the Kings 5-2.

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Kings Look to Sweep Rangers in Stanley Cup Finals

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Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals will be played tonight at Madison Square Garden in the Big Apple. The New York Rangers have their collective backs squarely against the wall as they trail the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in the series and the Kings would win the Cup tonight with a victory.

The Kings are ready to haul out the broom and sweep the Stanley Cup Finals for their second NHL title in three seasons.

Los Angeles came into the series as the favorite and has done what was needed to win. On Monday, the Kings won Game 3 in MSG by the score of 3-0 to take their commanding 3-0 lead.

If the Kings can win tonight, it would be the first time the Stanley Cups Finals was swept since 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings won 4 straight over the Washington Capitals.

However, odds makes at Bovada and betonline are not yet ready to hand the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles. The two bookmakers have New York as the favorite at -135, with the Kings sitting on +125.

On topbet and sportsbook.com the total for goals is sitting on 5, with the UNDER slightly favored at -115.

The Rangers led at different times in both Games 1 and 2 before losing in overtime. During Game 3, the Rangers dominated during stretches of the game, but Jonathan Quick stopped everything the Ranger shot at him.

While in most other sports, a lead of 3-0 in a series in likely insurmountable, teams in the NHL have rallied from that deficit.

Los Angeles did just that in the first round this season of the playoffs versus the San Jose Sharks.

The price offered for Los Angeles at +125 is a very good one. The big unknown is what the Rangers have, if anything left in their tank to come out and play hard.

Props are available as well for the game. Those include if the Kings or Rangers will score in the game’s first 10 minutes with the favorite – no – sitting on -130.

There is also a prop bet on whether Game 4 goes to overtime with yes sitting on +280.

Prior to the series starting, the OVER looked like the play until it became adjusted. Despite a score of 3-0 in Game 3, a number of chances were available for more goals and the OVER remains a strong play.

Picking a straight up winner in Game 4 is a much tougher choice. The Kings would love to end the series tonight, but the Rangers likely will come out in front of their fans full of pride and could pull off the win.

I like the OVER and if I had to take a winner, I like New York at home.

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Belmont Fallout Plus the Stanley Cup Finals

Coburn
Coburn

California Chrome Co-Owner Steve Coburn's rant wasn't sportsmanlike, but he was absolutely right.

California Chrome became the 13th horse in the last 38 years to fail to win the Triple Crown but the real story was not the horses but California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn. Obviously upset in the moments following his horse’s failed attempt at glory, Coburn said of winner Tonalist that “it’s the coward’s way out.”

What Coburn was referring to was the fact that Tonalist did not race in either the Kentucky or the Preakness Stakes. Therefore he was clearly the fresher horse. While I agree that Coburn’s rant immediately following his horse’s loss made him look like a sore loser, I also believe he is 100% correct. California Chrome in recent weeks has been dubbed ‘America’s horse’ in large part due to the fact he was purchased for just $10,000. This is considered chump change in the high stakes word of horse racing.

Also part of the aura around the horse was the fact that his owners seemed to be ‘salt of the Earth’ people which appealed to the common folk among us. It’s in that vein that I understand Coburn’s passion and emotion. Could he have chosen a better venue and a more reserved style in airing his thoughts? Absolutely he could have, but then he wouldn’t have been himself and that was part of the appeal of who he is.

His point is true though. Horses who run the first two legs of the Triple Crown are at a decided disadvantage when compared to horses who run only one or none of them. People not familiar with horse racing often struggle to understand just how massive of a toll these races take on the individual horses. They are not like human beings who can recover after a few days. They need substantially more time.

Coburn’s point has not only scientific evidence behind it but also solid pieces of true sportsmanship as well. Despite the way things came off, I hope the people who run the sport strongly consider what Coburn is saying.

Lundqvist

The Rangers are down 0-2 but Henrik Lundqvist is the one guy who can bring them back.

Rangers Head East Down 0-2

You’d be extremely hard-pressed to find to opening games of any Stanley Cup Final as exciting as these two have been. In the opener, the Los Angeles Kings won 3-2 after falling behind 2-0 in the first period. As they climbed back into the game, the Kings peppered the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist repeatedly through the third period before they finally solved Lundqvist late in the final period.

In game two, the Rangers jumped to a 2-0 lead again and would actually have leads of 3-1 and 4-2 before finally dropping the contest in the second overtime period.

Entering this series I picked LA to win in six games. I felt their offensive firepower and a better than average Jonathan Quick would be enough to beat the Rangers despite Lundqvist being a notch above Quick. In reality, the series has been much closer than even I anticipated and I don’t think this series is over by a stretch.

I think the overwhelming athleticism by the Kings has been the difference but the Rangers have countered with speedsters Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello creating great opportunities. If the Rangers can even things up in Madison Square Garden then I think it’s an absolute toss-up heading back to LA.

The major difference between hockey and all other sports is the goalie position. While Lundqvist cannot win this series on his own, he can make enough of a difference to keep his Rangers in it.

I still feel like the Kings will take home the Cup but look no further than 2011 when Boston was down 0-2 to Vancouver before they came back to win it.

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