Haggerty's NHL Stanley Cup Playoff preview


Haggerty's NHL Stanley Cup Playoff preview

The time that hockey players call the real season has arrived. Its the best time of the year in the NHL.

Hockey clubs have built through 82 games of broken teeth, sprained knees, crippling concussions and ice bags aplenty to make it inside the top eight in their respective conferences, now the fun begins Wednesday night.

It comes down to guys doing their respective jobs on the ice and playing their roles. Whichever team does that best will hold the Cup overhead in June.

What did we say over and over and over last year? You take it one game at a time, one period at a time, and one shift at a time, said Tim Thomas, who was deemed the most valuable of all those playoff performers last season. It sounds clich but if we want a chance to do it again thats how we have to prepare.

You dont look at it like you need to win the Cup. You focus on the now and each individual game. We did a great job of breaking it down with that attitude, especially as the playoffs went on last year. Thats what helped us get through it.

Its amazing to think how much people talked about Vancouvers struggles this season yet they come away with the Presidents Trophy for the second straight season. Meanwhile four other teams harbor Cup dreams out West after putting together 100-point seasons (Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago) and perhaps the two most talented teams rounded out the elite eight with both the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings just getting into the bubble.

In the Eastern Conference things are just as hotly contested. Where the Bruins and Lightning somehow managed to get to the conference finals once the top two seeds had bowed out ungracefully, this year would be appear to be much different. The most plausible playoff run for the Bruins would force them to beat the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers in succession to get back to the Cup Finals, and that is a daunting postseason task.

Each time will espouse the one-game-at-a-time philosophy and the beards will be magnificent, but here are some postseason predictions to chew on as playoff hockey gets under way:

First round matchups in Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators. Winner: Rangers in 5. King Henrik and Rags finally get out of the first round.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals. Winner: Bruins in 7. Bruins have too much depth and Caps have too many defensive weak spots.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils. Winner: Devils in 6. Florida just happy to be in the playoffs for once.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers. Winner: Penguins in 7. The Penguins earn everything they get with a tough start to their road through playoffs.

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Bruins vs. Penguins: Penguins in 7. If healthy the Penguins are a slightly better team with the Bruins missing Horton.

Rangers vs. Devils: Rangers in 6. The Rangers are built for the playoffs and they prove it in tri-state grudge match.

Eastern Conference Finals
Rangers vs. Penguins: Penguins in 5. Battle-hardened Penguins can taste the Cup at this point.

First Round matchups in Western Conference
Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings. Winner: Kings in 6. Richards and Carter finally stay on Dry Island for the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks. Winner: Sharks in 5. Blues have been a nice regular season story, but have first round shocker written all over them.

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Winner: Blackhawks in 6. The Hawks are the better team and continue the underdog theme.

Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings. Winner: Nashville in 7. The Predators have chosen to go for broke this season and they start by knocking off a formidable Wings crew.

Western Conference Semifinals
Predators vs. Kings. Winner: Predators in 6. Nashville gets what they earned through this season, a chance to get to the Finals.

Sharks vs. Blackhawks. Winner: Sharks in 7. San Jose slacked through the year, but plays well when it counts in a bizarre reversal of fortune for them.

Western Conference Finals
Predators vs. Sharks: Predators in 7. Nashville gets their final hurrah with Weber, Suter, Rinne, Radulov and the rest of the Preds bunch along for the ride.

Stanley Cup Finals
Penguins over Predators in 6 games. Its time to once again crown Sid the Kid and his Penguins.

Conn Smythe Trophy winner
Evgeni Malkin

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven


Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

Cassius Marsh was brought to New England to help a depleted defensive end group and play in the kicking game. The Patriots wanted him badly enough that they parted with two draft picks -- a fifth and a seventh -- to acquire him in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season. 

Less than three months later, they've decided to part ways with the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. 

Marsh played in nine games for the Patriots this season, providing the team with an edge defender and someone with special-teams experience. He blocked a kick in Week 7 against the Falcons that earned him an enthusiastic attaboy from coach Bill Belichick. 

Coming off the edge, Marsh recorded one sack and 13 hurries. Against the run, he was used more sparingly, and he was one of the Patriots on the scene for Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter on Sunday. He played in just two snaps in Mexico City after missing the previous week's game in Denver due to a shoulder injury. 

Without Marsh the Patriots remain thin at defensive end. In order to help bolster that spot, the corresponding move the Patriots made to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster was to sign defensive lineman Eric Lee off of the Bills practice squad. 

Lee entered the league with the Texans last season as an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Lee has bounced on and off of the Bills practice squad this season since being released by the Texans before this season.

The Patriots got a good look at Lee during joint practices last summer with the Texans at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. In the preseason game with the Texans that week, Lee played 40 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he had two quarterback hurries. The Patriots have a history of snagging players they've practiced against, and with Lee, that trend continues

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game


Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.