Friday, 29 April 2011

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2

Prediction time! The second round of the playoffs starts tonight, so I hope you're all looking forward to it as much as I am.

Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks vs Nashville Predators

I think the Canucks are going to go forward and get better and better after putting out their biggest rivals. However, the Preds have already shown they can deal with the flair teams. This one could be close but I think the Canucks will take it.

My Prediction: 4-2 Canucks

Detroit Red Wings vs San Jose Sharks

This one should be a fantastic series. The Red Wings dominated the Coyotes in the opening round and San Jose made fairly simple work of Los Angeles. Two sides with plenty of size, strength and skill are going to collide here and I can see this one going on longer than it did last year when San Jose beat Detroit in five. I believe the Red Wings will take this one in seven games.

My Prediction: 4-3 Red Wings

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The Capitals look very strong this year and should take this series. They out-played and out-fought the New York Rangers in the last round and I think they will do it again against a Tampa side that are just beginning to find their feet in these playoffs.

My Prediction: 4-2 Caps 

Boston Bruins vs Philadelphia Flyers

The Bruins are going to want to forget what happened last year against the Flyers at this same stage. Leading the series 3-0 they failed in each of the next three games to go forward. In Game 7 the Bruins were leading 3-0 only to see their lead vanish along with their Stanley Cup hopes as Philly went on to win the game and the series. This year I think the Bruins are better suited to going through and have the excellent Tim Thomas in net. In contrast, the Flyers are currently having major goalie issues. 

My Prediction: 4-2 Bruins

What do you think? Let's hear your predictions!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

NHL Stanley Cup 1st Round

The first round threw up only a couple of surprises as most of the teams I expected to progress went on to the second round. Below you can see all the final scores and how they matched up to my earlier predictions.

Western Conference:

My Prediction: 3 - 4 (Phoenix win)

Well I was miles off with this one. I thought that Phoenix would be able to push Detroit just as far this year as they did last but, when their best player (Bryzgalov) doesn't play well, the Coyotes don't win, despite the brilliance of Shane Doan throughout the series and the emergence of Kyle Turris from his season-long slumber. Detroit were by far the better side and deserved to go through.

My Prediction: 4 – 1

I wasn't too far off with this one. San Jose proved to be too much for LA, as we all thought they would. The Kings played some great hockey and, had they defended their 4-0 lead in Game 3 of the series, things might have turned out differently. Thornton, Marleau and Heatley were fairly non-existent to begin with but they are building up a head of steam right now and march on.

My Prediction: 1 – 4 (Ducks win)

Again, my predictive powers failed me. Despite a great series for Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne, the hardworking Nashville Predators had too much grit and determination for the highly skilled Anaheim Ducks. Despite being knocked out, Bobby Ryan can find some solace in having scored one of the best goals in Stanley Cup history.

My Prediction: 4 – 3

Spot on for this one. Probably the best series out of them all. Vancouver went 3-0 up and the Blackhawks came right back to tie it. Vancouver had goalie issues and even let in a short-handed goal at the end of Game 7 to take the game into overtime before they finally overcame the team that has put them out of the last two Stanley Cup playoffs. Vancouver have shown they have more about them this year and I fancy them to go far.

Eastern Conference:

My Prediction: 4 – 2

Washington proved to be too much for the Rangers who simply could not match the speed and power of the Capital's forwards. The Rangers did push Washington hard and, had a couple of bounces gone their way in overtime, we could have been looking at a much closer series. However, the better team did go through. Washington look dangerous.

My Prediction: 4 – 2

At one point I thought that the Bolts were on their way out. They were 3 – 1 down to the Pittsburgh Penguins after four games and that usually means only one thing. However, Steven Stamkos finally found his game in his first NHL playoffs and sparked a remarkable turnaround that ended with Tampa going through after a 1 – 0 win in Game 7. Pittsburgh will be wondering how this series got away from them.

My Prediction: 4 – 3

Nailed this one. With the history between these two sides, how could this series not have gone seven games? It would have been a travesty. It was another memorable seven games in the Bruins/Canadiens saga and, in the end, the better team went through for sure. The Bruins, now they have put out their biggest rivals, look very well placed to reach the Conference Final and even the Stanley Cup Final.

My Prediction: 4 – 0

I was way off with the series score, but not with the eventual winner. Philadelphia were without Chris Pronger for the early part of this series and it showed. However, on his return, the Flyers found their game and ground out some hugely important wins including a pivotal overtime win in Game 6 that allows them to move on. They will have to resolve their goaltending issues if they are to go as far as they did last year. Buffalo will be kicking themselves for letting this opportunity to progress to round 2 slip away.

I'll be back later to preview the next round!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Manchester United Favourites For Title

This title will not come as a huge surprise to many of you that follow the EPL but I think, even after today's 0-0 result with Newcastle United, that the Red Devils are pretty much guaranteed the Premier League title. Man Utd have always been a team that finishes the season very strongly and they find themselves ahead of Arsenal by seven points. Yes, Arsenal have a game in hand but that will only take them to within four points of United if they win (which, at the moment, is not exactly a guarantee). They also have to play United once more before the season ends and I can't see anything but a win for Fergie's men in that game.

How have United forced their way into the advantageous position they find themselves in? Well, I'm not entirely sure. United fans would be the first to tell you that they have not played fantastically well this season. They have been solid without being spectacular and they owe their league position in a big way to how bad Chelsea have been for parts of the season and how inconsistent Arsenal have been for the entire season. Liverpool were never anywhere near the top four and Manchester City still look a fair way from being a team that can challenge for the title over a full season.

Berbatov: Inconsistently brilliant.
You just have to look at the stats that the Manchester United squad have put up this season to see that it wasn't their best season. Wayne Rooney has only managed 10 goals and Javier Hernandez has only managed 11. To be fair to Hernandez, he has been a bit part player for Sir Alex in his first season and has looked very dangerous when he has played. Dimitar Berbatov leads the United scorers, and the Premier League's scorers with 21. While that sounds impressive, it is still five goals short of the total Rooney got for United last year and it is eight goals short of the tally Didier Drogba reached to take the Golden Boot last season.

United have also conceded more goals this season than they have in the previous five. Perhaps that is because they had to deal with injuries to key players at various times during the season.. Ferdinand and Vidic were both out for a while and they are two of United's best players.

Despite their struggles (OK they aren't really struggles...) they have still gotten the job done and you have to say that Sir Alex always gets exactly what he needs from his players. United have just about proven that they are the best in England once again.

However, what will United do when Van Der Sar is gone? What about when Giggs and Scholes eventually retire? Interesting questions that Sir Alex will need to answer...

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Can Carroll Power On?

Andy Carroll's brace against Manchester City could be the catalyst that takes him to the next level. Two very well taken goals that displayed Carroll's ability on the ground and in the air led Liverpool to a 3-0 win over The Citizens and he looked impressive throughout the game. He was a constant menace to City's back four and looks every bit the star striker we all know he can become. Built in the mould of a power forward, Carroll is helping to bring such players back into fashion like they were in the mid-to-late nineties.

Carroll can shoot, pass, head the ball, hold up the ball and has decent pace. We haven't seen a striker like that since Alan Shearer and the ultimately disappointing James Beattie.

Carroll's two goals on Monday night were his first two in a Liverpool shirt and were both very impressive. After a fantastic year in the Championship, where he scored 19 League goals to help Newcastle gain promotion back to the Premier League, Toon fans were hoping he would stick around and become their new talismanic number 9.

However, halfway into this Premier League season, after he had scored 11 goals, Liverpool came along and offered 35 million pounds for him. That is an offer that would be too difficult to turn down and off Carroll went. At the time I thought it was a bad move on Newcastle's part, but now I have had more time to think, I believe the move benefited all three parties.

Carroll with Suarez
Newcastle got the money they need to rebuild a squad that can challenge in the Premier League next season, Liverpool get a young striker full of potential and goalscoring talent and Andy Carroll gets to play in a fantastic squad alongside one of the best strikers in the world in Luis Suarez. It is the best place for him to be for his development into a world class player. 

Carroll already has his first senior goal for England and, for the first time since his return from injury, he looks set to power on and become a great player. It is important that Carroll stays in control of his emotions on and off the field and acts like a professional in the early part of his career so he can realise his potential. Too many young players are attracted to clubbing, drinking and pursuits off the field that can ruin their careers.

What do you think? Can he become the next Alan Shearer? England expects.

Monday, 11 April 2011

NHL Playoff Match-ups.

It took all 82 games, but we finally have the 16 teams that have qualified for this season's Stanley Cup playoffs. As per usual, the first round has thrown up some juicy ties so read on, find out who plays who and then give me your opinion on who will beat who.

Eastern Conference:

Washington Capitals (1) vs (8) New York Rangers

It is hard to look beyond the Washington Capitals in this series, especially considering the quality of players they have on their roster coupled with the fact that the Rangers recently lost Ryan Callahan to injury. However, The Caps threw away a 3-0 series lead against the 8th placed Montreal Canadiens last year proving that anything can happen.

Prediction: Caps 4 – 2 Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs (7) Buffalo Sabres

Philly have been very strong this year and the Sabres have not. Philly are bigger and more skilled than Buffalo so I can see this being a very one-sided series. Ryan Miller is going to have to be as good as he ever has been to get the Sabres through this one.

Prediction: Flyers 4 – 0 Sabres

Boston Bruins (3) vs (6) Montreal Canadiens

One of the most heated rivalries in Hockey comes to the fore here with probably the best first round match-up. Boston will be the favourites going into this one but that rarely matters when it comes to rivalries. Both teams will be pumped up for this one and I can't wait.

Prediction: Bruins 4 – 3 Habs

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

There still is no set date for Crosby's return so it looks like Pittsburgh might have to play one or two more games without their star player. However, they have been doing just fine without both Crosby and Malkin in recent weeks so they should be ok. Tampa will be looking to secure as many wins as they can before Crosby returns and, with Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos in the team, there is no reason why they can't knock the Penguins out in the first round.

Prediction: Penguins 2 – 4 Bolts

Western Conference:

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs (8) Chicago Blackhawks

Vancouver have simply dominated this year, even with all the injuries to their blue-line. Led by Kesler and the Sedins, Vancouver stormed their way to the President's Trophy and look set to finally destroy their reputation as perennial under-achievers in the playoffs. Luongo looks solid in net and the Canucks have a great back-up in Cory Schneider. Despite all that, the Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champs and they have dumped the Canucks out of the playoffs in the last two years so this will not be easy.

Prediction: Canucks 4 -3 Hawks

San Jose Sharks (2) vs (7) LA Kings

The San Jose Sharks will want to go one step further than they did last year and reach the Stanley Cup final. They are up against a tough first round opponent but they definitely have the edge. The Sharks' top line will be key in this series and I can't see how LA can match them offensively without Kopitar.

Prediction: Sharks 4 – 1 Kings

Detroit Red Wings (3) vs (6) Phoenix Coyotes

A rematch from last year's first round sees the Red Wings go up against the Coyotes again. Last year the series went seven games (with Detroit prevailing) and I see no reason why this year won't be the same. The Red Wings and the Coyotes shared two wins each against each other this year during the regular season and every game they play is a close one. The Coyotes will be out for revenge for sure and, as a fan, I have to believe they can do it.

Prediction: Red Wings 3 – 4 Coyotes

Anaheim Ducks (4) vs (5) Nashville Predators

The class and skill of the Ducks' top line will go up against the hard working Nashville Predators and I can't see past a series win for Anaheim. With Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan in such great form, the Ducks should progress to the second round despite the fact that Nashville took three of the four games between the two this year.

Prediction: Ducks 4 – 1 Preds


Give me your opinions.

Comment below!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Daily News: NHL and EPL

NHL News:

Torres suspended for four games – Raffi Torres has been handed a four game suspension for his hit on Jordan Eberle.

New stadium for Edmonton Oilers? Alberta Premier expects funding pitch – Exciting news for the Oilers. However, things are at a very, very early stage.

Race for final playoff spots rages on – The last games of the regular season should be fantastic.

Sens' GM Murray signs up for three more years – Fairly self-explanatory headline.

EPL News:

Chelsea players backing Torres and Ancelotti – John Terry has stated that the Chelsea squad are all behind their manager and star striker.

Park Ji-Sung is ready to get back to his best form for United – The hard-working winger is hoping he can play a big part in the Red Devil's remaining games.

Dalglish talks ongoing – Neither the FSG group nor King Kenny are rushing into a decision at Liverpool

Season for over for Liverpool skipper – Liverpool will be without their best player for the rest of the season.

Wenger putting his faith in youth – Wenger is pleading with the Arsenal fans to put their faith in his youthful squad. I think the fans are pleading with Wenger to buy in some experience and grit.

More news next week!

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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Blackpool Showing Their True Colours.

The boys in orange took the first half of this Premiership season by storm and at one point they were sitting in the top half of the League table looking at possible European qualification. Their attacking style of play took plenty of the Premier League's ever-presents, and pundits, by surprise, allowing The Seasiders to record victories over Liverpool (twice), Tottenham, Sunderland and Stoke. However, these big wins have been too few and far between in the second half of the season. The element of surprise has been lost and the honeymoon period is well and truly over.

The same Blackpool side that were looking to get into Europe are now staring at possible relegation as they sit just one place and one point above the relegation zone with games against Arsenal, Stoke, Tottenham, Bolton and Manchester United to come. A massive six point, must-win game against Wigan Athletic is coming up on the 16th of this month and you have to say that if they fail to win that, things will look very bleak indeed for Ian Holloway's side.

Why have Blackpool suffered so much recently? I think it's simple. Blackpool play a very attacking but very risky game. To highlight this, Blackpool have scored more goals than any club in the bottom half of the table with 45. However, they have the second worst GD (Goal Difference) in the Premier League with -18. Only bottom placed Wigan are worse. They have also conceded the most goals out of every club, letting in 59 goals in just 31 games. That is nearly 2 per game.

There is a reason why many clubs who get promoted to the Premier League play a conservative style of football in their first year at least. They are looking to win games by one goal or play for draws against the powerhouse teams by packing men behind the ball or flooding the midfield with bodies. In contrast, Blackpool have attacked in every game and, while that is admirable, it has not helped the club in the long run as they look to secure their Premier League status.

Holloway: Too inflexible?
I am loathe to blame managers for the player's performances but in this case, most of the blame has to lie with Ian Holloway. It is his system that the team is playing and it is his lack of flexibility that has cost the team greatly. When things started to go wrong for Blackpool, Holloway should have changed to a more conservative style of football. Instead, he continues to pile men forward, leaving gaps at the back which have been exploited on too many occasions this year.

I worry for Blackpool and I think they are favourites, along with Wolves and Wigan to go down. You have to admit that for the first half of the season The Seasiders were playing well beyond themselves and things were bound to get worse.

What do you think?
Comments below!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Daily News: NHL and EPL

More news for you!
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NHL News:

Miller won't play Tuesday, but is back on the ice – Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller did not practice with the team on Monday morning, nor will he play against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, but he did skate on his own.

Who can clinch tonight? - Interesting article that shows which teams can clinch playoff spots or division titles after Tuesday's results are in.

No Semin for Caps – Alexander Semin has been given some time to rest to recover from “his injuries from the past.”

Ranger's Callahan out with a broken ankle – Ryan Callahan is out for the rest of the season and the playoffs after breaking his ankle blocking a Zdeno Chara shot. This is a huge blow to the Rangers.

Sharks beat Kings and clinch Pacific Division title – This is the fourth straight Division title for the Sharks, who beat the Kings by a final score of 6-1. 

EPL News:

Newcastle boosted by Ben Arfa return – Talented French winger Hatem Ben Arfa has returned to training after recovering from a broken leg earlier in the season.

Higginbotham out for six months – After rupturing knee ligaments, Stoke City's Danny Higginbotham will miss six months of action, that will include the FA Cup semi-final.

Fergie would step down if asked – He doesn't have plans to retire yet, but Alex Ferguson insists he won't outstay his welcome.

Bruce concerned about loss of form – Black Cats' boss Steve Bruce is worried about his team's slide down the Premier League table.

More news on Thursday!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Daily News: NHL and EPL

 NHL News:

Phoenix and Atlanta on the brink of a move – The Coyotes and the Thrashers are both on the brink of moving. But which franchise will end up in Winnipeg?

Canucks win President's Trophy for the first time, poised to make more history too – The Vancouver Canucks are enjoying their best ever season.

Pronger out til playoffs – Flyers' captain, Chris Pronger is out until the playoffs while he recovers from hand surgery.

McCreary refs final game on Saturday – Veteran ref, Bill McCreary will officiate the final game of his 26 year refereeing career tomorrow night when the Caps take on the Sabres.

Wideman in hospital, no telling when he will return – Washington Capital's defenceman Dennis Wideman is in hospital suffering from a leg hematoma.

EPL News:

Saha to miss the remainder of the season – Everton striker Louis Saha will miss the rest of the EPL season after having undergone surgery.

Hodgson believes he never stood a chance at Anfield – Former Reds boss Roy Hodgson has stated that he never felt wanted at Anfield.

Arsenal join the hunt for Al Habsi – Arsenal have joined the race, along with Liverpool, Aston Villa and Celtic, to sign Bolton goalie, Ali Al Habsi. They desperately need him too.

Mancini warns Balotelli – Man City boss Roberto Mancini wants Balotelli to improve his behaviour on and off the pitch.

Spurs' Hutton out for a month – More injury woe for Spurs as right-back Alan Hutton is sidelined for a month with a knee problem.

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More news on Monday! 

Weekly Poll: NHL and EPL

Can Man Utd find a decent replacement for Van Der Sar?

Which Oiler rookie had the best year?