Backstrom For Vezina; Aeros Advance
First off, I’d like to thank you all for bearing with me over the last few days. My seven month old daughter had come down with something which necessitated my being gone for a few days. But never to fear…It’s the off season, so not a whole heck of a lot occurred over those last few days!
It’s been a big couple weeks for the Finnish netminder. First, his surgery was a huge success, leading Dr. Philippon to conclude that Backstrom will be ready to go in full in about 12 weeks. I don’t know all of the details, but apparently the cartilage damage was much less than the doctor had originally thought and the issues with Backstrom’s hip have been corrected by the surgery. Keep in mind that this is the same surgery that Marian Gaborik underwent during the season.
In addition to a successful surgery, Niklas Backstrom also became the third member of the Wild’s organization to be named a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end of the year award. The other two? Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz for the Jack Adams and Selke trophies respectively. This is not the first hardware that Backstrom has won as a member of the Wild. In the ’06-’07 season, his rookie season, he walked away with the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the league’s best save percentage and teamed with Manny Fernandez, winning the William M. Jennings Trophy, for the team with the least goals against.
Backstrom will have a tough time winning this award, however, as he will be going up against Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’s Steve Mason.
My personal thoughts on this is that Backstrom will come in second in the voting. Backstrom was certainly the Wild’s best player, and Josh Harding’s 3-9-1 record on the season certainly helps Backstrom’s cause, but let’s not forget that Harding posted extremely impressive stats during those 13 games as well. The way I look at it is like this:
- Without Mason, the Jackets miss the playoffs AND are likely to have a lottery pick in the top six.
- Without Backstrom, the Wild are likely to have a lottery pick in the top ten.
- Without Thomas, the Bruins probably wouldn’t have won the conference, but still likely would have made the playoffs.
To me, what that equates to is that Mason will get the Calder-Vezina sweep this season (and, honestly, I think there’s a pretty good argument for him getting the Hart as well, but that’s neither here nor there.) Backstrom had a phenomenal season and, let’s be honest…If the Wild make the playoffs, there’s no question that he’s up there for the frontrunner. The bottom line is that, as important as he was this season to our team, Mason was just a touch more important in their run.
Aeros Advance to Round Two
Leave it to the farm team of a Minnesota team to take every opportunity to give their fans more hockey. Houston won game seven against the Peoria Rivermen 5-2 on the strength of goals by Krys Kolanos, Marco Rosa and Maxim Noreau as well as empty netters by Corey Locke and Mitch Love. Goaltender Anton Khudobin was credited with the win, saving 19 or 21 shots.
Houston advances now to play the first seeded Milwaukee Admirals in what should prove to be an intriguing match up; at least from a front office point of view. Milwaukee is the farm team for Nashville, making it Craig Leipold’s current farm team vs. his former farm team. In other words, two candidates for the Minnesota Wild GM position (Tom Lynn and Paul Fenton) fighting it out for GM supremacy, though I doubt this series would be the deciding factor in one or the other getting the job.
Houston has three of the top 20 scoring leaders thus far for the playoffs, with Corey Locke third in scoring (4-5-9), Matt Beaudoin sixth (2-6-8) and Krys Kolanos sixteenth (2-4-6). Meanwhile, Khudobin is trucking along with a 4-3 record, a 2.45 GAA and a .906 Sv Pct, as well as one shutout. The most interesting stat? Corey Lock has 24 penalty minutes. Anyone care to explain that one to me??
Wild Sign Carson McMillian
The Wild also have signed another of their 2007 draft picks to an entry level deal. Carson McMillian of the Calgary Hitmen has been signed to a three-year, entry level deal. McMillian was in his fourth season with the Hitmen this season and recorded career highs in goals (31), assists (41), points (72) and penalty minutes (93). On top of that, he added seven game winners, five powerplay tallies and four shorties. It will be interesting to see how McMillian fares in Houston next season, as he is certainly an intriguing player for this organization (one that has rarely seen success at drafting in the later rounds).
There are two game sevens on the docket tonight and, honestly, does it get ANY better than a Game Seven in the NHL Playoffs? It’s win or go home for four teams and it’s going to be I-N-T-E-N-S-E!!! Now I typically shy away from predictions (for those unable to pick up on sarcasm through text, I’ll note it here), but I feel inclined to share my views on these two games.
2) Washington v. 7) NY Rangers – I made the observation a few days ago that, if any team is equipped to come back from a 3-1 defecit, the Capitals were certainly one of them. It took a few games for the Caps to realize that they can’t shoot at Lundqvist’s mattresses (and for Boudreau to realize that he can’t have Theodore in nets), but once the Caps got it figured out and started executing their gameplan, they started rolling. Torts will be back on the bench for the Rangers after his Game 5 hissy fit and, if I were a Caps fan, I wouldn’t relish sitting behind him because he’ll likely be packing for this one.
The Rangers Win If: They score first. If they can do that, they can tighten up around Lundqvist and clog up the neutral zone. In their three wins, the Rangers have proven that they can give the Caps fits when they do this. The Caps offensive stars need room to skate in order to be effective, and if the Rangers are protecting a lead, they can afford to tighten up and not give the Caps the space to skate
The Capitals Win If: They get to Lundqvist early and often. Not necessarily score, but pepper him with shots. He’s been pulled in two straight games and they can’t afford to let him gain any confidence. Crash the net, get in his way, do anything and everything they can to disrupt his game. If that means buzzing him and taking a goalie interference penalty early on, that’s what they have to do. Get in his head and this one’s over.
My Prediction: Washington 4 New York 2
(3) New Jersey Devils v. 6) Carolina Hurricanes – This series has been the epitome of even. Neither team has won more than one game in a row and only two of the six games have been decided by more than one goal. At the onset of the series, everyone expected this to come down to goaltending and, tonight, it will. Both Ward and Brodeur will be at their best and this game will be very, very tightly played.
The Devils Win If: Their offense shows up early. This team has an absolutely explosive offense. The problem is that they have been extremely inconsistent this series. One game, they’ll look like absolute world beaters; the next, they look like they couldn’t find the back of the net if it were the size of the broad side of a barn. If they come out of the gates ready to skate hard and ready to play, they’ll gain the advantage over Carolina. If they falter, though, Carolina will exploit this.
The ‘Canes Win If: Cam Ward plays like he did in Games 5 and 6. Ward is the catalyst for this team. If he’s playing well, this team gains confidence and can steamroll opponents. This team does not have the defense to protect Ward if he’s playing poorly and that can lead to a collapse if he is. A couple big saves early and Ward’s confidence will go through the roof. If this happens, it gets exponentially harder for the Devils to take ahold of this game and get any sort of momentum.
My Prediction: Carolina 3 New Jersey 2 (OT)