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Top 5: Players to Watch in the Blues/Kings Series

After tonights game seven match ups (Florida & New Jersey, New York & Ottawa), we’ll have a full schedule for the Western Conference Semifinals, including the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. This is going to be an incredibly well-matched series (although LA won the season series 3-1), and hockey fans should enjoy the fast pace, low scoring games that are bound to ensue. While watching (on CNBC, i’m sure), I’ve got a few guys to keep an eye out for:

1. Andy McDonald, 10, St. Louis: I think it was apparent in the first round against San Jose that little McDonald (listed as 5’11…yeah, right) has quite a bit of speed. Scoring 4 goals in the first round and racking up 8 points total to lead the team, I can’t see him slowing down anytime soon. Look for him to be one of few who can get something by Jonathan Quick. Speaking of…

2. Jonathan Quick, 32, Los Angeles: That Vezina nod wasn’t a fluke – 26-year-old Quick is here to stay. His 1.95 GAA may seem in like with the Blues tender tandem, but it was through 69 games (Jaroslav Halak played 46, Brian Elliot, 38). Not to mention, he just held the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks to 8 goals in 5 games, maintaining a 1.59 GAA. He’s not your average goalie.

3. Jeff Carter, 77, Los Angeles: After a deadline deal sent former Columbus Blue Jacket Carter to LA for Jack Johnson and a first-round pick, it was apparent that what Carter needed wasn’t a big contract, but a set of line mates to help push him (Mike Richards, Dwight King). It may not have been his best year (21 G, 13A), but he hasn’t had a chance to explode in the playoffs yet. He will.

4. Scott Nichol, 12, St. Louis: Go ahead, call me crazy. Nichol is not cut out to be a first line top scorer, and he knows that. Which is why he is so solid on the fourth line. Averaging 9:19 on ice time (mind you – he’s a fourth liner!), this little guy is not afraid to make big plays in the defensive end, and is not afraid to bring the puck down the ice, regardless of who he’s facing. Plus, he’s got a little mean streak in him!

5. Brian Elliot, 1, St. Louis: I’m a firm believer in going with the hot (and healthy) hand, which is what Elliot has. With Jake Allen on the bench for games 1 and 2, Elliot can truly shine against one of the leagues finest. Between him and Quick, you can rest assured that there will not be a similar situation to that in the Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburg Penguins series.

Who are you most excited to see this series?

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sports

NHL 2.0 – Realignment Edition

In case you’re living under a rock, are buried in snow or are your typical, inattentive hockey “fan,” you know that that last night the NHL approved a 4-conference realignment for the 2012-2013 season (that’s next October, folks). Above states the realignment (via CBC). Let’s point some things out.

There are 4 Conferences: Clearly the most obvious change. The West has been split in to two, 8 team conferences, while the East holds two, 7 team conferences. Note that Winnepeg, currently an “Eastern” team due to Atlanta’s demise, will move to the west, leaving the old East with 14 teams instead of 15.

Holy Rivalries: The new schedule will produce home and home games with every team in the league (great for fans who want to see Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit, ETC. more than every other year). This also will provide each team with 6 conference match-ups. That means Ovi & Crosby, 6 times a year (NBC Sports is glowing at this idea.) It also keeps strong rivalries like Detroit/Chicago and Boston/Montreal, while fanning the Canadian rivalries (aside from Winnepeg, three Canadian teams will be battling it out each season for the final four spot in their Conference). Not to mention, playoff rivalries will be reborn. Who thinks Vancouver will have a yearly riot when Boston comes into town?

Travel Convenience, unless you’re from Florida:  Sure, Detroit and Columbus will be playing away games in Central time, but think how convenient it is for Washington to play Philly and Pittsburgh. The only down fall here is the Florida teams, who are stuck in the upper Northeast conference. Why they didn’t move the Devils & Islanders up there is beyond me. Note the image below from Puck Daddy and Cassie McClellan.

Playoff Picture: Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky. The league will stick with a 16 team playoff, taking the top four teams from each conference. These teams will battle it out, leaving the “final four” if you will, who will be either re-seeded or randomly matched to create our final teams. This could be awesome, considering we can have a Bruins – Flyers final, or a Detroit – San Jose final, but it also can diminish TV ratings. With the “new” NBC Sports (Versus’s new alias as of Jan. 2), this may not be an issue since more games will be televised in prime time on national television, however, it is a concern. There is also a bit of bias when you think of it, because the east coast teams only need to beat out 3 other teams to advance, whereas the west has four. There is also the argument that the fifth place team in conference A may have more points than the third place team in conference C.

Overall, I like the idea. I was never keen on moving Detroit to the East and ruining an original six rivalry with the Blackhawks, nor did I want them out of the Blues reach. The battles in each conference are strong. Sure, they’ll be you’re typical “East is better then West” argument (the conferences are yet to be named), but the concept is strong. Now, if only the Jets could make their vintage jersey their third before they come to St. Louis…

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, concerns and questions!