Happy Hockey Christmas every! The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Wednesday night, so tell your family you’ll catch up with them sometime in June. As a reminder, here are the first-round battles: EASTERN CONFERENCE Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers WESTERN CONFERENCE Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks Who wins the first round battles? Who wins the big prize? Glad you asked … here are the official Puck Daddy playoff picks from our editors, writers and friends. Greg Wyshynski, Editor Bruins in 7 Lightning in 7 Blue Jackets in 6 Rangers in 5 Ducks in 5 Sharks in 7 Avalanche in 5 Blackhawks in 6 Stanley Cup: Sharks over Bruins in 6 Conn Smythe: Patrick Marleau This actually marks the 40th season that I’ve selected the Sharks to win the Cup. I know this might seem amazing given my age and the age of that franchise, but that doesn’t take into account those years in which I traveled back through time to re-select the Sharks at the start of the playoffs, convinced the outcome would somehow be different due to the Butterfly Effect. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. Or that of a man obsessed with murdering butterflies. Anyhoo, the Kings series is going to be a war, but home ice wins in the end. I think the top seeds hold serve, with the Avalanche haven’t a surprisingly easy time with the Wild due to their goaltending advantage. The Blues getting healthy might throw that Blackhawks series on its ear, but just because you’re healthy doesn’t mean you can necessarily score in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets pick is, obviously, my transparent wearing of a heart on my sleeve, as a I feel it would be a franchise-transforming moment for the BJs. But I also think their tenacity, goaltending and coaching – the teacher over the student as Todd Richards faces Dan Bylsma – are a recipe for an upset, with another MAF meltdown always a possibility. The Bolts win is under the assumption that Ben Bishop plays a few games in the series, which I think he will. The Rangers are a going to be able to take out Claude Giroux and get to the Flyers’ goaltending. As for the Bruins, it’s a really, really odd series: One that you can’t believe the top seed juggernaut would lose, yet you can easily imagine they can. Also, Patrick Marleau as playoff MVP would the cherry on the absurd sundae that is a Sharks Stanley Cup. Go teal! Sean Leahy, Editor Bruins in 6 Lightning in 7 Penguins in 6 Rangers in 7 Stars in 7 Sharks in 7 Avalanche in 5 Blackhawks in 6 Stanley Cup: Sharks over Bruins in 6 Conn Smythe: Joe Pavelski The key for the Sharks is if they can survive their first-round match-up with the LA Kings. That will not be an easy series to get out of. If they do, it should be smooth sailing en route to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final where they'll meet the Boston Bruins, a team who's been consistently dominant all season in the Eastern Conference. San Jose will continue to get heavy production from their top end guys, but it's the secondary ones like Matt Nieto, the now-healthy Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels that will help them claim their first Cup. Harrison Mooney, Editor Bruins in 6 Lightning in 7 Penguins in 6 Rangers in 7 Stars in 7 Sharks in 6 Avalanche in 5 Blackhawks in 7 Stanley Cup: Sharks over Bruins in 6. Conn Smythe: Joe Thornton. I'm picking the Sharks for the Stanley Cup again this year, and let me explain why: they're a fantastic team -- in my opinion, the best in hockey -- but they're also crazy due. You can't be this good for this long and not eventually get there. I'm going to keep picking them for years to come, and the way I see it, I either eventually get vindicated, or the Sharks reward my lowalty with a set of those sweet paper teeth. But here's how bad San Jose's luck is: they're drawing the best possession team in the NHL in round one. Thus, if they lose to pretty much the only team they might struggle with, it'll look like another first-round choke. That's crazy. But I think think they survive on the strength of their ability to score goals, and once they get past the Kings, they make quick work of the Stars, who will shock the Ducks, battle their way past the Blackhawks, who can't shake that Sochi hangover, and have enough left to beat the Bruins, who slice through the East like a lightsaber through flesh. And at the end of the day, because Thornton's big points totals and all the chatter he gets, leading his current team over his former team to Stanley Cup glory, he hoists the Conn Smythe, along with his long-awaited first Cup. Jen Neale, Writer Bruins in 6 Canadiens in 5 Blue Jackets in 6 Flyers in 4 Avalanche in 5 Blackhawks in 6 Ducks in 6 Kings in 6 Stanley Cup: Boston over Chicago in 7 Conn Smythe: Patrice Bergeron "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." This applies to Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the Penguins, including the coach. The Sharks are given a hard time because they're always falling short of expectations. What about the Penguins? Last year was the first time they made it to the conference finals since winning the Cup. Don't discount Columbus; a young team with nothing to lose who are just happy to be there. The rest of the teams are gimmies except for Philly. They draw the Rangers, but with Alain Vigneault behind the bench. We all know what happened in Vancouver when he had a superstar goalie... Los Angeles is built for the playoffs. They're a solid defensive team that can crush you, and even if they don't score a lot of goals, they've got a goalie who can keep the score low enough to win. The Sharks won't be able to keep up physically, and Antti Niemi has a serious case of the yips at the worst time. In the conference finals, Chicago can score in bunches and that will irritate Quick. Throw him off his game and get Doughty emotionally involved to where he makes stupid mistakes, and Chicago is off to the Cup finals again. It's going to be LA vs. Chicago in the West and Boston vs. Philly in the East, with the Blackhawks and Bruins coming out on top. Even if they are getting Toews and Kane back from injury, the Blackhawks are banged up and looking a bit tired. A majority of that team has played a helluva lot of hockey and they tailed off after the Olympics. There were Olympians on the Bruins, too, but they're clicking at the perfect time. Plus there is a slight possibility of getting Dennis Seidenberg back to help out a tired Big Z. Patrice Bergeron is indispensable to the Bruins. He's going to play a pivotal role for Boston (again). He should get a couple extra Conn Smythe votes for just how seriously injured he was in last season's Cup run and managed to play through it.
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The regular season is done, the playoffs are nearing. While we’re in this brief respite before the Stanley Cup madness, let’s hand out some NHL Awards, shall we? We covered the Calder, Selke and Jack Adams on Tuesday . Today, it’s the Hart Trophy (MVP), Norris Trophy (defenseman) and Vezina Trophy (goaltender). Voting on these awards: Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, Sean Leahy, Harrison Mooney, Jen Neale, Dmitry Chesnokov, Ryan Lambert and Daryl “Dobber” Dobbs; Yahoo Sports NHL writer Nick Cotsonika; and Yahoo Sports NHL editor Sam McCaig. Enjoy! HART TROPHY Wyshynski Leahy Mooney Neale 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks 2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks 2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 3. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks Chesnokov Lambert Dobber Cotsonika McCaig 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins 2. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars 2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 2. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks 3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers 3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings 2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks 3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins Wyshynski: Crosby has this thing on lock, and for good reason. The man-games lost for the Penguins, to significant players, made this a challenging season and Crosby was up for the challenge: Leading the league in points despite losing one of his wingers. It’s not that Getzlaf and Giroux aren’t worthy; it’s that Crosby is that worthy. Leahy: It's pretty remarkable that while seemingly the entire Pittsburgh Penguins lineup spent extended periods of time in the trainer's room this season, Crosby missed only two games, his most since 2009-10. Crosby has spent some even strength time this season with the likes of Brian Gibbons, Lee Stempniak, Beau Bennett and Chuck Kobasew, among others, after one of his wingers, Pascal Dupuis, injured his ACL in December. He still had running mate Chris Kunitz, which helped him become the league's only 100-point scorer en route to what will be only his second MVP trophy. Mooney: Let's be honest: this is Sidney Crosby's award and it's not close. The guy was the lone player to crack 100 points, finishing a full 17 clear of the next guy. He's the best player in the NHL and he carries the Penguins, night after night. Behind him, Ryan Getzlaf had an incredible year for the Ducks, and the Flyers' impressive turnaround synchs up perfectly with Claude Giroux's turnaround, which is enough for them to get runner-up honours. I hate that my top three are also the top three in points, but that's how she goes. Neale: NHL Awards predictions should really be called 'Those who will win and those who should'. Nowhere is this more clear than the Hart voting. Sidney Crosby has a billion points (as he should, being the greatest player in the galaxy) on a team with a ton of great players. He's going to win, but I'll give my justification for the others anyway. I laughed at Claude Giroux's guarantee of the Flyers making the playoffs. To begin the season he didn't have a goal until his 16th game, and Philly was on life-support. In 23 games post-Olympic break alone, Giroux (also the greatest player in the galaxy, according to Ed Snider) was 9-20-29 pts with 3 game-winning goals. Ryan Getzlaf has been amazing; I'd put him as my fourth place pick. He's tailed off, goal-scoring wise, after coming back from Sochi (2-18=20 pts in 21 GP). He's looked tired. Perry hasn't missed a step. Post Sochi, he's 13-9-22 pts. in 21 games. He's scored several times in the final seconds of a game to either tie it or win it. He does what's necessary to get the win, even if it includes slashing/tripping/punching/crosschecking your team's star player to get him off his game and taking the repercussions for doing so. Chesnokov: What Varlamov was able to do this season is truly great. The adversity of his personal problems coupled with the Sochi disappointment didn’t reflect on his performance in the Avs jersey. A real contender for the Hart, Varlamov deserves the Vezina. Lambert: Crosby was the runaway points leader in the league this year, as is his wont, and clearly deserves this award. With that having been said, what Patrice Bergeron did this year is truly remarkable. Truly, truly remarkable. His corsi relative to his teammates was ridiculous, and he actually did better without Zdeno Chara on the ice than Chara did without him. Yeah you're all going to scream that he only had 62 points but if there's a better two-way center alive then he's not playing in the NHL. He is one of the great players in the game today. Dobber: Crosby's walking away with this, and the gap between him and any other player is ridiculous. But I want to give props to Seguin, who arrived in Dallas and was a key (along with the coach) to driving the Stars into the postseason. Finishing fourth in league scoring isn't too shabby either. And I also vote for Kopitar because, to be frank, without him the Kings would score around 12 goals this year. He had 70 points and the Kings scored 206 goals (six teams with fewer). Cotsonika: Whichever definition you use — the liberal “best player” or the literal “most valuable to his team” — Crosby should win the Hart hands down. He was the best player in the world, and he was able to show it as he stayed healthy for a full season for the first time since 2009-10. He carried the injury-depleted Penguins to the second-best record in the East. McCaig: It’s Sidney Crosby, and then everybody else. The Penguins captain was a model of consistency at the highest level from start to finish in 2013-14, carrying his team to a division crown despite Pittsburgh’s litany of injuries. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop might have a case with the “most valuable to his team” argument, while Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron remains the NHL’s preeminent two-way player and had his best season to date on the NHL’s best regular-season team. VEZINA TROPHY Wyshynski Leahy Mooney Neale 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins Chesnokov Lambert Dobber Cotsonika McCaig 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 1. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins 2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche 3. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens 3. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins Wyshynski: You could give this to Rask or Bishop and not get much quarrel from me, but I like Varlamov here. He faced over 300 more shots than Rask and still posted a sterling .933 EV SV% in 63 games. He was the best goalie I saw this season, and did it behind a team with a distinct lack of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Leahy: The coaching change in Colorado probably benefited Varlamov the most. When Patrick Roy brought in Francois Allaire, he helped fix the 25-year old netminder. As the Avalanche surged to the Central Division title and second overall seed in the Western Conference, Varlamov played a big role in that, stopping 1867 shots (he was the only goalie to face 2000+ shots), most in the NHL and posting a .933 even strength save percentage. Mooney: I can't recall the last time I thought the top three in this category were quite this clear. You'd be hard-pressed to convince me anybody else deserves a spot on the podium. As for the number one slot, it has to be Varlamov, who did incredible work in the Colorado goal. His 1555 saves were over 100 more than the next guy, a testament to a) he's good at stopping pucks and b) he had to do it a lot because Colorado's not quite as good as their record indicates. He led the league in wins, he posted a save percentage of .927 and an even-strength save percentage of .933. Only two starters were higher. Neale: This was a tough decision between Varlamov and Bishop. It came down to Bishop saving the Lightning's season when Stamkos went down. Everyone had written them off - EVERYONE. No one expected anything from the Avalanche, but Varlamov and the players in front of him catapulted themselves over the low bar by scoring a ton of goals when they were giving up the most shots in the league (while Varly was in net). As for Fleury, no one knew what he was going to be like coming into this season. He made a great turnaround under the glaring spotlight of people waiting for him to meltdown. Of course the true test is to see if he can hold up in the playoffs. Lambert: Rask leads the league in everything meaningful, but Varlamov posted the second-highest save percentage (both overall and at even strength only) of anyone, despite facing the largest shot total in the league by 125. I'm not at all convinced this season wasn't a Jim Carey-like fluke, but 63 games of .927 hockey behind one of the worst possession teams in the league? Yeah, he earned it. Cotsonika: Varlamov played behind a weak blue line and one of the worst possession teams in the NHL. He saw 2,013 shots, most in the NHL — 254 more than Bishop in the same number of games, 372 more than Rask in five more games. Still, he tied for the second-best save percentage in the league at .927, just behind Rask’s .930. He was a main reason the Avs leapt from worst in second-best in the West. Dobber: I'd have Varlamov fourth in Hart voting, too. The Avalanche won 57 games in the last two seasons and Varlamov just won 41 himself. Rask has better numbers, but he's also playing behind some stud defensemen. Varly often may as well have been playing behind the ticket vendor and the credit-card sign-up girl. As for Bishop - if he didn't miss the last three-plus games with an injury, this would have been a very tight three-man race. He had a shot at 40 wins. McCaig The Bolts have been seeking a go-to goaltender for years, and they finally have one in Bishop. The 6-foot-7 stopper was stellar all season, emerging as one of the NHL’s biggest breakout stars in his first full campaign with Tampa Bay. Varlamov was equally brilliant for the upstart Avs, while Rask delivered another stingy season for the Bruins. NORRIS TROPHY Wyshynski Leahy Mooney Neale 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 1. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 3. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames 3. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames 3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks 3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild Chesnokov Lambert Dobber Cotsonika McCaig 1. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning 1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators 2. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks 2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators 3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild 3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators 3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators 3. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins 3. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks Wyshynski: I laid out my case for Chara here, but the short form is that he has enough offense, drives enough possession and unlike Keith faces the toughest competition that the Bruins face. Giordano makes the cut and probably wins were it not for having a smaller body of work than Keith and Chara. Leahy: Chara's total offensive number may not stack up with recent winners, but he did tie his career high in goals (17) this season. He also posted his 11th straight season of 25+ minutes of TOI, saw more than half of his zone starts begin in his own end (48.3 percent) and is a <href="#player-usage-chart">main driver of possession for the Boston Bruins. Mooney: Chara is the best defender in the NHL. Full stop. He's a terrifying freak of nature, and the only blueliner teams have to gameplan around. (The plan is usually to literally go around him.) Behind him, it's Keith and Vlasic, two guys that are the backbone of their teams. Vlasic probably won't get that third nomination, but he deserves it. Outside of LA, where everybody has strong possession numbers, no defenceman posted a higher corsi rating than Vlasic's 58.2%. Neale: See my first sentence under the Hart section. Duncan Keith put up incredible offensive numbers and had to make up for Brent Seabrook's brainfarts more often than not. They're going to give it to him. If not Keith, then it will be Chara because he's big and scary on a team with a solid defensive structure. Suter plays nearly 30 minutes a night and still manages to do his job well from game-to-game. He may not have posted the extravagant offensive-defenseman numbers, but he's crucial to the Wild's success. Chesnokov: This is a close one, in my opinion. Weber’s role in Nashville, especially this year, may be a more significant than Keith’s in Chicago, but Keith’s scoring (assisting, rather) coupled with a great defensive game for a true Cup contender gives him the edge. Lambert: I had a good mind to give this one to Giordano, but his only having played 64 games hurt his candidacy. The thing to talk about when discussing defensemen in particular is their player usage chart (I considered 30 defensemen here). The higher, bluer, and farther left you are, the better your season was. Factor in other things like points and corsi relative, and come up with an answer. Chara may not have had the points, but he was so high and blue and left, and he scored 17 goals, that he's the clear choice. Dobber: I'm sure Keith wins this, but Hedman has my vote. He got better as the season went on, notching 48 points in his last 57 games. I don't believe the Lightning get into the playoffs without Hedman. I do believe Chicago can get into the playoffs without Keith. Cotsonika: The Norris is supposed to go to the best all-around defenseman — not the best offensive or defensive. Doughty drove possession better than any other defenseman in the league, and he wasn’t sheltered from top competition. His offensive numbers would look better if he played on a team that put the puck in the net once in a while. If you take out secondary assists, he actually has better numbers than Keith does — more goals (10 to six) and points (29 to 26) — and Keith finished second among defensemen in scoring. McCaig: Zdeno Chara’s intimidating presence on the Bruins’ blueline – and his impact all over the ice – is impossible to ignore. He might not have the best stats, but Chara is feared and respected as an opponent, and he’s everything you want in a team captain. Like Chara, Shea Weber was a three-zone force for the Preds, and put up 23 goals and a team-leading 56 points. Duncan Keith’s skating and passing are keys’ to the Blackhawks’ transition game and power-play success.
|Puck Daddy||Chicagoin 7||Great, gritty battle between two teams loaded with big names and quality grunts. The Hossa Hex ends, much to our chagrin.|
|Sam McCaig||Chicagoin 6||Chicago's depth, skill and speed will prove to be too much for Philadelphia to overcome, and the 'Hawks can keep pace physically with the Flyers.|
|Ross McKeon||Chicagoin 6||The 'Hawks are poised to win their first Cup since 1961, but if we’ve learned anything from these playoffs it’s to expect the unexpected.|
|Matt Romig||Chicagoin 6||Give the 'Hawks the edge in skill, speed and special teams. Philly brings enough intangibles to extend an otherwise one-sided series.|