Weekly Nickel 4-2-2012

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. If the New York Rangers want to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York City for the first time since 1994, much will be expected of their star goaltender, aka Mr. GQ, Henrik Lundqvist.

By Josh Kramer

Men’s College Basketball has gone from 345 to 2.  Novak Djokovic once again flexed his muscles in Miami.  And Major League Baseball is ready to roll.  Last week was fun, but this week will not be too shabby in its own right.  Here are the events to keep an eye on.

5.  We have entered the final week of the NHL season.  I for one am extremely excited for playoff hockey.  Two teams are duking it out in the Eastern Conference for the 8th and final playoff spot, while the Wild West still has five teams in contention for the 7th and 8th positions.  I am more concerned with the real contenders though.  Teams that I think have a legitimate chance of hoisting Lord Stanley in June.  I am focused on a showdown in the City of Brotherly Love tomorrow evening.

New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers:  There is a reason why HBO had a hit series this winter entitled, “24/7 Flyers-Rangers.”  Not only are these two of the best teams in all of hockey, but they are also two of the fiercest rivals.  These teams have been bitter divisional foes since 1974-1975 season, and have met ten times in the playoffs.  Well don’t be surprised to see an 11th edition of the “Battle of the Broads” in this year’s postseason.  The Flyers have been led by a high-octane offensive attack that centers around their star, Claude Giroux.  The Rangers on the other hand can score in flurries, but their leader is none other than their Mr. “GQ” himself, Henrik Lundqvist.  New York has not only won four straight games, they are also the best road team in the NHL.  Look for them to continue their road success against the bitter-rival Flyers tomorrow night.

4.  If you were wondering, there are less than 15 games remaining before the playoffs.  Time has absolutely flown by in this strike-shortened season.  The East appears to have turned into a two-team race, though it should be noted that Boston relived some of the glory days in stomping the Heat yesterday, while the West seems to be all about OKC, and then everyone else.  After watching yesterday’s massacre at the TD Garden, Miami has to be praying that the Celtics can hold off the 76ers down the stretch in the Atlantic to avoid a possible first-round showdown with the C’s.  This week, my attention is focused on a colossal throwdown in South Beach on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat:  Though San Antonio has been playing great as of late, the number one seed in the West is OKC’s to lose.  In the East, despite an unexpected lengthy absence of star Derrick Rose, Chicago appears to have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference’s number one spot.  The Heat are not a great road team by any means, but they have proven they can win on the road when push comes to shove.

The Heat are a balanced team that can both score and defend.  I guess this is a common theme for the majority of the “good” teams in the NBA.  OKC on the other hand leads the League in points per game with an astounding 103.7 per night.  They also hit the boards with a purpose led by their star, Kevin Durant.  Many expected this matchup towards the end of last year’s playoffs.  Dallas spoiled it.  I would by no means be surprised to see it this year, considering I predicted it back in December.  At this time though, OKC is flat-out playing better basketball than Miami, but the Heat have been nearly unbeatable at home.  Expect that trend to continue as Miami nabs a major win against the cream of the crop in the Western Conference.

3.  Take me out to the ballgame.  Despite the Mariners and Athletics getting the regular season underway last week in Japan, the “real” Opening Day occurs this Wednesday evening when the defending World Series Champion Cardinals take on a revamped Miami Marlins team.  Let the 162 game journey begin.

2.  Tiger wins a tournament for the first time in 923 days and he is suddenly the favorite to win golf’s biggest tournament?  What size jacket does Tiger wear again?  I think I remember him once saying that his right arm was slightly longer than his left (thanks Shooter McGavin).  I am glad that the excitement has returned to golf.  Tiger Wood is the lone athlete in my lifetime that truly can define his sport.  When he is winning, things are great.  When he is losing, interest wanes.  Well, Augusta National could not have asked for better timing in Tiger regaining his winning ways.  I do not envision Tiger putting up a -18 (aggregate 270) like he did back in 1997 though.

1.  And then there were two.  I have never understood why March Madness always culminates in April, but who am I to complain?  There is only one way to describe tonight’s game.  The Championship of Prestige.  Any time the two winningest programs in college basketball history square off for the Wooden National Championship Trophy, things must be going okay.  Here are some of the accolades to think about when discussing Big Blue Nation and Rock Chalk Jayhawk: 29 Final Fours, 10 National Championships, the Wooden Award winner and runner-up (this year), and oh so much more.  I have a gut feeling that things will play out differently than the 2008 title game when John Calipari’s Derrick Rose led Memphis squad choked against Bill Self and the Jayhawks due to an inability to convert free throws late in the game. Big Blue Nation will go wild after claiming an 8th National Championship by a margin of 11 points (yes they will cover the spread this time).  Hopefully Lexington will survive the night.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

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