All posts by mattthescoop

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2015

For a large percentage of the American population, the World Cup is the only international soccer tournament that garners the attention of the masses. But there is a massive regional tournament getting ready to take place: the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And for what it’s worth, it is a tournament filled with rivalry match after rivalry match, so tension is ratcheted up as the tournament progresses.

So, what is the CONCACAF Gold Cup?

The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, way easier to just say CONCACAF, holds the Gold Cup tournament every two years. The USA won the last Gold Cup in 2013.

A total of twelve countries qualified for the 2015 Gold Cup. The countries are divided into three groups of four. The groups are:

Group A – USA, Honduras, Haiti and Panama

Group B – Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada

Group C – Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba

The tournament runs from July 7-26, and a couple of games are being played in our own backyard here in North Texas. Toyota Stadium, home of FC Dallas, will kick off the tournament today with Panama vs. Haiti, followed by USA vs. Honduras.

The tournament favorite is Costa Rica. They boast the highest FIFA world ranking of any nation in the tournament at 14th. No other nation is in the top 20. From the last rankings, Mexico has dropped one place to hold the 23rd spot, and USA moved up one spot to 27th in the world.

Tune in to our live pregame coverage from Toyota Stadium from 3:00-7:00pm Central, as Jamie Kelly, Steve Davis, and a host of fantastic guests get you ready for the USA-Honduras match! Just search for KTSR on TuneIn, or click here.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

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2015 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

2015 Stanley Cup Final Logo

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @Tampa Bay June 3
Game 2: @Tampa Bay June 6
Game 3: @Chicago June 8
Game 4: @Chicago June 10
Game 5: @Tampa Bay June 13*
Game 6: @Chicago June 15*
Game 7: @Tampa Bay June 17*
*if necessary


Tampa Bay Forwards

CTV News
CTV News
The Lightning has what are perhaps the top two lines in the league. Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, and Alex Killorn are their first line. Midway through the conference finals series against New York, Stamkos finally found his playoff goal-scoring touch, and that line is dangerous every shift. The “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are a nightmare for the opposing coach to match up his defensive unit. Johnson leads the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals, 9 assists and a +6 rating. The Lightning also have former Dallas Stars captain Brendan Morrow. Although he may be a role player, only getting 6-8 minutes a game, he can play his physical brand of hockey without taking the amount of punishment he took when he was in Dallas. Morrow is their veteran locker room presence and the oldest player on the roster by 5 years.

Chicago Forwards

AP Photo
AP Photo
As good as the top two lines for Tampa Bay are, Chicago can answer by having the ability to roll all 4 of their lines without hesitation. They are led by Jonathan Toews and a healthy Patrick Kane. During their playoff run of 17 games, Toews has 9 goals, and 9 assists for 18 points, and is a +5 in playoff games, while Kane has mixed in 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, and a +6 rating. Chicago also has the only Conn Smythe winner in Tampa Bay history, Brad Richards, who should make his presence known to his former club. Brandon Saad has had an amazing playoff run, and is sometimes on a line with Kane and Toews. Some may say Patrick Sharp is “buried” on the third line, but it may be done on purpose. Sharp being on the third line presents a difficult defensive assignment for Tampa Bay to match up; it could be a huge mismatch that could prove to be pivotal in the series

Advantage: Chicago

As great as the top two lines are for Tampa Bay, the Blackhawk group has two lines to match them, and then two more to throw at the Lightning. The ability to run 4 lines throughout an entire game can wear on a defense. Maybe not the first or second game, but the end of the series could have the Tampa Bay will to win tested.


Tampa Bay Defense

CBS Sports
CBS Sports
The last series against New York gave me the confidence to say that the pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are one of, if not the best set of blueliners in the league. They can shut down the opposing top line and then dare the other three lines to beat them. If Tampa Bay has a fault, it is waiting to see if the bottom end of the defense can match the play of Stralman and Hedman. If not, they may be a liability.

Chicago Defense

Denver Post
Denver Post
If Hedman and Stralman aren’t the top defensive pair in the league, then Chicago has them with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith is second in the playoffs in minutes played per game, with 31:35. Niklas Hjarlmarsson is on the second unit, and has the ability to be a top defenseman in the league for years to come. The third pair of David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey could be where Tampa Bay tries to strike. If they can play well as a pair, goals will be hard to come by for the Lightning.

Advantage: Chicago

This is due to the experience of wins and knowing what it takes to make the final push to be the first team to 16 wins in the playoffs.


Tampa Bay Netminder

IB Times
IB Times
Ben Bishop is coming up large when Tampa Bay needs him. Bishop may have had a bad game 6 against New York, giving up 7 goals that night, but he was perfect in game 7, where he was a 2-0 winner. Bishop has posted a 12-8 record with a 2.15 goals against and a save percentage of .920. He is the first goalie in history to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final with a road shutout in game 7 and the first to have two shutouts in his first two game 7s of his career. But as the game 6 outing against the Rangers showed, he can be prone to giving up goals in bunches.

Chicago Netminder

FOX Sports
FOX Sports
Corey Crawford…the first thing I think of is experience. He had a shaky start to the playoffs, but once he finished off Nashville in round one, he has been solid. Crawford has put up a 9-5 record during the playoffs with a 2.56 GAA and a save percentage of .919. Crawford beat a great young goalie in the Western Conference Finals and should use that to fuel his play in the final round.

Advantage Chicago


Series Prediction

Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoEven though I may see Chicago as having an advantage in the three areas of focus, it is by the slimmest of margins. This series should give us what all hockey fans want at this time of year: a seven game series with a few overtime games sprinkled in. In the end, I feel Chicago wins this in 7 games.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

NHL_Western_Conference.svg

Anaheim Ducks vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @ Anaheim May 17 (Ducks 4-Blackhawks 1)
Game 2: @Anaheim May 19
Game 3: @Chicago May 21
Game 4: @Chicago May 23
Game 5: @Anaheim May 25*
Game 6: @Chicago May 27*
Game 7: @Anaheim May 30*
*if necessary

Season series: Chicago won two of the three games this season, outscoring Anaheim by a total of 8-3.


Chicago Forwards

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune

One word comes to mind when I think of the Chicago Blackhawks forwards: Deep. They can roll four lines and use their forecheck to wear down the opposing defense. It all starts with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are easily a top five offensive duo in the league today. Marian Hossa seems to have the puck find him in the playoffs, and Patrick Sharp is one of those players who can turn it up a notch when May rolls around. Add in rookie Teuvo Teravainen with his high skill set, and these forwards will give the Anaheim defense all they can handle.

Anaheim Forwards

NHL.com
NHL.com

They are large and very talented. Corey Perry, highly skilled and who some may call the best agitator in the game, will be a focal point for the Chicago defense. Ryan Getzlaf is a pure playmaker; his vision and ability to hold the puck and draw defenders to him are amazing. By garnering the attention of defenders, it opens up his line mates. Bringing Ryan Kesler into their forward group was a wonderful addition. Kesler gives Anaheim depth at center and makes the opposing defense have to worry about a second scoring line.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are perhaps the most dependable blue line pair in the league. The loss of injured Michal Rozsival will be an obstacle to overcome, but they have eager players who are ready to step up to fill the void. David Rundblad and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be relied upon heavily to move the puck out of the defensive zone and start the rush on transition.

Anaheim Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

To say the Ducks defense is stingy would be underselling them. They aren’t fancy by any means, but they get the job done. They aren’t considered a shot-blocking squad, but they find a way to keep teams from even thinking about taking shots. They exit the defensive zone quickly due to their mobile defenders: Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. The way they carry the puck and can be thought of as extra forwards reminds me of how Paul Coffey and Sergei Zubov would command attention.

Advantage: Anaheim


Chicago Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

Corey Crawford finally regained the starting spot, and he was superb against Minnesota with a .947 save percentage. Crawford won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and it appears that he is back in that form. Good for Chicago, not so much for Anaheim.

Anaheim Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

This is Frederik Andersen’s playoffs. After going back and forth last postseason, he has made a statement this year, going 8-1 with a goals against average of 1.96. He rarely falls victim of the soft goal, and directs rebounds away from the middle of the ice.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoThe experience of Crawford and the core of Chicago‘s roster should give them an edge in what shapes up as a fantastic Western Conference Finals. Andersen will end up with a Cup or two, but not this season. He will use this series to build on what should be a stellar career. The Blackhawks win a thriller in seven games…and Game 7 might just creep into double overtime.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview

NHL Eastern Conf LogoNew York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lighting

Game 1: @New York      May 16
Game 2: @New York      May 18
Game 3: @Tampa Bay   May 20
Game 4: @Tampa Bay   May 22
Game 5: @New York      May 24*
Game 6: @Tampa Bay   May 26*
Game 7: @New York      May 29*
*if necessary
Season series: Tampa Bay won all three games by a total score of 15-7


Lightning Forwards

sportsnet.ca
sportsnet.ca

Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and koNikita Kucherov are a ridiculously good line, and will be tough for the opposing defense to handle. They are highly skilled and very fast. They have to be great in order to push Steven Stamkos to the back burner. Stamkos has struggled to score goals in these playoffs (3 goals in 13 games), but he can still be a force if he gets hot. As for Ryan Callahan, it will be interesting to see how he plays coming off of appendectomy surgery. I’m sure he will be full of adrenaline facing his former team.

Rangers Forwards
Paul J. Bereswill
Paul J. Bereswill

I’m not a big fan of the New York forwards. There isn’t any one player to dial in on for a big goal, but they somehow seem to get the goal when it’s needed. Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard lead New York with five goals apiece. Rick Nash is once again missing in the playoffs; he has two goals during this playoff run. After a 42 goal regular season, it seemed he was poised for a breakout postseason.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Defense

USA Today
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Hedman is the puck-moving defenseman that every coach wants. He is fast and has wonderful skill with the puck, the proverbial quarterback on the blueline. Anton Stralman is a defenseman’s defenseman. He may only be 5’11”, but he plays bigger than that.

New York Defense
NHL.com
NHL.com

I’m sure the Rangers wish this series could be played in three weeks. They are in a physical disarray with Dan Boyle getting demolished by Brooks Orpik in game 7 and the beating Ryan McDonagh was issued. They will have to rely on the 6 defenders to play as a unit, and use the home games to match up against the Lightning forwards. New York was third in the league with giving up only 2.34 goals per game during the regular season while having the best goal differential at +60.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Goalie

Dirk Shadd - Tampa Bay Times
Dirk Shadd – Tampa Bay Times

Ben Bishop has done well in his first playoff run. He hasn’t been stellar, but good enough to win. He is 6’7″, so he takes up a large amount of the net. When he is focused, his angles are covered and doesn’t let in the team-deflating soft goal. If he can be solid in the pipes and give Tampa Bay a chance to win, then he will have done his job.

New York Goalie
USA Today
USA Today

Henrik Lundqvist. Enough said. He has been superb in these playoffs. He boasts a 1.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .944. He allowed only five goals on 110 shots in the last three games, all wins in elimination games, against Washington. With the game 7 win against the Capitals, he tied Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur with six career game 7 wins. Given the fact that New York has played in 14 straight one-goal playoff games, there isn’t anyone better that New York could chose to be minding their net.

Advantage: New York


Prediction

Tampa_Bay_Lightning_Logo_2011.svgI feel that Tampa Bay wins the series in six games. The Lightning offense should be able to overpower a beleaguered Rangers defensive group.

Matt Molina is a Sports Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.