Morning Skate 413: Stanley Cup playoff preview

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Morning Skate 413: Stanley Cup playoff preview

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com
WILMINGTON, Mass. The time has finally come. Its Stanley Cup prediction time at the Morning Skate, and -- before its all said and done -- Ill leave all of the playoff picks as well as conference finals and Stanley Cup winner. What the heck. Ill throw the Conn Smythe winner in there as well.There may not be many upsets in the first round given the matchups, but I dont really see the No. 1 seed in either the East or the West making it through to the finals. How do you like them apples?Without further ado, heres the Stanley Cup playoff picks along with the links from the afternoon before the greatest tournament in pro sports gets started tonight.
EASTERN CONFERENCEWashington Capitals (No. 1) vs. New York Rangers (No. 8) The Caps are rolling and the Rangers dont even belong in the playoff after backing in. Losing Ryan Callahan was the final straw for the Blueshirts, who will be lucky to push it past four or five games with Washington. Pick: WashingtonPhiladelphia Flyers (No. 2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (No. 7) I love the way the Sabres played down the stretch, and I have serious questions about Philly rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Couple that with the way the Flyers limped down the stretch and question marks surrounding Chris Pronger, and I smell a Buffalo upset in seven games. Pick: BuffaloBoston Bruins (No. 3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (No. 6) The most anticipated playoff match in either conference, and one that could really weaken the Bs in an extended postseason run if it gets too gnarly. Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara are too big and strong for the Habs at the end of the day, but it wont be easy. Bruins in six games with a sweet celebration on the Bell Centre ice. Pick: Boston Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 4) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 5) The most difficult series to handicap given so many variables. No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the Pens and some pretty soft defensemenplayoff inexperience for the Bolts in their first postseason look since 2007. Pittsburgh will have a hard time mustering any offense, and that will doom them at the end of the day in a competitive seven-game series. Pick: Tampa Bay
WESTERN CONFERENCEVancouver Canucks (No. 1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (No. 8) This is the one team that Vancouver didnt want to play, and this has all the makings of the Blackhawks finally pulling it all together. Does anybody doubt that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Co. will shift into another gear now that the postseason has arrived? Itll go seven games, but the Canucks are going to be bitterly disappointed. Pick: ChicagoSan Jose Sharks (No. 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (No. 7) The Jumbo Joe Thornton factor wont come into play in the first round against a Kings team crippled without Anze Kopitar. The Sharks have so much talent and firepower, and will overwhelm the Kings in five games. Pick: San JoseDetroit Red Wings (No. 3) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (No. 6) The Wings will be without Henrik Zetterberg to start with a knee injury, but something tells me theyll be able to blind the Desert Dogs with the shine from their previous Stanley Cup bling. It shouldnt take more than five games. Pick: DetroitAnaheim Ducks (No. 4) vs. Nashville Predators (No. 5) Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne against the gritty, gutty Predators that just keep on trucking in the non-traditional hockey market. Nashville is a great story, but Carrie Underwood wont be singing any Stanley Cup tunes this time around provided Anaheim gets something resembling decent goaltending. Pick: AnaheimEastern Conference Final: Capitals vs. BruinsWestern Conference Final: Red Wings vs. Sharks.Stanley Cup Final: Red Wings defeat the Bruins in six games.Conn Smythe winner: Jimmy Howard And now on to the links: Dandy Don Cherry talked about his keys to the HabsBruins series, and you wont be surprised who he likes.A good look at Philadelphia Flyers and noted Finnish flash Ville Leino by Philly.com. Leino really burst onto the scene during last years run to the Cup Finals.NHL draft maven Kirk Luedeke goes over the dizzying number of options for the Bs at the No. 9 spot in the first round after locking the selection into place.Marc Crawford takes the high road after getting whacked by the Dallas Stars when his team didnt show up in a do-or-die final game of the season.Carey Price and Scott Gomez are they keys to a series win over the Bruins, according to NHL.com writer Arpon Basu.The USA Today marvels at all three California hockey teams making it into this years Western Conference field of eight.The defense never rests in the NHL, and the Toronto Globe and Mail is determined to prove it.Brian Burke opens up to the Globe and Mail about some of the extreme difficulty hes experiencing watching another Leafs team that wasnt good enough for playoff muster.Hockey Prospectus examines what it takes for a hockey team to have success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and its an interesting read.A hockey family experiences an encounter with Sidney Crosby as he attempts to come back from his concussion, and comes away a heart-warming feeling about Sid the Kid.ESPN.coms Michael Wilbon goes in depth with Alexander Ovechkin as his team tries to change the way they do business headed into this years Stanley Cup playoffs.Last but not least, who doesnt love the Separated at Birth photo gallery with celebs and hockey players SI.com has postedjust in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs.Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

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Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

It’s only a coincidence that it will air the same week that the Boston Bruins went Hollywood with their annual three-game road trip through California, but David Backes and his wife Kelly are going to get some solid TV time this weekend. The animal-loving couple are going to be featured Saturday night in the all-new Animal Planet special "Stars to the Rescue," which highlights the Backes family’s excellent work to ensure every animal has a ‘furever’ home.

The lifelong animal lovers have adopted five rescue pets that all made the move from St. Louis to Boston this summer, and launched Athletes for Animals in 2013, a non-profit organization supporting professional athletes and animal advocacy efforts. The 32-year-old Backes chose a Boston animal shelter as his first setting to meet with the Boston media this summer after signing with the Bruins in free agency, and spoke glowingly about his inspiration for marrying two of his passions: helping animals and sports.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," said Backes, the proud owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty and Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly). "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said, ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

The “Stars to the Rescue” special premieres on Saturday night at 8 pm on Animal Planet where there will be a full segment on the Backes family, but here’s a clip where Backes talks about his well-publicized involvement with a number of stray dog rescues during his 2014 Olympic Hockey stint with Team USA in Sochi, Russia.

Backes isn’t the only Boston athlete featured during the Animal Planet special as it also chronicles the stories of other well-known athletes and celebrities and the dogs they can't live without: Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, Baltimore Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley, Selma Blair, ESPN Correspondent Michelle Beadle, WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and more. From training buddies to comforting companions, “Stars to the Rescue” shows first-hand how these celebrities first met their cute rescued canines and how their dogs have impacted and transformed their lives for the better.

What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

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What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

Click here for the gallery.