If I may get off the topic of hockey momentarily I would love to recount all the ways this day has been completely insane. It began with the dog throwing up all the grass and foxtails she’d eaten the previous day. Soon after that we took our daily walk through nature. After walking about 3.5 miles I decided to change paths and head towards one closer to the river. The river was so high, however, that the path had become a shin deep bog and due to the layout of the path we had no choice but to wade through it and I walked all the way back to the car in sopping wet shoes. Then moments after I got home I was notified that the landlord will be making an appearance tomorrow which sucks because he doesn’t know we have a dog (long story there) and now I have one day to hide all evidence of her. Later in the day, as I relaxed in anticipation of the Canucks game I discovered that the television had stopped working. We got a replacement television just in time to catch the last 2+ periods of that game which was a complete tragedy. And now we have all the various detritus associated with a new large appliance that I have to clean up while also hiding the dog. It’s been a somewhat eventful day.
Anyway, on the hockey front, what the hell do the Canucks think they are doing? Do you really think you can win a 1-0 game against Chicago (with that one goal being scored by Darcy Hordichuk of all people)? They did a great job stopping the Chicago offense, but as good as they played it was obvious that they were going to be able to score at least one goal. What I was watching was a complete disregard for the middle of the ice. Of the few shots the Canucks actually sent on goal, even fewer came from a good goal scoring area. You can expect thirteen or fourteen shots in a game to come from a bad angle, but not when you only have sixteen shots in a game. Well, Vancouver has the home-ice advantage again, and as long as they don’t give that up I still think they will win.
Honestly, with everything that has happened to me today, I’m too exhausted for hockey. It’s a damn shame, but the ‘Nucks/’Hawks game didn’t help. I was hoping to be invigorated by some great post-season hockey, instead I was rocked to sleep by what looked like a good old fashioned game of hot potato. Thankfully tomorrow we can go back to Washington/Pittsburgh and Boston/Carolina which have been some of the most exciting hockey games I’ve seen in a while. What’s up with Jussi Jokinen by the way? How many game changing goals is he planning on having this post-season? Carolina must be glad they picked that guy up for free.
What a boon for the NHL to have Ovechkin and Crosby playing each other. It helps that the leagues two biggest stars are playing like the leagues two biggest stars. On Monday the two both had hat tricks, only the fourth time in NHL history that opposing players had hat tricks in the same game in the playoffs. The match up goes beyond this series though, it’s cultural. This is a revisit to the old Summit Series that pitted Canada’s best against the Soviet Red Army teams. Believe me, Don Cherry isn’t the only Canadian who would fight anyone who said that Ovechkin is a better player. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of Canadians who think Ovechkin is better, I know a couple myself, but the entire country would love it if Crosby showed him up this post-season.
The problem is that Crosby is so hard to love. Ovechkin is the best thing to happen to the NHL since Gretzky. Every time he opens his mouth the most charismatic thing you could possibly imagine rolls out of it. When he’s on the ice his joy and enthusiasm is infectious. Crosby, on the other hand, can never quite get it right. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great – nay – amazing player. There are times when he is even the best player in the league, but as much as Ovechkin shines, Crosby whithers. During the game, in which he matched Ovechkins three goals with three very impressive goals of his own, he complained about how long it took to clean up the hats after Ovie’s hat trick. Clean up the hats? Are you kidding me Crosby? If that had happened in Pittsburgh it would have taken an hour to clean up all the hats people would have thrown. People would have left their seats, gone to the souvenir stands, bought all the hats, and then gone back to the seats to throw those.
There is a very real feud between these two, and it makes for great copy. There is a difference in how the feud is handled between the two players though. Ovechkin keeps it on the ice, Crosby brings it to the media. What this does is make Crosby seem petty and immature. Clean up the hats? Let the man have his moment in front of his fans Crosby. In the last couple years the image of Crosby the whiner has begun to fade. He hasn’t taken as many dives, he hasn’t chirped at the refs as much, and he’s played through adversity. This most recent incident makes him seem worse then ever.
In the end though, this is going to be a great series. Even if the Caps go on to sweep it in Pittsburgh it’s still a lot of fun to watch. Some people have said that it would have been better if this series had occurred during the conference final. I say that would certainly amp up the drama but the league is better served with where it is. See, this series is attracting sports fans, not necessarily hockey fans. People are tuning in to see the most dynamic pair of players in the league take it to each other, and it’s been an exciting thing to watch. Once this series is over, regardless of who wins, a lot of those people who never gave a shit about hockey before will be interested enough to continue to follow the player that makes it to the next round. People who have been attracted to the playoffs by this series will hopefully stay for the whole thing. That’s one extra round of front page news that the NHL wouldn’t normally get, so I say be glad it’s happening in the second round.
Meanwhile the Ducks have decided that they want to take down the Western Conference top teams in a row. They beat the number one Sharks and now sit one game up on Detroit. With Vancouver now one game up on Chicago (not that that series is over by a longshot), the Ducks sit in a position where it is very possible for them to go, literally, 1-2-3 and into the Stanley Cup series. The problem Detroit is facing (besides really missing Brian Rafalski) is that the Ducks are not intimidated by them. Columbus may have seen them six times during the regular season, but the playoffs are something else entirely. These are the defending champs and perennial favourites. The Ducks don’t care, they keep playing the same game they want to play. Not only that, they are making the Red Wings play their game, they are dictating the pace. Add to that the incredible Jonas Hiller and you got yourself one helluva team to beat.
Like I said before though, the Red Wings aren’t the Sharks. The Red Wings aren’t intimidated either. They have, like, 200,000,000 combined playoff games between them. They’ve won more cups then the Ducks have years of existence. The Sharks went belly-up four games in, the Red Wings will be fighting tooth and nail until that final horn sounds.
Do any of you still need proof that teams in the second round deserve to be there? The Canucks, Red Wings, and Bruins certainly don’t. All three teams came into the second games of their series without a single lost in the post-season. All three will be going into game three 5-1.
The first round is kind of a crapshoot. Some teams are very competitive, some teams just competitive enough to make it into the top eight. That’s the problem you have when you allow eight of fifteen teams per conference into the playoffs. It’s a nice round number but the bottom seeds tend to be more lucky then skilled (the Ducks the obvious exception).
The second round, however, pits the men against the men. There isn’t a team left that would be a dark horse to win the cup. This is why I think the second round is the most exciting. You have four incredibly tight series that could really go any concievable way. When it’s over and it moves down to two series… well that’s just two less compelling series to watch.
Of the four series going on right now the one with the biggest potential for extremes is the Caps/Pens series. This series could as easily be swept by the Caps as it could be won by the Pens after being down 3-0. if any of the other series go less then six games I’ll be surprised.
The most important thing in the playoffs is adjustments. Adjustments are what you do from one game to the next to beat the other team. if you can’t make adjustments, you die. If there is one thing that all the eight teams left in the playoffs have shared all year it’s the ability to adjust. Not being able to adjust is why teams like the Sharks are playing golf instead of hockey. In game one against Vancouver, the Blackhawks discovered they could score on Luongo up close, in game two they scored five goals right on his doorstep. Next game the Canucks won’t give them give up any space within ten feet of their goaltender. In game one the Ducks learned that they needed to win the physical battles against Detroit. In game three Detroit’s going to be pushing back. In game one Carolina learned that they needed to clog up the neutral zone, in game two Boston is going to move to the dump and chase.
This back and forth means that the first team to steal a game will win the series. Maybe Anaheim already stole one with the overtime win yesterday? Anyway, it should make for some damn exciting stuff.
I’ve watched two periods of the much anticipated Pittsburgh/Washington series and something really stands out to me. The Capitals, and most importantly Alexander Ovechkin, do not get frustrated. I’ve seen many of the Penguins, including Sydney Crosby, lose their game because of frustration. Whenever Ovechkin misses the goal or gets checked or can’t find the puck he just gets right back into the play. When Crosby gets hit you can see in his eyes that he would love nothing more then to complain about it to someone (an official maybe?).
Frustration is one of those intangibles that can be the difference in a series. In the first game so far it hasn’t been a big deal because there hasn’t been a bigger lead then one, but consider in Washington could get a two or three point lead. A frustrated team cannot come back from that kind of deficit. If Pittsburgh were to get that lead I don’t see the Capitals being up against the wall at all, I believe they would continue to play their game and get back the lead in their way. Of course, this is just game one and the Capitals are playing much better then the Flyers did so Pittsburgh may just need a game to adjust, and it’s not like they are getting beat (yet) so there is no panic.
This is an interesting goalie match-up. Both Varlamov and Fleury will give up bad goals, both Varlamov and Fleury will make amazing saves. The biggest difference is that Fleury gives up more rebounds and that may be the difference in this series.
As for the other series man was Carolina out played. It’s hard to believe that the team that beat Brodeur and the Devils in six could get rocked by anyone including the Bruins. The Bruins are out to prove they are more then just a goaltender and a 6’9” defenseman. Scoring four against Cam Ward and allowing only one against the high power offense of Carolina is a good start.
Detroit found out just how hard the Ducks can be to play against but they still won. That’s what good teams do, win against any odds. San Jose couldn’t do it because San Jose is not as good of a team as one would expect from their regular season record. As I said in this series preview, Detroit takes advantage of their opportunities, something Anaheim isn’t used to after facing the Sharks.
I’m really looking forward to the ‘Nucks/’Hawks game later tonight. Can Chicago win game two? I think they need to or they will find themselves risking a sweep from Vancouver who have become a real post-season powerhouse this year.
After one of the more entertaining first rounds in recent memory the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins… well now actually with some highly anticipated match-ups. Who will go on to the conference finals? Well, let’s take a look.
1. Red Wings vs 8. Ducks
The Ducks surprised everyone who weren’t paying attention and figured that since San Jose was the best team in the regular season that they would be the best in the post-season. WRONG! The Ducks always have post-season success because they are built for the post-season. Guess what? So are the Red Wings. The Ducks won the first round in six games, and believe me that was easy compared to what they have to face now. Anaheim will be facing a very similar adversary in Detroit, but there are some key differences. The biggest difference is that the Red Wings know how to capitalize on their chances. The Sharks biggest problem in the first round was not being able to take advantage of scoring opportunities and power plays, the Red Wings will not suffer so.
In the end this series will come down to which team can dig deepest into what are two very deep pools of experience. The Wings proved their best players can play like the best and score against good goaltending. The Ducks proved that they are big enough and tough enough to keep the best players down, and they proved resilient enough to play without a lead. Detroit has had a long layoff but I think they’re experienced enough to not lose a step. It won’t give them an advantage though since Anaheim’s series against San Jose wasn’t exactly physical and the Ducks are healthy.
I think it will take a game for Detroit to get their stride back and the Ducks win game one, but after that it’s mostly Detroit. Red Wings in 6.
3. Canucks vs 4.Blackhawks
Ok, this is kinda cheating since they had their first game last night. Actually it’s kinda cheating by the NHL, how dare they start the second round on the same night I write my Friday blog posts! Anyway, I was totally prepared to write the Canucks in five during the first two periods. The Canucks forwards and defense were all over the offensive zone and the ‘Hawks were unable to find any way past Luongo. Then comes the third period when suddenly the Canucks fall apart and give up three unanswered goals… only to score two more themselves in the final minute-forty.
Here is the key. The Canucks are playing a Blackhawks team that is very similar to the Blues team they swept offensively and in experience, but far superior defensively. The ‘Hawks are playing a Canucks team that is similar to the Flames team they beat in six offensively, but far superior defensively… especially in net. What does that mean? It means that if the Canucks can limit the Blackhawks offense the same way they did to the Blues offense, and the ‘Hawks limit the Canucks offense the same way they did the Flames offense then the Canucks will most certainly win. If, however, the ‘Hawks can find a way to score more goals in this series then they did in their first series they will win. Actually, this may be the most closely matched series in the second round.
In the first game the ‘Hawks took way too many penalties, they’ll really have to fix that. In the first game the Canucks played lackadaisically with the lead, they’ll have to fix that. When all is said and done the ‘Hawks won’t be able to beat Luongo with enough pucks (especially after the Canucks D makes adjustments after game one), and as the series continues the Canucks will find their hockey legs again and be able to play three whole periods. Canucks in 6.
1 Bruins vs 6 Hurricanes
After an amazing series win over a team that had a great grinding offense, a big tough defense, and an amazing stifling goalie the ‘Canes will be facing………. a great grinding offense, a big tough defense, and an amazing stifling goaltender. Can they pull it off a second time? It’s hard to say. Even after watching them beat New Jersey in six (and even having called it) I’m still not sure how exactly they did it. The Bruins are coming off of a very easy series. They are rested, healthy, and ready for a real challenge. One thing about the Bruins; they like to play close tough games. It’s what they live for.
What this series is going to come down to is whether Tim Thomas can stop the shots he needs to to get his team a win. Brodeur was unable to rise to that challenge, giving up some very weak goals in the opening series. Thomas will need to stop those shots because the Bruins aren’t going to limit the ‘Canes chances any more then New Jersey was. On the other end all Cam Ward needs to do is stay on his game. As the opening round went on Ward kept getting better and better. He can’t afford any bad games against the best team in the East. If he gets rattled by the Bruins this series will be over quickly.
I think the Bruins forwards are a little grittier and a little hungrier then the forwards in New Jersey, and for that reason they will be a little bit tougher to defend against. Will that be enough to put Boston over Carolina? Carolina has got a certain something, I don’t know what it is but it’s the kind of thing that steals wins. This series will go the difference and I think in the end Boston will be a sliver better the Carolina. Boston in 7.
2. Capitals vs 4. Penguins
This is the long-running Broadway musical of hockey series. Crosby v. Ovechkin. Fleury v. Varlamov. Penguins v. Capitals. Gary Bettman is laughing all the way to the bank people. The two best players in the league in a winner takes all battle for the conference final. This is so monumental I can’t even properly analyze it.
Ok, let’s see if I can concentrate enough to get some perspective. Ovie and the Caps looked pretty dismal at first, but the last three games they were absolutely flying. If they can keep up that energy they are going to give the Pens fits. Let’s not forget the Caps went 3-1 against the Pens in the regular season, and that was with Theodore in net. Mike Green, who unfortunately will probably win the Norris trophy, looked pretty sad in that first round. yes he got some points but the way he played defense will not be good enough to stop the Pens. This is not the low scoring Rangers we are talking about here. Half the team has the ability to put 25-30 pucks in the net during the season and they can all turn it up during the playoffs. Likewise, this isn’t a Caps team that will roll over and die like the Flyers did all series against the Pens. This team, especially Ovechkin, wants to win this series oh so very badly and will do whatever it takes to do so.
The road to the Stanley Cup go through Crosby and Malkin and they are some serious gatekeepers. Marc-Andre Fleury who plays at times like he’s got four arms, and at others like he’s go no legs, has to be perfect every game because there are just too many people who can score on the Washington team (welcome back Mr. Fedorov by the way). Pittsburgh’s defense is better, Washington’s goaltender is better…… ok Washington in 7
Two great game sevens tonight. The final game in the New Jersey/Carolina series was everything you could have hoped for and more. Game seven in the Washington/New York series took a surprise twist. All in all, a great night for hockey.
First we’ll visit Washington who looked like they were going to let the game get out of hand in the first. It was a Rangers sort of game for the first two periods; not a lot of shots, not a lot of space, not a lot of power plays. You could see the Capitals start to find their feet at the end of the second though. Third period was all Caps. Lundqvist played an incredible game, but in the end it was a shot from the face off dot that beat him. Sergei Fedorov raced down the right side of the rink and then hit the breaks. Using the defender as a screen he snapped a wrister right under the bar over Lundqvist’s shoulder to give the Caps a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes left in the third. I was actually thinking right before it happened “Wow, Fedorov still has some wheels.” And he certainly did. It was Fedorov’s 52 post-season goal, and it turned out to be the game winner. Even though there were four minutes remaining the Rangers couldn’t put together even the slightest offense. In the entire third period they had only one shot on goal. The Caps took over that period like pirates boarding a ship. In the last minute and a half, as the Rangers tried to put together a comeback, they couldn’t even get the puck into the offensive zone to get Lundqvist to the bench. In all Varlamov had to make 14 saves in what turned out to be an easy win, but it certainly didn’t look that way at the start.
Washington came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win this one. I thought this team was in over their head. Until game five they looked like they had no idea how to beat the Rangers. Then, suddenly, their talent showed up like it had taken the wrong bus. This team is very good, and who knows how this series would have turned out if they had started with Varlamov instead of Theodore, they probably would have won in five or six. The Rangers are a very good team too. I know I shouldn’t like them, but the personalities on the team are all great guys. I really like Drury, Gomez, Naslund, Lundqvist, Mara… can you dislike a team but like it’s players? With Tortorella behind the bench starting the season next year I expect them to finish better then seventh.
But the game in New Jersey… wow! I wish that it had been on Versus instead of cage fighting. I only saw highlights, but I imagine the game was of the highest intensity. No one expects Martin Brodeur to give up a game tying goal with less then two minutes left to play, so certainly NO ONE would expect Martin Brodeur to then give up the game winning goal with about 30 seconds left to play. You could see it in his face after he gave up that fourth goal. He was already blaming himself for losing the series. And really, who else is he going to blame. All he needed to do was keep the ‘Canes to three goals or less and he failed. When was the last time Brodeur lost in the first round? It’s going to take a little research so allow me a moment… Oh wait, it was last year, how did I forget that? Well that’s two years in a row now that Brodeur has been out early in the post-season, but this year has got to be even more disappointing.
The ‘Canes played a great series and certainly deserved to win. This series was so fun to watch because the two teams were so similar in design. Cagey veterans, speedy youngsters, goal scoring defensemen, cup winning goaltenders… Now the ‘Canes go on to meet Boston which will bring a different sort of game to the table, but that’s for Friday’s entry.
Meanwhile, in the West on Monday two series were decided in six. The eighth seeded Ducks beat the Sharks with ease, while the Blackhawks took care of the Flames.
The Sharks/Ducks series was an interesting one, if only for the ramifications. Once again the Sharks are out prematurely. Even the President’s Trophy can’t save them from post-season disappointment. The Ducks beat the Sharks so easily it makes you wonder exactly what time of year the Sharks believed it was when they got onto the ice. Don’t get me wrong, the Ducks are a good team and they can stand up to any team in the league, but you have to wonder what happened to the Sharks team that was the best in the league this year. So what do you do now? Fire the GM that built the President’s Trophy winning team? Fire the coach that coached the President’s Trophy winning team? Where does the blame lie? They’re going to be looking at the leadership in the team this offseason and I expect changes when the season starts up next year. Don’t be surprised if they make a few trades in the meanwhile.
In Calgary the Flames attempted to match the run-and-gun style of the Blackhawks without success. It was a shoot-out of a series and in the end the young stars of Chicago were no match for an injured defense and old forward line of Calgary. The Flames proved they could score with the best of them, but also proved that they are a team that can no longer prevent goals against. Even their once all-world goaltender fell flat. The Blackhawks move on to the second round not as bruised as they would have been from Flames past. Can Khabibulin play himself back into the Stanley Cup? Well, we have at least one more round to find out.
Tune in Friday for my second round predictions.
Pittsburgh is the next team to move on to the second round with a sound thrashing of Philadelphia on Saturday. The Flyers were up 3-0 until the let the Penguins score four unanswered goals (five if you count the empty-netter) to win the game 5-3. I know the Penguins have Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but when you are up 3-0 in the first you should win the game. This is why they say there is no safe lead in the NHL. Anyway, the Flyers didn’t really deserve to win the series. You have to show up every game in the playoffs or you won’t win. The Flyers showed up two games and one period and that is simply not enough. To be frank, the Penguins didn’t show up every game either, they just showed up more then the Flyers. I’d like to say that it looks like they will be taking on Boston but with both the Rangers/Capitals and Hurricanes/Devils series going on to game sevens it’s too hard to predict the next round.
Game sevens in the Stanley Cup are a thing of beauty, and the two series in the East heading that way should live up to that. The ‘Canes beat the Devils solidly 4-0 in game six last night, Cam Ward playing a helluva game for the shutout. This series has been so back and forth it’s hard to predict who will go into game seven with more momentum. The ‘Canes staved off elimination with a superb game and will be going into New Jersey with much confidence, but New Jersey will be at home and there’s an age old saying in hockey: “Never bet against Martin Brodeur in the clutch”. Like most game sevens this will come down to goaltending. I said ‘Canes in six… let’s switch it to Devils in seven at home.
Meanwhile the Rangers had the chance to finish off the Capitals at home but were trounced 5-3 and now have to head to Washington to try once again to stop the Capitals onslaught. Lundqvist was not terribly good in this one, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you face the offensive might of the Washington Capitals. This series rests entirely on Lundqvist’s shoulders. If he can keep the goals down to two or less then the Rangers can win, if he lets in three or more the Capitals will win. The real story in this series is the play of rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov who has really played fantastic, much better the Jose Theodore could be expected to play. I had the Rangers in seven and I’m sticking to it.
Meanwhile in the West two series are going into game six. The Blackhawks tore up Calgary on Saturday winning by a score of 5-1. They go into Calgary now for game six. They really got to Kiprusoff in game five. If they can keep a steady attack on Calgary’s defensive end then they stand a very good chance of winning the series in six. If, however, they allow Calgary to dictate the play in the neutral zone then Calgary will put up a good fight. Calgary will try to clog up the neutral zone with bodies and checks, but if Chicago can score a goal or two then they’ll start to open things up. If Calgary scores first they’ll stay back and the game will be very low scoring. I said Chicago in four, let’s make it six.
Also in the West the San Jose Sharks gave their fans a heart attack with a 3-2 overtime win. The Sharks got out to a quick 2-0 lead and then managed to completely blow it in the third. Even though they won the game the Sharks proved that they cannot play with a lead, something so fundamental it’s hard to believe they won the President’s Trophy with such a lack of skill. Going into game six in Anaheim the feeling is that it doesn’t matter if the Sharks score first… or even second and third, because the Ducks know they can come back. If they beat the Sharks tonight there’s going to be a lot of confusing in San Jose, and a lot of nail biting in Detroit. I said Sharks in seven… I said that because of the skill of the Ducks, but the Sharks haven’t shown much skill of their own so I’m going to change it to Ducks in six.
As for the rest of my picks, they’ve been pretty spot on. I said Canucks in five, they did it in four. I said Red Wings in five, they also made it in four. I said Boston in four, spot on. In fact, I’ve only messed up the Philly/Pitt series, and of the series remaining, at least two stand a good chance at meeting my predictions. Not bad if I do say so myself.
Congratulations to the Red Wings and Bruins who both swept their series to move on to the next round. The Canadiens put up almost no fight against the Bruins, losing all four games rather desicively. This was the last season on the contracts of many players on Montreal so expect a completely different look to this team next year, including a new coach and possibly new GM. I also wonder about the future of Carey Price. He’s been good in the regular season but absolutely awful in the post, and the fans in Montreal do not have much patience for bad goaltending. Don’t forget this was the 100th year of the Canadiens’ franchise, losing in the first round in four is not nearly good enough. In Columbus meanwhile the Blue Jackets finally showed up to a game but were barely beaten in the end by Detroit. Getting to the post-season really showed this teams strengths, getting scoring a total of seven goals in four games really showed its weaknesses. If they can get a real center for Rick Nash and Steve Mason plays lights out for an entire year they’ll get another chance to prove themselves in the next post-season, but this year the experience was just too overwhelming for them. Still, big ups for making it for the first time.
I’d like to apologize to Marc-Andre Fleury for saying I didn’t believe he could win a game for his team. In the all important fourth game of this series he stopped 45 of 46 shots to lead the Pens to victory. Note he gave up six the game before and 3 the game after. Still, he proved that he is capable of stealing a game. Frankly, I think the bigger story in this series isn’t the play of Fleury but the lack of play from the Philly forwards. This team has gone anemix offensively and it hasn’t been too tough for Fleury to win the three games he has. I really wonder if Fleury can win games the same way if he comes up against the offense of the Devils or ‘Canes, which will be who he will face if the Rangers win the series in Washington. While the Flyers forwards have lacked confidence since the series began, the forward in New Jersey and Carolina will be coming in knowing they can score.
San Jose finds itself down 3-1 in their series to the surprise of practically everyone. Watching the game tonight I couldn’t help but think that they seemed completely unwilling to put a puck on net. They got plenty of shots, 31, but it was all the shots they didn’t take that cost them the game. Even on the power play it was all set up with no finish. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Joe Thornton sit behind the net until a Duck took the puck from him. He’s got to play as big and strong as he is if he is ever going to get on the scoresheet. Watching these guys you can tell their nerves are shot. They’re taking bad penalties, they’re sticks aren’t on the ice for passes or rebounds, and they are falling apart late in games. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know it starts with their leaders. They won game three with the help of Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, who have been playing great all series. Now it’s time for Marleau and Thornton to carry the team. They both have great shots, they need to start taking them. Right now the rest of the team is feeding off their frustration, that has got to stop. They were the best team in the regular season, they can win three in a row even against the Ducks, but they have to start believing that.
First off allow me to congratulate the Vancouver Canucks who became the first team this year to move on to the second round by sweeping the St Louis Blues last night. It was the first time in the history of the franchise that the Canucks swept a series (earlier it was the first time in franchise history that they were up 3-0 in a series). Don’t let the record fool you, the Blues also deserve congrats. They went from dead last to sixth in the West and then fought tooth and nail against the Canucks. They are young and inexperienced, but looked like veterans on the ice. The played with skill and determination. Let me tell you, there isn’t a single Canucks player who feels lucky for having gotten the Blues in the first round. This series was a power play goal or two from going in a different direction. We’ll be hearing a lot out of the Blues in the next few years, this team is definitely up and coming. As for the Canucks, they are getting no love from American media. This is a team that was one of the best in the league in the last half of the season, a team that performed a solid sweep, a team that is as solid as any in the playoffs… and many are still giving Calgary a better chance at the Cup.
Now for the meat of my post. I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations lately, some initiated by me, some by others… about the length of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Personally I think they start too late to begin with, but I understand why the league thinks it’s best to have an 82 games schedule. But the fact that it is likely that the Cup won’t even be rewarded until June is insane. Look, it was 98 degrees here in Sacramento today, and in Anaheim where the Sharks finally beat the Ducks there was a high of 90. That’s just nuts, imagine if Phoenix had made it into the post-season.. deep into the post-season. I’ve lived in Phoenix, it can get to 110 degrees in May.
Keeping an ice rink frozen is not like keeping items in a freezer frozen, especially not when you are talking about an arena. The freezer in your kitchen spends most of its energy keeping foods at a constant temperature in a closed, often vacuumed environment. A rink in an arena doesn’t just have to keep itself at a constant temperature, it has to fight against all the other higher temperatures trying to melt it. An arena is a vast open space and air transfers temperatures very efficiently. Not only that, there are near 20000 people, all at around 98.6 degrees, heating the space around the ice. Plus those people are eating hot foods and drinking hot beverages. PLUS the ice is constantly being melted by the players playing on it. PLUS since it’s not a closed vacuum the temperatures outside really mess with it.Even if Calgary makes it to the Cup finals in June there’s a good possibility it will be in the nineties outside.
There isn’t a rink in the league that can keep ice as pristine as it needs to be under all those conditions. By the end of the playoffs the ice will be soft and wet no matter where the finals are being played. This doesn’t just make for bad ice hockey conditions, it makes for dangerous ice hockey conditions. Anyone who has skated can tell you that soft ice poses a huge risk to skaters. Instead of stopping on crisp hard ice, when players attempt to stop the ice will dent and bunch. This isn’t bad just for the player whose feet and ankles aren’t used to playing under those conditions, it’s bad for anyone else who tries to skate in that same area and has to deal with the huge ridge that has become a permanent fixture on the ice surface. All that and I haven’t even mentioned what it does to puck movement.
What needs to happen is to drop everything down to best of five. Hell, I’ll even allow for the final series to remain best of seven, but to have all the series best of seven takes far too long. Making the series best of five will dramatically shorten the post-season making for both better play and more enjoyably viewing.
I admit there have been many great game sevens in the history of the league and I hate to take that away so there is another solution, drop the number of teams that make it to four per conference. It doesn’t sound like much but consider this: Right now 16 teams make it into the playoffs while fourteen don’t. How can you consider the playoffs to be exclusive when more teams are included the excluded? Cut each conference into two division, top two get automatic entry, and then the next two down in points. Not only does this make the playoffs actually something that takes real effort to get into it cuts the playing time for the playoffs in half.
Neither of these two things will ever happen. As I’ve said in this blog before, the NHL is a business and a business exists to make money, and the playoffs are big money makers. Not only would you be cutting the playing time in half with my suggestions, you’d be cutting the revenue in half too. Not just cutting the revenue, but in the case of dropping the number of qualifying teams to four you’re cutting not just league revenue but team revenue as well. Even though it’d be safer to end the playoffs earlier the NHLPA will never suggest it because it affects player salaries too. The funny thing is, every hockey fan I’ve talked to has told me that they would prefer to playoffs to be shortened. As the customers of this particular service shouldn’t we always be right? Well, the NHL knows we’ll watch anyway. We’d watch if they went on into October and ended two days before the season began. Why? Because we are hockey fans damnit!
Right now a lot of people are asking “What is wrong with my team?” There are currently six series where one team doesn’t have a win including the surprising Rangers/Capitals tilt, and the not-as-surprising-when-you-think-about-it Ducks/Sharks series. So what is the source of these mysterious sweeps? Let’s take a series by series look to find out.
Let’s start out East where the Capitals are taking far too many shots from beyond the face-off dots. And why not? They scored a helluva lot of goals from there in the regular season. Right now, though, they are playing an inspired Rangers team backed by an inspired Henrik Lundqvist who is definitely one of the top three goaltenders in the post-season so far. What they need to do is start grinding it out, start pushing back at the Rangers defense which is good, not great. I admit it’s exciting to see Ovechkin cut into the middle after entering the zone and throw a monster wrist shot at the goal. The problem is, Lundqvist is seeing it too. They need to get the puck behind the net and keep possession of it and then find a way to get it on net with bodies in front. For the Caps it’s got to start with puck possession and then continue into gritty goals scored in the paint if they want to get back in this series.
There really is no secret to what Montreal needs to do to win; keep pucks out of their net. Some of that weight needs to rest on the shoulders of Carey Price who has not had a good post-season. It’s not all his fault though, the rest of this team needs to be way more responsible with the puck. The defense in Montreal is more the decent and they do well with what they have to work with. The forwards on this team need to be much much more responsible with the puck. It’s the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what position you play you need to be defensively sound. You need to play all sides of the puck, and that includes top and bottom. The front line on this team is so focused on scoring goals (individual goals too) that they can’t see the whole picture of either the game or their own team. To get back into this series their philosophy has got to be we have to learn to skate backwards before we skate forwards.
The Flames are suffering from the same disease they had in the last few weeks of the year: Lose the Lead Fever. They are playing very well, strong on the puck, smart plays, scoring goals, until they have a secure lead, then they fall apart. This team can no longer rely on Kiprusoff to keep them in games. He has proved this year that he no longer is the same goaltender he once was. One of their problems is that their tough players seem to be playing fancy, while their fancy players are trying to play tough. Iginla is right where he needs to be and the rest of the team needs to follow. Phaneuf needs to reel in the excitement a bit and start playing smarter. They’re going to have to learn how to clamp down with the lead and play to win, not to score. I’m not sure if that’s possible on a Mike Keenan coached team.
The Blues are doing absolutely nothing wrong, they’re just playing against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks’ defensive core. The problem they are going to have is getting a secure lead against the Canucks. If they can ever get themselves two goals up they stand a decent chance at winning, but as long as Luongo is keeping his team in the game (and boy is he ever) the Canucks will be a hard team to beat. Even when they are down in a game they play with such poise and confidence it’s as if they’re a few goals up. That’s what having a goaltender like Luongo can do for a team. If I was in the Blues dressing room I’d tell them to just keep playing the way they are. They’re skating well, hitting hard, getting pucks to the net, they’re defensively sound, they don’t take many bad penalties (until tonight), and they find ways to get scoring chances throughout the game. They need to take this one game at a time, they may be down 3-0 in the series but they need to approach game four like it’s game one. they can’t think about the ramifications of a loss lest they become distracted and stop playing as well as they have.
Blue Jackets/Red Wings
The Jackets relied on Steve Mason to get them into the playoffs, that needs to stop right now. They need to start relying on their offense to get them on to the next round. You can’t beat the Red Wings 2-1 or 1-0 in the post-season, you have to start scoring goals against them. The more goals Columbus can score, the more weight gets taken off Mason’s shoulders and the better he can play. Osgood is beatable, even in the post-season. You just can’t get overwhelmed by everything. That’s really what I see in the faces of the young, inexperienced Blue Jackets. It’s their first post-season berth and they ended the season on such a strong note. Get back to basics, dump the puck deep, keep possession of it, get shots to the net. Once the shots start going in it’ll all come back to the guys and they’ll remember how to win again.
The Sharks defense is playing great. Nabokov? Excellent. The forwards? No sir, I don’t like it. Once again captain Patrick Marleau and first mate Joe Thornton have completely disappeared. This is the exact reason why they ran Thornton out of Boston. They actually managed to turn it around a bit tonight, they have to keep it going. All the things they did right tonight, grinding for the puck, getting bodies in front of the net, getting shots from in close not just from the blueline… all good. They have to take tonight as the beginning of a team-wide improvement. They are an excellent team and Nabokov keeps them in the game every night, now what they have to do is get Marleau and Thornton to take some shots, not just pass the puck around the rink like idiots until it’s picked off. Only the Sedins can cycle successfully in the post-season, and they’re twins damnit! The rest of the league has to GET SHOTS ON NET! Like I said, they got a bunch tonight on Hiller and showed a lot of improvement, next game they have to do it again, and then again, and then again, as many times as they can they have to get shots on Hiller. Oh, I almost forgot, get shots on him on the power play.