Monday, April 18, 2011

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Nights 4-5

Some thoughts on the weekend of hockey action:
  • Taking a page out of the NBA's playbook, it sure seemed like officials in New York and Chicago were doing everything they could to extend series. It only "worked" in New York, as Vancouver overcame a ridiculous Chicago advantage in power plays to win 3-2 and take a 3-0 lead in their series. Chicago led in power plays 6-2, but Roberto Luongo and The Shot Blockers had a good performance, and the Blackhawks tried tinkering with their power play unit with big John Scott out there. Of course, what the Blackhawks learned is that big isn't always effective. Scott might have size, but he doesn't come remotely close to Dustin Byfuglien's skill set. Nothing Chicago did was really going to work, since it was proven in Vancouver that the Canucks weren't going to let the opponent bother them. This is a driven team, and when you combine drive with the kind of talent Mike Gillis has assembled, it makes a certain someone's upset pick look really freaking dumb.
  • In New York, a floating officiating standard clearly infuriated Bruce Boudreau, but in the end, the Capitals were outworked and outplayed by a desperate Rangers team. It was New York's best performance of the series, and while I thought Washington played all right, they didn't have enough of the second and third efforts necessary to get pucks past Henrik Lundqvist. I expect them to give more of that necessary effort in Game 4, because there's no way the Capitals -- clearly a better team -- can afford to let the Rangers totally back into this series. They need to avoid seven-game drama in the first round to help their end cause.
  • Has a coach ever been fired during a playoff series? Because Claude Julien could be a candidate. He wasn't exactly universally popular in Boston before the postseason started, and his team's pathetic one-goal-in-120-minutes-against-Carey-Price performance didn't win people over. Making matters worse, the absence of Zdeno Chara exposed guys like Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg as liabilities in front of Tim Thomas, who struggled to control his rebounds. While Boychuk was coasting in the defensive zone and staring at the puck like it was a stripper, Mike Cammalleri and Yannick Weber jammed home rebound chances. As it shifts to Montreal Monday night, Chara is not a lock to play, though you have to expect he will unless he was hanging around Joe Mauer too much. I also assumed he'd play Saturday night, but later learned -- again -- what you really get when you assume.
  • Best series so far? Undoubtedly, Nashville-Anaheim. I figured these two would slog their way through some ugly games, but they've had a little bit of everything. Pretty goals, greasy goals, good goaltending, ageless performances from Teemu Selanne, and some great puck movement by both teams, especially Nashville. To top it all off, since Anaheim is involved, we needed some dirty play, and we got it from Bobby Ryan Friday (suspended two games, so he sits Game 4 Wednesday, too) and Todd Marchant -- who threw a silly, late, dangerous, and relatively selfish hit from behind on Jordin Tootoo Sunday. I know. Todd Marchant threw a dirty hit ... whoda thunk? Anyway, this has been good hockey, and the crowd in Nashville Sunday was totally amped. I didn't think there was much chance of hockey working there, but the Predators have built a pretty crazy, loyal, fun, and vibrant fanbase. It might not be a franchise that can fill every seat every night just yet, and they won't threaten Detroit's or Pittsburgh's (or, for that matter, Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver) numbers in road venues, but it's growing, and it seems like a franchise that we don't have to worry as much about anymore. Good for them.
  • Will San Jose be made to pay for that no-show Saturday night? Looked like they thought it was December instead of April. I know I give that speech a lot, but it blows me away that experienced teams like the Sharks can throw a clunker like that in the playoffs.
  • If Buffalo loses this series to Philadelphia, they'll forever regret the second period of Game 2. They stopped moving their feet, couldn't generate anything offensively, took a gaggle of lazy and unnecessary penalties, and watched in horror as the Flyers built a two-goal lead. That the Sabres outplayed Philly in the third didn't matter, as you can't dig holes against good teams on the road. 
  • Speaking of digging holes against good teams on the road, where the hell were the Coyotes during the first period Saturday? Oy vey.

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