Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thoughts on the Playoffs: First Round

With the first round of the playoffs nearing their end, and the second round starting at the end of the week, let's look back at the series that were: (Updated 11:00 PM Sunday):

Western Conference:

San Jose vs. Colorado: The Sharks managed to stop the first round exit snowball that has plagued this franchise over the last three seasons. The Sharks still have problems, especially after the Marleau-Heatley-Thornton line leaves the ice. Not a lot of other offense there. Dan Boyle will be haunted by the 'own goal' which won Game 4 for the otherwise offensively-challenged Avs, who rode the hot goaltending hand of Craig Anderson as far as they could. Look out for the Avs next season, folks, especially if they make a few signings in free agency. Now San Jose awaits the lowest remaining seed, which might even be worse than the Avs were, as it will likely be the winner of the series we talk about next.

Phoenix vs. Detroit: The Coyotes, to their credit, did what many better teams were not able to do, and actually walked out of Joe Louis Arena with two wins in this series. That probably was the high water mark of the series for the overachieving 'Yotes. The Red Wings have awoken from their winter slumber, and they are back to playoff form, or so we thought until they mailed it in during Game 6. Game 7 Tuesday night in the desert. Let's see who wins, as the winner will most assuredly face San Jose in the next round, and the Sharks aren't looking forward to either of these teams showing up next week.

Chicago vs. Nashville: If familiarity breeds contempt, the Predators are hockey's most contemptuous team. The question for Nashville fans? Which Preds team will show up? The ones who were world beaters in Games 1 and 3? Or the ones who were egg beaters, like Games 2 and 4? Game 5 last Saturday was a disaster for Nashville, as the Hawks scored the game-winning goal in OT, while playing shorthanded. The Hawks, on the other hand, look like they are as disinterested as any team playing another team not on their same level. Antti Niemi seems as if he is doing OK, as the goaltender for the otherwise goalie-lacking Blackhawks. All three games in Nashville have still had tickets available day of the game, an NHL playoff rarity.

Vancouver vs. Los Angeles: This series degenerated into the Kings vs. the Sedin twins, and the Sedins won, especially after Game 5's 7-2 blowout in Vancouver. Sedins then haunted STAPLES Center by scoring the series-winner with less than 3 minutes remaining in the third in Game 6. Jonathan Quick was hung out to dry more often than wet wash after three days of rain. LA scored the majority of their goals on the power play after Vancouver felt they were going to rule-break their way to the next round. Can't wait for the Canucks to be eliminated, so we can watch 18,810 people in GM Place try to destroy the arena, after the 39th season with no Stanley Cup parade on Robson St., but it will have to wait for the second round before the anguish begins. Watch the Kings for 2010-2011; they will be a very scary team to play against. Next year.

Eastern Conference:

Washington vs. Montreal: The Canadiens are still in this series despite themselves. Benoit Pouliot is showing, once again, that Chuck Fletcher did the right thing by trading Pouliot for Guillaume Latendresse, as B-b-b-Benny only has one assist thru the first five games of the series; even worse, ex-Wild Marc-Andre Bergeron is a Skoula-esque -8 thru those same five games. The Caps need to develop some semblance of a defense in front of Semyon Varlamov; the last time anything in Washington was left that unprotected, the British burned down the White House. Mike Green of the Caps should be sued for non-support. Even with all that, the lilliputian Habs are not long for this series.

Philadelphia vs. New Jersey: The Devils couldn't muster up the stones to compete with the in-your-face Flyers, who were just as happy to throw a dirty hit as they were to make a play. Jacques Lemaire's Defense uber alles style just didn't stand up, especially as they added the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and ex-Wild Martin Skoula, considered the death knell for a team's playoff chances. Not every game can end 1-0 New Jersey, JL. Devils were eliminated for the fourth straight season in front of their home fans. When will someone stand up to Kimmo Timonen, much less Daniel Carcillo? The Flyers' defense, especially Chris Pronger, will have to be dealt with in the next round as well.

Buffalo vs. Boston: This series is hard to get a hold on. For the Sabres, the loss of Thomas Vanek was as much a rallying cry as a blow to the active roster. Taken out on yet another dirty hit, the Sabres' leading scorer (and, former Gopher) has not been in the lineup since the first period of Game 2, and that has not helped the Sabres' chances. On the other hand, Ryan Miller has shown why he really is one of the top 5 goalies in the world. When your leading scorer after five games only has 4 points (Patrice Bergeron), you've got problems scoring. Again, Zdeno Chara is stepping up, big time, like he hasn't done in years. Times and series like this are reason why the Bruins signed him as an UFA several seasons ago. Tukka Rask is clearly showing he is the No. 1 goalie in the Hub.

Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa: With more replays than your average NFL season, this series slowly ground to a near-halt in Game 6 Saturday night, as numerous calls to Toronto were made for various reviewable situations. Finally, the end came for the Sens, as ex-Wild Pascal Dupuis put Ottawa into its' annual 'why can't we ever win?' summer funk. The Pens started to look like they were getting into playoff form as the series dragged on, but how bad a toll will the three overtime games in this series take on the offensive stars of this team? With New Jersey eliminated, and Buffalo/Boston not settled yet, the Pens don't even know when -- or where -- they will play their next game. Very unsettling.

My own opinions: (Let's see if I'm right)

West: Detroit (5) vs. San Jose (1) -- San Jose blows it to hell after this series. Red Wings in 6.

Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (2) -- Speedy Hawks blow by Sedins and Luongo. Hawks in 6.

East: Philadelphia (7) vs. Washington (1) -- Hardest one to call. High-flying Caps vs. hockey's dirtiest team (Flyers). Very slight edge to Washington for goaltending. Caps in 7.

Pittsburgh (4) vs. Buffalo (3) -- Miller and Buffalo defense vs. Pens, STK and Geno. Defense: even. If Vanek returns, Sabres in 7. If not, Pens in 6.


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