Sunday, May 16, 2010

Now, they play for hardware

OK, the NHL has finally come down to the Conference Finals, which mans at the end of this round, there will be trophies to be handed out. In the East it will be the 'real' trophy, the Prince of Wales Trophy; and in the West, the Clarence Campbell Bowl will be somewhat accepted by one of the two combatant teams.

There are so many contrasts in these upcoming series. In the East, it will be the flash and speed of Montreal vs. the 'Beat up at any cost' attitude of Philadelphia. Never mind that the Flyers win the game by making actual hockey plays; that's been secondary since the days of Gary Dornhoefer and 'Battleship' Bob Kelly. The main goal of the Flyers, is to goad their opponents into getting beat up so bad, that they forget about their game. With Montreal, however, having already taken out two teams (Washington and Pittsburgh) by essentially not allowing their opponents to play their game in order to even get to THIS point, well, hopefully -- for them -- the Flyers will figure out that this should not be monkey business, as usual. Scott Hartnell really should concentrate on something other than trying to run Michael Cammalleri thru the boards and across the parking lot to Lincoln Financial Field, and maybe concentrate on their own defense, which nearly blew the Boston series, save for the epic collapse of the Bruins in Game 7 on Friday night.

In the west, the phrase 'speed kills' will be very much in vogue these next two weeks, as the young and speedy Chicago Blackhawks should blow by the aging San Jose Sharks, whose long-term future will be determined by these next round of games; the Sharks management will be less likely to blow the whole thing up and start over, should they actually get to the Stanley Cup Finals. On the other hand, the way that Chicago has rebuilt the franchise over the last few seasons (remember the days of attendance of 8,000 or so, for games at the United Center vs. the Wild?) to reclaim the franchises' past glory, has led up to this point in time. This point. Now. Not next season, not last year. This year. Now. The Hawks will have to figure out how to keep as much of their talent in the Second City, because with the contracts coming due for their top players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith) there will be a major upheaval on Madison St. this summer.

And whither the Sharks? Management has had one hand on the plunger for three seasons straight. How much longer will the fans in the Bay Area put up with this underachieving bunch? This season is the first time in six seasons that the Sharks have even made it this far, despite being the best team in the West three of the last four seasons. The Sharks defeated Detroit last Saturday, so this time there can be no excuses for being tired. Chicago last played in Vancouver on Tuesday night, so they too have had a bit of a respite, from the every-other-day playoff grind.

But don't ask me who I want to win. I don't want to jinx the team that I think will go on to the Finals. I've been an 0-fer on playoff predictions in the first two rounds. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the playoffs.

Because now, there's hardware on the line.

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