We’re a week into the playoffs, and the dynamic hockey duo of Jay and Stephen are back for another week of breaking down the match-ups. It’s been a surprising post-season so far, especially compared to last week’s prediction. Here’s the blow by blow (pending review from Brendan Shanahan).
Flyers vs. Penguins
Stephen: Before the playoffs, I thought this was going to be a classic hockey match-up. Apparently it’s just a live action Slapshot.
Seriously, though, tonight was the worst case scenario for the Flyers. They had the momentum, a Pens team that had made themselves a joke on Sunday, and a chance for a sweep. Instead they lose by a score of 10-3, look terrible, and really have sown seeds of doubt as to whether they can wrap this series, let alone survive round two with 22 GA in 4 games. I still think they have the series in reach, but they did not do themselves any favors, and gave Pittsburgh a huge momentum shift after dominating them in all aspects for three games.
And as a Pens fan, can I just say that game 3 made me ashamed to be a Pens fan. Some of the worst hockey I’ve ever seen and some of the worst sportmanship I’ve ever seen. So I am happy they seemed to learn from that tonight.
Jay: It’s certainly been an insane first four games, with the blown leads, the goonery and the horrendous goaltending. I expected that last point from the Flyers, but Fleury has surprised me by how awful he’s been. Those first two goals tonight were more of the same, but he managed to hold it together after the Flyers took a 3-2 lead. And then Bryzgalov/Bobrovsky just rolled over and let the Pens score at will.
As for game 3, I was surprised at how ugly things got, especially considering that Matt Cooke wasn’t the main culprit among the Pens. You know your team has sunk to new depths when they make the Flyers look sympathetic by comparison. But now we go to game 5 with the Flyers up 3-1 and having no faith in their goalies. Even in the Philly wins, Bryz looked shaky.
Stephen: Yeah. The Pens got into their heads tonight, just like Philly did in game 3. If Fleury can settle down, and the Pens can avoid the goonery, it’s becoming increasingly believable that for the first time in franchise history, Philly could blow a 3-0 series lead. Provided for Curse of Consol doesn’t rear its head. And kudos to Cooke for staying clean (his misconduct tonight was really iffy in my opinion). I am not sure if it’s a change of heart or Mario breathing down his neck, but he’s cleaned up his act this season.
Kings vs. Canucks
Jay: Man, I can’t believe that one. I guess it wasn’t a shock that Quick is playing well for LA, but right from the start in game 1, the Kings just seemed to want it more. And their best player, Kopitar, only scored his first goal tonight (1-1 in the second as of this typing). Again, goaltending plays a huge role, with Roberto Luongo chased from the Canucks net after game 2 and Corey Schneider taking his place. The Canucks are one of the most hated teams in the league, so I don’t think anyone will miss them if they get bumped early. I certainly won’t.
Stephen: Same here, even if I picked them before the season to take the Cup. Like we said last week, if Luongo got the yips it’d be tough for them to match the Kings. He hasn’t collapsed at a Bryz or Fluery level, but when you’re against Quick, any flub is a big one. And the Kings have surprised with some offense as well! That was my biggest question mark for them. It’s 1-1 now halfway through the game, and entirely possible the President’s Cup winners get swept (Editor’s note: Vancouver won the game 3-1, so no sweeps this round). Even with Daniel Sedin out for the early games, I think the Kings have, as you said, just looked hungrier.
Senators vs. Rangers
Jay: Okay, on to some of the other series. Ottawa tied their series with the Rangers at 2 tonight with another overtime thriller (there’s ANOTHER trend…tons of OT games already) thanks to a ridiculously sweet goal by Kyle Turris. There’s a series that’s the polar opposite of the Flyers-Pens: tight-checking, great goaltending. There’s also been some thuggishness, but for the most part, really exciting hockey.
Stephen: Yeah, and the Senators have really proven that they deserve to be here, despite being a #8 seed. Going toe-to-toe with King Henrik and a solid Rangers team, pulling out big OT wins. Really, the series could break either way. What an upset that would be, and a vindication of their season, to not only defy expectations but to dethrone the top seed.
Jay: Craig Anderson’s been playing out of his mind, and he’s proven he’s a top NHL goalie. And imagine if the Sens had Daniel Alfredsson in the lineup; he missed another game tonight after taking a nasty elbow from Carl Hagelin in game 2.
Capitols vs. Bruins
Jay: Another surprisingly battle! I thought the B’s would take this one fairly easily in 5, while you predicted a much tighter series. I could still be right, but so far Braden Holtby has really stepped up for the Caps and providing terrific goaltending and the team as a whole has played good defense. The B’s are up 2-1 going into Thursday’s game, and Caps coach Dale Hunter is doing his best to take the heat off his team by lodging crazy accusations every day to the media. If he could, I’m sure he’d grab Ovie’s stick and spear Lucic with it.
Stephen: Yeah, Hunter’s surprised me with his antics, especially because otherwise the Caps have been playing a good game against the reigning champs. Holtby has stepped it up, and Washington has found momentum to keep up (despite being down a game). That said, the levy could still break in tomorrow’s big game 4. If Caps can tie it up, it’s anyone’s series going down the stretch. And Chara’s game winner in the last game was definitely a huge momentum shifter for the Bs. Like you said, though, this has been a series of defense and goaltending, and so far the Caps have been right there with the big boys of Boston.
Devils vs. Panthers
Stephen: The last of the Eastern games has also been surprising, as Florida has come back to hoist a 2-1 lead over our favored team in the series, the Devils. I really felt they were outmatched against Brodeur and company, but the Panthers have proved they’re not a fluke and the product of a weak division. And they managed to get Brodeur pulled for the first time in 6 years during a playoff game!
Jay: Yeah, the Panthers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2000 and everyone thought they’d roll over, especially after the Devils took a quick 3-0 lead the other night. But then they stormed back to win. I’m still not convinced Florida wins that series, but it’s nice to see them take a few games.
Stephen: At this point, though, the Devils are the ones that have to prove themselves, down a game, and coming off a demoralizing game 3 loss.
Wings vs. Predators
Jay: Nashville has a 3-1 lead but they can thank Pekka Rinne for his amazing goaltending and Shanahan for not suspending Weber. I think the Wings will make things interesting, though. They’re too damn good.
Stephen: Yeah, that Weber non-call casts a really dark pall on their playoff run. Rinne has been outstanding, and they’re looking like a team that can go deep, but this is a club that can win without the goonery, and now Weber has by association made the whole team look bad. And worst of all, he gave this fiery Wings team a reason to fight. Preds have a good position now, but it’s not over yet, and I agree: this one could still get interesting.
Sharks vs. Blues
Jay: The Blues had the best goalie tandem in the league this year, and it’s serving them well in this series, which they lead 2-1. Jaro Halak was injured in game 2, but Brian Elliott has come in and played just as well. I watched some of game 3 and the Sharks were putting some good pressure on Elliott, but he made some huge saves. Ken Hitchcock has the Blues playing that tight defensive game that wins in the playoffs.
Stephen: Yeah, I still like them in the West, even over the Preds, though I admit I short-changed the Sharks somewhat. Game 2 aside they’ve been getting good pressure and making things hard for the Blues. And with half the twin-headed monster in goal now injured, it’s going to be seen whether Elliot can handle the lion’s share in net. But the D in front of him really does help his chances.
Blackhawks vs. Coyotes
Jay: The Coyotes lead 2-1 in the series, although the Torres hit has certainly drawn attention for all the wrong reasons. Chicago’s Andrew Shaw was suspended for running Yotes goalie Mike Smith, so the Hawks aren’t exactly angels, either. Phoenix is another team with a coach, Dave Tippett, who preaches sound defensive play. I think this series will go the distance, although much will ride on whether Corey Crawford can provide the same level of goaltending as Smith.
Stephen: Yeah, I liked the Hawks in this one, but Phoenix has played well, despite the Torres hit, and Smith has shown he’s worthy for a Vezina consideration. All three games have been decided by a single goal, so either team could really come out on top. I agree. Seven games here. But in the end, Coyotes look good on D, and that’s what wins championships in the NHL.
Jay: True, but I can’t see Phoenix winning the Cup. That would be pretty hilarious, given how the NHL has been messing with that team for the last umpteen years.
Stephen: Yeah, I don’t think the Coyotes can get out alive in the West with teams like LA and St. Louis playing equally sound defense. But as this first round has shown me, I don’t know as much about hockey as I thought. Or at least about chaos theory.
Jay: Seriously. Gotta love playoff hockey. There’s nothing better. Although I can do without the stupid stuff. If tonight’s Flyers-Pens game is any indication, the refs are under orders to toss guys as soon as they do anything remotely out of line. I’m okay with that. Zac Rinaldo wants to start some shit? Hit the locker room.
Stephen: I expect he gets a call for Shanahan for his shenanigans tonight. Not just a cross check, but a head punch while the player was down? Lav should just bench the goon. Same goes for Pittsburgh’s Asham and any of the other players who are making the league look bad.
Jay: The biggest story of the first round so far has to be the violence level, which has been ratcheted up a few notches above Braveheart. There have already been more suspensions handed out than all of last spring’s playoffs, and that’s not including the infamous non-suspension of Nashville’s Shea Weber for smashing Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass at the end of game 1. That was just brutal. And of course, the stakes are much higher and the play is more desperate, but I’m not sure why the headshots have been so frequent. Part of the problem is inconsistent officiating and Shanahan rulings; the Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa the other night was missed by all four officials on the ice. Although frankly, it looked like every other dirty hit that punk has delivered over the years, and he’s been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing.
Stephen: Yeah, I really would love to see the hammer dropped on him like it was on Asham. It’s been a shame, too, because NBC has really gone out of their way to spotlight the series this year, and America is getting treated to the dirty hockey instead of the upstanding play the league is usually known for.
Jay: Well, let’s hope the rest of the first round is as exciting as the last week.
Stephen: Indeed. We may not even be done with round 1 next week, but we’ll be back either way.