As the first round of the NHL playoffs winds down, our hockey team of Stephen Mapes and Jay Kumar looks back at the last week of games, while watching the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals play in overtime in game 7 of their series.
Jay: Okay, well, here we are chatting while we wait for yet another overtime between Boston and Washington. Only this one is game 7. Next goal wins. What are your thoughts on this series? You picked it to go 7, right?
Stephen: I picked Caps in 7, so my prophecy may yet come true. I think almost everyone has been surprised by Washington. They’ve been defensively sound, gotten some reliable offense, and Holtby has been a sensation in his debut. I really thought Bs were done for after game 5, but kudos to them for settling down and Thomas for locking into his groove and dictating the tempo for the past two games. But it’s still down to a goal, and Caps have the momentum after that huge PK.
And they just flashed on screen that this is the first series in NHL history in which every game was decided by one goal.
Jay: Momentum going into an OT is a curious thing. After an intermission, it’s a whole new game. This is the fourth OT of the series; Boston has won two of them. It’ll be interesting to see how the teams approach it. Certainly Ovechkin will be fresh since Dale Hunter hardly played him, but will that change in overtime? I predict the Bruins take it on a Lucic goal.
Stephen: I think Caps come out fast and get one off Laich. So we shall see.
Jay: Okay, it’s about to start. Should be exciting. Let’s talk about the other series. There are two game 7s tomorrow night: Rangers-Senators and Devils-Panthers. What do you think will happen in those games?
Stephen: As much as I love big upsets, I think the home teams will both take it, though if I had to pick one to lose, I’d go for Devils over Panthers. Rangers have had their wake-up call, but I think they settle down. And I am still not sure why Florida pulled Theodore in game 6.
Jay: Damn, Bergeron almost won it for Boston.
Stephen: Yeah, close one, but managed to get steered wide.
Jay: I agree about the other series, Rangers and Devils. Although I thought they’d both have won already. How about that Flyers-Pens series? Wait–the Caps won. Yet another upset!
Stephen: And Caps win! I feel so prescient. That was the closest series I have ever seen, but Caps showed that tenacity and defense mean so much, more than regular season records.
Jay: Joel Ward with the winner at 2:57 of OT. Stunning, but kind of fitting in this year of upsets. Boston joins the Penguins, Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago as good teams that were bumped early.
Stephen: Yep, we are now guaranteed a new Stanley Cup champion, the past four winners are now out.
Jay: You think NBC is desperately hoping the Rangers win Thursday? They’ve got to be hoping for a New York-LA final. What a first round, though.
Stephen: But anyways, back to the Pens series. As upset as I was to see them go down, I have to admit that, if the Flyers team from game 6 shows up next round, they could go all the way. That was a defensively sound, offensively potent, crew. But it was the first time in six games they showed any real fundamentals on defense. It’ll be interesting to see which team shows up. Pens just got surprised early and dug too deep a hole. They looked great in games 4 and 5, but everyone has a bad game, and Pens couldn’t afford one after their undisciplined early losses.
Jay: I was surprised at how ineffective Crosby was in that game 6, and really, throughout the whole series. I’m going to attribute it to lack of conditioning because he was inactive for so long. Fleury was also surprisingly bad, but he wasn’t helped by a sloppy Pens defense; not that the Flyers were any great shakes. If they played just about any other team, they might have lost. Bryzgalov was about the shakiest winning goalie I’ve ever seen in a playoff series. Still, Giroux really showed me something in game 7, setting the tone with a huge hit on Crosby and a goal in the first 32 seconds.
Stephen: Yeah. I honestly wonder if [Pittsburgh] would’ve done better without Crosby this post-season. He’s an amazing player, but his return completely shook up our lines, and he was not defensively sound even when he was on the ice. Fleury didn’t help himself either, and Malkin was invisible most of the series.
Jay: It was almost as though the teams switched personalities at times, with Pittsburgh playing as dirty as Philly usually does. Oh well, other than shoring up the defense, I think the Pens are still one of the best teams in the league next year. Let’s look back at the first round of the West, which is already done. Biggest shocker has to be LA taking no. 1 seed Vancouver out in five games. Jon Quick shut down the Canucks offense and Roberto Luongo found himself on the bench after game 2. Amazing.
Stephen: Yeah, Luongo is prone to the playoff yips, and this season is no different. And Quick showed he’s not just a regular season hero; he was amazing. Plus the Kings got goals, which is something they struggled with at times this season. But it’s yet to be seen if they can survive facing the dynamic duo of Halak and Elliott, as well as one of the best defenses in the West.
Jay: The Blues were efficient in taking out San Jose, as was Nashville in doing the same to Detroit in 5. Phoenix rode the hot goaltending of Mike Smith and took advantage of the lousy goaltending of Corey Crawford to knock off the Hawks in 6. So now we have Phoenix-Nashville and LA-St. Louis. Predictions?
Stephen: I liked Nashville early this season, and I still do. I think they handle Phoenix, though it won’t be a cake walk. But in the end, Rinne rises above Smith and this is Nashville’s year to make it to the conference finals.
As for the Kings and St Louis, the stats point towards the Blues easily, and they looked good. But I don’t know. Kings were surprisingly effective in round 1 and this has been the year of the upset. I think Kings surprise us and take it in 7.
How about you?
Jay: My track record isn’t very good so far, but I picked Nashville to go all the way. They’re not pretty, but they’re built for the playoffs: strong defensively, great goalie, clutch scoring. I say they beat Phoenix in 6. I like LA, but I think the Blues are similarly defensively tough. It should be a great goaltending battle, but St. Louis takes it in 6.
Stephen: So agreement on one match and difference on the other. There’s really no way to predict the East yet, as the match-ups could vary wildly based on tomorrow.
But what would be your prediction for an Eastern Conference final?
Jay: Tough to say because there is still much in the air, but assuming the Rangers and Devils win Thursday night, I believe you’d have Rangers-Caps and Flyers-Devils. Basically some good ol’ Patrick Division hate. I’d have to say the East final would be Rangers-Flyers, but after what we’ve seen the last few weeks, I wouldn’t be shocked if I was completely wrong.
Stephen: I like Rangers as well, but I think Devils handle the Flyers, giving us an Atlantic Division final. But like you said, so much in the air so it’s hard to say.
Jay: One thing for sure, it hasn’t been boring. Two more game 7s tomorrow night, followed by the first game of Phoenix-Nashville Friday and St. Louis-LA on Saturday. I love this time of year.
Stephen: Agreed. If I can’t cheer for my Pens team, I can at least be thankful it’s been an exciting postseason.
Jay: At least we weren’t talking about suspensions this time around.
Stephen: Though if we wanted to, we could say so long to Torres. [Ed. Note: Raffi Torres of Phoenix was suspended for 25 games following his hit that knocked Chicago’s Marian Hossa out of that series]
Jay: What a punk. Hopefully that sends a message to other like-minded a-holes. Torres has been doing that stuff his whole career, so I’m glad Shanahan brought the hammer down.
Stephen: I think it may have been one of the most welcome Shanabans yet.
One parting fun fact: of the remaining teams, the last time one won the Cup was 2003. If the Devils lose, we go back to Rangers in ’94. If they lose, we have to go back to ’75 for Philly. Odds are looking good we may induct a new franchise into Lord Stanley’s halls.