Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Playoff thoughts


Haven't posted in a while, so let me chime in now since it's frickin' 7:30 in the morning and I can't sleep. Some quick hits on the goings-on of the NHL playoffs so far:

*Not intentionally starting off with my team, but oh well: I don't know what the talk is like outside of Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia-Pittsburgh has got to be one of the NHL's fiercest rivalries. These two teams really loathe each other, as do the fan bases, and I don't know if that hatred is talked about around the league.

What's funny is, having lived in the Pittsburgh area all my life, I think the hockey rivalry is really the only one Pittsburgh-Philly-related that is like this. As a fan of the Steelers, I bear no particular malice towards the Eagles. As a glutton for punishment (read: Pirates fan), I don't even hold in reserve much rancor towards the Phillies. Not anymore, anyway.

The Pens-Flyers are the only Pit-Philly teams who are still in the same division, so they play each other far more than in the other sports, and maybe that lack of a rivalry over the other sports (at least in my eyes) helps cause such bitterness on the ice.

Anyway, Game 4 Tuesday was perhaps one of the most stressful games I've ever watched. I swear, 15 minutes after the game and I still hadn't caught my breath. Pittsburgh went into a total shell in the third period and were lucky to say the least to come away with a win.

*Speaking of rivalries, Boston-Montreal is getting particularly heated again as well. I teased a Minnesota fan on Russo's blog recently about comments made about Patrick Roy; among the things I said was I bet a lot of Habs fans would prefer Roy playing for Montreal right now instead of Carey Price. That thought hasn't changed.

Does Jaroslav Halak start Game 4? I doubt it, but if they haven't started already, the questions about Price's reliability have to be creeping up.

Also, you stay classy, Montreal fans: Keep booing the U.S. anthem. I hope the Canadian equivalent of 9-1-1 is on speed dial for when you riot after you're eliminated (or if you somehow erase the 3-0 deficit.)

*It is my belief the Capitals will rebound and win their series with the Rangers. Game 3 was a rather telling statement. Simeon Varlamov is becoming the next Johan Hedberg. Back in 2000-01, Hedberg was traded to Pittsburgh as the owner of roughly seven NHL games under his belt; he proceeded to carry the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals.

Varlamov might not duplicate that, but in two playoff games, he's allowed one goal. So, he might. This after, in six regular season games, posting a 2.37 GAA and a .918 save percentage. I'll be honest: I'd never heard of this guy before. But he's stonewalling an already-weak Rangers offense (fewest goals of any playoff team this season) and now the Washington attack appears awake and back in action. I think Henrik Lundqvist has to steal two more Ws for New York and I don't think it'll happen.

I bet Washington fans are glad Jose Theodore has only one year left on his contract instead of, say, three or four.

*How 'bout that Jussi Jokinen? His goal with .2 second remaining might have changed that series back in Carolina's favor. Talk about a back-and-forth series! First, New Jersey embarrasses Carolina, 4-1. Then the 'canes come back and win Game 2 on an overtime goal by Tim freaking Gleason. (Fun fact: In just two games, Gleason now has more playoff overtime goals than Mario Lemieux.)

After that, the Devils steal back home ice with an OT winner of their own. In Game 4, Carolina goes up 3-0, sees the Devils storm back to tie things up, the momentum all Jersey's way in preparation to go up 3-1 heading home, then Jokinen's goal happens and now we're tied.

Granted, one Mr. Martin Brodeur was upset with how the play went down, feeling Jokinen was interfering with him. And he might have; I haven't seen any clear replays of it. But Brodeur had a bit of a meltdown after the game, slamming his stick several times against the boards.

Will be interesting to see how Game 5 turns out.

*The "Hello! Thanks for showing up for the playoffs!" Award goes to the San Jose Sharks. Good to have you guys on board. After scoring just two goals in the first two games at home, the Sharks got a much-needed victory Tuesday. 8 a.m. is too early for me to do any research, but has any Presidents Trophy winner ever gone down 0-3 in a series?

I can't imagine it's happened often. San Jose spared itself that fate but is going to have to win at least one more game on the road. Jonas Hiller has been a rock, stopping an offense that proved so potent in the regular season (third-most goals in the West). I'm not sure the Sharks have it in them.

Shocking, huh? San Jose's usually so good in the postseason.

*I haven't caught much of the games, but has any team in playoff history been as over-matched as Columbus? Whew. Now, don't get me wrong, a hearty, sincere congratulations to the Blue Jackets for getting to this point. But Detroit's making it look easy.

Chris Osgood is making it his mission to shove it up all his critics', well, you know. Just two goals against in the series after having a fairly forgettable (in terms of GAA and save percentage) regular season. This isn't entirely unexpected and Osgood is quite capable of keeping up this string of performances. The Blue Jackets, apart from a so-far invisible Rick Nash, aren't exactly known for their offensive pedigree but it's still hard to overlook what Osgood has done.

*As for the series that has been completed, here are first some props for the St. Louis Blues and the incredible run they made. Naturally a lot of media is loving Pittsburgh's charge but St. Louis might have been more impressive, going from last place in the West into the sixth seed. Four and out wasn't the end expected or desired, of course, but led by, among others, goalie Chris Mason, Brad Boyes, Keith Tkachuk, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, St. Louis gave something to its fans to remember this season.

And a congratulations to the Vancouver Canucks (Minnesota fans are now eating their own livers) for being the first team to qualify for this year's second round.

Opinions that Roberto Luongo is overrated are, in my opinion, erroneous, but I won't tell people what to think. Luongo's an incredible goalie and he made 18 saves in overtime Tuesday, helping to stop three St. Louis power plays in the extra session. That batch of saves Luongo made was part of 47 in Game 4 and 131 for the series, a whopping .962 save percentage.

He's good, people. Deal with it.

*Finally, work kept me from witnessing the end-game theatrics of Game 3 between Calgary and Chicago, but it hasn't stopped me from wondering if anyone will walk away alive from this series. Game 3 became, as my friend and I would say, chippy.

It's an obvious pun, but the Flames were really feeling the heat. They were sort of in control of the Northwest Division, only to see a late-season slide coupled with Vancouver's surge result in the Canucks winning the division and Calgary reduced to the fifth seed. Don't think Olli Jokinen haters weren't loving that.

Then came Game 1, when Martin Havlat scored with under six minutes left to tie the game, then won it in overtime before you could blink. Then giving up three goals in the second period after having taken a 2-0 lead in Game 2 left the Flames scratching their heads.

Game 3 was a must-win but, like the Sharks, Calgary's biscuits are still in the frying pan, and I would expect heads to roll if the Flames are making curling plans next week.

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