Friday, April 30, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 17: Potent Pittsburgh power play produces victory

Penguins make Canadiens pay for mistakes, take Game 1
Three of the most popular words in the Pittsburgh fan's vernacular this season and parts of last season were: Fire Mike Yeo. Actually, we can make it four most popular. Just add "effing" somewhere in the mix. If you're really angry, you can stretch it to six words.

Yeo runs the team's power play, which was fairly ineffective nearly the entire season despite boasting talents Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.

Now the fans are wondering what strange world they're in, after Pittsburgh converted all four opportunities with the man-advantage and eventually chased Jaroslav Halak in a 6-3 victory over Montreal in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series. The Canadiens had allowed just one power play goal to Washington in 33 chances.

The recipe for success against Halak seems to be get fewer, better shots. The Penguins registered only 24 shots for the game, 20 coming against Halak, who was replaced by Carey Price shortly after giving up Alex Goligoski's power play goal that gave Pittsburgh a 5-2 lead three minutes into the third period. Halak made a clutch save that could've made it 6-2, then Jacques Martin brought in Price. The thinking here is that lets Halak end the game on a good note (though if he hadn't made that save, his confidence could've been destroyed) and Halak will bounce back. He did against Washington.

In contrast, Montreal had 31 shots, just the second time the team has had more shots than its opponent in the postseason.

Pittsburgh set up screens in front of Halak and made him go side to side with some pretty passing, first on Gonchar's one-timer from the center point, after a pass to Malkin, a quick dish a short distance away to Kris Letang, then back to Gonchar a handful of feet from Letang. Alexei Ponikarovsky dished a pass to Jordan Staal, who skated laterally in the slot and fired back the way he came, beating Halak over his left shoulder.

Those goals came after Montreal rookie P.K. Subban - who's going to be GOOD - scored his first career goal by throwing the puck at the Pittsburgh net, where it was re-directed past Marc-Andre Fleury by defenseman Mark Eaton.

Staal's goal came after Montreal lost its discipline. Matt Cooke drilled Andrei Markov in the corner with a clean hit, but Markov landed awkwardly and writhed in pain on the ice. Scott Gomez jumped Cooke at center ice and ended up with the minor penalty upon which Staal scored. Markov left the game and did not return.

Another Canadiens mistake led to Letang's goal early in the second period. Montreal was whistled for too many men on the ice, and Letang snapped a shot past Halak from the slot after nice work by Crosby to win a puck battle along the boards.

Montreal answered, slowly gaining momentum its way, and it paid off when Mike Cammalleri laced a one-timer off a nice feed by Gomez late in the second period. The Canadiens were able to take advantage of a Pittsburgh line that overextended its shift.

But Craig freaking Adams restored Pittsburgh's equilibrium off a nifty passing play between Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Adams. Cooke controlled a puck in the attacking zone, nudged it to Dupuis, whose cross-ice feed found Adams, who re-directed it behind Halak. It was Adams' second goal of the postseason after having none during the regular season and made the score 4-2 with 1:24 left in the period.

Montreal's last mistake might've been its biggest. Brian Gionta tossed the puck out of play from his own end for a delay of game penalty, and Goligoski converted a Crosby pass for a three-goal advantage. Gionta got it back with a power play marker of his own with 7:31 remaining, but Bill Guerin's empty net goal sealed Pittsburgh's victory.

Fleury finished with 28 saves, including a dazzler on Gomez in the second period.

The lone blight on Pittsburgh's game was Staal left with an injury during the second period and did not return.

Stat of the night
13 - Different Penguins who registered at least one point. Guerin, Crosby, Letang and Goligoski each had two.

Quote of the night
"If you make mistakes, they're going to jump on them."
Gomez, who had two assists

(Though I would also cite Han Solo's "Great kid, don't get cocky" to my fellow Penguins fans and to the Penguins themselves.)

Saturday predictions
Boston 3, Philadelphia 1
Chicago 5, Vancouver 3

Eastern Conference semifinals preview

I wonder what the odds were when the playoffs started that Boston would have home-ice advantage in the second round. I know I wouldn't have bet on it.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Montreal

Regular season head-to-head: Pittsburgh 3-1 (all in regulation)

How they got here: Pittsburgh eliminated Ottawa in six games. Montreal pulled off the upset of the century by defeating Washington in seven.

Power play: Pittsburgh: 17.2% (regular season, 19th best), 25.0 (playoffs, 4th best.) Montreal: 21.8% (regular season, 2nd), 20.0 (playoffs, 9th best)

Penalty killing: Pittsburgh: 84.1% (regular season, 9th best), 68.2 (playoffs, 2nd worst.) Montreal: 83.0% (regular season, 12th), 97.0 (playoffs, 2nd.)

Leaders: Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby five goals, nine assists, 14 points; Brooks Orpik 32 hits; Kris Letang 14 blocks. Montreal: Mike Cammalleri five goals, five assists, 10 points; Ryan O'Byrne 16 hits; Hal Gill 7,193 31 blocks.

Goalies: Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury (4-2, 2.75, .890, 0 shutouts); Montreal: Jaroslav Halak (4-3, 2.46, .939, 0 shutouts)

Outlook: The Penguins were weird. Good PK, bad PP in the regular season, bad PK, good PP in the playoffs. Granted, the penalty killing gave up a fluke goal and two 5-on-3 goals, but that's an area that needs to improve. As does Fleury and the defense in general, both of which were inconsistent in the first round. Crosby was shut down in Game 6 but was a force in the first five games and needs to continue that. Evgeni Malkin needs to wake up.

Montreal's team-wide commitment to blocking shots was incredible. The Penguins had a lot of shots blocked by Ottawa in the first round, but the Habs surpassed the Senators. At the risk of sounding like a Caps-hater and Pens-supporter (which I am), Pittsburgh plays a different style than Washington. Still, the Canadiens will find ways to clamp down on the Penguins and use the same formula they did against the Capitals: Get an early lead and pack it in in the defensive zone.

Special teams will be key, as I alluded to in the first paragraph. Probably the most stunning part of Montreal's upset is how the Canadiens allowed only one power play goal to the Capitals.

Prediction: Halak is in a zone. Fleury isn't. Maybe the Penguins' forecheck will wear down a smaller Montreal team eventually, but don't bet against the hot goalie (J-S Giguere, 2003 anyone?). Canadiens in six.

#6 Boston vs. #7 Philadelphia

Regular season head-to-head: Tied 2-1-1 (Flyers with one SO win; Bruins with one OT win)

How they got here: Boston sent Buffalo packing in six games. Philadelphia upset New Jersey in five.

Power play: Boston: 16.6% (regular season, 23rd), 27.3 (playoffs, 4th best.) Philadelphia: 21.4% (regular season, 3rd best), 27.6 (playoffs, 3rd best)

Penalty killing: Boston: 86.4% (regular season, 3rd), 100.0 (playoffs, 1st.) Philadelphia: 83.0% (regular season, 11th), 87.5 (playoffs, 4th best)

Leaders: Boston: Mark Recchi, David Krejci three goals; Recchi, Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Miroslav Satan five points; Matt Hunwick four assists; Vladimir Sobotka 30 hits; Johnny Boychuk 13 blocks. Philadelphia: Claude Giroux four goals; Mike Richards six assists, eight points; Chris Pronger 20 blocks; Daniel Carcillo, Ian Laperriere, Kimmo Timonen 11 hits.

Goalies: Boston: Tuukka Rask (4-2, 2.18, .927, 0 shutouts); Philadelphia: Brian Boucher (4-1, 1.59, .940, 1 shutout)

Outlook: I actually cringed when I saw Boston's playoff scoring leaders. That might be a good thing I guess, because the Bruins are getting production from multiple sources and if one person goes cold, it doesn't matter as much.

This is going to be a rough-and-tumble series that hopefully is more entertaining than the Winter Classic. It's hard to get less so.

Philadelphia will be without stars Jeff Carter (the real on-ice leader of that team) and Simon Gagne, along with rugged grinder Ian Laperriere, a talented penalty killer. That'll put more pressure on Giroux, Richards and Daniel Briere to score against a tough goalie and a staunch defensive team.

It sounds like the Bruins, at some point, will get Marc Savard back into the lineup but it'll be interesting to see what kind of conditioning he has after being out so long. He should still help the power play at least, and will become more dangerous once he gets his legs back. They'll still look to play low-scoring games and scratch out goals where they can.

Prediction: Boucher wasn't tested much against New Jersey, and Boston's offense isn't exactly the 2010 Capitals. But Rask is better and the Bruins' special teams will determine another series. Boston in six.

The Playoffs, Day 16: No rest for the weary

Sharks get early jump, hold off Wings
They call them Jumbo Joe and Little Joe. The former is Thornton and the latter is Pavelski.

Little Joe needs to change to Playoff Joe.

Pavelski scored two goals, including the eventual winner, and San Jose survived Detroit's push to take a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of its second-round series. Get this: It's the first time the Sharks held a 1-0 series lead since 2007. The opponent? Detroit. The result: The Red Wings won in six games anyway.

Back to Pavelski. He's scored in four straight playoff games, one shy of the team record set by (ready for this?) Patrick Marleau in 2006. Yes, the same Marleau who has 10 goals in his last 36 playoff games and missed Thursday's game because of an illness.

Both of Pavelski's goals came on the power play and he also assisted on Devin Setoguchi's goal. The Sharks scored three times in a span of 1:19 midway through the first period, by Pavelski, Dany Heatley with his first of the playoffs and Setoguchi.

It's a good thing for San Jose it got such a great jump. The Wings scored 1:16 after falling behind 3-0 on Dan Cleary's first of the postseason, then made it 3-2 in the second period on Johan Franzen's goal. I don't know if the Sharks relaxed or what, but after taking the 3-0 lead, they didn't seem very much in control of the game.

Pavelski restored the two-goal cushion early in the third period with a 5-on-3 goal, but Brian Rafalski cut the deficit in half just 2:07 later.

Heatley finished with two points. Dan Boyle recorded three assists. Thornton had a nice pass to set up Heatley's goal. Evgeni Nabokov made 20 saves.

Based on Game 1, this is going to be a real fun series. The teams have already shown a Grade A dislike for each other and that's only going to increase as the series goes along.

Stat of the night
1 - Career goals, including Thursday's, for Dany Heatley in 10 total meetings (nine in the regular season) against Detroit.

Quote of the night
"I'm not sure if Jimmy Howard saw this or if it was a well-timed foot spasm, but he got it."
Daryl Reaugh, after a Howard reflex kick-save

Friday prediction
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 2

(One-game schedules FTL.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Western Conference semifinals preview

Fun fact: In the West, seeds 1, 2, 3 and 5 advanced. In the East: 4, 6, 7 and 8. Fun fact #2: I predicted all Western winners correctly, nailing three series exactly. I predicted zero of the Eastern winners. Please take that into consideration before placing your bets.

#1 San Jose vs. #5 Detroit

Regular season head-to-head: Detroit 3-0-1 (one SO win, one SO loss)

How they got here: San Jose defeated Colorado in six games. Detroit ousted Phoenix in seven.

Power play: San Jose: 21.0% (regular season, 4th best), 19.2 (playoffs, 8th best.) Detroit: 19.2% (regular season, 9th best), 23.5 (playoffs, 7th best.)

Penalty killing: San Jose 85.0% (regular season, 5th best), 86.7 (playoffs, 5th best.) Detroit 83.9% (regular season, 10th best), 81.8 (playoffs, 7th best.)

Leaders: San Jose: Joe Pavelski five goals, eight points; Ryane Clowe seven assists, eight points; Scott Nichol 28 hits; Dan Boyle 12 blocks. Detroit: Henrik Zetterberg six goals, 11 points; Johan Franzen six assists; Darren Helm 29 hits; Andreas Lilja 13 blocks.

Goalies: San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov (4-2, 1.76 GAA, .926%, 1 shutout); Detroit: Jimmy Howard (4-3, 2.59, .919, 1 shutout)

Outlook: A better team than Colorado might have knocked off the Sharks. It's imperative that Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau show up to play in this series, particularly Thornton and Marleau, who already have weak playoff resumes. That trio has combined for 10 points but just one goal and is a collective minus-7. The one goal was the fifth of a 5-0 win and came late in Game 5. San Jose's second line of Pavelski, Clowe and Devin Setoguchi carried the team into the second round.

In contrast, Detroit's stars showed up for its first round series, and that's what got the Red Wings through to the second round. When Pavel Datsyuk or Zetterberg scored, the Red Wings won. Against Phoenix, particularly in Game 7, Detroit returned to its old form and is going to be a far more competitive team against San Jose than Colorado was.

Prediction: There were questions about Howard and they weren't necessarily answered against the Coyotes. There are still concerns about Nabokov and others on the Sharks. San Jose's top line failed to produce against the Avalanche. It won't produce against Detroit, which owned San Jose even during the regular season, when the Wings struggled and the Sharks didn't. Red Wings in six.

#2 Chicago vs. #3 Vancouver

Regular season head-to-head: Tied 2-2 (all in regulation)

How they got here: Chicago out-lasted Nashville in six games. Vancouver pushed Los Angeles aside in six.

Power play: Chicago: 17.7% (regular season, 16th best), 17.4 (playoffs, 11th best.) Vancouver: 20.9% (regular season, 6th best), 25.0 (playoffs, 6th best.)

Penalty killing: Chicago: 85.3% (regular season, 4th best), 96.3 (playoffs, 3rd best.) Vancouver: 81.9% (regular season, 17th best), 61.5 (playoffs, the worst.)

Leaders: Chicago: Patrick Kane four goals; Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa six assists; Toews eight points; Brent Seabrook 22 hits; Brent Sopel 21 blocks. Vancouver: Mikael Samuelsson seven goals, 11 points; Henrik Sedin seven assists; Alex Burrows 18 hits; Alexander Edler 15 blocks.

Goalies: Chicago: Antti Niemi (4-2, 2.15, .921, 2 shutouts); Vancouver: Roberto Luongo (4-2, 2.92, .893, 0 shutouts)

Outlook: This has the makings of the most entertaining series and one of the most physical (as long as Philadelphia is alive, the Flyers will always be in the running for most physical series, regardless of who they play.) It's a rematch of last season and there's a growing hatred amongst these teams. Similar to the other series in the West, there remain unsolved questions of whether either goaltender can handle playoff hockey.

The best part is, both opponents for the goalies face a much more potent lineup than the one they played in the first round. The Canucks will try to push around the Blackhawks, who aren't likely to take any crap from the team they ousted last season.

The forwards arguably are on even terms. Toews, Hossa, Kane, Patrick Sharp against the Sedins, Samuelsson, Burrows and Ryan Kesler. The defense in terms of point production might actually favor Vancouver. Defensively there's a slight edge to Chicago.

Prediction: So, as usual, it comes down to the goaltenders. Niemi was hit-or-miss, while Luongo was mainly miss, bailed out by his offense a lot of the time. Neither breeds confidence, but Chicago will provide more support to Niemi than Vancouver will to Luongo. Blackhawks in seven.

We'll do the East on Friday.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Deja vu: Halak does it again, Montreal moves on

Canadiens complete historic comeback; Washington finishes epic collapse
Know those commercials with the hockey clips that ends with something like: "The Stanley Cup Playoffs. Where history will be made"? Well, history was made Wednesday night.

Jaroslav Halak maintained his phenomenal form, Dominic "I was traded for a second round pick" Moore scored the eventual winner late in the game and Montreal shocked Washington, 2-1, to advance to the second round after trailing in the series 3-1. It is the first time ever a No. 1 seed blew a 3-1 series lead to a No. 8 seed. The Canadiens face Pittsburgh in the second round.

So the lesson is: That second round draft pick was worth it.

The formula in Game 7 was pretty much exactly as in Game 6. Montreal scored first and went into a shell, pulling everyone back defensively in an attempt not to give the Capitals any room. Washington did its part, firing shot after shot at Halak, and didn't get anything past him until a broken play goal late in the game.

Marc-Andre Bergeron (4:06 ice time, 2:53 on the power play) scored on a 4-on-3 advantage in the final minute of the first period when Mike Green took a cross checking penalty in the attacking zone. Green is fortunate the Norris Trophy ballots are done already, because he was horrid on Moore's goal. Green attempted to play Maxim Lapierre off the puck, wasn't very effective at it, and ended up letting the puck sit in the middle of the ice.

Moore swooped in and fired a wrist shot far side on Semyon Varlamov for a crucial 2-0 lead. We knew Washington wouldn't get shut out, so getting that second goal was imperative.

For the rest of the game, it was all Halak, who finished with 41 saves. Both teams hit at least one post, including one by Capitals no-show winger Alexander Semin that would've given Washington an early 1-0 lead. Each team also had a disallowed goal, one when Mike Knuble made contact with Halak while the latter was in his crease, and when Lapierre shoved Varlamov into the cage. Both calls seemed correct to me.

Brooks Laich made things interesting by poking in a rebound with 2:16 to play, but Washington couldn't get anything else through, despite getting a power play with 1:44 to play.

Just as in Game 6, Washington fired 94 shots toward Halak. He stopped 41 of the 42 that made it on goal. The Canadiens blocked 41. Another 11 missed the net. Props to Andrei Markov and Hal Gill (six blocked shots each) and Ryan O'Byrne (five.) Forwards Tom Pyatt (four) and Benoit Pouliot (three) got into the act, as did rookie PK Subban (three), who was playing just his second career playoff game.

Montreal registered just 16 shots on goal - eight, three and five by period.

So why did Washington lose this series? A variety of reasons. Halak gets the first nod. I suppose he's not shaking any more, is he? He had a remarkable turnaround after a horrid ending to Game 2 - a game Montreal seemed to have - and a less-than-stellar Game 3. Let's give coach Jacques Martin full credit for going back to Halak. (Though to play devil's advocate, his other choice was Carey Price. Seriously, who would you go with?)

Next, Green was awful in the series, scoring no goals and registering just three assists while displaying horrid work in the defensive zone. In addition, he took a number of bad penalties that cost Washington one of its best offensive talents. He's becoming a postseason dud (one goal in 20 playoff games.)

Third, where was Semin? This is the second straight playoff series where he has been a non-factor. He failed to score any goals against Pittsburgh in the second round last season and had nothing but two assists in this series. For a guy who scored 40 goals, more production is required. (Takes a real genius to figure that out, right?) He ends the playoffs with a league-high (for now) 44 shots, but he's got to score.

Fourth, related to the previous two items, the vaunted Washington power play was 1-for-33. The Capitals scored more shorthanded goals than power play goals.

Whoever provided color commentary for Versus - I think it was Bill Jaffe - pinned something too. This team just isn't built for the playoffs. There's too much individualism and not enough team play. Montreal was just the opposite, playing almost entirely as a team. The Canadiens surrounded puck carriers, blocked tons of shots and no individual tried to do too much. All that great depth scoring Washington had disappeared, and Montreal deserves credit for shutting down that potent offense.

We've seen high seeds lose, and lose badly. Heck, we had the Devils this season. We've seen Presidents' Trophy winners crash out in the first round. Montreal is the ninth No. 8 seed to knock off the top seed. I won't say this upset tops every other one but it's got to be in the conversation.

Stats of the night
6:47 - Amount of time in the series that Washington held a lead on home ice, where the Capitals were 1-3 despite having the league's best home record in the regular season.

4 - Playoff series appearances for Ovechkin. Each has gone to Game 7, and the Capitals are 1-3 in those series.

1-4 - Jacques Martin's record as coach in Game 7s. He is the only coach in NHL history to lose four straight Game 7s.

0 - Eastern Conference division winners who advanced to the second round.

Quote of the night
"Before the series started, no one gave us a chance to win, not even one game. We proved (to) them they were wrong."
Halak. Hey, I said you'd win two games and that you'd steal one or two. Of course, I also said Montreal didn't have the defensive capability to hold Washington in check, and the Habs blocked roughly 4,923 shots in the series.

Thursday prediction
Oops, failed to check to see if there were any games Thursday. There is one.

San Jose 4, Detroit 3

Detroit plays roadrunner to Phoenix's Coyotes

Red Wings run roughshod over Phoenix, advance to second round
A roadrunner is a bird that can be described as red, white, fast as hell and native to Michigan.

Actually, none of that is true, except for the bird part. And the white. What is true is just like the coyote from Warner Brothers, Phoenix tried and tried to catch and kill Detroit and was simply unable to match the Red Wings' speed and tenacity.

Pavel Datsyuk scored twice in the second period, Detroit got two goals from defensemen in the same frame and blitzed Phoenix out of the playoffs, 6-1, and won the series in seven games. The Red Wings will play San Jose in the second round.

Unlucky draw for the Coyotes, who might've advanced against any other team. This might be a good time to offer my proposal of reseeding the top four teams in each conference based on points, but giving the division winners a top-four spot. Under this scenario, Phoenix would've been the third seed and Vancouver fourth (Pittsburgh would've been third and Buffalo fourth in the East.) This might penalize winners of weak divisions, but also potentially rewards second-place finishers of tough divisions, and all three division champs still get home-ice advantage in the first round. (Because you know, we've seen how important that is, with three teams being ousted despite having home ice.)

Anyway. This game closely resembled the first two games of the 2008 Final, when the Red Wings thoroughly dominated a young and somewhat inexperienced Pittsburgh team. Even after a scoreless first period, one got the sense that it wouldn't be long before Detroit hit pay dirt after enjoying a 17-6 shots advantage.

Detroit was faster, got to every loose puck and won just about every battle. But it took a broken play on a power play before Datsyuk scored his first of the game early in the second period. Less than two minutes later, Datsyuk netted his second on a breakaway during 4-on-4 play.

That seemed to indicate, "Here we go, time for Detroit to roll," but Vernon Fiddler scored directly off a faceoff to beat Jimmy Howard and make it 2-1.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, the momentum didn't last long. After a furious sequence around Ilya Bryzgalov's net, Nicklas Lidstrom fired a slapper into the cage for a 3-1 edge on the power play. Detroit converted three of six chances with the extra man.

Phoenix had a golden chance to get back into the game with a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. In fact, it was probably imperative the Coyotes score to have any shot the way they were being out-played. Instead, their weak power play, which was hit-or-miss - and mainly miss - all series, not only came up empty, but led to further disaster.

Lee Stempniak's attempted centering pass went awry - Toronto fans were nodding and laughing at home - and Brad Stuart picked up the puck, just out of the box, and beat Bryzgalov on a breakaway to give the Red Wings a 4-1 edge with five seconds left in the second period. Phoenix failed on all five of its power plays.

That was probably the dagger, but goals by Todd Bertuzzi and a second from Lidstrom made the score even more lopsided. Detroit finished with 50 shots, compared to 33 for Phoenix.

Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg each recorded three assist and Lidstrom finished with three points.

A friend asked me the other day how Phoenix won so many games with so little offensive talent. First, Bryzgalov was excellent all season. Second, Dave Tippett's system helped him out (Phoenix was 12th best in shots against per game) and the penalty killing was excellent (sixth best.) The Coyotes gave up very few goals (third-fewest per game) and a balanced offense - albeit with few true stars - scratched out enough goals consistently.

That style of play simply didn't work against Detroit, which was probably the best team in the league since the Olympic break. The Red Wings were healthy and getting excellent play from all their stars. Experience was most likely a factor, at least in Game 7, when the Coyotes had little business being on the same ice with the Red Wings.

It didn't help that Shane Doan missed most of the series. Maybe the Coyotes advance if he's in the lineup. He's their leader, a tremendous physical presence and is their best offensive player.

Still, the Coyotes had a hell of a season, probably the surprise of the league. Colorado's in the running, but its fade at the end of the season after such a hot start pushes the Avalanche to second if you ask me. If Phoenix can get the ownership issue straight and afford to bring in some better forwards, it'll remain a dangerous team.

Stat of the night
8 - Game 7 appearances by Lidstrom. In comparison, Keith Yandle, one of Phoenix's best defensemen, was playing in his seventh career playoff game of any kind.

Quote of the night
"He has the quickest clavicle in the league."
Daryl Reaugh, on Howard after the latter made a save with his neck region. I wonder what it would take to get Razor doing every NHL game with Doc Emrick. This needs to happen.

Wednesday prediction
Washington 6, Montreal 2

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 13: Some move on, one lives on

OK, so I was wrong. I'll be proven right in Game 7 though; that'll be no contest.

Czechoslovakia, Finland > Buffalo
Our second Participation Trophy, and another hearty "thanks for playing, fellas" goes to the Buffalo Sabres.

David Krejci scored twice and Miro the Hero Satan netted the eventual winning goal late as Boston eliminated third-seeded Buffalo, 4-3, to win the series in six games. A potential date with Pittsburgh in the second round looms, and won't headline and story writers have a blast with that, particularly a) if Marc Savard returns, and b) if the Bruins win.

For the first time in the series, the Bruins scored the game's opening goal. Unlike the Sabres, the Bruins made that lead hold up. Krejci got things going on the power play, then set up Mark Recchi's goal on the man-advantage early in the second period for a 2-0 lead.

Patrick Kaleta cracked Tuukka Rask (27 saves) before Krejci netted another goal in the third period. That was canceled out in just 22 seconds after Michael Ryder made a beautiful pass to set up Nathan Gerbe's goal.

The problem is, Ryder plays for Boston and Gerbe for Buffalo.

The score remained 3-2 until Satan showed some nice hands after receiving a pass near the Buffalo cage and slid the puck into an open net for a 4-2 advantage. That seemed to seal Boston's spot in the second round until Thomas Vanek - playing just his third playoff game due to injuries - scored with Ryan Miller pulled for an extra attacker.

That would be all for the Sabres though, who follow New Jersey as a horribly disappointing playoff performer. I don't buy the "they killed themselves trying to get the two-seed" argument as a reason for their failures. Pittsburgh killed itself (or not, maybe that was the Penguins' problem) trying to win the Atlantic Division but got through the first round.

Buffalo lost because the Vanek injury left the team bereft of offensive talent, there was no support from the blue line, Miller was tired, Rask was good, and Boston's key performers stepped up, unlike Buffalo's. Oh, and the Sabres power play was 0-for-19 in the series. Yikes.

Halak gives new meaning to "standing on his head"
As far as phenomenal goaltending displays in the postseason go, Jaroslav Halak's Game 6 showing might not be matched this year. He was that good. And he had to be, because the Montreal shell started about 9:09 into the game.

Halak made an incredible 53 saves, quite a few of the "holy sh--!" variety, and Mike Cammalleri scored twice as Montreal forced a Game 7 after a 4-1 victory over Washington. The Capitals will host the Game 7 on Wednesday. Halak set a franchise-record for saves in a regulation playoff game, bettering Ken Dryden's mark of 49 set in 1971.

I could talk about how the Canadiens got a fast start when Cammalleri scored 7:30 into the game for the opening goal and again 1:39 later for the all-important 2-0 lead, but this game was all Halak. At least, after Cammalleri's brace.

Washington peppered Halak mercilessly and Montreal just could not get the puck past its blue line. Shots in the first period favored Washington, 18-10, but after that, talk about one-sided. The Capitals fired 36 shots on Halak in the final two periods, including 22 in the third period. In contrast, the Canadiens mustered just 12 during that time, a number that includes a mere three in the second period.

Fortunately for Montreal, one of those shots was a goal by Maxim Lapierre just over four minutes into the third period and another was Tomas Plekanec's empty netter. Cammalleri finished with three points.

Five players registered at least six shots for Washington, led by Joe Corvo's 10. It wasn't until Mike Green (six SOG) fired a shot-pass that got past Halak and was deflected in by Eric Fehr with 4:50 remaining that the Capitals finally scored. After that, however, the Caps got only two more shots on goal.

Montreal's penalty killing voided all six Washington power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 1:14 on which the Capitals didn't record a shot on goal.

The funny thing from this game is there were three diving calls, all against Montreal. I didn't see a replay of the third, but I thought the other two were legit. Lapierre received two of the diving calls, and only once on those three situations did a Washington player receive a penalty.

Chicago moves on after weirdest game of postseason
We've had some very exciting games in the postseason. We've had some weird endings (See Boyle, Dan, Game 3.) I don't think we'll see a game as weird as Game 6 between Chicago and Nashville.

The teams combined for seven goals in the first period, exchanged long stretches of shorthanded time, but nothing else was scored until there was no goalie on the ice in Chicago's 5-3 victory that earned the Blackhawks a series win in six games. Chicago will face Vancouver in a rematch of last year's second round series.

Here's how the zaniness went down in this wild one. The first seven goals were scored in under 13 minutes in the first period, but none until 6:38 into the game. That's when Duncan Keith put Chicago ahead. Shea Weber tied the score 2:02 later. The Blackhawks went back ahead 64 seconds later when Brent Seabrook's dump-in deflected off Patrick Kane's toe at center ice and into a vacated net. It was 3-1 after Patrick Sharp's goal 2:09 later.

Jason Arnott woke up for Nashville with a power play goal a few minutes later, and the Predators tied it on Arnott's second with 55 seconds left in the first period. Just when momentum was back on Nashville's side, Jerred Smithson took a holding penalty with 38 seconds left, and it took Chicago all of seven seconds for Jonathan Toews to put in a rebound for a 4-3 Chicago lead.

In the second period, Chicago was given five straight power plays, including a double minor, but failed to score on any of those 10 minutes of man-advantage time. Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks held a 16-4 shots advantage in the second period, a fact the Chicago play by play guy mentioned with shock, apparently forgetting the 10 MINUTES OF POWER PLAY TIME the Blackhawks had.

It was Nashville's turn in the third period, though to a lesser extent. The Predators received three power plays in under five minutes, though none resulted in a 5-on-3, but a power play that had scored just once all series once again could not come through. Nashville was 1-for-27 in the series, getting five man-advantages in each game except the first.

Antti Niemi finished with 25 saves, 15 coming in the third period when the Blackhawks had only three shots. One was John Madden's empty net goal with eight seconds left. Toews and Sharp each had two assists in addition to scoring, and Marian Hossa - who probably should've been suspended - posted three helpers.

Stats of the night
19:40 - Time Boston led in its series out of the first 327:41 until Krejci's first goal.

94 - Shots attempted by Washington. Apart from the 54 on goal, 23 were blocked and 17 missed. Hal Gill blocked five shots for Montreal.

36 - Time, in seconds, that former Wild and current Canadiens defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron played in even-strength situations. The defensive liability logged only 5:31 of total ice time, 4:55 coming on the power play.

Quote of the night
"SNOWBALL ONE, HELL ZERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards, apparently describing Boston's chances of advancing in the playoffs at the end of the Bruins victory. I really don't know if I like him or not. He's such a dope, but he's so far over the top that it's almost just comical and not annoying.

Tuesday prediction
Detroit 4, Phoenix 2

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 12: Game Seven, but not for LA

Knew I should've stuck with my earlier prediction.

Phoenix forces special Game 7
One of the biggest storylines after Game 1 of Phoenix-Detroit was the Coyotes' woeful power play keying the victory. Then the power play sucked. Now it's good again.

But it was Lauri Korpikoski's shorthanded goal that sparked Phoenix to a 5-2 victory over Detroit to force Game 7 back in Glendale on Tuesday. The Coyotes scored three power play goals and their penalty killing foiled Detroit on all five of its attempts. Their power play had been 0-for-19 since Game 1.

Special teams is where the Red Wings lost the game. They'd gotten three power plays in the game's first five minutes, including two 5-on-3's, though one lasted only one second. The other was for over one minute and came shortly after Korpikoski staked Phoenix to a 1-0 lead at 4:10 of the opening period.

Ilya Bryzgalov was strong, particularly in the first period. He made 31 saves overall, including 14 in the first. In the second period, Mathieu Schneider's power play marker doubled Phoenix's lead, only for Brad Stuart to score 24 seconds later.

But the Coyotes took something of a stranglehold on the game by netting the next two goals before the second period expired. Radim Vrbata's power play goal off a nice pass from Robert Lang made it 3-1, and Petr Prucha's shot deflected off teammate Wojtek Wolski for Wolski's fourth goal and a 4-1 lead.

Taylor Pyatt made it three straight goals by converting Phoenix's fifth man-advantage of the game five minutes into the third period. Darren Helm made the score respectable with a goal in the last four minutes.

With few true snipers or playmakers, Phoenix has to rely on balance in its offense. It did Sunday, as only two skaters registered more than one point despite putting five goals behind Jimmy Howard. Pyatt had two and Keith Yandle posted two assists.

Sedin steps up, Vancouver ousts LA
A knock on the Sedin twins is they can't perform in the postseason. They're starting to do away with that reputation.

Daniel Sedin scored his fourth goal of the playoffs with 2:03 remaining in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and Vancouver advanced to the second round following a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles. The Canucks won the series in six games.

Sedin also assisted on Kevin Bieksa's goal early in the final frame that tied the score at 2-2. On his game-winner, he picked up a loose puck and fired a shot that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick didn't seem to see until it was too late.

Alex Burrows sealed the victory with his first goal of the playoffs into an empty net. Henrik Sedin assisted on his brother's goal, giving Henrik eight points in the six games. Daniel Sedin recorded 10 points. Mikael Samuelsson didn't score but posted two helpers.

Alexander Frolov had given the Kings a 1-0 lead in the first period and Ryan Smyth had an excellent chance to double the score, but Roberto Luongo, who'd been flailing a bit in his cage, made a sensational glove save. Shortly afterward, Steve Bernier tied the score on the power play.

The Los Angeles power play failed to score for the first time in the series, but Drew Doughty laced a one-timer past Luongo (30 saves) three seconds after a power play ended to restore the Kings' lead. Officially, Los Angeles was 0-for-5 on the power play.

Quick started to show either nerves or fatigue as the series went along. He started off the playoffs admirably but his performance turned disappointing. Still, Quick individually and the Kings as a whole took an important first step. Another piece or two and a little more experience should turn Los Angeles into a dangerous team.

Stat of the night
1-3 - Vancouver's record in its last four series when holding a 3-2 lead. The Canucks had lost the previous three.

Quote of the night
"I said it before the series, home-ice advantage is only good if it comes down to a Game 7."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. The road team has won two games each in that series.

Monday predictions
Washington 6, Montreal 2
Buffalo 3, Boston 1
Chicago 4, Nashville 0 (following the trend)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 11: Overtime thrillers; Boyle's Revenge

Wow. Those first two games were incredible.

From goat to hero
When Dan Hamhuis went flying into the boards Saturday afternoon, my friend said, "There's another city who hates Marian Hossa." Don't know if he was referring to Chicago or Nashville, but the five-minute major in the final 63 seconds with the Blackhawks losing by one probably turned Illinois against Hossa.

Oh how things can change.

Patrick Kane scored an improbable shorthanded goal with Antti Niemi on the bench for an extra attacker with 13.6 seconds remaining in regulation and Hossa scored his first goal of the playoffs in overtime 10 seconds after his major penalty for boarding expired to give Chicago a stunning 5-4 victory over the Predators to take a 3-2 series lead.

The Predators have to be wondering what the hell went wrong. They'd scored three straight goals, including a pair in the third period by Martin Erat, to take a 4-3 lead. David Legwand put Nashville ahead 1-0 before goals by Andrew Ladd, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Tomas Kopecky put the Blackhawks in front by two.

Joel Ward's shorthanded goal sparked Nashville's comeback. It was the Predators' first special teams goal of the series. They are 0-for-21 on the power play.

Penguins storm back to eliminate Ottawa
Damn Penguins are taking years off my life.

Pascal Dupuis laced a wrist shot over Pascal Leclaire's shoulder 9:56 into overtime and Pittsburgh capped off a three-goal comeback to eliminate Ottawa, 4-3, in six games. The Penguins had an 18-4 shots edge in the third period, which they entered trailing 3-1.

Matt Cooke scored twice, once coming 1:08 after the Senators took a 3-0 lead, and again with 7:36 remaining in regulation to tie the score at 3-3. In between his goals, Bill Guerin's power play marker got Pittsburgh to within one. The Penguins won despite getting no points from Sidney Crosby for the first time in the series and just one assist from Evgeni Malkin.

Dupuis also had an assist and Jordan Staal posted two helpers, including setting up Dupuis' winner. Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves.

Ottawa built its three-goal lead on goals by Matt Cullen, Chris Neil and Daniel Alfredsson. Leclaire was valiant in defeat, stopping 39 shots and couldn't do a whole lot on the goals. Anton Volchenkov was again phenomenal at blocking shots, finishing with six, including one off his chest at the end of the second period.

Going to be interesting training camp next season for the Senators. Brian Elliott basically got them to the playoffs, where he was awful, and it was Leclaire who kept them alive. Ottawa didn't lose Game 6 because of Leclaire.

Thank goodness for the other Joe
If not for Joe Pavelski, who knows where San Jose would be. At least Dan Boyle can now laugh off - for good - his Game 3 blunder.

Boyle scored to tie the game at 2-2 in the third period and Joe Pavelski scored his second of the game 1:29 later in San Jose's 5-2 victory over Colorado to win the series four games to two and advance to the second round.

Pavelski's first goal of the game came less than a minute in and staked the Sharks to an early lead. He has five goals in the playoffs, four more than the combined total of teammates Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.

The Avalanche grabbed a 2-1 lead on goals by Marek Svatos in the second period and Brandon Yip early in the third before Boyle and Pavelski struck. Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray scored empty net goals in the final minute to seal the series.

Evgeni Nabokov needed to make just 16 saves. Both Pavelski and Murray had three points.

Stat of the night
3-13 - San Jose's record in Game 6 of a series.

Quote of the night
"Nothing tops it. Thirteen seconds left to tie and keep us in the series, probably. Going to Nashville down 3-2, that would be a tough game to win."
Kane, on his game-tying goal

Sunday predictions
This is tough. I picked Detroit to win its series in seven. Do I predict a Phoenix win in Game 6?

Detroit 4, Phoenix 2 (Nope)
Los Angeles 3, Vancouver 2

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 10: East staying alive; West closer to elimination

Who would've thought Buffalo was the team that would score, not Washington? Not me.

Quick start keeps Buffalo alive
In danger of becoming the second high seed in the Eastern Conference to meekly bow out of the playoffs, Buffalo put forth a solid effort to stay alive.

Adam Mair scored just 1:54 into the game and Ryan Miller made 34 saves as the Sabres earned a 4-1 victory over Boston to force a Game 6 on Monday. The Bruins still hold a 3-2 series lead.

Early goals and late goals in a period can be killers, and Jason Pominville doubled Buffalo's lead with 1:06 remaining in the first period. The Sabres remembered how they blew a 2-0 lead in Game 4, and Mike Grier made it a 3-0 midway through the second period.

The Bruins made the kind of desperation push in the third period that one might expect from a team on the brink of elimination instead of a team trying to eliminate another. Boston fired 21 shots on Miller in the third period after having only 14 through two. The only puck that found the back of the net was from Johnny Boychuck on the power play with just 2:30 to play.

Tyler Ennis scored an empty-net goal less than a minute later to end any comeback hopes.

A brawl marred this one at the end of the game. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara received an instigating penalty, but the automatic one-game suspension that comes with that has been rescinded and he'll play in Game 6.

Halak returns to net, form just in time
I said this series was done since Jaroslav Halak started to suck. Well, for one game at least, he was good again, and we have another Game 6.

Halak's 37 saves and a real quick start for Montreal led to a 2-1 victory over Washington, which became the third team to fail to close out a series in Game 5 and the second to do so at home. The Caps still hold a 3-2 lead ahead of Game 6 in Montreal.

Mike Cammalleri scored 90 seconds into the contest and Travis Moen netted his first of the playoffs at 7:01 of the first period to silence the Washington crowd. Alex Ovechkin got them back into the game with his fifth goal early in the second period, but Halak slammed the door from there.

Hidden stat from this one: As good as Benoit Pouliot was for Montreal after the trade - though not as as good as Guy Latendresse (I'm calling him Guy; screw that Guillaume crap. Way too long to spell. If his last name was Smith, I'd spell out the first name. But I digress) - Pouliot has been a train wreck in the playoffs. He logged only 4:35 of ice time in Game 5. He averaged nearly 17 minutes in 39 regular season games with Montreal and had been seeing a lot of time in the playoffs, but Jacques Martin saw enough of him early in this one.

Television jinxes Phoenix
I know, I used the same headline a few days ago for Buffalo. I don't care.

Goals by Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk just past the midway point of the third period broke a 1-1 tie and Detroit took a 3-2 series lead over Phoenix following a 4-1 victory. The jinx came from the TV guys talking just before the third period started about how invisible Datsyuk (and Henrik Zetterberg) had been through the first two periods. Datsyuk's goal was pretty and made it an insurmountable two-goal lead, and he helped set up Holmstrom's marker.

Jimmy Howard made 30 saves.

Drew Miller and Ed Jovanovski had exchanged goals earlier in the game. Zetterberg scored an empty net goal, foiling my "3-1 Detroit" prediction from Thursday. I'm giving myself partial credit for that.

Television jinxes Quick, Kings
I know, I used the same headline a few paragraphs up for Phoenix. I don't care.

Jonathan Quick had been praised by the Kings television announcers for being the better goaltender in that series - a claim I wouldn't necessarily disagree with - but then gave up five goals and was yanked in Vancouver's impressive 7-2 demolishing of Los Angeles. The Canucks take a 3-2 series lead heading to LA.

Steve Bernier and Mikael Samuelsson each scored twice, with Samuelsson taking the playoff goals lead with seven, in the rout. Bernier netted the game's opening goal before the Kings got - get this - a power play goal from Michal Handzus.

Vancouver proceeded to score the next four goals to chase Quick. Alexander Edler, Daniel Sedin, Samuelsson's first and Pavol Demitra did the damage. The second goals from Samuelsson and Bernier came against Erik Ersberg. Samuelsson and Demitra each registered three points and Roberto Luongo made 24 saves.

Fredrik Modin also scored for the Kings.

Stat of the night
0 - Playoff series won by Buffalo when trailing 3-1 (0-11.) ... Playoff series won by Phoenix since moving to Arizona (0-5)

Quote of the night
"Now that they've seen our best game, they have to react."
Miller. I like the guy, but those are strong words coming from a man whose team is still down 3-2 in the series. I appreciate his confidence though.

Saturday predictions
Nashville 4, Chicago 2
Pittsburgh 5, Ottawa 3 (if Ruslan Fedotenko does not play)
Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 2 (if Ruslan Fedotenko plays)
Colorado 3, San Jose 2

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 9: Crucial wins, embarrassing loss

This is going to be short and bitter. Losing triple overtime games sucks. Kind of a weird night in the league. Three shutouts and a triple overtime game. Fun stuff.

New Jersey goes out with a whimper
Enjoy that Atlantic Division title, Devils. Boy did you guys lay a stinker in the playoffs.

Daniel Briere scored an early power play goal and Brian Boucher made 28 saves as Philadelphia eliminated New Jersey, 3-0, winning the series in just five games. Right, the Devils got shut out at home in a must-win game. Guess that Ilya Kovalchuk trade didn't quite work out, did it?

Claude Giroux scored twice in less than two minutes in the second period. Philadelphia had only 14 shots through two periods but scored thrice on Martin Brodeur. The Flyers beat New Jersey nine times in 11 tries this season. The Devils were ousted in the first round for the third straight season.

Goalie change saves Senators
Two questions. One, how devastating is losing a triple overtime game at home with a chance to close out a series? Two, was Cory Clouston's goalie change to Pascal Leclaire too little, too late?

Leclaire made 56 saves, Matt Carkner's shot from the point hit a couple things in front and squeaked past Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ottawa staved off elimination against Pittsburgh, 4-3 in triple overtime.

The Senators jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, getting goals from Mike Fisher and Jarkko Ruutu 68 seconds apart in the first period, before the Penguins countered with the next three goals, from Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby.

Crosby's goal came with 10:59 left in the third period but the lead was brief, as Peter Regin's third of the playoffs tied it with 9:36 remaining.

The series shifts back to Ottawa Saturday with the Penguins still leading 3-2.

All or nothing for Chicago
Chicago either loses a playoff game or gets a shutout. So far, there's no in between.

Antti Niemi stopped 33 shots, Patrick Sharp scored twice and the Blackhawks evened their series with Nashville at 2-2 following a 3-0 win. Jonathan Toews also scored.

Sharks take control with emphatic statement
Perhaps reports of San Jose's demise were premature.

Logan Couture scored a pair of goals and the Sharks chased Craig Anderson with a resounding 5-0 victory to take a 3-2 series lead going back to Colorado. Joe Pavelski and Dwight Helminen helped give San Jose a 4-0 lead. Couture's second goal made it four and caused Joe Sacco to replace Anderson with Peter Budaj.

Patrick Marleau showed up in the playoffs, getting a rather meaningless goal late on the power play. Evgeni Nabokov made 28 saves.

Friday predictions
Boston 4, Buffalo 0 (Yep, I've given up on Buffalo too; Sabres can't score)
Washington 6, Montreal 1
Vancouver 4, Los Angeles 2
Detroit 3, Phoenix 1

Time to go vent my frustrations by killing stuff in God of War.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 8: Thrillers abound, except in Montreal

First multi-OT game goes to Boston, as does 3-1 lead
Remember that stat NBC showed Saturday? Buffalo was 31-0-0 when leading after two periods? The Sabres are now 31-2.

Goals by David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron less than seven minutes into the third period erased a 2-0 Boston deficit, and Miroslav Satan's power play goal in the second overtime gave the Bruins a stunning 3-2 victory over Buffalo in Game 4 of that series. Boston has the Sabres on the brink of elimination carrying a 3-1 series lead to New York.

Satan scored when he took a centering pass from Michael Ryder when Satan was alone in the slot, deked Ryan Miller out of his goalie pads and slid a backhander into a vacated net - well, through Tyler Myers, who made an attempt to block the shot, but in vain. The Sabres, who failed on a power play in the first overtime, had been penalized for too many men on the ice.

Tim Kennedy and Steve Montador scored for Buffalo. Whither Derek Roy?

Tuukka Rask made 35 saves. Miller finished with 36.

Power play shoots Montreal in foot again
Oh, those tricky shorthanded goals. Particularly in the last minute of a period.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice, we had a Jason Chimera sighting, and Washington doubled up Montreal, 6-3, to take a commanding 3-1 series advantage heading back to D.C.

After goals by Ovechkin, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta resulted in a 2-1 Canadiens lead, Montreal had a power play late in the second period. Problem is, the Capitals scored their second shorthanded goal in two games, this one from Mike Knuble, with seven seconds left in the period. Montreal had a chance to take control of the game but once again fouled it up.

The Capitals made it four straight goals by scoring the first three of the third period. Ovechkin broke the 2-2 tie, Chimera made it 4-2 52 seconds later, and Knuble scored an empty-netter with 2:27 remaining.

Dominic Moore made the score less lopsided by scoring with 1:18 to play, only for Nicklas Backstrom to get another empty-netter.

The Canadiens played so well in Game 1. Guess they didn't bother to watch that game tape to figure out what they did right.

Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves.

Canucks take wild back-and-forth affair
This just in: Vancouver gave up two power play goals to Los Angeles.

This time it didn't matter, as the Canucks netted four goals in the third period to win Game 4, 6-4, and even that series at 2-2.

The teams exchanged power play goals, first by the Kings' Drew Doughty, Vancouver's Christian Ehrhoff and then Dustin Brown for LA. Pavel Demitra tied the score at 2-2, only for Anze Kopitar to reclaim the Kings' lead.

Zaniness transpired in the third period. Mikael Samuelsson and Sami Salo scored back-to-back goals to stake Vancouver to a 4-3 lead, but Wayne Simmonds tied the game just 62 seconds after Salo's goal. Henrik Sedin broke his goalless drought by netting a nifty goal with 2:52 remaining, and Ryan Kesler's empty net goal sealed the win.

Roberto Luongo had just 22 saves but made several big ones, including one on an Alexander Frolov breakaway in the third period when the Kings still led 3-2.

Stat of the night
4 - Times Buffalo scored the first goal, in four games, in its series.

Quote of the night
"They stopped the bleeding with the penalty kill and then they cauterized it with this."
Daryl Reaugh, on Demitra's goal

Thursday predictions
Philadelphia 4, New Jersey 1 (thanks for playing, Devils)
Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 2
Chicago 3, Nashville 2
Colorado 4, San Jose 2

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 7: East taking control; West in flux

Howard, Zetterberg even things with 'Yotes
I can't think of a clever way to lead into this game.

Henrik Zetterberg scored a pair of goals and Jimmy Howard bounced back from a subpar Game 3 outing to make 29 saves in Detroit's 3-0 victory over Phoenix to even that series at 2-2 and turn it into a three-game set.

The Red Wings learned their lesson from Game 1, when they allowed the Coyotes power play to convert three out of four chances. In Game 4, Detroit successfully killed off all six Phoenix chances with the man-advantage, including a 5-on-3.

Zetterberg's first goal came on Detroit's power play and might've been deflected in with a high stick, depending to whom you talk. The goal stood, and Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg scored 25 seconds apart late in the third period to ice the game.

Goal judges have itchy trigger fingers as Penguins take big lead
Remember when playoff hockey used to mean a bunch of 2-1, 3-2 games? You know, low scoring? Something happened this year.

Sidney Crosby had four points, including two goals in a three-goal Pittsburgh burst in a span of 2:25, and Pittsburgh fended off Ottawa, 7-4, to take a 3-1 series lead. The Penguins scored the first four goals, chasing Brian Elliott, before things got interesting.

Evgeni Malkin scored the lone goal of the first period, then Crosby scored his two sandwiched around a Matt Cooke tally early in the second period. Cooke's goal came 12 seconds after Crosby's first. The Senators countered quickly, getting Chris Neil's goal less than a minute after falling behind 4-0 and Elliott was replaced by Pascal Leclaire. Daniel Alfredsson's one-timer cut the gap in half, but less than two minutes later, Max Talbot scored shorthanded to give Pittsburgh a 5-2 lead.

Ottawa's Matt Cullen countered 41 seconds later on a 5-on-3. Chris Kunitz restored Pittsburgh's three-goal advantage at 6-3 with 1:49 to play in the second period. The teams combined for eight goals in the middle frame, one short of the NHL playoff record for one period.

Jason Spezza scored on another Senators 5-on-3 with 12:23 to play to make things interesting before Jordan Staal's power play goal iced the Penguins victory. Kunitz added two assists and Sergei Gonchar posted three for Pittsburgh. Cullen had three points.

Thanks for playing
At this point, when New Jersey qualifies for the postseason, we should come up with those "participation trophies" we all got as kids and hand them to the Devils. Thanks for showing up, guys.

Jeff Carter had three points, including two goals, and Philadelphia roared back from allowing the first goal to hand the Devils a 4-1 defeat and earn a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a 5-on-3 power play (we're seeing a lot of those) to give New Jersey the opening goal, and normally the Devils proceed to dumb down the game even more than they normally do, particularly on the road. The Flyers would have none of that.

Carter scored the first of his two power play goals and Daniel Briere staked Philadelphia to a 2-1 lead in the second period. Daniel Carcillo struck for the second time in two games - and had the same dumb "what do I do now?" look after scoring, which is odd since he's scored goals before - and Carter's second tally all but eliminated the Devils, who haven't advanced as far as the conference finals since winning the Stanley Cup in 2003.

Granted, winning the Cup is good, but New Jersey has won three division titles in the last six years and hasn't won two playoff rounds in one year in five tries, including three times being ousted in the first round. This year would be the fourth time in the last six seasons and third in a row.

Brian Boucher made 30 saves for the Flyers.

If it helps for the Devils, they've come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win once before: Against Boucher and the Flyers in 2000.

Paging EA Sports: You guys sure?
In a video game simulation by EA Sports, Chicago won this year's Stanley Cup. I wonder if losing two of its first three playoff games was part of that.

David Legwand broke a 1-1 tie early in the second period, added two assists, and Martin Erat scored late on a penalty shot in Nashville's surprisingly easy 4-1 victory over Chicago in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series advantage.

Joel Ward and Shea Weber also scored for the Predators, who got 26 saves from Pekka Rinne. This is Nashville's first ever 2-1 lead in a playoff series. Also, they're referring to injured 30-goal scorer Patric Hornqvist as "Horny." Seriously? Horny? That's the nickname you guys came up with for him? Horny?

Kris Versteeg scored Chicago's lone goal.

Boyle's Redemption, Sharks stay alive
OK, so San Jose wouldn't have been gone if it lost, but it would've been damn close.

Dan Boyle scored - against Colorado, that is - just 1:12 into the contest, but Joe Pavelski was the hero, as his goal midway through overtime gave the Sharks a 2-1 victory over the Avalanche and new life in the series, which is now tied 2-2. Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves. Pavelski had an assist and Ryane Clowe had two.

Still waiting for Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau to show up.

Paul Stastny scored for the Avalanche. Craig Anderson continues to be peppered by San Jose, stopping 43 shots.

Stats of the night
43.5, 25.8 - The Sharks are averaging 43.5 shots in four playoff games. The Avalanche are averaging 25.8.

Quote of the night
"We handed control of the series right back to them with our effort."
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews

Wednesday predictions
Buffalo 3, Boston 1
Washington 5, Montreal 1
Vancouver 4, Los Angeles 2 (I have no idea how this series is going to play out at this point)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 6: Boston Hit Party; Goalies gone to the bench

In a bad mood tonight. Just got shut out for the second time in four games in NHL10. Grr. Kicked Derick Brassard's ass in a fight though.

Wreckin' Ball puts Boston ahead
Mark Recchi's most popular nickname in Pittsburgh was the Wreckin' Ball. He lived up to that moniker Monday, and Boston has a 2-1 series lead partly as a result of that.

Recchi thumped Buffalo's Tim Kennedy in the corner of the Sabres defensive zone, won the puck, and centered to Patrice Bergeron, who wasted no time firing a shot past Ryan Miller to snap a 1-1 tie with 7:03 left in the third period and the Bruins held on for a 2-1 victory in Game 3.

Mike Grier had given Buffalo a 1-0 lead when he scored seven minutes into the game, but Dennis Wideman countered with 4:43 left in the opening frame.

Tuukka Rask made 32 saves. Miller finished with 26.

Caps chase Halak, take series lead
Second-best power play in the league my foot.

Montreal ended the regular season with the second best power play in the league. Somehow the Canadiens are 3-for-12 in the postseason (25 percent, sixth best) but a woeful power play contributed to a bad loss.

Boyd Gordon scored a shorthanded goal 1:06 into the second period to break a scoreless deadlock and Washington went on to pound Montreal, 5-1, and take a 2-1 series lead. Jaroslav Halak was yanked after after Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr made it 3-0 in a span of seven minutes after Gordon's goal.

Alex Ovechkin and Matt Bradley also scored. Tomas Plekanec avoided the shutout with his third of the playoffs. On... the power play.

We can declare this series as over now. Montreal is done. Even though the Canadiens have held Washington - the league's top power play - without a goal on the man advantage, they no longer have a chance. Halak needed to play at his absolute best for them to win this series, and now we probably won't see him again. Carey Price being on the ice is a bad thing for the Canadiens.

The Nicklas Backstrom goal at the end of the second period in Game 2 was the series turning point.

Maybe Plekanec should've said Halak and Price aren't exactly Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur, 'cause Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves.

Vancouver doesn't listen, Kings take lead
I told the Canucks to stay out of the penalty box and they'll win their first-round series. Someone email this to them.

Los Angeles continued to torture the Vancouver penalty killers, scoring on all three of its chances with the man-advantage and the Kings chased Roberto Luongo in a 5-3 victory to become the second No. 6 seed to take a 2-1 series lead.

Mason Raymond scored early for the Canucks, but Los Angeles struck for the next four goals. Drew Doughty and Michal Handzus (twice) struck on the power play and Brad Richardson's goal sent Luongo to the bench.

Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Sedin cut the deficit to 4-3 before Ryan Smyth scored a rare goal off a slap shot with 10:39 to play. Doughty finished with a goal and three assists and Jack Johnson posted three helpers for LA. Jonathan Quick stopped 25 shots.

Vancouver had a goal disallowed shortly before Sedin's goal. I don't know if it was the right call. It was ruled that the puck was kicked in, but it sort of looked like a natural skating motion that went towards the net. I do know it wasn't nearly as distinct as Peter Regin's disallowed goal from Sunday. I guess I was OK with the call, but boy that gray area on that ruling sure is fun to interpret.

Stat of the night
58.3 - The Kings' power play percentage in the playoffs (7-12.)

Tuesday predictions
I almost nailed the Washington score exactly! Go me! Sorta. And the Kings-Canucks score! Just had the wrong winner in that one.

Detroit 3, Phoenix 1 (what's with the 6:30 p.m. start times?)
Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 2
Philadelphia 3, New Jersey 1 (I have given up on the Devils)
Chicago 4, Nashville 1
Colorado 5, San Jose 2 (And the Sharks)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 5: Home ice restored but for bad Jersey and Boyle's blunder

Wow. Did everyone see how Sunday's hockey action ended? Unless you're a San Jose hater or Colorado supporter, you had to feel sick at that one. But we'll get to that later.

Two strikes in third period boost Phoenix back in front
I'm willing to bet not many people gave Phoenix much of a chance in its series against Detroit in general, and particularly the Coyotes' first game in Joe Louis Arena for a playoff game. I know I didn't.

Well, we're idiots. (Though I did give them a chance in the series; just thought the first game in Detroit would go badly.)

Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata scored third period goals, sandwiched around a Johan Franzen strike for Detroit, and Phoenix doubled up the Red Wings, 4-2, in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.

Phoenix showed little fear playing in hostile territory and got exactly the start it needed, getting Sami Lepisto's first goal of the playoffs just 29 seconds into the contest. Valtteri Filppula - whose name I HATE; I always forget if it's two T's and one R or one T and two R's; I should just call him Val from now on - tied the game later in the first period.

The Coyotes were on their heels a little bit, being out-shot 13-7 after one, but turned up the pressure after that. They finished with a 33-31 shot advantage and Wojtek Wolski's goal off a rebound in the final minute of the second period gave Phoenix a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Prucha made it 3-1 with a nifty goal before Franzen cut the deficit in half, but Vrbata restored the two-goal cushion. He and Prucha each had assists, Martin Hanzal and Matthew Lombardi recorded two helpers each and Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves.

Maybe the regular season means something after all
Will the real New Jersey Devils please stand up?

Daniel Carcillo struck off a rebound that Martin Brodeur completely lost track of and Philadelphia stunned New Jersey, 3-2 in overtime, to take an improbable 2-1 series lead. Despite the Flyers winning five games against the Devils during the regular season, it's still improbable because New Jersey should be a better team, especially on the road where it plays a boring style to slow the game down.

Well, Philadelphia poured 34 shots on Brodeur while limiting the Devils to 19 shots. Basically, they out-New Jersey'd New Jersey. If not for two Brian Rolston power play goals, the Devils don't score.

Claude Giroux and Mike Richards also scored for the Flyers. Richards and Carcillo each had an assist.

Trade finally paying dividends for Pittsburgh
Shortly before the NHL trade deadline, the Penguins shipped one of their most promising - and nearly-NHL ready - prospects to Toronto for Alexei Ponikarovsky. He proceeded to score in his debut, then netted just one more the rest of the regular season and none through two playoff games.

Well, just 1:17 into Game 3, Ponikarovsky whistled a shot past Brian Elliott and Pittsburgh went on to a 4-2 victory over Ottawa to reclaim home ice advantage. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each scored in the same game for the seventh time in the playoffs. The Penguins are 7-0 when that happens.

Mike Fisher canceled Ponikarovsky's goal early in the second period before Malkin scored off a nice play by Max Talbot to lift Erik Karlsson's stick and center to Malkin, who had an empty net. Crosby's goal came on another nice individual effort, winning the puck in the corner from big Andy Sutton, skating through the slot, waiting out Elliott and firing the puck through him for a 3-1 lead.

Bill Guerin made it 4-1 on a breakaway before Matt Cullen scored with seven minutes left. Crosby and Guerin each had assists and Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves.

Elliott also stopped 20 shots, but Ottawa - which had a goal in the first period waived off because it was kicked in - might want to think about a goalie change. Elliott has not been good, and a change makes more sense than a goalie change for Montreal, as rumored.

What goaltending issue?
Chicago's biggest problem in the playoffs was going to be its goaltending, right? Well...

Antti freaking Niemi stopped all 23 shots he saw and Chicago got goals from Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane to earn a 2-0 victory over Nashville and tie the series at 1-1. Granted, Niemi gave up a bad goal that keyed the Predators' victory in Game 1, but he bounced back with a nice effort in this one.

It helps when you don't face a whole lot of shots, but that doesn't mean you can't or won't give up weak goals.

Boyle blunders; will Sharks recover?
Two jokes for this one. First, we all knew Dan Boyle had a lot of offensive talent. We just didn't know he could sneak a seeing-eye shot through his own goalie as well. Second: This is how bad Colorado can be at times. The Avalanche can't even score their own goals.

All kidding aside, there can't be many worse ways to lose a game. After out-shooting Colorado 50-16 in regulation, San Jose lost 1-0 in overtime when Boyle's attempted pass to Douglas Murray behind the Sharks cage went off-target and somehow squeaked past Evgeni Nabokov to give Colorado the victory and a 2-1 series lead.

The goal was credited to Ryan O'Reilly, who was given the second star of the game for doing, well, nothing. He might have nicked the pass just slightly. I couldn't tell on the replay, but both O'Reilly and Nabokov think so.

Regardless, the Sharks lost despite holding a 21-3 shots lead in the second period and 21-4 in the final frame. Craig Anderson was sensational in stopping all 51 shots. Now the questions become, what did Nabokov say afterward to Boyle? He looked in Boyle's direction after the goal, but impossible to tell what the expression was on his face. Disbelief, anger, shock? Next, how do Boyle and the Sharks bounce back from this one?

San Jose failed on six power play chances, including two in the third period. Paging Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau: The playoffs have begun, gentlemen.

Stat of the night
2 - Both game-winners for Colorado have come from San Jose defensemen. In Game 1, Chris Stewart's shot deflected off Rob Blake's skate and in. Then Boyle's errant pass. As bad as Nabokov has been at times, he's yet to give up a clean losing goal. But it doesn't matter if they're clean or dirty.

Quote of the night
"It's interesting how the perception from you people is we're supposed to just crush them. They're a good team, too."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who "bristled" as he said that to reporters

Monday predictions
I'm going to get one of these right one of these days. Maybe.

Buffalo 3, Boston 2
Washington 4, Montreal 1
Vancouver 5, Los Angeles 2

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 4: No one wants a 2-0 series lead

This is kind of awesome. Chicago, you better win Sunday. Every series is tied 1-1.

Television jinxes Fubbalo
The graphic brought to you by NBC as the third period of Boston-Buffalo was about to begin: Buffalo was 31-0-0 when leading after two periods.

And now the Sabres are 31-1.

Michael Ryder and Zdeno Chara each scored his second goal of the game in the third period, Buffalo didn't get a shot in the final frame until 9:45 remaining, and Boston evened its series with Buffalo following a 5-3 victory. Mark Recchi's empty net goal with 20 seconds remaining sealed the win off a fabulous play (that's sarcasm) by Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman.

That might be Buffalo's biggest flaw - apart from Tyler Myers, there's zero offensive support from the back end. Lydman (four goals, 20 points, 77 SOG) should never be on the ice when you're trying to erase a one-goal deficit. Protect one, yes. Erase one, no.

Eddie Olczyk praised Blake Wheeler's pass that helped set up Ryder's goal that tied the score at 3-3, but that was an accident. Wheeler's pass was intended for Andrew Ference but deflected off Ference's stick right to Ryder, who had an open net at which to shoot. And for once, he didn't miss.

Exactly two minutes later, Chara's soft wrist shot from the blue line got through bodies and over Ryan Miller's shoulder for a 4-3 advantage. Goals by Ryder and Chara had erased a 2-0 Bruins deficit in the second period, built by goals from Myers and Matt Ellis. Jason Pominville put Buffalo ahead 3-2 late in the second period.

Tuukka Rask made 26 saves. Miller also finished with 26.

Backstrom saves Caps
Alex Ovechkin had a nice game and all, but let's be honest: This game belonged to Nicklas Backstrom.

His hat trick, including the overtime winner just 31 seconds into overtime, gave Washington a thrilling and shocking 6-5 victory over Montreal to avoid a potential disaster of losing the first two games at home. The series is now tied at 1-1.

After Andrei Kostitsyn scored the third of his hat trick goals late in the second period, Montreal was sitting pretty with a 4-1 lead. Then a really really long video review followed immediately after as officials reviewed an earlier play when Benoit Pouliot nearly scored. The lengthy downtime might have given the Capitals a chance to regroup, and Backstrom scored his first goal just 39 seconds afterward, with 1:37 left in the second period, to make it a 4-2 score.

Frankly, I think that's where Montreal lost the game. It was imperative the Canadiens take a three-goal lead into the third period. Instead, Washington netted the next two goals, when Ovechkin poked a puck through Jaroslav Halak's pads and when Backstrom converted a nice Ovechkin pass.

Tomas Plekanec restored Montreal's lead at 5-4 with 5:06 to play, but Halak gave up a weak goal on a delayed penalty call with 1:21 remaining to American juniors hero John Carlson. Backstrom then wasted no time getting the winner, Washington's first overtime playoff win at home since 1998. Backstrom and Ovechkin each had four points.

Brian Gionta (Montreal) and Eric Fehr (Washington) also scored. Mike Cammalleri recorded three assists for the Habs. Semyon Varlamov made 19 saves in relief of Jose Theodore, who gave up goals on the first two shots he saw and was immediately yanked.

Montreal has to be happy at the split, but the players also have to be asking themselves some questions after having this game well in hand and then epically failing it.

Kopitar, power play get Kings even
Vancouver's key to winning its first round series boils down to simply staying out of the penalty box.

Anze Kopitar's first career playoff goal came in overtime on the power play after Vancouver was called for too many men on the ice, and Los Angeles evened its series following a 3-2 victory. Fun fact: Kopitar now has more playoff overtime goals than Mario Lemieux.

His goal was also the fourth of the Kings' five goals in the series that came on the power play. Earlier, Fredrik Modin scored with the man-advantage to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Wayne Simmonds scored 35 seconds later as the Kings quickly erased a 2-0 deficit. Kopitar assisted on Simmonds' goal. Jonathan Quick made 24 saves.

Steve Bernier and Mikael Samuelsson scored in the first period for the Canucks.

Stat of the night
7 - Boston broke a seven-game playoff losing streak spanning four series at Buffalo. Its last win there was 1992.

Quotes of the night
"I found the largest milk carton I could."
Darren Pang, whose Wikipedia page lists his height as 5-5, on interviewing 6-8 Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers

"Five-foot-nine Tim Kennedy doing a good job blocking out 5-11 Darren Pang."
Doc Emrick

"Wow, you gave me 5-11?"

"Well I dreamed 5-11 for myself, I figured you might have done the same."

The lesson: God bless Doc Emrick.

Sunday predictions
Detroit 5, Phoenix 2
New Jersey 2, Philadelphia 1
Ottawa 3, Pittsburgh 1
Chicago 3, Nashville 2
San Jose 4, Colorado 3

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 3: A Balance in the Force

Crosby answers, saves Pens
It's funny when people start questioning a player's game despite him getting three assists, but that's what happens when you win a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Oh, and your team loses.

There aren't a whole lot of better responses than what Sidney Crosby did. He scored a timely goal, made the biggest save of the game and went on an incredible individual effort to set up Kris Letang's winner in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory over Ottawa to even that series at one game apiece.

Peter Regin stunned the Pittsburgh crowd just 18 seconds in when he ripped a wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury for a 1-0 lead on the game's first shot, but the Penguins responded the right way with an aggressive attack that was distinctly lacking in Game 1. It paid off with 11 minutes remaining in the first period when Chris Kunitz pressured Anton Volchenkov, forced a turnover and fired a shot on goal that Brian Elliott couldn't control. Crosby raced in and banged home the rebound for his first of the playoffs.

Late in the third period, a Volchenkov blast got through Fleury and laid in the crease, possibly with enough momentum to cross the goal line. Crosby's diving effort knocked the puck away. Five minutes later, Crosby criss-crossed the trapezoid behind the Ottawa cage four times, with Jason Spezza tailing him as best he could, before dishing a pass to Letang, whose point shot found the back of the net with 4:12 remaining.

Elliott finished with 29 saves. Fleury, who is 9-2 in his first playoff game after giving up four or more goals, stopped 19 shots.

Devils find offense, even series with Philadelphia
This game sounded a hell of a lot more entertaining than Game 1. But I saw absolutely none of it so it's still a short write-up. Sorry guys.

Dainius Zubrus broke a 3-3 tie with 4:04 left in regulation, Ilya Kovalchuk added an empty net goal and New Jersey defeated Philadelphia, 5-3, to get back on even terms. Patrik Elias posted three assists for the Devils, who got goals from Zach Parise, Colin White and Andy Greene. Martin Brodeur made 26 saves.

Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead in the first period on goals by Aaron Asham and Claude Giroux before New Jersey scored the next two. Chris Pronger tied the score at 3-3.

Chicago joins club: "Top seeds losing Game 1"
Michael Wilbon on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption said seeding doesn't mean anything in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It really doesn't, does it?

J.P. Dumont scored twice in the third period, seventh-seed Nashville potted a pair of empty net goals and knocked off Chicago, 4-1, in that series opener. Pekka Rinne made 25 saves, needing to make only four in the third period. Wow. This is another I didn't see but sounds like a hell of a defensive game played by the Predators, who had lost their first 10 road playoff games in franchise history.

Patrick Kane scored for the Blackhawks. Antti Niemi stopped 22 shots.

Z's hattie earns Wings split
I hope no one changed the channel in the Phoenix-Detroit game. You might've missed a goal. Actually you might have missed five goals.

A fairly tame first period turned into an explosive scoring affair, and Henrik Zetterberg's hat trick keyed Detroit's wild 7-4 victory and an even 1-1 series. Valtteri Filppula scored twice for the Red Wings.

Keith Yandle scored in the first period for Phoenix before the teams combined for five goals in a span of 3:58 in the second period. It was all back-and-forth too. A Detroit goal, then a Phoenix goal, etc. etc. When it was all said and done, the game was tied 3-3. Goals were by Zetterberg, Wojtek Wolski, Pavel Datsyuk, Matthew Lombardi and Filppula.

Detroit's muscle became flexed in the third period, putting four goals in the Phoenix net. Justin Abdelkader and Shane Doan exchanged goals before Zetterberg broke the 4-4 tie with 6:06 remaining. Filppula's second came on the power play for an insurance goal, and Zetterberg capped off the hat trick with an empty netter.

Jimmy Howard stopped 27 shots. Ilya Bryzgalov made 32 saves.

Setoguchi's Revenge
I kinda thought that disallowed goal from Devin Setoguchi that would've tied San Jose's game at 5-5 with Colorado was kind of bunk. It looked like he made an effort to avoid goalie Craig Anderson and couldn't. I'd have been OK if the goal was waived off because of contact with the goalie, but giving him a minor penalty was harsh.

Fortunately for San Jose, Setoguchi got one later that wasn't disallowed. And it didn't tie the game, it won it.

Joe Pavelski equalized the game at 5-5 with 32 seconds remaining in regulation, Setoguchi deflected Ryane Clowe's shot on the power play in overtime and San Jose averted a huge 2-0 hole with a 6-5 victory to - stop me if you've heard this before - even its series at 1-1.

Setoguchi's goal was his second of the game and came on San Jose's 52nd shot of the contest. In contrast, Colorado fired just 22 on Evgeni Nabokov, who apparently is carrying over his poor Olympic showing into the NHL playoffs.

Like the Detroit-Phoenix game, this one was wild. The teams combined for six goals in the second period, yet no one ever led by more than one goal. Though actually, the Sharks never led until Setoguchi's winner. Colorado had five one-goal leads. Rob Blake, Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol also scored for San Jose.

Chris Stewart had two goals and Brandon Yip had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche. Milan Hejduk scored and Kyle Cumiskey was credited with a goal when Blake's clearing attempt 70 seconds in deflected off teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic and into the net.

Stat of the night
The five goals in 3:58 in the Detroit-Phoenix game was the third fastest span of five goals in playoff history. The two fastest both featured the North Stars, who gave up five in 3:06 in a 6-2 loss to Chicago on April 21, 1985, and who scored five in 3:20 of a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia on April 29, 1980.

Quote of the night
"The game started and we have a bad bounce again. I'm sure a lot of people thought, 'Here we go again.'"
Nabokov on the game's first goal. Not only did I think "Here we go again," Nabby, but I'd already written up how you guys gacked Game 2 away. I had to delete it when you won.

Saturday predictions
Buffalo 3, Boston 1
Washington 4, Montreal 2
Los Angeles 4, Vancouver 3

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 2: Overtime goodness

Still mad at Chris Stewart, but we got two overtime games Thursday. Good stuff.

Good God, that's Craig Rivet's music!
But before we get to the OT games, let's take a moment to honor the career of Buffalo defenseman Craig Ri...wait, he's still playing?! Good Lord.

That's right, the Ghost of Playoffs Past proved to be one of the pivotal players in Buffalo's 2-1 victory over Boston. Sabres captain Craig Rivet, who's had two semi-decent offensive seasons in his career (peaking at eight goals in 2001-02 and 35 points in 2007-08), scored at 14:10 of the second period to snap a 1-1 tie.

Actually, I don't know why I'm using the Christmas Carol joke for Rivet. It doesn't make much sense, but it sounded good when I thought of it at the time. Anyway.

The goal was the fourth of Rivet's playoff career. He'd scored just three goals in 142 regular season games with Buffalo over the last two seasons. Thomas Vanek also scored for the Sabres. Mark Recchi scored for Boston.

Shockingly, Ryan Miller played well, making 38 saves. Counterpart Tuukka Rask made 30.

Plekanec adds to top seeds' misery
I know what the Penguins' excuse is for losing to Ottawa. (They suck.) I guess I kinda know what New Jersey's is. (The Devils aren't good in the playoffs anymore.) Washington's? Dunno.

It might have something to do with Slovakia though. Or the former Czechoslovakia in its entirety, actually. Jaroslav Halak made 45 saves - including 18 in the first period - and Tomas Plekanec took advantage of the opening defenseman Joe Corvo gave him and lasered a shot past Jose Theodore with 6:41 left in overtime to give Montreal a 3-2 victory over Washington, the third lower-seed to win in the East and the second eight-seed to win Game 1 of its series.

Alex Ovechkin logged 26:26 of ice time (including 7:39 of a possible 8:00 on the power play) but failed to register a shot on goal. He had five shots blocked and three that missed the net. Credit Jaroslav Spacek - who assisted on Plekanec's goal - and Hal Gill for excellent defensive work on Ovechkin. Gill blocked an astounding nine shots and Spacek three.

Michael Cammalleri scored his first goal since the eighth grade picnic and Scott Gomez also scored for Montreal. Gomez's goal tied the score at 2-2 with 12:26 left in regulation.

Nicklas Backstrom and Corvo had goals for the Capitals. Jose Theodore made 35 saves.

Quick learner, slow loser
I so wanted to go with just "Quick learner" after the start Jonathan Quick had to his first career playoff game. It ended poorly, but it wasn't his fault.

Mikael Samuelsson scored his second goal of the game with a blistering one-timer nine minutes into overtime and Vancouver became just the third home team to win its series opener, 3-2 over Los Angeles. Fredrik Modin had forced overtime with a power play goal when the Kings enjoyed a five-minute man-advantage when Andrew Alberts was ejected for boarding.

Quick was sensational, particularly early. He made 41 saves, 17 in the first period. Several of those were phenomenal stops. Alex Burrows had a couple prime chances but was stopped by Quick.

Jarret Stoll opened the game's scoring in the first minute of the second period with a power play goal when Alberts was in the box, but the Canucks countered with goals by Samuelsson and a real nifty one by Daniel Sedin. Henrik Sedin had two assists and Bob Luongo made 25 saves. Luongo also made a sprawling play to swipe a puck literally from off the goal line shortly before Samuelsson's winner. A couple more inches and the Kings would've won. But then, we could all use a couple more inches, am I right?

Stat of the night
1 - Times during the regular season Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal.

Quote of the night
"There was a couple of jokes thrown at (Plekanec) after the game, I'm not going to lie to you."
Cammalleri, referring to the trash-talk earlier in the week between Plekanec and Theodore. Plekanec said Washington's goalies weren't exactly Martin Brodeur or Ryan Miller. Theodore said Plekanec isn't exactly countryman Jaromir Jagr. Montreal listed Plekanec's number in the locker room as Jagr's 68 instead of Plekanec's 14. By the way, Plekanec is not a fun name to type. Fun to say, but not type.

Friday's predictions
Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 2
New Jersey 3, Philadelphia 1
Chicago 3, Nashville 2
Detroit 4, Phoenix 1
Colorado 4, San Jose 2 (That's right, I might already be off the "San Jose in six" prediction.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 1: Home-ice is overrated unless it's 100 degrees

Pittsburgh's Cup defense off to rough start
Who says goal scoring drops when we get to the playoffs? Not if you get piss-poor goaltending like Marc-Andre Fleury's.

When Evgeni Malkin scores two power play goals and adds an assist, and Sidney Crosby notches three helpers, the Penguins win more often than not. But a couple lucky breaks and a performance from Fleury more like Game 5 of the 2009 final instead of Game 7 lifted Ottawa to a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

The Senators' stars were fairly quiet but they got contributions from a bunch of guys not normally relied on to produce. Three times they built a two-goal lead and managed to hold off Pittsburgh. After Malkin scored the first goal of the playoffs three minutes in, Peter Regin tied the score by converting a horrible rebound left by Fleury in the slot. Chris Neil gave Ottawa a lead it wouldn't lose when he was the first to find a puck that bounced high in the air, then beat Fleury top-shelf, another weak goal to give up.

A fluke bounce with Ottawa on the power play led to Chris Kelly's goal to make it 3-1. Goalies, correct me on this if I'm wrong, but if the puck is played along the glass, shouldn't you stay in the net? Fleury didn't, the puck hopped into the slot and Kelly was Johnny-on-the-spot.

Malkin's second goal of the game got the Penguins back into the game, but Chris Kunitz took a stupid charging penalty less than two minutes later to destroy the momentum that swung Pittsburgh's way. Erik Karlsson converted a rebound that is the lone goal I give Fleury a pass on.

Again, the Penguins didn't go away, and Craig Adams scored his first goal since the 2009 Eastern Conference final - and I mean playoffs OR regular season; dude didn't score at all this year - but Fleury once more gave up a bad goal, this one to former Penguin Jarkko Ruutu with 10 minutes left to give Ottawa a 5-3 advantage.

Alex Goligoski scored with 2:24 left to cut the deficit in half yet again, but it was too little too late for the Penguins, who had only one shot in the first period after Malkin's goal 3:03 into the game.

What goalie problem?
Who says Brian Boucher can't cut it in the playoffs?

Oh geez. I just now looked at the Philadelphia-New Jersey box score. Thank God I wasn't home to watch this one. Sheesh. The Flyers had 14 freaking shots? This game sounded ugly.

Anyway. Boucher lost his bid for a shutout with 2:43 to play on Travis Zajac's goal, Mike Richards had a goal and assist and the Flyers pulled off the night's second upset, 2-1 over second-seeded New Jersey. Frankly, I think that's all I'm going to say about this one. Oh, Boucher made 23 saves.

Here's the funny thing. Of the four teams playing Wednesday, Phoenix might have been voted "home team most likely to lose Game 1." That's not a knock on the Coyotes, just a compliment to how well Detroit's playing.

Instead, Phoenix was the only higher seed to take a 1-0 series lead, and the Coyotes did it with a power play that was ranked TWENTY-EIGHTH (28TH) - that's 2-8, twenty-eighth, 28 - in the regular season. Derek Morris scored Phoenix's third power play goal in three chances (it finished 3-for-4) to snap a 2-2 tie early in the third period and the Coyotes became the first home team to win a playoff game, 3-2 over Detroit.

One aspect that kept Phoenix in the game was its sixth-best penalty kill, fending off five of six Detroit chances. As the game wore on, particularly late, the Coyotes also showed no fear of the Detroit powerhouse and no nerves, impressively attacking the puck carrier, winning battles along the boards and keeping the Red Wings pinned in their zone.

Morris assisted on the other two Phoenix goals, by Keith Yandle and Wojtek Wolski. Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom scored for the Red Wings.

Ilya Bryzgalov finished with 38 saves; after the first period, Detroit had a 20-7 shot advantage but the final tally was 40-35.

Stewart spoils OT, Sharks say "here we go again"
Frankly, Avalanche forward Chris Stewart can go to hell. We were less than a minute away from the first overtime game of the postseason, but he had to go ruin it by putting his team in the lead. What a jerk.

Stewart simply threw the puck at the San Jose cage, where it deflected off Rob Blake's skate and past Evgeni Nabokov to give Colorado a 2-1 lead with 50 seconds remaining, and the Avalanche hung on to take a 1-0 series lead against the West's top seed.

Colorado did an excellent job containing San Jose's offense, limiting the Sharks to three shots in the second period. The Sharks garnered more shots in the third period, but Craig Anderson (25 saves) stood tall, despite a couple scary sequences where on one occasion he simply fell down, and on another when the puck took a crazy bounce after he left the net before recovering to keep the puck out.

John-Michael Liles scored Colorado's first goal. Ryane Clowe had San Jose's.

Stat of the night
2 - Number of charging penalties called Wednesday. I don't think charging has actually been called in a regular season game since 2001, yet we got it twice on the first day of the playoffs. Both were absolutely legitimate and correct calls, and frankly, calls that should be made more often.

Quote of the night
"This was like Red Wings croquet."
Versus color commentator Daryl Reaugh, describing Lidstrom's power play goal that seemed to go through the legs of at least four people, maybe five

Thursday predictions
Buffalo 2, Boston 0
Washington 5, Montreal 2
Vancouver 4, Los Angeles 1

Why aren't there four games? Nashville-Chicago doesn't start until Friday. WTF?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Western Conference playoff preview

#1 San Jose vs. #8 Colorado

Regular season head-to-head: San Jose 2-1-1 (Colorado wins one OT game)

Key players: San Jose - Joe Thornton (20-69-89); Patrick Marleau (44-39-83); Dany Heatley (39-43-82); Dan Boyle (15-43-58, 130 blocks); Colorado - Paul Stastny (20-59-79); RW Chris Stewart (28-36-64); D Brett Clark (162 blocks)

Goalies: Evgeni Nabokov (44-16-10, 2.43, .922, 3 shutouts); Craig Anderson (38-25-7, 2.64, .917, 7 shutouts)

Outlook: The Avalanche are very good at blocking shots. In addition to Clark, they have four other players with over 100 blocks - Scott Hannan (144), Kyle Quincey (143), Kyle Cumiskey (105) and Adam Foote (102.) They'll need to be at their best, as will Anderson, against San Jose's potent attack. How this young Colorado team handles its first playoff experience will be interesting. Milan Hejduk and Foote are two of the few Avalanche who've been in the postseason.

Prediction: The sting of last year's first-round exit should still be with the Sharks and they'll take it out on the youthful Avalanche. But it won't be easy. San Jose in six.

#2 Chicago vs. #7 Nashville

Regular season head-to-head: Chicago 4-2 (all regulation)

Key players: Chicago - Patrick Kane (30-58-88); Jonathan Toews (25-43-78); Duncan Keith (14-55-69); Marian Hossa (24-27-51); Patrick Sharp (25-41-66); Nashville - Patric Hornqvist (30-21-51); Steve Sullivan (17-34-51); Shea Weber (16-27-43)

Goalies: Probably Antti Niemi (26-7-4, 2.25, .912, 7 shutouts) for Chicago. Cristobal Huet (26-14-4, 2.50, .895, 4 shutouts) might see time. Pekka Rinne (32-16-5, 2.53, .911, 7 shutouts) - who was the Bearded Talbots' Conn Smythe winner - for Nashville.

Outlook: This is a series of division opponents, but it's a case of "long time no see." The teams haven't met in 2010, playing their last game on Dec. 27. It's also a tale of two teams. Chicago is loaded up front. Nashville not nearly as much, but its depth (nine players with 10+ goals) is comparable to Chicago's (11.) The Blackhawks have much more elite talent. This series depends on which goalie stands on his head and which doesn't. All three involved - Niemi, Huet and Rinne - have been stellar at times and shaky at others.

Prediction: Chicago's offense will eventually wear down Nashville, and while Rinne made some strides as a No. 1 goalie, his tendency to give up bad goals will come back to haunt him. Chicago in six.

#3 Vancouver vs. #6 Los Angeles

Regular season head-to-head: Vancouver 3-1 (Canucks win one SO game)

Key players: Vancouver - Henrik Sedin (29-83-112); Daniel Sedin (29-56-85); Alex Burrows (35-32-67); Ryan Kesler (25-50-75); Mikael Samuelsson (30-23-53); Los Angeles - Anze Kopitar (34-47-81); Drew Doughty (16-43-59); Dustin Brown (24-32-56); Ryan Smyth (22-31-53)

Goalies: Roberto Luongo (40-22-4, 2.57, .913, 4 shutouts); Jonathan Quick (39-24-7, 2.54, .907, 4 shutouts)

Outlook: With Samuelsson returning to health, Vancouver possesses two top-notch scoring lines, and there's a sixth player I didn't mention - Mason Raymond - who has 25 goals. Only one team scored more goals this season than Vancouver. The Kings' secondary scoring is not as explosive, but it's more spread out. While I'm not convinced Luongo has shook off the "can't win the big one" moniker despite winning Olympic gold (Canada won it despite him; he didn't do anything to win it but didn't do anything to lose it) he's going against a youngster in Quick who's getting his first taste of the NHL playoffs, as are many of the Kings.

Prediction: I like what the Kings have going, but they're still at least a year away. Vancouver in five.

#4 Phoenix vs. #5 Detroit

Regular season head-to-head: Detroit 2-0-2 (Phoenix wins 2 OT games)

Key players: Phoenix - Wojtek Wolski (6-12-18 in 18 games with Phoenix, 23-42-65 overall); Shane Doan (18-37-55); Zybnek Michalek (156 blocks); Keith Yandle (12-29-41); Detroit - Pavel Datsyuk (27-43-70); Henrik Zetterberg (23-47-70); Johan Franzen (10-11-21 in 27 games); Nicklas Lidstrom (9-40-49)

Goalies: Ilya Bryzgalov (42-20-6, 2.29 GAA, .920%, 8 shutouts); Jimmy Howard (37-15-10, 2.26, .924, 3 shutouts)

Outlook: This could be the best series. Phoenix allowed the fewest goals in the West; Detroit rolled through the league once getting healthy. Only three teams won more games than the Coyotes. One might wonder how much energy the Red Wings have after being in must-win mode for it seems like four months. Another "which goalie blinks" series. Detroit's offense is better, but Phoenix hasn't needed many goals to win games.

Prediction: Detroit will have enough energy. Phoenix won't get enough goals, but it'll go the distance. Red Wings in seven.

Playoffs begin Wednesday. Enjoy.