Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Major League: The NHL Edition

"Who are these fucking guys?"

The line from the popular baseball movie can be applied to the NHL playoffs. Just look at the who's-who of goalies who are two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup.

That sound you heard was Montreal's magic ending in a puff of smoke. Or the clock striking midnight. Or someone turning off the power switch.

Michael Leighton continues to impress, posting his second straight shutout as Philadelphia earned a 3-0 shutout over the Canadiens to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. Leighton finished with 30 saves.

Montreal looks more like it did in the regular season than in the first two rounds of the playoffs. PK Subban now looks in over his head, the rookie that he is and trying to do too much. Scott Gomez, rather than be a leader on the scoresheet, has been an undisciplined hack. His two horrible penalties in the first two games helped put Montreal in early holes. Jaroslav Halak has been mortal.

Mike Cammalleri isn't any good now that he's facing a competent goalie and a defense that doesn't turn the puck over in bad areas on the ice. Montreal's once-vaunted penalty killing now sucks, and can't stop a band of glue-sniffing monkeys from scoring. The Canadiens also aren't getting any bounces they did in the first two rounds.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are doing what it takes to win. Basically, they're out-Montrealing Montreal. They're relying on their goalie a little too much, but their power play is smoking and they're not giving the Canadiens many chances in the offensive end.

Power play goals by Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne were plenty, but Philadelphia added a third when Ville Leino caught Halak thinking about the flight back to Canada. That goal was inexcusable and a sign that Montreal is finished. The Canadiens are rattled, their heads are lost and there's no heart.

I'd officially like to change my prediction from Montreal in seven to Philadelphia in four but I'm not sure that's allowed at this stage.

Look, the road team is allowed to score
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville would probably have been awesome at Match Game, the old television game show. He's pressing the right buttons, matching up well, and limiting San Jose's offense. Good goaltending helps.

Antti Niemi made 25 saves, Chicago scored the game's first three goals and held on for a 4-2 victory over the Sharks to take both games in San Jose. The series takes two days off before resuming in Chicago.

Dustin Byfuglien made his presence known again. After Andrew Ladd lasered a wrist shot over Evgeni Nabokov's shoulder midway through the first period, Byfuglien helped Chicago triple the lead. He set up shop in front of Nabokov and deflected a simple, low wrister from Patrick Kane for a 2-0 lead. Another screen by Byfuglien helped Jonathan Toews score on the power play 90 seconds later.

There was a Patrick Marleau sighting, with his power play goal a few minutes later stopping the bleeding briefly. The gash opened further, however, when Troy Brouwer got a piece of Niklas Hjalmarsson's slap shot from the point early in the third period, after a great play by Marian Hossa to win the puck in the corner, to restore Chicago's three-goal lead at 4-1.

Marleau added a ho-hum goal with 4:28 remaining.

Not yet heard from in the series: Joe Pavelski's line.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The classiest fans in hockey...

...can be found in the Eastern Conference Final. From rioting in Montreal after a whopping second-round win (a city that has won as many Stanley Cups as Montreal has should have a higher standard, shouldn't it? They rioted after a first-round win a few years ago too when the Canadiens were the TOP seed) and now this bit of fun from Philadelphia.

A Montreal writer, one of the most tenured in the business, had his car vandalized, and a CBC television station also received the wrath of fans right before doing a live segment.

Stay classy everyone.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Conference finals begin

These will become shorter as my interest wanes, which happens with a second-round defeat. Plus attention must be turned to the upcoming World Cup.

Niemi, Byfuglien give Chicago first strike
Antti Niemi is answering those questions nicely, isn't he?

The rookie Finn stopped 44 shots, quite a few of the spectacular variety, and Dustin Byfuglien snapped a shot past Evgeni Nabokov to give Chicago a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference final.

Pretty entertaining game and a solid goaltending duel, with 85 total shots on goal. Nabokov made 38 saves in the losing effort.

Jason Demers scored the game's opening goal for San Jose in the first period on the power play before Patrick Sharp equalized in the second period. Byfuglien scored with 6:45 remaining.

Chicago killed off five power plays, which is a good thing since San Jose wasn't whistled for a single infraction of any kind.

Tick, tock, tick, tock
One Cinderella story in the East is going to end in a couple weeks. Based on Game 1, it'll be Montreal's.

Six different goal scorers and Michael Leighton staked Philadelphia to an emphatic 6-0 victory over the Canadiens to take a 1-0 series lead, chasing Jaroslav Halak after four goals at the game's midpoint.

This isn't the first time Montreal, and Halak, were blown out in a playoff game, and both rebounded each time. However, the Canadiens did absolutely nothing right against the Flyers and looked nothing like the team that knocked off Washington and Pittsburgh.

Despite going over 11 minutes without a shot on goal after Braydon Coburn's opening tally, Philadelphia never wavered in its game plan and never lost focus. Five Flyers recorded a goal and an assist - Coburn, Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Simon Gagne also scored, Ville Leino and Matt Carle had two assists each and Leighton finished with 28 saves.

Tuesday predictions
San Jose 3, Chicago 2
Philadelphia 3, Montreal 1

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eastern Conference Final preview

#7 Philadelphia vs. #8 Montreal

How they got here: The Flyers plowed through second-seeded New Jersey in just five games, leaving enough energy to earn a historic comeback over Boston, trailing 3-0 in the series before winning it in seven games. Montreal earned seven-game victories over Washington and Pittsburgh.

Regular season head-to-head: Montreal won the first game, 3-1, in a game in which both teams set a franchise-record low for shots on goal and combined shots in one game. Let's just move on. Philadelphia won the second game, 3-2, behind two Jeff Carter goals. The third meeting featured a hat trick by Daniel Briere in a 6-2 Flyers victory. Lastly, Jaroslav Halak stopped 35 shots in a 1-0 Montreal victory to close the season series.

Key performers (Philadelphia): Mike Richards (5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points); Briere (7-8-15); Chris Pronger (4-7-11, 34 blocks); Claude Giroux (5-6-11); Simon Gagne (4-3-7 in 8 games, including two GWG against Boston); Michael Leighton (2-0, 1.54 GAA, .943% in a return to action following Brian Boucher's injury)

Key performers (Montreal): Mike Cammalleri (12 goals, 6 assists, 18 points); Brian Gionta (7-5-12); Scott Gomez (1-10-11); Tomas Plekanec (4-7-11); Hal Gill (54 blocks); Josh Gorges (44 blocks); Halak (8-5, 2.42, .933%)

Why it's surprising Philadelphia is here: The Flyers were the last team to qualify for the postseason, needing a shootout win in Game 82 over the Rangers to clinch a spot. They had to face one of the top goalies in the game's history and one of the supposed best teams in hockey in the first round. They became just the third team in NHL history, and fourth team in American major sports, to win a series after being down 3-0, including trailing 3-0 in Game 7. They also pulled off the second-round comeback without its top offensive player in Jeff Carter.

Why it's not surprising Philadelphia is here: The Flyers should have been higher than just the seventh seed. A preseason pick to contend for a Stanley Cup, Philadelphia was haunted by injuries, big-time underperformers and poor coaching, among other things. When healthy, this team boasts talent a lot of other teams don't have. Also, the Bruins suck, and lost that series after losing Game 5.

Why it's surprising Montreal is here: Oh, I dunno. Something about beating the Presidents' Trophy winners after being down 3-1 in the series, then knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champions after trailing the series 3-2. Other than that, I don't see why anyone's surprised the Canadiens are here. Except for "Where was THIS in the regular season?" -type questions.

Why it's not surprising Montreal is here: Halak is channeling the 2003 version of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, when the Ducks goalie won the Conn Smythe Trophy despite coming up short in the Stanley Cup Final. His team is helping him out by playing tremendous team defense, clogging shooting lanes, blocking shots and clearing rebounds. Luck has played a fairly large part in the postseason too. Montreal's star power is shining brightly on offense and the players capitalize on whatever mistakes the opponent makes.

Why Philadelphia can win: The Flyers can ride the momentum of their historic 3-0 comeback. Briere is playing some of his finest hockey as a Flyer. Their defense isn't playing at quite the level of Montreal's but it's certainly better than Pittsburgh's. Gagne's return has been a huge boost. Philadelphia boasts more players to keep an eye on than the Penguins had.

Why Philadelphia can't win: The Flyers have home-ice advantage. Seriously, we've seen how well that's worked out in the East. Both Briere and Gagne are a sneeze away from getting injured again. Boston had very few offensive threats, so the Flyers defense might not be used to actually playing it. And is Leighton really a goalie who can get his team to the Stanley Cup Final?

Why Montreal can win: If the Canadiens play the same way they did in the first two rounds. Halak must continue to be the second-coming of Ken Dryden, the defense must continue to be self-sacrificing, and Lady Luck has to remain on their side. Montreal could be boosted by the return of Andrei Markov, though his absence didn't mean much last round. The Canadiens pretty much had a 100 percent rate of turning mistakes and turnovers into goals against Pittsburgh. Montreal's special teams have been very good.

Why Montreal can't win: Unlike the Penguins defensemen, Philadelphia's blue liners will keep an eye on Cammalleri, who torched Pittsburgh. The Canadiens luck, and Halak's run, has to end sometime. Is their passive-aggressive approach to offense really going to see them through a third round?

Who will win: Quite a few Canadiens are playing at the top of their game right now, from veterans like Gomez and Cammalleri to wet-behind-the-ears rookies like PK Subban. Given a choice between Halak or Leighton, give me the Slovak. Montreal in seven. Maybe the Flyers can find a way to blow a 3-0 series lead. That's about the last thing the Canadiens need to do in the playoffs.

(Game 1 prediction: Montreal 4, Philadelphia 1.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Western Conference Final preview

#1 San Jose vs. #2 Chicago

How they got here: The top-seeded Sharks downed Colorado in six games in the first round, then got past two-time defending conference champion Detroit in a close five-game series in the second round. The Blackhawks needed six games to eliminate both Nashville (first round) and Vancouver (second round.)

Regular season head-to-head: Chicago won the first meeting, 4-3 in overtime on a Brent Seabrook goal after erasing a 3-1 second period deficit. The second game was a 7-2 rout by Chicago in Marian Hossa's first game of the season. Hossa scored twice and Chicago scored three shorthanded goals. The Sharks got a win in the third game, 3-2, behind Evgeni Nabokov's 45 saves. The Blackhawks clinched the season series following a 4-3 overtime victory. Chicago led 3-0 before San Jose netted the next three, but Troy Brouwer's second goal of the game in overtime gave the Blackhawks the win.

Key performers (San Jose): Joe Pavelski (9 goals, 15 points); Joe Thornton (3-8-11); Dany Heatley (2-9-11); Devin Setoguchi (5-3-8); Patrick Marleau (3-4-7); Rob Blake (31 blocked shots); Nabokov (8-3, 2.43 GAA, .907%, 1 shutout)

Key performers (Chicago): Jonathan Toews (6-14-20); Patrick Kane (7-8-15); Patrick Sharp (5-9-14); Hossa (2-8-10); Dustin Byfuglien (4-2-6, 37 hits and one badass style of play); Brent Sopel (35 blocked shots); Antti Niemi (8-4, 2.57, .909, 2 shutouts)

Why it's surprising San Jose is here: The Sharks haven't exactly been strong playoff performers in the past. San Jose is in the conference finals for the first time since 2004 despite being perennially near or on top of the conference. San Jose had to go through Detroit, which was playing its finest hockey of the season, in the second round, and there were a number of people (not me, though, certainly...) who picked the Red Wings to knock off the Sharks.

Why it's not surprising San Jose is here: History aside, this is a strong San Jose team with two solid scoring lines and getting valuable contributions throughout the lineup. When someone on the team slacks off, someone else stepped up in their place. For instance, Thornton, Marleau and Heatley were silent in the first round, but Pavelski and Setoguchi carried the team through. The reverse happened in the second round.

Why it's surprising Chicago is here: The Blackhawks have used an unknown, untested goalie as its starter. Honestly, that's it. Unless you want to count beating the Hossa karma, but that only seems to come into play in the Stanley Cup Final. OK, one more: Some people believed the Canucks had the talent and heart to knock off the Blackhawks.

Why it's not surprising Chicago is here: The top Blackhawks have played like their top players. Chicago boasts tremendous depth at both the forward position and on the blue line. The Canucks did not have the talent nor the heart to knock off the Blackhawks. And, well, Chicago is just seriously loaded. Not only is there excellent depth but the high-end talent is pretty darn high.

Why San Jose can win: The two Joe's need to provide consistent contributions for the length of the series. Pavelski held the league lead in playoff goals but was held to one point (an assist) the last three games against the Red Wings. Marleau and Heatley need to put the puck in the net. Marleau's got the hot hand but Heatley is still sitting on two goals, albeit he's helping out in other areas. Nabokov needs to show he's an elite performer when it matters most. San Jose proved it can win in hostile arenas with two wins in Joe Louis Arena.

Why San Jose can't win: If only one of their top two lines can score. If Nabokov fails in another high-pressure situation. If they allow Byfuglien to wreak havoc like he did against the Canucks.

Why Chicago can win: Toews is turning in a quality Conn Smythe candidacy. Byfuglien is a force when he's playing his style of game and getting to the front of the net. The team is clicking on most cylinders. There was no panic about having to play a Game 6 in Vancouver.

Why Chicago can't win: Mainly if Niemi falters. There have been struggles on home ice. Not having home-ice advantage could render that moot, but it's not a given to win in California. San Jose will be more disciplined than Vancouver was. Duncan Keith might be showing some signs of fatigue.

Who will win: There will be pressure on both sides, and it's hard to say who has more. San Jose's the top seed but underachieves in the playoffs, yet being in the conference finals almost relieves that pressure because the team rarely gets this far, so some demons have already been exorcised. As soon as Chicago signed Hossa, the Blackhawks were dubbed a Stanley Cup favorite. Oddly, the Blackhawks and their youth are more experienced at this kind of thing than these Sharks. Chicago in six.

(Game 1 prediction: Chicago 4, San Jose 2.)

History will be made ... and was

You know who's happy right now? The Capitals and their fans. Because when it comes to epic NHL playoff collapses, specifically from the 2010 season, nothing compares to the double epic fail known as the Boston Bruins.

1942. 1975. 2004. The only times in major American sports history that a team lost a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games. That last year came in baseball.

Two. The number of times an NHL team lost a three-goal lead in a Game 7.

Congratulations, Boston. You've added one to both those lists.

Simon Gagne's return to the Philadelphia lineup proved far more valuable than Marc Savard's return to Boston's, as Gagne scored the tiebreaking goal on the power play late in the third period and the Flyers capped off two remarkable comebacks, defeating the Bruins, 4-3 in Game 7 and the series. It was Gagne's second game-winning goal since returning to action in Game 4 and his fourth goal overall in four games for the series.

Philadelphia, the last team to qualify for the NHL playoffs, advances improbably not just to the Eastern Conference Final but has home-ice advantage against Montreal.

Beantown was hopping (see what I did there? Beans? Jumping beans? Hopping? Anyway) after Milan Lucic scored his second goal of the game for a 3-0 Bruins lead. Michael Ryder's power play goal early on put Boston ahead by one, then Lucic struck on the man-advantage for a 2-0 lead before 10 minutes were gone.

For a strong defensive team with an impressive young goalie in Tuukka Rask, protecting that three-goal lead shouldn't have been a big problem.

Instead, Boston's weak overall offense proved to aid its undoing. After getting 13 shots during that three-goal outburst in 14 minutes, the Bruins' attack faltered and finished with just 25 shots.

Conversely, the Flyers woke up and showed the urgency they did in the three previous games. James van Riemsdyk scored something of a fluke goal late in the first period to stop the bleeding. His shot was heading wide of the cage, but Rask stuck his leg out and actually helped deflect the puck behind him into the goal. It was the kind of charmed goal that gives a team hope.

Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette might as well be called Carnac. He said during an in-game interview that now that his team was playing its game, they would win.

When Scott Hartnell backhanded home a rebound to cut the deficit to 3-2, the Flyers' quest became easier. Then Daniel Briere continued his torrid pace by converting a wrap-around, aided by a Bruin's skate, and suddenly it was 3-3.

Bruins fans were swallowing their tongues.

Then they collectively had a flashback to 1979, when a too many men on the ice penalty contributed to a playoff defeat in another Game 7, that one against Montreal in the Stanley Cup semifinals. Guy Lafleur tied the game with 74 seconds left in the third period and Yvon Lambert won the game in overtime for the Canadiens.

This time, it was Savard and Vladimir Sobotka who got their signs mixed up during a line change and Boston was whistled for the bench penalty.

Enter Gagne, who collected a loose puck in the right circle and snapped a quick wrist shot past Rask's blocker hand on the ensuing power play for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Boston couldn't muster the offense necessary to generate the tying goal, and the collapse was complete.

Michael Leighton shook off a shaky start and finished with 22 saves for the victory.

Both conference finals begin Sunday.

Turning point: van Riemsdyk's goal.

Key play: The bench penalty on Boston.

Stats of the night
159 - Number of NHL teams, in 162 tries, to win a seven-game series after being ahead 3-0.

9 - Starting with van Riemsdyk's goal and including Hartnell's and Briere's (at 2:49 and 8:39, respectively, of the second period), the Flyers had nine straight shots in the game.

Quote of the night
None. Jack Edwards was unavailable.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Penguins post-mortem


Good decision to have held off writing this until today rather than in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night when I was drunk as hell. Twitter followers might've gotten a good idea of my mental state last night, though I can honestly say I don't remember anything I Tweeted last night.

Pittsburgh's second-round defeat to Montreal in seven games boils down to a few very simple items. First and foremost, credit must be given where it's due, and the Canadiens played their game much better than the Penguins played theirs, Montreal wanted it more and worked harder.

Looking beyond that, though, reveals some other issues from the Pittsburgh end. One is the Penguins had too many players under-perform at the same time. Ninety percent (at least) of the fans will blame only one person, and that's goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the same man who almost singlehandedly won Game 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2009 and set the tone for Game 7 against Washington in the second round.

With a handful of exceptions, Fleury was not "bad" in my opinion. But nor was he good consistently. Without going back to look at every goal allowed this postseason, it seemed he didn't give up as many junk goals against Montreal as he did against Ottawa in the first round. There were times, however, when he needed to make a clutch save and he didn't.

It didn't help that Pittsburgh was guilty of far too many egregious turnovers, many coming in the defensive zone or neutral ice, that allowed Montreal some Grade A opportunities that left Fleury out to dry. Porous defensive positioning and effort (Alex Goligoski on Maxim Lapierre in Game 6, Sergei Gonchar on Travis Moen in Game 7 to name two specific incidents) also didn't help. Compare that to Montreal's collective defensive effort and it was little contest.

Fleury wasn't good enough this series. Neither was Sidney Crosby (one goal), nor Evgeni Malkin (one goal), nor Bill Guerin (two fairly meaningless goals.) Except for Malkin a tad, I'm not hearing too much criticism of those guys. They were the team's three leading goal scorers (Guerin, with 21, was tied with Jordan Staal) and between them, barely averaged one goal in the series.

There aren't many circumstances under which a team will win a playoff series when its three best offensive players combined for all of four goals in a seven-game series. Conversely, the Canadiens' stars - Mike Cammalleri, Jaroslav Halak, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta - showed up to play. Pittsburgh's didn't.

That leads to the second main issue for the Penguins. They just weren't that good.

When looking at this team's roster, it's almost amazing to think they contended for a division title and won a playoff round. Crosby had a stellar season but that was basically it. Malkin's head was firmly entrenched in the clouds the entire season, and it's a testament to his ability that he had an awful season when he registered 77 points in 67 games. Some teams' leading scorer won't produce at that rate.

Malkin also took far too many penalties, taking him off the ice, killing the team's momentum, and generally frustrating everyone. And when Malkin is playing like that, Pittsburgh won't go too far.

It's not because Malkin is the true MVP and leader of the team. (Anyone who watched this season will laugh at that notion.) It's because without both its stars playing at star level, Pittsburgh has almost zero threatening offensive talent.

Crosby and Malkin can make players around them better. But while I love what Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot bring to the table, neither one should be cast in a top-six role. Both regularly played there, Talbot more so in the playoffs.

From the standpoint of fan expectations, the worst thing that could've happened to Talbot was scoring two goals in Game 7 of the Final, because now many fans expect him to score left and right. They fail to recognize Talbot for what he is: A third- or fourth-line grinder who will produce 10 to 14 goals a season.

That's what Dupuis is. That's what Ruslan Fedotenko is. On the Penguins, they're playing on the top two lines.

That's because the Penguins are built down the middle. With so much money tied up in Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal ($21.4 million combined), the wing corps will always be weak unless there's homegrown talent, which at this point is not ready. So it's imperative that those three centers, mainly Crosby and Malkin, don't have a season like Malkin did. The Penguins will always be a threat as long as those two guys, and Fleury, play like they're capable of. When one of them - or in this year's case, two of them - fail to do that, then 2010 happens. An early trip to the golf course.

In the salary cap era, GM Ray Shero basically has to hope he catches lightning in a bottle at the wing position, like with Marian Hossa in the 2008 playoffs. With the Alexei Ponikarovsky acquisition, he didn't even catch a lightning bug in a bottle. Or, if he did, he forgot to poke air holes in the lid.

Many things went right for Pittsburgh in 2009. Crosby and Malkin both played at high levels. Fedotenko channeled his 2004 self. Guerin drank from the Fountain of Youth. Fleury was clutch when he needed to be. Talbot lived up to his Superstar status he jokingly referred to himself as in a local car commercial several years ago. Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill were employed.

Of that list of items, only one - Crosby's high level - happened in 2010, and even that disappeared in the second round. Malkin was awful. Fedotenko suffered through the worst season of his career, which isn't all that dissimilar to most of his other seasons. Guerin and Gonchar started to show their age. Fleury, with a handful of exceptions, was not clutch. Talbot didn't even earn one of those star stickers, let alone be an actual superstar. Scuderi is working on his tan in California. Gill worked for the enemy.

Adding it all up, it's no surprise the team is golfing in mid-May. There were hopes that some players would step up their game when the playoffs began - mainly Malkin - and none of those hopes were realized.

The disheartening part was the first 30 minutes of Game 7. Mellon Arena might've been the loudest I've ever heard it in the last six seasons, but the Penguins didn't show any desperation or urgency until the score was already 4-0. Distressing considering the coaching and leadership was exactly the same as the ones that won the Stanley Cup less than a year ago. I envisioned both a win or a narrow loss in Game 7. I didn't expect to get blown out of the water.

To lay blame on any one player (I'm speaking to the Fleury haters here) is to display a lack of knowledge and rationality. The loss, both in Game 7 specifically and the series in general, was a total team effort. You win as a team, you lose as a team.

But hey, the team can't make the Cup finals, or even the conference finals, every season. It sucks when it doesn't, but life goes on.

On the bright side of things, I can now turn my attention fully to the World Cup in June. And I save a few bucks on unused playoff tickets.

(Also, Philadelphia beats Boston, 4-1, in Game 7.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I'll probably be too drunk for a recap, just know that Montreal and Philadelphia probably won.

First anniversary present is another beatdown

May 11, 2009 marked the day Chicago ousted Vancouver from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So does May 11, 2010.

A disciplined, controlled style of play didn't help Vancouver. Chicago scored the game's first three goals, twice scored two goals before one could blink an eye, and routed the Canucks, 5-1, to win the series in six games and advance to the Western Conference finals for the second year in a row. The Blackhawks will face San Jose, meaning one long-suffering franchise will end some lasting misery.

With the game scoreless, Duncan Keith one-timed a pass up ice to Patrick Sharp, able to turn it into a 2-on-1 with Troy Brouwer. Sharp saucered a pass to Brouwer, who neatly deflected the pass past Roberto Luongo for a 1-0 Chicago lead early in the second period. Brouwer, owner of 22 goals in the regular season but no points in eight playoff games, appeared in his first game since Game 2.

Just 36 seconds later, the star of Game 5, Kevin Bieksa, misplayed the puck at center ice and Kris Versteeg skated in on another 2-on-1, where he wristed a shot past Luongo for a 2-0 lead just like that.

Shockingly, we got a penalty called late in the second period. When Bill McCreary is reffing playoff games, NOTHING gets called.

Keith went to the box for slashing, giving the Canucks a golden chance to get back into the game. Instead, a bad play at the blue line by former Wild whipping post Pavol Demitra allowed Dave Bolland a breakaway on Luongo and he flipped it home for a huge shorthanded goal in the final minute of the second period for a 3-0 lead.

Shane O'Brien restored some life and granted some small sliver of hope when he scored 3:44 into the third period. Chicago rattled off another quick double to end all hopes.

Patrick Kane had a hand in it, scoring his seventh of the playoffs five minutes after O'Brien's goal. If the drama wasn't already sucked away by that point, Public Enemy No. 1 in Vancouver, Dustin Byfuglien, fittingly put the final nail in the coffin when he scored 25 seconds after Kane did for a 5-1 lead.

Oddly, only Byfuglien and Kane finished with more than one point, and they each had only two. Antti Niemi finished with 29 saves for Chicago. Jonathan Toews extended his points streak to nine games with an assist.

Key play: Bolland's shorthanded goal. Instead of possibly 2-1 going into the third, it was 3-0. Even if the Canucks scored on the power play, they would still have been down by two.

Turning point: Versteeg's goal, a backbreaker coming so soon after the first goal.

Stats of the night
0 - Hopefully the number of times we see those weird green guys in Vancouver again. Ever.

4 - Approximate count of the total of Canuck players in the defensive zone on Chicago's five goals. Seemed like every one came off a turnover and was either a 2-on-1 or a breakaway.

Quote of the night
"The Hawks are hanging on like kittens on the couch."
Daryl Reaugh. Shortly after, Chicago scored twice to remove the drama.

Desired quote of the night
Whatever Kane said to Luongo in the handshake line, after Luongo said to Kane, "See you in the playoffs" after the gold-medal game handshake.

Wednesday predictions
Really can't get a feel for that Boston-Philly series any more. Figured Philly was toast, now I think Boston will join Detroit and Pittsburgh as blowing a 3-0 series lead.

Philadelphia 4, Boston 2
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 1

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Keep on keepin' on

This is going to be brief as hell because I'm writing it on my Blackberry.

Cammalleri, Habs force Game 7
You'd think the Penguins would a) Put a body on Mike Cammalleri, and b) duplicate winning performances instead of changing their style of play.

Cammalleri scored twice and Jaroslav Halak made 34 easy saves to lead Montreal over Pittsburgh, 4-3, and force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Penguins choose to pepper Halak with shots and not generate traffic despite that being the key to an 0-3 record in the series. When they make life tough on Halak and pick their spots, they're 3-0.

Goals by Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead after Cammalleri opened the game's scoring with his league-best 10th postseason goal. Then the Canadiens scored the next three goals, by Cammalleri, Jaroslav Spacek in his first game back from missing the previous nine, and the eventual winner from Maxim Lapierre.

Bill Guerin tipped Sergei Gonchar's shot late for a meaningless goal.

Flyers not grounded yet
OK, here's where it gets brief.

Simon Gagne scored twice and Michael Leighton stopped 14 shots in relief of injured starter Brian Boucher as Philadelphia staved off elimination again, 4-0 over Boston. The series shifts to Philadelphia with the Bruins leading 3-2.

Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell also scored.

Tuesday prediction
Chicago 5, Vancouver 3

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pride & Prejudice: Canucks respond to force Game 6

Who knew? Vancouver has pride after all, and maybe we were too prejudiced against its tendency to go ape-shit and take stupid penalties.

Three goals from defensemen and a relatively disciplined game helped Vancouver avoid elimination after a 4-1 victory in Chicago. The Canucks return home still trailing the series three games to two.

Kevin Bieksa netted a pair of goals, one as part of a two-goal first period that gave Vancouver a 2-0 lead at the first intermission. In the game's opening minute, Christian Ehrhoff's slap shot eluded Antti Niemi for a quick 1-0 lead.

Bieksa made it 2-0 late in the period on a nifty play, receiving a nice pass from Kyle Wellwood and deking Niemi out of his shorts. Bieksa's second of the game came about 19 minutes of game time later when he one-timed a shot past Niemi on the power play with a perfect Alex Burrows screen for a three-goal lead.

Vancouver avoided getting into scrums and taking undisciplined penalties like roughing or cross checking. When the Canucks were shorthanded, the penalty killing actually worked, foiling Chicago on four opportunities.

Instead it was the Blackhawks who were taking bad penalties and showing frustration with an inability to get pucks past Roberto Luongo, who finished with 29 saves. Only Jonathan Toews' goal with 7:09 remaining in the third period went into the Vancouver net.

Burrows sealed the win with an empty net goal in the final minute. Bieksa earned an assist for a three-point night. Wellwood, Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson each posted two helpers.

Stat of the night
4 - Bieksa's well-rounded game also included four blocked shots.

Quote of the night
"We got zapped right off the bat and didn't respond after that. We had excitement in the building and we didn't take advantage."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville

Monday predictions
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 1
Boston 4, Philadelphia 2

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 25: Answering the bell

Several people playing Saturday night needed to bounce back from bad outings on Thursday. Some of them have a longer history of being questioned. All passed Saturday's test with flying colors.

What the hell does that phrase even mean? Flying colors? WTF? When was the last time you looked up in the sky and said, "Hey look, I see flying red" or "I see flying chartreuse"? Stupid English language.

"Fleury" is French for "Halak" as Penguins take series lead
Two players who had forgetful Game 4 performances were Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Letang had the eventual game-winning goal deflect in off his skate, and Fleury gave up one awful goal and one iffy goal.

Well, Letang opened the scoring in Game 5 and Fleury put forth his best Jaroslav Halak impersonation, stopping 32 shots in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory over Montreal to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Monday. (The same day as Boston-Philadelphia Game 5; great scheduling job, NHL. You schedule an elimination game the same day as another series that you've been alternating day-by-day for a week. You give the Bruins and Flyers two days off but don't do the same for Penguins-Canadiens? So now we have this lovely situation: If Philadelphia and Montreal win Monday, we get a Game 6 and a Game 7 ON THE SAME NIGHT AT THE SAME TIME WHEN THERE'S ONLY THREE - MAYBE JUST TWO - SERIES GOING ON! Fucking NHL. Morons. But anyway, I digress.)

Fleury kept the Canadiens off the scoresheet until the final half-minute, when Mike Cammalleri somehow pushed a rebound through Fleury's pads to cut Montreal's deficit in half. It was Cammalleri's ninth goal of the playoffs, tying him for the league-lead.

Montreal might've felt a little like Washington and Pittsburgh have felt when playing the Canadiens. Pittsburgh players blocked 18 shots and did an excellent job clearing way any rebounds left by Fleury, who also escaped at least two "OMG how did they not score there?!" situations.

The offensive support was provided by the blue liners. Letang lasered a one-timer past Halak (23 saves) off a short pass from Evgeni Malkin on the power play late in the first period, and Sergei Gonchar rifled a one-timer from near the blue line over Halak's right shoulder midway through the second period. Gonchar also assisted on Letang's goal for a two-point night.

San Jose's big names lead to conference finals
The other players who needed a clutch performance were Evgeni Nabokov (five goals on nine shots in Game 4), Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for San Jose. Now the only questions those guys will be answering for the next few days involves being one series win away from playing for the Stanley Cup.

Marleau snapped a tie early in the third period, Thornton played one of his best and most inspired games of the playoffs and Nabokov fended off 33 shots to lead San Jose past Detroit, 2-1, and into the Western Conference finals following a 4-1 series victory over the two-time defending conference champions.

We didn't hear much from Marleau or Thornton in the first round, but they each stepped up their game against Detroit. Thornton scored a power play goal two minutes after Brian Rafalski put the Red Wings ahead 1-0 then dished a perfect pass to Marleau, who ripped a one-timer past Jimmy Howard seven minutes into the third period for what proved to be the game-winner.

After combining for just one goal against Colorado, Marleau and Thornton netted a total of three game-winning goals and five total in the second round. Thornton is on a six-game point streak and has nine points in that time, including eight against the Red Wings.

Marleau notched four points (two goals) in four games against the Red Wings. He missed one game because of illness.

Nabokov stopped just about everything he could. Even Rafalski's goal appeared to deflect off a body in front, changing its direction. He did some of his finest work over the last two periods, particularly the second, when Detroit out-shot San Jose 14-3. The Red Wings also fired 14 shots in the third period and had a power play for the last 53 seconds.

Jimmy Howard was sensational for Detroit, stopping 30 shots. He made two sterling saves late in the game when the Sharks could've put the game away and also forced Joe Pavelski to shoot way high and way wide on a penalty shot shortly before Marleau's goal. The Red Wings didn't lose because of Howard.

Johan Franzen assisted on Rafalski's goal, giving him points in all 12 Detroit playoff games this year, tying a club record of 12 straight playoff games with a point set by Gordie Howe in 1964.

Stat of the night
2 - Players remaining from the 2004 San Jose team that until now was the only squad in franchise history to reach the conference finals: Marleau and Nabokov.

Quotes of the night
"It's always the second mouse that gets the cheese. What a succulent toe drag."
Daryl Reaugh, on Thornton's goal

"This is just chock full of sagacity."
Reaugh. I think that's what he said. But I have no idea what it means.

Sunday prediction
Chicago 5, Vancouver 2

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 24: Drama, no drama

Philly sees Boston's Savard, raises one Simon
The Bruins don't have a monopoly on stars returning to the lineup with major contributions.

Simon Gagne, playing his first game of the series, scored in overtime and Philadelphia avoided a sweep, defeating Boston 5-4. The teams get the weekend off. Game 5 is Monday in Boston.

Gagne's goal came off two neat plays by Mike Richards and Matt Carle. Richards skated into the Boston zone, pulled up and threaded a pass to trailing defenseman Carle. For his part, Carle faked a shot then slid a perfect pass to Gagne standing right outside the crease. All Gagne had to do was get his stick on the puck and it slid under Tuukka Rask for the winner.

It capped off a game that Philadelphia seemed to be in control of on two occasions. After Mark Recchi's opening goal, the Flyers scored three straight times - from Daniel Briere, Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux - to take a two-goal lead.

Boston promptly responded, getting Michael Ryder's fluke goal after breaking his stick shortly after Giroux's tally, then Milan Lucic's deflection goal in the third period to tie the score. Ville Leino, who was in the penalty box for Lucic's goal, made up for it by deflecting a Pronger shot for a 4-3 Philadelphia lead with just 5:40 remaining in regulation.

Recchi continued to kick Father Time in the teeth though, taking Patrice Bergeron's pass and lifting a shot past Brian Boucher from a bad angle with 32 ticks to play to tie the score at 4-4.

I stopped the "Non-Star of the night" a while back, but Friday's winner is Carle, who posted four assists and was a plus-5 on the night, yet shut out in the Three Stars. Boucher finished with 33 saves.

"Canuck" is apparently not Canadian for "penalty kill"
It doesn't translate into "disciplined" either.

Vancouver committed a series of stupid, selfish penalties and the Chicago power play burned the Canucks, converting four times - led by Jonathan Toews - in a 7-4 victory to claim a big 3-1 series lead. Toews recorded five points, including his first career hat trick, and tying a team postseason record.

Los Angeles torched Vancouver's penalty killing in the first round and Chicago's doing the same thing. The Blackhawks went 4-for-8 in Game 4 with the power play.

Each goal by Toews came with the man-advantage, and his first was part of a back-and-forth first period. Brent Seabrook gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 18 seconds in before Mikael Samuelsson's centering pass went off teammate Kyle Wellwood and past Antti Niemi just over a minute later for a 1-1 game.

Toews scored only for Daniel Sedin to counter later in the period. Chicago then rattled off three consecutive goals and four of the next five to take a commanding lead. Toews' second and third goals sandwiched a Patrick Sharp power play goal. Alexander Edler stemmed the tide for Vancouver, but Tomas Kopecky's goal early in the third period restored Chicago's three-goal lead at 6-3.

Henrik Sedin scored late, but Dave Bolland's empty net goal pushed the final margin to 7-4.

Sharp finished with four points and Niemi recorded 26 saves.

Stat of the night
64.6 - Vancouver's penalty killing percentage. It was 81.9 in the regular season.

Quote of the night
"He's the second-best goaltender on the ice."
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, referring to Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo

Saturday predictions
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 1
San Jose 4, Detroit 2

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 23: He's not dead yet

"Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!"

"Here's one."

"That'll be ninepence."

"I'm not dead!"


"Nothing, here's your ninepence."

"I'm not dead!"

"'Ere. He says he's not dead."

"Yes he is."

"I'm not."

"He isn't?"

"Well, he will be soon, he's very ill."

"I'm gettin' better."

"No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment."

Halak saves Canadiens again
Killer instinct and finishers. Two things Pittsburgh lacks, and Montreal is right back in the series as a result.

Jaroslav Halak shook off two early goals after a quick Canadiens strike, and Montreal scored two goals early in the third period to take a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh and even the series at 2-2.

Tom Pyatt scored just two minutes into the game off a real bad goal for Marc-Andre Fleury to give up, but goals by Max Talbot and Chris Kunitz in less than three minutes put the Penguins ahead, 2-1. From there, Pittsburgh dominated through two periods, but Halak came up with a series of huge saves and prevented the Penguins from adding on. Even one more goal might've spelled the end for the Canadiens.

Instead, the lead remained one until the third period, when Maxim Lapierre scored on a wrap-around to tie the game two minutes in. Brian Gionta's fluke goal 93 seconds later, a pass which deflected off Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang and past Fleury, proved to be the difference. Suddenly it was Montreal who dominated play and the Penguins weren't able to muster enough attack to get the tying goal. Even when Evgeni Malkin and his $8.7 million price tag had a breakaway that he badly missed on with four minutes left.

Halak finished with 33 saves.

Awful officiating in this game. Both teams got away with so many blatant violations. Classy move by the Canadiens fans though throwing debris onto the ice during the third period when Montreal was whistled for an infraction.

Franzen > San Jose
Reports of Johan Franzen's demise were greatly exaggerated.

Franzen scored four goals and finished with a team postseason record six points as Detroit avoided a sweep with a thorough and emphatic 7-1 rout of San Jose. Franzen originally scored the game's first four goals before the initial marker was credited to Todd Bertuzzi. The goals came in a span of just 5:36, including 3:26 for Franzen's three.

He netted his fourth in the third period to make the score 7-1. Valtteri Filppula and Brian Rafalski put the Red Wings ahead 6-0 before we had a Dany Heatley sighting to break Jimmy Howard's shutout bid. Howard finished with 28 saves.

Evgeni Nabokov was pulled after the first period having given up the first five goals.

Somewhat surprisingly, San Jose started to goon things up a bit, led by Joe Thornton. I don't mind the Sharks showing some emotion, but honestly, I expected more poise out of a team still ahead 3-1 in the series and heading home. Instead, it looked like they were the ones becoming unraveled, as if the Red Wings got in the Sharks' heads.

Of course, if any team can blow a 3-0 series lead, it's San Jose, and if any team can overcome an 0-3 deficit, it's Detroit.

Bertuzzi finished with five points.

Stat of the night
7, 15:15 - Montreal defenseman Ryan O'Byrne blocked 7 shots despite logging just 15:15 of ice time. Yet he didn't lead the team; that was Hal Gill with eight.

Quote of the night
"Maybe this spanking will wake us up to know we're not out of the woods. I'm saying it. We have to respond to it."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan

Friday predictions
Boston 4, Philadelphia 1
Chicago 5, Vancouver 2

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 22: Bullying the bullies

Boston takes bite out of Philadelphia's hopes
I don't think Flyers fans were chanting the first syllable of their goalie's last name as time ticked down in Game 3 of the Boston-Philadelphia series.

I'm all but certain that instead of "Bou"-cher, it was just "Booooo."

After conceding a quick opening goal, Boston rattled off the next four tallies and took a commanding 3-0 series lead after defeating Philadelphia, 4-1. The Bruins played much of the game without center David Krejci and defenseman Andy McQuaid, neither of whom played even four shifts before getting injured.

Perhaps as a result of those injuries, the Flyers thoroughly dominated the shot counter (I've been guilty before, but referring to that as a shot clock makes no sense) but got nothing but Aaron Asham's strike 2:32 into the game. Tuukka Rask fended off 34 of 35 shots, and his team answered Asham's goal quickly.

Less than two minutes later, Blake Wheeler netted his first career playoff goal, and the Bruins took a 2-1 lead on Miro the Hero Satan's fifth goal of the playoffs and third of the series just 94 seconds after Wheeler scored.

Boston registered just 20 shots on goal, 19 coming against Boucher, who was briefly yanked from the game and replaced with Johan Backlund before being put back in. Mark Recchi's power play goal off an unlucky (or lucky, depending on your perspective) bounce early in the third period resulted in a huge two-goal lead. Boston's final shot was Patrice Bergeron's empty net goal after forcing a turnover at center ice.

Krejci's injury is potentially huge for Boston, depending how long he'll be out. The Bruins don't have many weapons to begin with, and Krejci is one of them. On the heels of having lost Marco Sturm, Boston is getting banged up. It'll be a little interesting to see what Game 4 is like, if Boston is able to press and end the series as quickly as possible in order to try to get healthy or if the injuries (if Krejci misses the game) open the door for the Flyers to take at least one game.

Big bad Byfuglien > Vancouver
Dustin Byfuglien is almost singlehandedly destroying the Canucks.

Byfuglien was credited with a hat trick for his first points, let alone goals, of the 2010 playoffs along with six hits and Chicago took a 2-1 series lead after beating up Vancouver, 5-2. In addition to his three goals, Byfuglien caused all kinds of mayhem and had the Canucks predictably taking all kinds of shots - legal and illegal - at the bruising Chicago forward.

His third goal was debatable; it sure looked like he pushed Roberto Luongo and the puck into the cage, but officials allowed it to stand. Earlier, Byfuglien banged in two rebounds off power plays.

Kris Versteeg put Chicago ahead in the early going, a play that it looked like Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa might have knocked into his own net. Byfuglien's first goal gave Chicago a 2-0 lead, and his second put the Blackhawks ahead 3-1 after Jannik Hansen broke Antti Niemi's shutout bid.

Alex Burrows was in the penalty box during Byfuglien's second goal but made up for it by snapping a shot past Niemi in the final minute of the second period to get the Canucks to within one. Marian Hossa restored the two-goal advantage eight minutes into the third period, and Byfuglien's final goal - originally credited to Patrick Kane - came with 6:02 to play.

Niemi finished with 31 saves. Jonathan Toews had three assists for Chicago.

Stat of the night
1:39 - Amount of time the Flyers have led in their series with Boston.

Quote of the night
"I think so. They've got to worry about me coming and worry about getting hit."
Byfuglien, after asked whether he was throwing the Canucks off their game. Them's fighting words, Tex, and it's frickin' awesome.

Thursday predictions
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 1
Detroit 3, San Jose 2

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 21: Control, control, you must learn control

Yoda. Smart guy. Anyway. Control is the theme of the night, as one team got it back and another put an additional nail in someone's coffin.

Fleury shows quality is sometimes better than quantity as Penguins reclaim series lead
True story: I was thinking Monday that Marc-Andre Fleury needed to steal a game soon for the Penguins. He hasn't played poorly, except for Game 1 against Ottawa, but has a bad tendency to give up sub-par goals. Usually he'd make up for those with timely saves.

Half of that didn't happen on Tuesday. Fleury made just 18 saves, but two were dazzling pad stops on Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec in the third period while holding a lead and Pittsburgh earned home-ice advantage back following a 2-0 victory over Montreal. The Penguins lead the series two games to one. It was Fleury's first postseason shutout this year.

Fleury also made a handful of above-average saves in the first period, when the Canadiens showed a rare facet of their game: An aggressive attack as they tried to get an early lead. They held the Penguins to just three shots in the first period but managed only seven of their own. So Fleury wasn't exactly busy, and it might even be a small stretch to say he stole the game, but he had by far his best outing of the 2010 playoffs.

Pittsburgh weathered that early storm and dominated the second period, enjoying long stretches of possession in the Montreal zone. Jaroslav Halak made a couple sterling saves. He finished with 23.

One of those long shifts came late in the period, when the Penguins held the puck for well over a minute. Eventually, Sidney Crosby drew a penalty on Hal Gill. The power play carried over to the third period, and Evgeni Malkin fired a one-timer past Halak for his fifth of the playoffs and the eventual game-winner.

Fleury's saves on Cammalleri and Plekanec came after the goal as Montreal pushed for the tying marker. The Penguins held strong, and Pascal Dupuis scored into an empty net with 15 seconds remaining to seal the win.

Found: Patrick Marleau; puts Wings on brink
To quote Carolina play by play man John Forslund: Hey hey what do ya say! Patrick Marleau is alive. As a result, Detroit might not be for much longer.

San Jose capped a nice comeback seven minutes into overtime when Marleau converted a Joe Thornton pass on a 2-on-1 rush to defeat Detroit, 4-3, and give the Sharks a commanding 3-0 series lead. The odd-man break came when Red Wings forward Jason Williams fired a shot high and wide to the far side. The puck bounced past the other Detroit players, who had pinched, out to Thornton at center ice.

The Sharks trailed 3-1 after two periods before recovering to force overtime. Thornton got the comeback started by netting his second of the playoffs unassisted early in the frame, then Logan Couture caught Jimmy Howard napping and slipped a shot through Howard on a bad angle with 6:43 left to knot the score at 3-3.

Tomas Holmstrom put Detroit ahead 1-0 shortly after a Henrik Zetterberg goal was disallowed because of a distinct kicking motion. Daniel Cleary's late goal in the first period doubled the lead, but Devin Setoguchi countered even later, with four ticks left, for a 2-1 score at the intermission.

Zetterberg - who missed a penalty shot during the game - got the goal back early in the second period, and the 3-1 score held up until the third period.

Evgeni Nabokov made 32 saves for San Jose, which won each of the games in this series so far by the same score.

Stat of the night
1 - Shutouts in the regular season for Fleury, who handed Montreal its first playoff shutout at home since 1983, a stretch of 118 postseason contests.

Quote of the night
"It feels bad, but it's still not over. You still can't stop believing."
Howard. The thinking here is he's quoting the Journey song that Detroit plays near the end of games.

Wednesday predictions
Philadelphia 4, Boston 2
Vancouver 5, Chicago 3

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 20: Mailin' it in

I'm keeping this one short. I remembered I'm not getting paid by the word. Or getting paid, but that's not the point.

Lucic puts Boston up by two, still not worth $4 million
I still hate Milan Lucic's new contract.

But his first goal of the playoffs with 2:57 remaining in the third period gave Boston a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia to take a 2-0 series lead. Just think: One of Montreal, Boston or Philadelphia could be in the Stanley Cup Final. The very thought makes me cry a little inside. That alone should get people behind Pittsburgh. At least it'd be an entertaining series.

Anyway. Lucic's goal was the third Bruins lead but the only one they maintained. Johnny Boychuk scored early, only to be canceled out by Flyers captain Mike Richards in the first period. Miro the Hero Satan netted his fourth of the playoffs in the second period to restore Boston's lead, but Daniel Briere lasered a shot past Tuukka Rask late to tie the score at 2-2.

Satan also assisted on Lucic's goal and Rask finished with 24 saves. Ville Leino posted two assists and Briere had two points for the Flyers.

Got to be honest, I agree with Vancouver
I dislike the song Chicago uses to celebrate goals. Nothing personal against the Blackhawks or the Fratellis, just I could do without it. Points for using a unique song and not a typical "rock jock" song, but still.

Anyway, we heard that song a lot in the third period when Chicago erased a 2-1 deficit to earn a 4-3 victory and tie its series with Vancouver at one apiece.

When Vancouver got goals from Mason Raymond (1:22) and Mikael Samuelsson (5:02) early in the contest, it looked like we were in store for another rout like in Game 1. Brent Seabrook helped prevent that by getting Chicago on the board a couple minutes after falling behind 2-0.

Chicago played well from there and was rewarded in the third period when Patrick Sharp broke in on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Kris Versteeg, and his move to the backhand beat Roberto Luongo to tie the score. Versteeg scored following a furious sequence with just 1:30 left in the third, and Patrick Kane was credited with an empty net goal to seal the win.

Seabrook finished with three points and Versteeg two. Antti Niemi made 24 saves, including a big one at some point in the game, I forget when, but Chicago was losing at the time.

Tuesday predictions
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 1
Detroit 4, San Jose 2

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 19: Squid and Pavelski rule

Montreal rewinds, evens series
For some reason, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and his players chose to watch tape of any of Montreal's first-round wins against Washington rather than Game 1 of the second round. The Canadiens were happy to return to their very recent past.

Montreal weathered an early Pittsburgh storm (coincidentally, it rained in Pittsburgh), capitalized on what few chances it tried to generate, and evened its series with the Penguins following a 3-1 victory heading to Montreal.

Jaroslav Halak returned to form, making 38 saves, but the Penguins failed to do anything they did in the first game to make life tough on Halak. The Canadiens goalie made a handful of top-notch saves but had a much easier time than in Game 2.

Pittsburgh even forced Montreal to play from behind again, getting Matt Cooke's nifty goal early in the game. However, the Penguins failed to add onto the lead despite generating several quality chances. By the midpoint of the first period, the Canadiens leveled the playing field.

Montreal took advantage of a team-wide defensive lapse by Pittsburgh and got Brian Gionta's goal to tie the score. Mike Cammalleri batted a puck out of midair on a power play in the second period for a 2-1 lead, and from there, the Canadiens followed their first-round recipe of pulling into a defensive shell. They had only three shots in the second period and six in the third, after out-shooting Pittsburgh 12-9 in the first.

The Penguins generated scoring chances but no traffic, and a turnover in the third period led to Cammalleri's second of the game and eighth of the playoffs with 2:54 remaining to ice the game.

Pittsburgh's power play that was so deadly in Game 1 didn't get a chance until the third period and was ordinary when it got opportunities, going 0-for-3.

Scott Gomez had two assists for the Canadiens.

Big Pavelski leads San Jose again
If San Jose ever gets that top line going and some decent goaltending, the Sharks might be deadly.

Joe Pavelski scored two more goals for a playoff-best nine and added an assist in San Jose's 4-3 victory over Detroit to take a 2-0 series lead, the first series in this playoffs to go 2-0. Pavelski is the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1992 to score two goals or more in three straight postseason games.

Pavelski twice tied the game with power play goals, once at 1-1 in the first period after Pavel Datsyuk scored, and once in the third period on a 5-on-3 power play to tie the score at 3-3. After his second goal, it was Joe Thornton's time to step up.

After Nicklas Lidstrom broke his stick on a shot attempt at the blue line, Dany Heatley raced up ice and fired a shot on Jimmy Howard. The rebound went into the slot where Thornton one-timed it into the cage for a 4-3 advantage with 7:23 remaining in the game.

The Red Wings struggled to mount a comeback attempt, which wasn't aided by taking two more penalties after Thornton's goal. Detroit was shorthanded five times in the third period and an incredible 10 times for the game.

Heatley finished with three assists. Thornton had two points and Nabokov made 28 saves.

Howard stopped 41 shots. Holmstrom and Lidstrom also scored for Detroit.

Stat of the night
2-0, 0-4 - The Canadiens are 2-0 against Pittsburgh this season in games with a 2 p.m. faceoff. They're 0-4 with other starting times.

Quote of the night
"Whatever planet he's on, I think everyone wants to get on it with him."
Thornton, on Pavelski

Monday predictions
Boston 4, Philadelphia 2
Chicago 4, Vancouver 2

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 18: May Day? No, mayday

Two teams were frantically sending out distress signals and hitting the panic button. Neither survived its disaster.

The guy who scripted USA-Canada gold also wrote Boston-Philly Game 1
When Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to give Canada the gold medal, that started a lot of "Hollywood wouldn't accept that kind of script" jokes.

Now Americans - or at least Bostonians - can enjoy the same scenario.

Playing his first game since Matt Cooke leveled him back in March, Marc Savard capped an incredible overtime period by Boston with a wicked slap shot that beat Brian Boucher with six minutes left to give the Bruins a 5-4 victory over Philadelphia in Game 1.

And good lord did Boston make a push in overtime, particularly in the first two minutes. Boucher was stellar, making five good-to-"holy crap" caliber saves in the early going. One he shouldn't have made; Daniel Paille had about 65 percent of one side of the net to shoot at but fired it at the 35 percent that Boucher had covered.

But that might've been the Bruins' best and longest offensive stretch of the season - unless you want to count their three shorthanded goals on one penalty kill near the end of the regular season. We'll call it their best even-strength offensive push.

Tuukka Rask wasn't as busy but also came up with two big time saves, one on Scott Hartnell and another on Daniel Carcillo's breakaway four and a half minutes into the extra frame.

Boucher made another fabulous save on Michael Ryder eight minutes in that I thought would've found the back of the net. Then Boucher made a mistake. With a chance to freeze the play, he instead played the puck and turned it over. That led to an extended shift in the attacking zone for Boston. A few seconds later, there was a delayed penalty coming up on Philadelphia, but Savard unleashed his shot, getting the bouncing puck to settle just in time for the winner.

The Bruins winning almost seemed inevitable the way they were dictating the pace in overtime. The Flyers were swarmed under and it was a matter of time until Boston scored.

Overtime came as a result of Philadelphia erasing a two-goal deficit, tying it at 4-4 on a Daniel Briere goal that made me nearly jump out of my seat and say "What a goal!" Briere's outstanding effort that started, admittedly, off a bad play he made in his own zone that he attoned for, came with 3:22 remaining in regulation.

Four minutes earlier, Mike Richards converted a rebound on the power play after Chris Pronger - who also scored - goaded veteran Mark Recchi into taking a bad penalty. Richards finished with three points.

Boston held a two-goal lead three times. The Bruins led 2-0 on goals by Steve Begin and Patrice Bergeron before Ryan Parent got the Flyers on the board. Miroslav Satan scored on the power play to make it 3-1, a play that featured differing opinions. Pierre McGuire thought there was interference on Boston, as did Philadelphia. Eddie Olczyk did not think so, as did Boston.

Pronger's goal made it 3-2 before David Krejci restored the two-goal advantage early in the fourth before Philadelphia's comeback. Boucher ended with 41 saves.

Rask stopped 32 shots and Dennis Wideman posted three assists for the Bruins.

It's good for Boston that Savard is back, because Marco Sturm suffered an injury on his first shift of the game and did not return. Sturm led the Bruins with 22 goals.

Chicago misfire opens door for Vancouver, which kicks it in
Every team has bad games, be they road or at home. Man did Chicago ever have a bad one.

Vancouver scored the first five goals of the game and stunned the Chicago crowd en route to a 5-1 victory over a surprisingly lifeless Blackhawks team.

In hindsight, the sign that might've indicated Chicago would be in for a rough night came when Patrick Kane shanked a shot with lots of net to shoot at early in the game. It was so bad, Kane stared up at the ceiling and put his hands on his head, even though play was still going on.

Instead, the Canucks scored first on Christian Ehrhoff's shot that eluded Antti Niemi. The margin grew when Mason Raymond blistered a juicy rebound past Niemi with 11 seconds remaining in the period. Roberto Luongo (36 saves) also made several key stops early.

Vancouver rode that momentum into a goal in the opening minute of the second period, when Henrik Sedin one-timed a shot past Niemi following a furious scramble around the Chicago cage. When Kyle Wellwood pushed a rebound into the net just before it came off its moorings for a power play goal and a 4-0 lead, I expected a goaltending switch to Cristobal Huet.

It didn't come, and a nice effort by Vancouver's grinders swelled the lead to five. Jannik Hansen and Rick Rypien out-worked and out-muscled Chicago's defensemen to push the puck up ice, and Rypien's cross-ice feed was deflected in by Michael Grabner. Niemi remained in the net until the start of the third period.

The Blackhawks finally woke up in the final frame, thanks to some silliness by Vancouver, which granted Chicago a 5-on-3 advantage. Kane broke the shutout bid and the Blackhawks showed plenty of energy until taking a penalty midway through the period, but it was far too little, far too late.

Ryan Kesler had two assists. Raymond and Ehrhoff each finished with two points.

Stat of the night
1978 - The last time Philadelphia and Boston met in the playoffs.

Quote of the night
"I thought maybe my head - something's wrong here. I thought it was a treat for somebody. So, thanks for giving it back."
Savard, who threw his stick into the crowd after scoring the winner, only to find it returned to the ice during a postgame curtain call

Exchange of the night
Pierre McGuire, to Mike Milbury, before overtime of Boston-Philadelphia: "If Philadelphia wins, who scores?"
Milbury: "Uh... Richards."
McGuire: "If Boston wins, who scores?"
Milbury: "Why don't you make a prediction? Make a fool out of yourself. You're good at that."

Those last two lines were collectively the single greatest thing Milbury has ever contributed during his time on Earth. Seriously.

The "What did he just say?" (plural) of the night
Keith Jones: "Chicago looks scared, and that's a scary thing for the Blackhawks."

Thanks, Keith.

Brian Engblom: "Where is Ben Eager, who's not even playing tonight?"

I guess Eager is a healthy scratch tonight. Thanks, Brian.

This is why I don't watch intermission segments.

Sunday predictions
Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 2
Detroit 4, San Jose 2