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.

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