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

No comments: