Thursday, May 6, 2010

Conference Semi Banter

While things are pretty quiet around these parts, the second round is rolling along. Already, a pair of teams are ahead 3-zip, poised to make Conference Final appearances. The other two series are 2-1 and hanging in the balance. What are our thoughts? Here's some Conference Semi banter:

-The Sharks have to be the lead story. Especially the way they've played against the Cup proven Red Wings. Everyone's bought into Todd McLellan, who's well on his way to atoning for last year's first round disappointment. Ever since Dan Boyle's Game 3 blooper last round, all the guys in teal have done is rise up, winning the final three of the Av series and the first three in shocking fashion over Detroit by identical 4-3 margins. From Conn Smythe candidate Joe Pavelski's clutch finishing ability to linemates Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi's gumption, the much overlooked trio have relieved pressure from Jumbo Joe, Dany Heatley and Game Four hero Patrick Marleau- allowing them to play their game. It's always been easy to bash Joe Thornton but boy has he come to play in this series, tallying in two straight including the second goal early in the third that started another San Jose comeback. Following Logan Couture's clunker on Jimmy Howard, Thornton took full advantage of a wide Jason Williams shot catching the Sharks red handed, making a sweet dish to Marleau for a tap-in that stunned The Joe.

-Every Shark's contributing, including last summer's key additions Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra. Both are spark plugs who provide energy. Their hunger is noticeable with each winning their fair share of board battles. Malhotra has also dominated in the faceoff circle, becoming one of the most reliable in that key department. Whether it's hitting, penalty killing or checking, they get the job done. Meanwhile, Evgeni Nabokov is silencing doubters with timely stops. Don't forget he's 3-1 in sudden death. Nice to see the much maligned Russian turning it around. The blueline led by Boyle and captain Rob Blake is getting it done. Both are logging big minutes along with Doug Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Rookie Jason Demers has also contributed offensively, turning a perceived team weakness into a strength. It all adds up to a 7-2 record, aiming for a sweep tonight.

-For the Wings, perhaps all the wear and tear has finally shown. They played all out down the stretch to get in all the way up to No.5 before being taken seven by the feisty Coyotes. By not finishing them off in six, it forced Mike Babcock's club to play an extra game. As Hasan noted in last year's preview, he felt all the games the past two years would catch up. Throw in how hard they've played and it might explain how they've blown two-goal leads in each of the last two losses, turning a possible 2-1 series lead into an 0-3 deep hole. Pavel Datsyuk has been held in check and all the starts are finally getting to Howard. Forget the conspiracy theories stemming from the Game Two penalty fest. Bottom line: The Wings have been outgunned by a fresher/hungrier foe. Right now, the Sharks look like a well oiled machine. Is this the year?

-Following a dominant 4-1 Game Three win turning Wachovia restless, the Bruins are in the same enviable position, looking to sweep the Flyers. At one time, these two old rivals were the best the Wales Conference had to offer with both taking turns as runner-up to the Oilers. Now, it looks like Boston finally will get back to the Conference Finals since those fun days when Oates, Neely and Bourque ruled Beantown. Amazingly, for a team that struggled just to get into the playoffs, they've turned it on. Getting healthy has helped but so have amazing performances from team scoring leader Miro Satan (5-5-10), resurgent defenseman Dennis Wideman and Johnny Boychuk. Since dropping Game One to Buffalo and falling behind 2-0, the B's have responded well showing their playoff mettle. Perhaps we overlooked last Spring. Claude Julien's bunch are demonstrating that they're never out of a game. Especially with Tuukka Rask standing on his head. But while the remarkable first-year Finn's done his part, enough can't be said about the Bruins' leadership with captain Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and wily vet Mark Recchi stepping up. David Krejci has been instrumental but was injured on a clean Mike Richards hit last night. They can certainly use the gifted playmaker for next round.

-The Bruins have also gotten excellent performances from Milan Lucic, Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference. Lucic is healthy and doing damage while Hunwick's notched five helpers and Ference has played solid D. Even former Sabre Daniel Paille's played an important checking role, leading the league's top PK who once again stifled the opposition. Boston's special teams are only part of the story as they play airtight defense, forcing turnovers. Similar to the '95 Devils. It may not always be pretty but Julien's system is effective. Especially when you got a stud defenseman and future star in net. If they are to keep it up, they'll need more out of Marc Savard, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler.

-For the Flyers, like Detroit, they look beat up. But when you lose your top scorer, a top six forward and a top penalty killer, it's nearly impossible to compete. Mike Richards and Daniel Briere have been most of their offense. Neither factored in yesterday. The well has run dry. Aside from that, Boston's had an excellent plan using their forecheck and tight checking to frustrate Philly. In Round One, the Flyers relied heavily on special teams to oust the Devils. It's been the complete opposite. The Flyers have also been unable to get to Rask. He made some critical stops in the second and then his teammates did the rest with Recchi netting the insurance marker via the power play and unsung hero Bergeron salting it away into a vacant net. With the B's clicking on all cylinders, it's hard to see Philadelphia extending their season.

-Give the Habs full marks for making it a series against the talented Pens. They can thank Jaroslav Halak, who continues his brilliant play, proving our Leaf friend Kayla right. She said Halak was better than Carey Price last year. He certainly hasn't disappointed, following up the stunner against the Caps by stifling the Pens in Game Two and nearly doing the same the other night in Montreal. Only Evgeni Malkin's power play goal early in the third solved him. It turned out to be enough thanks to some big stops from Marc-Andre Fleury, whose 18 save shutout in his home setting held up. While MAF was very good, he never faced any second chances partially in part to a sturdy D which did an effective job boxing out and keeping the Habs outside. It reminded us of some of Martin Brodeur's shutouts when Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and Brian Rafalski manned the Devil blueline. Even without Jordan Staal, the Pens did what they had to getting strong performances out of Matt Cooke, Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy. While Sidney Crosby and Malkin get all the accolades, it's gritty forwards like the trio along with Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik and Jay McKee who make the Pens a complete team. They're not just flash and dash. Don't forget. The checking line led by Staal was a huge component to last year's Cup. They don't win minus him.

-In order for the Canadiens to level the series giving themselves a realistic chance because the Pens aren't the Caps, they'll need to get to Fleury early later today. Mike Cammalleri (8 goals) is the focal point. He'll need help from Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Can an unsung hero like Dominic Moore or P.K. Subban step up? Jacques Martin along with the rest of a rabid Bell Centre sure hope so. It's amazing to think that they're doing this without Andrei Markov or Jaroslav Spacek. A credit to Martin. They'll need dominant defensive efforts from Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and Roman Hamrlik.

-I've said it before and I'll say it again. Why does Crosby embellish so much? For as gifted as he is, he shouldn't need to. Good for Gomez standing up to him after another abuse of his stick following a whistle at the end of the second in Game Three. When oh when will the game's Golden Boy be made accountable?

-Still not sure what to make of the Hawks-Nucks. It looked like Vancouver off a dominant Game One was poised to take a commanding 2-0 lead back home. Instead, Chicago showed a lot of heart fighting back from two down to pull out a gritty 4-2 Game Two win with Kris Versteeg netting the winner with over a minute left thanks to a great play by Duncan Keith. Patrick Kane added an empty netter. As he's done all Spring, Antti Niemi bounced back from a rough outing. The surprising aspect is he was sharper than Roberto Luongo in yesterday's 5-2 Game Three triumph, stealing the home ice back. Chicago jumped in front 2-0 and never trailed. Louie struggled with rebounds including the first of Dustin Byfuglien's first career postseason hat trick. Even if the third tally shouldn't have counted. Good old Toronto for you. Chicago's strategy was simple yet effective. Get shots to the net with traffic and bang home the rebounds of which there were plenty against a shaky Luongo. All five came the same way with the big Byfuglien doing significant damage. Kudos to Joel Queeneville for moving him up to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Kane. Even Marian Hossa got into the act, notching his second off a Patrick Sharp rebound.

-Niemi made the big saves, robbing Ryan Kesler of a shorthanded bid that could've made it 3-0 in Game Two. Instead, his huge glove stop allowed the Blackhawks to recover. Again last night, Niemi stoned Vancouver, thwarting Daniel Sedin and Steve Bernier on the doorstep. Obviously, that cannot happen for the Canucks in what amounts to a must win Game Four. Yeah. They can lose and fall behind 3-1 with the fifth game back in the Windy City. We just don't advise it. Luongo needs to come through as does Daniel and Henrik Sedin with help from Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows. This is their best chance to finally deliver the franchise's first Cup. Are they about to fold up again? We'll see.

-There's really nothing to say about Versus' technical issues during last night's first between the Bruins and Flyers. At least they had the common sense to pick up the CBC feed until it was fixed.

-Nothing against Joe Beninanti but I really miss Sam Rosen.

-That OT between the Flyers and Bruins last Sunday was epic. Classic playoff hockey. Unfortunately, it looked to be the last straw from Philly. NBC can have their Derby. We'll take the puck.

-Ex-Rangers certainly are having fun. Malhotra. Samuelsson. Gomez. Savard. Moore. Pascal Dupuis. Tom Pyatt. Jed Ortmeyer. Blair Betts. Ian Laperriere. Dwight Helminen. Paul Mara.

3 comments:

Hasan said...

Can't really get into the playoffs at this point except for the Hawks, they're fun to watch and Byfuglien sure added some spice last night. He was already pretty much my favorite non-Devil (well, after Ovechkin) with his versatility. He's pretty much the only player in the league who can bounce between forward and defense, playing both at a high level.

I don't know why I picked Philly over Boston, especially with Carter and Gagne out. At least the Bruins are proving we wouldn't have benefited from tanking the last game of the season.

My opinion of Crosby is the same it was after the Olympics - best player in the league...and a total wanker. He's done nothing to disprove either notion in these playoffs.

Not a huge Shark fan but maybe that Game 4 in the first round finally got them over the hump. I wouldn't mind seeing their fans get some more enjoyment out of these playoffs.

Derek Felix said...

Man, we share same opinion on Buff. That's the one guy I wish the Rangers could get for the reasons you cited. Plus he plays physical and is a nuisance as evidenced the other night. Last time I wanted a player, it was Langenbrunner.

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