The playoffs are where heroes are made. In what was a remarkable first round that included 17 overtime games, two series needed sudden death to decide in Game 7.
Yesterday, Alex Burrows rescued his Canucks from ultimate embarrassment- preventing the defending champion Hawks from completing another 0-3 comeback a la the Flyers last year. Storybook ending to a great series with Vancouver finally overcoming its kryptonite the hard way thanks to Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Toews' late shorthanded goal that forced extras. Even in defeat, the Blackhawks did themselves proud with standout rookie Corey Crawford having the kind of game goalies dream about. At least half his 36 stops before Burrows cashed a Chris Campoli turnover were money. The penalty shot save that thwarted Burrows along with a three save sequence that included a sprawling right glove robbery of Ryan Kesler allowed his team a chance to tie it. Even in defeat, he was Crawesome! One to watch for next year.
While the Canucks and their legions of fans breathed easier now that they advanced to a Conference Semi meeting versus the pesky Predators, the final two teams survived on Round One's final night. An hour separated the start times for the East's last pair of virtuosos. It comes as no surprise that the much heated rivalry between the Canadiens and Bruins came down to a climatic deciding game which required OT. A game with more twists and turns much like the 34th installment of hockey's greatest rivalry. Simply put, the Bruins never do it the easy way. So blowing a two-goal first period lead before the Habs tied it only to surge ahead again on a Chris Kelly tally before loathsome P.K. Subban blasted them into sudden death was about as startling as Mike D'Antoni's defensive philosophy versus another Boston outfit. So, we got our wish with Carey Price's money stops forcing do or die for the Original 6's. Only this time, the B's had the right formula with Tim Thomas early and Nathan Horton late to pull out a hard fought 4-3 Game 7 thriller. Wonder if circus clown Subban did any pointing at the crowd after being victimized by Milan Lucic for the series clincher? Enjoy your vacation dumbass!
The final series to go the distance was the Lightning and Penguins, who as predicted ran out of steam against a more skilled opponent minus Sid and Geno. Sure. They blew a 3-1 series lead in folding to the Bolts, who really turned it around with an 8-2 pasting in Game 5 before taking care of business at St. Pete to force Game 7. Credit goes out to vets Martin St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson who never let their team down. Having experienced winners like the dynamic former Hart winner and the Cup runner-up allowed them to relax. It really was the blowout that got the ship righted with the Bolts also getting a huge insurance marker from ex-Pen Ryan Malone following a big save from Rollie in capturing Game 6. Anything can happen in Game 7 and with the Pitt offense struggling to penetrate a stingy Tampa D that limited most of their chances to the perimeter, all it took was one play from underrated Dominic Moore, who made a sweet dish to former Islander Sean Bergenheim for an easy finish into an open side past a brilliant Marc-Andre Fleury, who did as much as he could to give his team a shot late. Ultimately, the Pens' grinding style wore down along with the Bolts' willingness to get in passing lanes and block shots like big pickup Eric Brewer. That along with Pitt's inability to connect on the power play (1-for-34) including pulling Fleury for a 6-on-4 the final 90 was the difference. Two worthy Adams candidates but Guy Boucher outcoached Dan Bylsma, who mysteriously didn't use clutch vet Alex Kovalev late when his team could've used more skill. Probably for the best that the Pens are out allowing Sidney Crosby a long offseason to get ready. Just might be best for the league too.
Before wrapping this up, big props to the Preds on winning their first series with perhaps them learning from last year's heartache with a huge faceoff win from Mike Fisher allowing Norris candidate Shea Weber to force overtime in Game 5 where Jered Smithson played ultimate hero from unsung Jordin Tootoo. Great comeback story from substance abuse program to offensive surprise. Fisher was also instrumental putting up a series high three goals and three helpers while Weber and Ryan Suter blanketed Hart hopeful Corey Perry. Major kudos to Barry Trotz whose teams always fly under the radar and never miss a beat despite losing talent annually. They'll get the Canucks in Round Two. ... The Flyers also showed heart in having long memories, rallying from two down to pull out Game Six in OT thanks to Ville Leino and then blew out the Sabres 5-2 in Game 7. A bitter pill to swallow for a Buffalo club that fought valiantly before caving in the deciding game. ... Joe Thornton also played OT hero to put away the Kings in a classic six-game series between Cali rivals with the deeper Sharks prevailing. ... With the lone exception of the Wings' surprising sweep of the Coyotes who we hope stay in Phoenix, every series was closely fought. Now, it's onto the second round!
I went 5-for-8 in Round One going 3-for-4 in the East with Cup preseason pick Philly the only blemish. Out West, I split nailing San Jose in six and Vancity while misreading the special talent of Pavel "Datsyukian" Datsyuk and Hasan's sleeper pick Nashville, who he has going to the Conference Finals. Not a bad call there if Vezina hopeful Pekka Rinne bounces back with a stronger Conference Semi versus the gifted Canucks. Here are your Round Two matchups:
(1) Capitals vs (5) Lightning
(2) Flyers vs (3) Bruins
(1) Canucks vs (5) Predators
(2) Sharks vs (3) Red Wings
We'll make our selections tomorrow.