Open Mike Night - 4/20/09
The National Hockey League playoffs have been shifted to full throttle. Let’s take a tour around the NHL and catch up on the series that you may have missed.
The Bruins and Canadiens, arguably the most intense rivalry in the playoffs, will take their war to the province of Quebec. The Bruins drubbed the Habs 5-1 in game two. Like game one, there was some definite snarl – resulting in the suspension of Milan Lucic. Carey Price was yanked in game two for Jaroslav Halak, the latter played quite well in mop-up duty. In fact, Halak might get the nod tonight in a pivotal game three. The Bruins defense has been able to shut down the Canadiens fairly well and Thomas hasn’t had to do anything amazing – in fact, he gave up a pretty soft goal in game two, but no matter. Byron Bitz is in for game three while Milan Lucic will watch from afar. With every shift that Patrice Brisebois takes for Montreal, they realize how much they miss Andrei Markov. Brisebois has been horrid in this series. On Boston’s blueline, it’s been Mark Stuart who has really stepped up his game. He crushed anything in white in game two and he’ll need to bring that same intensity to game three. The series rests on Alexei Kovalev, it’s going to be up to him to dangle Montreal back into this series.
The #2 Washington Capitals find themselves on the short end of a 2-0 hole going to New York. Game one for Jose Theodore was not only awful but it was probably his last in these playoffs. Semen Varlamov stepped in and played an admirable game. The lone goal was a two-on-one against Tom Poti that was potted by Ryan Callahan. Who was caught leisurely spectating on this odd-man rush? The usual suspects – #25 Viktor Kozlov, #8 Alexander Ovechkin and #52 Mike Green. Ovechkin’s play in these playoffs almost makes me believe that he will never win a championship. Which sounds harsh and premature, but at this rate of play – it really makes you wonder. Henrik Lundqvist was stellar once again. The Capitals are in a world of hurt right now going back to the hostile environment of Madison Square Garden without a win under their belt.
A couple of overtime games already in the matchup between New Jersey and Carolina. The Canes historically have an edge on the Devils, especially in playoff overtimes. An excellent setup by Zach Parise (and lucky bounce off the skate of Anton Babchuk) allowed Travis Zajac to turn the series to New Jersey’s favor. The Canes are far from done though; they’ve been hanging with the Devils every step of the way since their game one defeat. For Carolina, they need to figure out how to shutdown Zach Parise (not possible) and to solve Paul Martin on defense. Parise has been an unstoppable force; his sensational combination of skill and drive is almost unmatched in the NHL. The duel between master and student, Martin Brodeur and Cam Ward, has not disappointed either. For game four, the Canes might want to activate the defense a little more and get some pucks into Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole’s office for deflections and garbage goals.
The Flyers got back into the series with a game three victory. It nearly got away from them, though. A 2-0 lead dissipated in the span of 25 seconds and just moments later Matt Cooke rang one off the short-side post that, in my opinion, would have ended the series. Instead, one of the many momentum shifts in game three favored Philly. Penguins fans are clamoring for Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar to be strapped to a rocket and shot into the sun after their game three performances. Mike Milbury foolishly blamed Marc-Andre Fleury for the loss, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sergei Gonchar is almost solely to blame and his lazy, uninspired play has undermined Dan Byslma’s tactics. The Penguins can still put a stranglehold on the series with a game four win in Philadelphia. Martin Biron has been inviting short-side goals left and right in this series and the Pens could easily take advantage. Meanwhile, the Flyers could turn this into a best of three series by feeding off their Neanderthalic fans.
Out west, San Jose went from the shark tank to the dunk tank. Jonas Hiller has been nearly impenetrable and has led the Ducks to a 2-0 series lead. Is there any correlation to Joe Thornton (and his salary) and him disappearing after tax day every year? Once again, Big Joe is a big disappointment. Jonathan Cheechoo tried to will the Sharks to victory with an impressive individual effort that saw him walk Scott Niedermayer while Ryan Whitney stood idly by. The Ducks are getting some timely scoring and more importantly, excellent penalty killing. And despite all odds, the Ducks find themselves going back to the Pond with a chance to end the series. The Sharks simply need to wake up, you can’t blame Ron Wilson for this once. I wonder if Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau care enough to make the trip.
Despite splitting the season series, Columbus was absolutely manhandled by Detroit in game two. Steve Mason is doing all he can to keep the Jackets alive but he’s under quite the onslaught from the potent Detroit offense. Ken Hitchcock is trying to get the Wings rattled. He sent out Raffi Torres and Derek Dorsett quite often in game two, but to no avail. Chris Osgood really hasn’t been tested; in fact, I can only think of one or two high quality saves that he’s had to make in the series. There’s been a lot of disappointments on Columbus’ end, including little-known defenseman Jan Hejda and shifty forward Kristian Huselius. The Jackets only hope is the rallying cry from Nationwide Arena’s first ever playoff game. It’s time for Rick Nash to take this team on his back and see where it gets them. The expectations for Columbus aren’t that high, but there’s still a chance they can pull off an upset if they take it to the Wings physically in game three.
The games between Vancouver and St. Louis have been an absolute war. St. Louis hasn’t seen a playoff game in five years and boy the Blues put on a show in the first period. They abused the Vancouver Canucks in every sense of the word in the game three. However, the Blues and B.J. Crombeen’s discipline – or lack thereof – created too many man-power advantages for the Canucks which they cashed in on readily. The Blues poured their heart into game three and came away empty handed. The series should wrap up in game four. Chris Mason’s one slip-up in the series proved to be costly – an ill-timed power play marker by Mattias Ohlund that slipped through the wickets. This has been about as physically demanding of a series as you’re going to find. Roberto Luongo has been dominant and is probably a very, very early contender for the Conn Smythe trophy.
There’s plenty of controversy to be had in the Calgary and Chicago series. The inexperienced duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have yielded mixed results and Nikolai Khabibulin is restructuring the ‘Bulin Wall. Patrick Kane will be a game-time decision for game three, and while he hasn’t been awful, we’re anxiously awaiting to see if he has that “next gear” to his game. Jonathan Toews seems to have it and then some, he could end up being a playoff hero for years on end. We waited 799 games to see Olli Jokinen make his playoff debut – and I, for one, can’t wait for him to show up. Miikka Kiprusoff is going to need a steal a game for the Flames to both get them back in the series and to motivate the team as a whole. Let’s see what two of the more overrated defensemen in the league come up with in game four – a reference to Brian Campbell and Dion Phaneuf. Calgary has the talent, grit and goaltending to take four of the next five but they’ll need to put some chinks in the Wall.