Tuesday, April 20, 2010

General Hockey Musings On Day 7 of the 2010 NHL Playoffs

Well as we get ready to start day 7 of the NHL Playoffs the eight (8) Conference Quarter Final Series, the match-ups currently look like this:

In the Western Conference:
#1) San Jose vs. #8) Colorado; Colorado leads 2-1 - game 4 tonight in Denver;
#2) Chicago vs. #7) Nashville; Series tied 1-1 - game 3 tonight in Nashville;
#3) Vancouver vs. #6) Los Angeles; LA leads 2-1 - game 4 Wednesday in LA;
#4) Phoenix vs. #5) Detroit; Phoenix leads 2-1 - game 4 tonight in Phoenix.

In the Eastern Conference:
#1) Washington vs. #8) Montreal; Washington leads 2-1 - game 4 Wednesday in Montreal;
#2) New Jersey vs. #7) Philadelphia; Philadelphia leads 2-1 - game 4 tonight in Philly;
#3) Buffalo vs. #6 Boston; Boston leads 2-1 - game 4 Wednesday in Boston;
#4) Pittsburgh vs. #5) Ottawa; Pittsburgh leads 2-1 - game 4 tonight in Ottawa.

There is still a lot to be played but some pretty interesting developments.

After LA & Vancouver played the first two games of the series into overtime, but last night the Kings chased Roberto "The Captain" Luongo from the net in game three. Vancouver pulled Luongo at the 13:21 mark of the second period after Brad Richardson potted the Kings 4th goal of the night on the 16th shot on goal. Of all the teams to be having a goal tending "controversy" in the playoffs, Vancouver was clearly one of the three least likely to be in such a position. However, on Thursday morning the Canucks could find themselves down 3-1 unless they make the necessary adjustments.

In the San Jose - Colorado series things have been a bit different, in game 3, the top seeded Sharks seemed to out play the Avalanche through regulation, but were unable to get one by Craig Anderson. At the end of regulation in game three, the score was tied 0-0, then the Avs got the win on a pretty bizarre play. Just 51 seconds into overtime, San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle basically tried to backhand the puck behind the Shark's own net and instead the puck ended up in the goal behind San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabakov. This series has been close and during the two games the Avs have won, the number one star has been their goaltender. Now the pressure is again on San Jose to even the series.

The #4 Penguins lead the #5 Senators 2 games to 1 but of more note is how they went into Ottawa for game three and controlled the tempo and tenor of game 3 pretty much from start to finish. Clearly the Senators need to make some adjustments and try to get back "in front" of things in game 4 tonight. The Sens also need their stars to play more like they did in game 1 and then need to more effectively stop the Penguins big guns. If the Senators can do so, they have a chance to even the series up before it returns to Steeltown. If they fail on either count, the teams are just as likely to go back to Pittsburgh with the Penguins leading by two games.

The story in tonight's Detroit - Phoenix game is "how will the Coyotes react to and handle the absence of their Captain Shane Doan, who continues to be idled with the upper body he sustained in game 3. Given the way they've handled pretty much everything else so far this season, and how they handled the last half of game 3 with Doan in the dressing room. I'm thinking the media will talk about this and make more of it, then we'll see the Coyotes change things on the ice. That aside, it may well not matter, to some degree, things in Detroit tonight are just as, if not more likely to be "all about the Red Wings" and "Ilya" as in Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The experienced, and driven Red Wings will likely come out flying and working hard, as usual, but even more so in an effort to ensure the series leaves Detroit knotted 2 games a piece. However so far the Coyotes have stuck to their guns and played the first three games in the same manner and using the same approach as what got them through the regular season in fine fashion. It's hard not to be rooting for the Desert Dogs given the year they and their fans have been through, but this series just seems like one that could easily go all seven games.

In the Boston-Buffalo series, these two defensive minded teams have met and battled three times so far. Each game was pretty tightly played, as expected, though in the one game where the teams scored 3 or more goals, game 2, surprisingly Boston was the team to notch 5 goals in their 5-3 game 2 victory in Buffalo. The other two games have been 2-1 goaltender duels with Ryan Miller and Tukka Rask each winning one of those two battles. In any case, the #2 seed Sabres now find the spotlight and pressure on them to even up the series on the road in Boston tomorrow evening.

So far in the Devils - Flyers series, the Flyers have been able to "solve" Marty Brodeur slightly more often then the Devils have gotten pucks by Brian Boucher, and it's a good thing because as you can see from this roster, the Flyers have pretty much run out of goaltenders. The 33 year old Boucher is in the 9th NHL season of an otherwise unremarkable career after being drafted by the Flyers in 1995 and bouncing around the league as part of 5 different organizations. However, if he continues to hold down the fort for Philadelphia and they continue to deliver results through this round and another couple, he'll at least become the answer to numerous sports trivia questions in future years.

Game 3 of the Chicago-Nashville series will be played tonight down in "Smashville." After Nashville opened the series in the Windy City with a 4-1 win, Chicago goalie Antti Niemi rebounded and delivered a 2-0 shutout of the Predators in game 2. The goaltending in this series has been the highlight, but a bigger story will be will the Predators continue to be able to keep Chicago's high powered offense in a bottle. Even though the series is tied 1 game a piece, the Barry Trotz' Predators have held the Blackhawks to just three (3) goals in the two games. The results in that arena will likely to be the focus and discussion tomorrow after seeing how "the rubber" match goes tonight. After his game 2 victory, Niemi is now the goaltender with the best numbers in the playoffs; the Predators will need to put more pressure on him and solve him a couple of times tonight if they are to win the first 2010 playoff game to be held in Nashville tonight.

In the Montreal - Washington series, for us Caps fans while all is basically "right" with the world after the Caps took a 2 game to 1 lead with their 5-1 victory in Montreal last evening, there is still a lot of hockey to be played. Semyon Varlamov was very good last night and now has a 0.918 SV% overall this post-season. The leading goal and point scorer in the series is Nicklas Backstrom with 4 goals and 7 points. Linemate and pal Alexander Ovechkin has 2 goals and 3 assists. After last night's game where virtually everyone got involved, the Caps just need a few bounces to go Alexander Semin's way and get him off the "schneid" to have everything "clicking" again. Of course the Canadiens will be working hard to try and throw the Caps off their game and back to the way things were during game 1 and the first period of game 2. I don't think that will be too easy for the Habs to do, but it is the playoffs and as we've seen so far, anything can happen. Not surprisingly, according to the Washington Post's Taril El-Bashir reported from Montreal on his blog this morning that the focus of the Caps practice was the powerplay. The Caps are 0-14 this post season with the man advantage. Hopefully, that will do the trick and get the unit back to it's regular season leading ways.

I'll be out of town and out of contact fishing in the Bahamas until next Tuesday, it will be interesting to see where things stand with all 8 of these series when I return.


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