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Friday, April 16, 2010

Game 1

So, yes, the first game does not a playoff series make but with all but one Game 1 out of the way let's take a look at what's going now that it's all begun.
Starting in the East:
Ottawa v. Pittsburgh: The Pens haven't been the same since the return from the Olympic break. Malkin has struggled with injuries this year but he seemed to pick it up in Game 1. The Sens need to play a complete game every game, keep their foot on the gas and leave it all out there every night because I can't shake the feeling that the Pens are about to shift into another gear-playoff gear. Ottawa fans should be wary. However, the switch better go on tonight or the Pens won't be defending their title for long.
Buffalo v. Boston: Otherwise known as 'there will be blood'. Chara is giant. Every time I see him that's the first thing I think. This was a crazy, ugly, hard, gritty game. I give the Sabres the edge because of Miller (though Rask's obviously no slouch) and the reappearance of Vanek along with Ruff's defensive coaching style. If Game 1 was any indication this is going to be a bruising series (I think it's also going 7 games) and the victor might be worse for wear after it's all said and done.
Philadelphia v. New Jersey: I'm going to be honest, out of all the teams in the post-season I've seen the least of these two. The Flyers, despite the question mark in goal, are always dangerous and they've owned the Devils this year but it's the Devils. Brodeur might be getting older and may have lost his Olympic starting job this season but he's still "Martin Brodeur" and the Devils have plenty of offensive weapons with which to frustrate the toss up.
Washington v. Montreal: The Habs are another team that can ill-afford to take their foot off the gas. They played an incredible game last night-a remarkable team effort. Can they do this four times against the Caps? Sure. But they can't stop Ovi, Semin, Backstrom and Green (not to mention the secondary scoring) forever. The Caps have major defensive issues, more than any other team. In the post-season teams need to be well-rounded, they need solid defense to last-the caps rely on their offense and puck possession skills too much and their defensemen like to take too many defensive risks in the hopes of offensive glory. This worked well in the regular season but the playoffs are a different beast. A team that can play stifling, smart defense and has enough offensive weapons to keep pace will beat them. I think they'll get by Montreal (even though the Habs would make an awesome Cinderella story) but I highly doubt they'll be hoisting the Cup. Also, Ovi might be hurt and that cannot be a good thing.

The West:
Colorado v. San Jose: I feel like the Avs are an unknown quantity. They're young, inexperienced, looked spent closing out the season but found life enough to deal the always under-achieving Sharks a Game 1 blow. The Sharks are a one-line wonder (with the addition of a goaltender that has the ability to get hot and steal a few games in Nabokov). It's a hell of a line, but this strategy hasn't worked for them in the past and it won't work now. Neither of these teams is getting past the second round.
Phoenix v. Detroit: Part of me wants to say that the NHL is conspiring to make the Coyotes team this year's Cinderella story but Bryzgalov has been unreal and frustrating (if you aren't a Coyote fan), so, I have to give credit to Phoenix. having said this, they're playing Detroit. Aside from starting a rookie goaltender (but rookie goalies do sometimes end up a Conn Smythe winner, so...) this is a well-oiled, experienced team who is finally healthy and knows how to win. Hell, even if the series were 3-0 in favour of the Coyotes I STILL wouldn't guarantee a series win. I doubt Babcock, Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, et al are even shaken. Expect a much-improved penalty kill and a tightening up on the defensive end as a whole and a series win by the Wings.
Vancouver v. Los Angeles: At 1am I was still a little drunk, eyes closed and falling asleep in bed before OT began-by 1 minute in I was sitting bolt upright staring intently at my computer screen. Quick was tested often and rose to the challenge-he was by far LA's best player. The Canucks played a solid defensive game and aside from a terrible hit (Alberts, you're Out) that put them down a man for 5 minutes and cost them a goal they played a smart game with few mistakes. The Sedins, for the time being, are living up to expectation. Adding the ability to score off the rush to their grinding, cycling game was exactly what the playoff doctor ordered and is obviously a large reason as to why Hank won the Art Ross and is a contender for the Hart. Samuelsson has been a marvelous addition-he had such a hot hand during the second half of the season before getting injured-it's great to see he's in fine form. Edler was the best player on the ice for the 'Nucks (the hit on Doughty was spectacular) and Lu made a key goal-line save in OT. It won't be easy and it won't be a sweep but Vancouver's going to win this. LA is too young right now and they need a little something more up-front, it'll happen for them just not this season.
Chicago v. Nashville: The only Game 1 yet to be played. The Hawks are my pick to win it all this year-despite the Hossa curse. Shea Weber and company are hungry for their first ever post-season series win. The Preds are a defensively solid team but shutting down Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews is one thing, shutting down Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp as well is something else. Add to this the fact that the Hawks forth line have been the ones scoring the timely goals to finish off the season and the solid puck-controlling (yet, like Vancouver, depleted) defensive corps who with Keith, Hjarmalsson and Byfuglien can jump up into the rush and the Hawks are a formidable foe. This team can adjust faster than any other team in the NHL, in a seven game series this is crucial. Their one weakness is in goal-which is where the Preds one over-riding advantage lies. Still, the Preds are a team with one (injured-but likely to play in Game 1) 30 goal scorer and one 20 goal scorer this season-it's all good to hold the Hawks off the board but to win you have to put a few pucks in the back of the net too. Niemi has had flashes of brilliance coming down the stretch-we'll see if he can make the key saves his team will need.

As for the picture above I have this to ask: It's all good to let games flow and players play but how is something like this (though unintentional) NOT a penalty? It's called high-sticking, it wasn't on a follow-through shot, and it was never so obvious as it is here-I mean Sedin is about 1/2 inch away from loosing his eye. (Not to mention the non-call on Lidstrom getting clipped in the lip in the Det v. Phoe game).


Anonymous said...

Alas! Unfortunately!

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